Acadia in Autumn – Your Top 10 Guide 2019

Acadia in Autumn
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Acadia National Park is a stunningly beautiful place. Before our visit, I had the impression in my mind that the east coast had decided long ago that it needed a National Park and so it willed one into existence. In some ways this is true. I thought that surely such a place couldn’t compete with the sheer natural beauty of the great western national parks. In this I was wrong. Acadia has a beauty and a class that doesn’t resemble those of Yellowstone, Yosemite or the other iconic landscapes of the west but does warrant preservation and rewards those who visit with a truly exceptional National Park experience. The best time to see this park’s natural beauty has to be during the Autumn color change. Here is your guide for planning what to do and see when visiting Acadia in Autumn.

Autumn in Acadia

Hiker on the Beehive Trail
Jennifer looks over Acadia’s autumn colors from the trail up Beehive Mountain.

The beaches and many islands of Acadia National Park shine during the summer months. However, each Autumn the forest paints Acadia in hues of yellow, orange, and red for a few short weeks every October (usually the first two weeks in October are best) and this is when the mountainous island park truly shines. The landscape is set ablaze with these fall colors lighting up the mountain ridges, the valley floors, and the reflections of the many bodies of water. This is the time to experience the east coast’s first and perhaps greatest National Park.

 Top 10 Guide to Acadia in Autumn

#1 – Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the United States of America to gather in the rays of the sunlight each day. It is an awe-inspiring landscape perfected by the brilliant colors of a sunrise and only made better when the land is also blanketed in the colors of autumn. It is for this experience alone that many come to Acadia and it is worthy of the hype.

Cadillac Mountain and a Bar Harbor Sunrise
The sunrise over Bar Harbor as seen from Cadillac Mountain.

Things To Know

  • When to Go: About 1.5 hours before sunrise
    • Arrive early! This amazing spot is no secret. The mountain is crawling with people jockeying for a position and looking for parking spots. I recommend arriving about an hour and a half prior to the sunrise.
  • How to Get There: Getting to the top of Cadillac Mountain is very easy. There is a road that leads all the way to the top of the mountain.
  • Cadillac Mountain Trail: There is a short 1/2-mile circular path around the top of the mountain that gives viewers ample opportunity to find a good spot for the sunrise.

#2 – The Beehive

The iron-rung path known as the Difficult Path up the front side of Beehive mountain is a unique highlight of Acadia National Park. The views from the side of this mountain are unparalleled in the rest of the park. The area is covered in trees that maximize the autumn in Acadia experience, but the adventure is the draw for this climb. The hike here is truly unique, but not for the faint of heart. It requires climbing up iron-rungs that have been inserted into the mountainside with sweat-inducing vertical drops below. The experience is amazing and one that should not be missed for those brave enough to take on the challenge.

Stats:

Acadia's Beehive Queue
The steady stream of climbers congest the Beehive route at Acadia National Park.
  • Trailhead: Sand Beach Parking Lot.
    • Alternative: Any lot on the coast between Sand Beach and Gorham Mountain Lot.
  • Type: Loop
    • The Difficult Route is one-way only. So make sure you ascend on the difficult southern side and descend on the western side.
  • Rating: Difficult.
    • The path is challenging but that is mostly due to the technical aspect. The trail is well laid out and maintained by the park so while it is technically difficult it doesn’t require any ropes. It is actually very surprising how easy the climb is given the nature of the mountain’s vertical face. Still, only those who are in good shape should attempt this climb.
  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • When to Go: Start early. Just after sunrise.
    • This amazing trail is no secret and climbers move slowly up the incline. If you come too late you will find yourself in a queue climbing up The Beehive.
  • Add On: The Bowl and Gorham Mountain (adds 3-miles)
    • Make the climb into a large loop and visit the lake known as The Bowl and then head south and climb up Gorham Mountain. The views from the top of Gotham are very pretty, especially during the autumn season. Once on the other side of Gorham Mountain, you can hike north along the coastal trail to your vehicle back at Sand Beach.

#3 – The Carriage Roads – Acadia in Autumn

The Carriage Roads are amazing! I would make the trip to Acadia in autumn just to explore these paths alone. The exclusion these paths offer travelers in what can be an overwhelmingly busy park is well worth the effort any time of year. However, the Carriage Roads explode with color during the autumn season giving them a magical array of color. I am astonished by how few people venture out onto these paths. No other national park that I know of has so many large and wide paths that allow for horseback riding, biking, and hiking. These are truly a unique gem of Acadia National Park.

Things To Know

  • Trailhead: Varied.
    • To explore the northern and central Carriage Roads park at the Eagle Lake Bridge Parking Lot off of Hwy 233.
    • To explore the southern Carriage Roads park at the Jordan Pond Parking Lot.
  • Rating: Varied. The Carriage Roads are wide, rolling paths so for the most part, they are easy. However, the sheer length of the paths and the occasional long climbs could be difficult for some.
  • Distance: Varied. Up to 57 miles.
    • The intersections on the Carriage Roads are well signed within the park boundaries. Grab the Carriage Road map at the Acadia Visitor Center and it will be easy to navigate the many pathways.

#3b – Carriage Road Bridge at Duck Brook

Acadia's Duck Brook Bridge
The Duck Brook Creek and Bridge are one of the many Carriage Road bridges to be found in Acadia National Park.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. designed and paid for the carriage roads. He wanted beautiful passages over the island that blended with the natural environments free of motorized vehicles. The bridges are unique rock structures that blend into their surroundings. The carriage road bridge above Duck Brook is the largest and perhaps the most gorgeous of all the carriage road bridges. It crosses over Duck Brook creek. The autumn colors line the stream and there are stairs down to the edge of the creek. This is a great spot for photographers and relatively easy to access if you know where to go.

Things To Know

  • Getting There: The Duck Brook Bridge is a part of the suggested Carriage Road path above however there is easier access for those wanting to visit the bridge only.
  • Alt: Duck Bridge Road accessed from the south and Hwy 233. The east end of Duck Bridge Road is now only a bike path and inaccessible to vehicles no matter what Google tries to tell you.

#4 – Jordan Pond

Jordan Pond in Autumn
The hiking trail along Jordan Pond is the rare combination of easy and beautiful.

Jordan Pond is really a mile long lake and not a pond. On a calm day, it has amazing reflective views of the Bubble Mountains on the far side of the lake. It is also lined with trees that light up during Acadia’s autumn season. The hike around Jordan Pond is sublime if timed right. The well laid out boardwalk on the west side of the lake is a highlight of the park. It hugs the curves of the lake while still being a part of nature. The park has done an amazing job sustaining this fragile environment while still allowing access to the public. Stay on the path!

Stats:

  • Trailhead: Jordan Pond Parking Lot
    • Hike in the late afternoon a few hours prior to sunset as the park really clears out and you will have the trail to yourself. If you come during peak daylight hours expect wall to wall people.
  • Type: Loop
  • Rating: Easy.
    • This is a flat path. For more of a challenge add on a climb up the Bubble Mountains.
  • Distance: 3.5 miles

#4b – Bubble Mountains

Jordan Pond and the Bubble Mountains
The view of Acadia National Park’s Bubble Mountains across Jordan Pond.

The climb up South Bubble Mountain from Jordan Pond isn’t for the faint of heart. It is straight up and down from the lake, but the views from the top are well worth the effort especially during the autumn. Those who make it to the top are rewarded with unobstructed views back across Jordan Pond and out to the ocean beyond. The eastern side of Jordan Lake during Acadia’s autumn lights up with every imaginable shade of red, orange and yellow. It is truly a stunning spot. There is also a large rock known as Bubble Rock perched precariously on the side of South Bubble Mountain. This is a favorite photo spot for many but I think the views of the lake are much more alluring.

Stats:

  • Trailhead: Jordan Pond Parking Lot (Difficult, Loop)
    • Alt: Bubble Parking Lot (Moderate, Out-and-back)
  • Type: Loop
  • Rating: Moderately Difficult
    • The approach from the west is easier than that of the south but only marginally. For those who desire an easier ascent, there is a small parking lot off the Park Loop Road that allows for an ascent from the east side of the mountain, but I think it is more fun to do the Jordan Pond Loop and add this mountain accent on.
    • Parking at the Bubble Parking Lot is very limited. The parking lot at Jordan Pond is very large.
  • Distance: Add 1 mile

#5 – Driving the Park Loop Road in Autumn

I’m not usually one to recommend something as simple and mundane as a drive but when visiting Acadia in autumn a cruise around the Park Loop Road is a must. The heart of Acadia during the fall is set ablaze by the changing leaves. In the midst of that blaze like a long black snake meandering through the brush is the Park Loop Road.

Things to Know

  • Half of the Park Loop Road is one-way traffic.
  • Parking on the side of the road in the right lane is allowed so watch out for parked cars when peeping at the leaves from behind the wheel.
Acadia's Park Loop Road in Autumn
Acadia’s Park Loop Road meanders through the colorful autumn trees along Jordan Pond.

#6 – Acadia Mountain in Autumn

Acadia Mountain View
The Autumn view from atop Acadia Mountain.

The trail up the park’s namesake mountain is another example of Acadia’s straight forward approach to trail layouts. It is narrow and for the most part a straight up approach with a straight down descent. The views from the mountain top of the Somes Sound are some of the best in the park and well worth the effort. The scene is only made more spectacular by the changing colors of the trees that spread out across the island’s mountainous landscape in autumn.

Stats:

  • TrailHead: Acadia Mountain Trailhead off of Highway 102
  • Type: Loop
  • Rating: Moderately Difficult
  • Distance: 2.5 miles

#7 – Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Bass Harbor Lighthouse
The iconic Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse sits on the edge of the Atlantic cliffs in Acadia National Park.

No trip to Acadia National Park is complete without a visit to the iconic Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. The lighthouse is perched on the rocky cliffs above the rough Atlantic waters like a sentinel guarding the gates of Acadia. The views of the lighthouse are stunning any time of year.

Stats:

  • The drive to Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse takes more than 30 minutes from the main area of Acadia and Bar Harbor, Maine.
  • The lighthouse is still manned with a family living there year round. Therefore entrance into the lighthouse is prohibited.
  • There is a trail to the right of the parking area that leads visitors past information boards about the history of the lighthouse and on to the lighthouse. This is an interesting area, but the iconic views of the lighthouse standing on the edge of the ocean cliffs are found by taking a short path to the left of the parking lot down to the rocks.

#8 – Thunder Hole

The Thunder Hole
The Thunder Hole is a natural phenomenon that should be on any Arcadia itenerary.

The natural formation known as the Thunder Hole is a unique phenomenon. The waves of the Atlantic have carved out a narrow passageway that then leads into a small cave-like indention in the rock. The waves enter this cave-like structure causing the air to be compressed and burst back out past the wave. This sounds much like a thunderclap and is something to be experienced when visiting Acadia at any time of the year.

Stats:

  • When to Go: 2 to 3 hours prior to high tide.
    • The natural phenomenon only happens for certain times of the day driven by the ebb and flow of the tides. The best time to hear the thunder is about 2 hours prior to high tide, but this can vary depending on the height of the tide. When the tide is too high the water submerges the cave structure completely and the effect is lost. Come when the tide is too low and the waves aren’t high enough to trap and compress the air correctly. My suggestion for the best chance of hearing this in its prime; arrive 3 hours prior to high tide with time to hang around for an hour.
  • Trailhead: The parking area is located across the street from the Thunder Hole so not much of a hike on this one.

#9 – Ocean Path

The Ocean Path trail parallels the Park Loop Road along the eastern coast of the park but this trail is well worth the effort. Hikers get much better viewpoints than the road allows for. If rocky coastline being battered by relentless waves is your thing you will love this trail no matter the season.

Stats:

Arcadia's Ocean Path
The Ocean Path is a very scenic path along the rocky coastline of Bar Harbor.
  • Trailhead: Sand Beach Parking Lot.
    • Alt: Any lot on the coast between Sand Beach and Otter Point Lot.
  • Type: Out-and-Back
    • This trail has lots of potential spurs along the way. While it is a short hike, visitors who enjoy walking the various rocky spurs along the coast could easily be here for the better part of half a day.
  • Rating: Easy
    • The path is almost entirely flat. There are only two sections that amount to short moderately-easy climbs.
  • Distance: 2 miles (one-way)
  • Alternate Route: Pack a lunch and add this hike onto that of the Beehive and Gorham Mountain Loop.

#10 – Jesup Path – Acadia in Autumn

To round out our top 10 to do list when visiting Acadia in autumn is a trail suitable for all ages. Not only is this an easy trail to hike but it is easy to find and navigate as well. However, if timed right this short trail from the northern edge of The Tarn (a small lake) north 1-mile to Park Loop Road has more autumn color than perhaps any other trail in the park. It is stunning to see the various shades of yellow, red, and orange not only filling the trees but covering the roots, pools of water and the gorgeous boardwalk that cuts through this dense forest.

Stats:

Jesup Path
The autumn colors cover the Jesup Path in Acadia National Park.
  • Trailhead: Sieur de Monts Nature Center/ Wild Gardens of Acadia
  • Type: Out-and-Back
  • Rating: Very Easy
  • Distance: 1-mile (one-way)

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Mom says:

    How long does it take to do most of the stuff on your top 10 list? Not sure I would want to do the Bee Hive or Bubble Mountains, but the rest really looks cool!

    1. NomadicMoments says:

      You should totally do the Bee Hive. That was our favorite. It looks worse than it is. Bubble Mountain from the Bubble Parking area is supposed to be much easier than the way we went via Jordan Pond. Even at a slower pace, you should be able to check all this off in 3-days. The only exception being the Carriage Roads which if you do them all could take 2-days by themselves. For the Carriage Road I suggest the Northern Loop for a shorter trip about 7-miles. If you are up for a longer one do the extended loop around Eagle Lake, Jordan Pond, and Bubble Pond. That is about 12-miles. You can hike, bike or horse ride any of those.

  2. Barb Howard says:

    Acadia N Park is amazing!! We were there in Oct of 2016. Wish u could have spent more time like you and Jennifer did! Some of the roads in the park are made of broken stones. It looked like that’s what you were riding yr bikes on? How fun!!

    1. NomadicMoments says:

      Never enough time. Have to make the most of what we have. If you ever head that way again I highly recommend the autumn. It is magical.

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