I'm going to be very honest here: I made a lot of mistakes on my trip to Acadia National Park. Unfortunately for me, all of those mistakes were due to me not having a lot of time to research and going in unprepared, it had very little to do with the destination. Lucky for you, I listed all the things I wish I had known, so you don't have to do the same mistakes I did.
you can and will drive into the park without seeing the visitor center
There are multiple entrances into Acadia National Park and none of them drive by the Visitor Center. It is very out of the way, and you have to actually aim for it, otherwise, you might go through your whole visit without seeing it. Usually, when visiting national park, visitor centers are my first stop. I love them! There is always a fun museum sort of gallery with information about the area and the animals that live there, or the history of the park. You can find all sorts of information and you can talk to a park ranger and find out the best way to make the most of your visit according to your interests. Since the visitor center is nowhere near any of the attractions, it made no sense to do a detour for it and the only reason we even went was because I was done looking for parking spaces. If only we had gone there at the beginning of our stay!
parking spaces are limited in the park
Wether you are getting ready for a hike or looking forward to a lazy day at the beach, finding a parking spot might be a bit of a hassle. We spent the first few days of our visit really struggling to find parking spots before giving up and heading toward the visitor center and discovering there are actually buses that you can take for free that will take you to any spot you want around the park! We visited during the first weekend of summer and, I guess the signs weren't up yet, but we had no idea there was a shuttle service at the park. It wasn't on any of the park documentation we were given at the campground. If we had known, we wouldn't have bothered trying to find parking and would just have taken the bus everywhere!
hiking maps are for sale or available online
This one really bothered me, not because it was a huge problem, but for the principle of it. So basically, you could get a map of the park for free, but that map shows mostly the attractions, main roads and some trails, but it doesn't say the distance or altitude or the difficulty level... If you want the actual "hiking map", it is available for purchase for 5$. Don't get me wrong, 5$ is nothing, but it felt cheap. Also, not knowing the distances or difficulty level can be an actual problem. People can get stuck on trails that are way too advanced for them because they had no idea it was technical in the first place. So, since the hiking map is available on the Acadia website, I recommend printing it out before heading there. That way you can make better decision on what trail to hike depending on your fitness level or you can prepare snacks, water and the right footwear according to the difficulty of the trail you want to hike.
short hike doesn't mean easy hike
We found out the hard way (because we did not buy the hiking map and had no wifi) that the shorter the hike, the steepest it will be. From what we saw, most hikes head up and down mountains, so a shorter hike means it is not zigzaging up the mountain, but heading straight up. Just thought you should know ;)
you absolutely need a reservation to go to cadillac mountain
If you have seen pictures or articles about Acadia National Park before, they were probably about Cadillac mountain. It is the highest peak in the park and has a 360 degree view which makes it a great sunrise and sunset spot. It apparently also makes it a very popular spot at every hour of the day and night. We made our way there very early in the morning to find out you absolutely need a reservation and it was booked out for the whole week... We had no idea we needed a reservation, let alone a reservation far in advance. Luckily, there are other mountains, and the sunrises and sunsets are beautiful from any view point, but if going to the top is on your list of must-dos, make sure to reserve in advance.
it can be very crowded even in shoulder season
We visited during St-Jean Baptiste which is a holiday in the province of Quebec, but isn't in the United States, so it wasn't a long weekend. It's also at the very beginning of summer, as school had just ended that week so I expected the park to be busy, but never even thought it could be crowded already. There were people everywhere. At the beach, at trail ends, in every street in Bar Harbor, on the rocks at random lookouts, everywhere! Even hiking in the rain we met some people! I don't think it would have bothered me so much if I had known, but I was expecting a quiet, tranquil weekend in nature and got... a theme park. Not what I had in mind!
In the end, I did end up liking the destination. The park has beautiful scenery and the hikes were fun, but I feel like my own ignorance prevented me from fully appreciating the experience. I really hope I get the chance to go back one day and do it right! Luckily, it is only a short drive from my home in Quebec City.
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