It should be no secret that Acadia National Park is one of my favorite places to photograph. Now that I live just over 2 hours away, it’s much easier for me to get to, and I still find there are plenty of places to photograph there that I’ve never photographed before. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years, and I get asked quite a bit about places to go in the park. Even if you’re not a photographer, these locations are must-see spots, with tons of natural beauty. While I would never consider this to be a comprehensive guide, these spots are based on my experiences photographing the park over the past ten years. If you would like something comprehensive, I highly recommend Colleen Miniuk’s “Photographing Acadia National Park: The Essential Guide to When, Where, and How”, available on her website or through Amazon.
Rick Berk's Guide to Acadia National Park
My Favorite Sunrise Spots
Most people, when asked, will immediately exclaim that you should catch sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain. It’s claimed (only partially correctly) to be the first place in the United States to see the sunrise. That’s true during the winter months. During the summer, it’s actually Mars Hill in Aroostook County. Either way, while Cadillac has a beautiful view of Frenchman Bay and the Atlantic Ocean and surrounding islands, in recent years, it’s gotten so crowded and popular that reservations are now required to drive to the top from May through October. You can hike it if you want, but I prefer less crowded places to enjoy my sunrises, so below you’ll find my list of favorites.
Without a doubt, Boulder Beach is my favorite sunrise spot, and I don’t go there to watch the sun crest the horizon over the Atlantic. The star of Boulder Beach, aside from the large round cobblestones that make up the beach, is Otter Cliffs, towering over the beach’s southern boundary. Watching the first light of day shine on the cliffs is just magical, as the granite takes on a reddish hue and the cobblestones on the beach begin to seemingly glow as waves rush over them.
Just About Anywhere on the Park Loop Road North of Boulder Beach
There are a lot of options along the Park Loop Road. You can park in the right lane of the Park Loop Road in many places and just walk over to the shoreline. The view is pretty spectacular from anywhere. Thunder Hole is a popular spot, even when the waves are making the sound that gives this iconic location its name. There are a couple of lookouts tucked away, north of Thunder Hole and just south of Sand Beach, that look out on Newport Cove. Follow Ocean Path and you’ll see steps and paths out to these spots. There’s also a great view of Monument Cove from the Ocean Trail, and many places that are easy steps onto the rocky shoreline to find a seat and watch the beauty of Acadia.
If You Like An Early Morning Hike
Want the Cadillac Mountain experience without the crowds? If you’re willing to do a mile hike with a moderate climb (429 foot elevation gain), The top of Gorham Mountain is an excellent vantage point to watch the sunrise. The climb isn’t difficult and the trail is well groomed. As you get near the top, you’ll have stunning elevated views of Otter Cliffs and Sand Beach. It’s well worth it if you can allow yourself that extra time. You’ll want a headlamp for climbing up in the dark.
If you’ve worked up an appetite getting up for sunrise, I have a couple of favorite places for breakfast that are perfect stops:
Jordan’s Bar Harbor – I highly recommend the blueberry pancakes with blueberry syrup, but their omelets are outstanding as well.
2 Cats Bar Harbor – Great little place on Cottage Street. My favorite is their breakfast burrito.
Where to go Midday
The midday hours don’t tend to be great for photography due to the harsher light, so often I head back to my lodging to take a nap, edit images, or head into Bar Harbor to wander the shops in town. If you’d like to stay inside the park, I suggest the wooded areas for some shade and woodland adventures.
Duck Brook Bridge
Considered one of the most elegant and ornate of the carriage road bridges, Duck Brook Bridge is easy to reach by following Duck Brook Road off Eagle Lake Road. As a photographer, I like to visit in the fall when the leaves are changing. I’ll head down to the brook’s banks and photograph the waterfall under the bridge, adorned in fall colors. But if you prefer a leisurely walk, crossing the bridge and following the carriage road is perfect, no matter the season.
Acadia doesn’t have many continuously running waterfalls. Many of the falls only run when it rains. Hadlock Falls is the exception, though it is much better after a rain than when there is drier weather. Park at the Parkman Mountain Carriage Road Trailhead, just off Route 3. It’s about a mile walk up the carriage roads to the falls. You’ll cross a few more ornate stone bridges as well that are well worth photographing.
Sieur de Monts
Sieur de Monts is a spring and nature center located just off route 3 in Bar Harbor. There are gardens there, but for me the highlight is the boardwalk through the woods, known as Jesup Path, and Hemlock Path, which leads through a stand of birches. The area is shady so it's perfect for a late morning or early afternoon walk. In addition to landscape photos of the trees, I’ve also managed to photograph barred owls here. It’s well worth a visit when you want to get away from the Park Loop Road for a bit.
The North Bubble
Want a stunning view of Jordan Pond? The North Bubble Trail provides just that. It’s a one mile round trip hike, with an elevation gain of 374 feet, so it’s not easy, but it’s also not terribly difficult. And the views are worth it. This is a good hike to do midday, early morning, or late afternoon. You’ll want to make sure that you get up and down while there’s still light, as the trail gets steep in some places. It took me 30 minutes to climb up, with some rests, and about 15 minutes to climb down. I like gravity.
My Favorite Sunset Spots
While a good chunk of the Park Loop Road faces east, making it impossible to see the sunset, there are areas to see the sunset in that section of the park. Cadillac Mountain will again be a favorite recommendation for many visitors, but as I’ve explained above, it’s one spot I tend to avoid. I’ve had the experience at both sunrise and sunset and didn’t feel it lived up to the hype. See below for some of my favorite places to see the sun set.
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is located in Tremont, over on what’s known as “The Quiet Side” of Mount Desert Island. It’s a hugely popular sunset spot, so be prepared to be elbow to elbow with sunchasers and photographers perched out on the rocks. If you’re able to get a spot, it’s worth the crowds. One of my favorite images was captured here, on a day when it was just me and my friend Kristen Wilkinson. It was early March, well before the season, and the ocean was churning and the sky was filled with clouds. One of the best sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.
Bass Harbor Marsh
Located just off Bass Harbor Road, by Hansen’s Outpost, this is a tough spot, as the road is busy. You get a great view of the sun setting behind the marsh, but you have to stand on the roadside against the guard rail. Many people do, but you really need to watch traffic and be aware of your surroundings. It’s one of the less relaxing sunset spots, but the sunsets over the marsh can be spectacular.
I know I said most of the Park Loop Road faces the wrong way for sunset, but if you make your way down to Otter Point, you can catch the sun setting over Otter Cove. The Ocean Trail walks along the rocky shoreline here, and there are plenty of spots to walk out and find a perch to watch the show, or photograph if you like.
If you’re willing to drive a little, head on over the Schoodic Peninsula. It’s estimated that fewer than 20% of Acadia National Park visitors make it to the Schoodic Peninsula, as it’s an hour from Bar Harbor. It’s well worth the drive, however. Ravens Nest is a well tucked away location, with no signs pointing the way to it. As you head down the Schoodic Loop Road, the third pullout on the left is where you’ll want to park for Ravens Nest. Then cross the road and follow the short trail to the cliff. You’ll have a view down the shoreline, and also straight across Frenchman Bay to Cadillac Mountain. The sun will generally set behind Cadillac, depending on the time of year. You may find a few other people there, but given that fewer people visit the Schoodic side of the park, you won’t find a crowd.
If you pass Ravens Nest and continue down the Loop Road, you’ll reach Schoodic Point. Here you’ll find churning ocean, lots of big waves, and a view across the bay to Cadillac Mountain for sunset. There’s lot of area to explore here, and plenty of places to perch yourself to watch the show the ocean puts on, as well as the sunset. I’ve even seen people flying kites here. It’s quieter than the Park Loop Road so if you’re looking for some solitude, you can probably find it here.
Side Street Café, Bar Harbor – Tucked away on a side street in Bar Harbor, this is a fun place to go. The service is excellent and the lobster mac and cheese is top notch!
Beals Lobster Pier, Southwest Harbor – Located on the quiet side of MDI, you can lobster any way you like it here. Lobster dinner, lobster roll, lobster mac and cheese, lobster grilled cheese, lazy man’s lobster and much more. Highly recommended.
Thurston’s Lobster Pound, Bernard – This isn’t far from Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, right in Bernard Harbor.
Rosalie’s Pizza, Bar Harbor – Some of the best pizza in Maine. As a New Yorker born and raised, I’m picky about my pizza, but I heartily recommend Rosalie’s. Great pizza.
Geddy’s, Bar Harbor – Located right on Main Street, Geddy’s a great place for everything from seafood to pizza to sandwiches and burgers. My favorite here is the fish and chips.
Places to Stay
Rose Eden Cottages, Bar Harbor – These are tiny vacation cottages, but perfectly located to get quickly into Acada National Park and Bar Harbor’s downtown. I also find them to be one of the best deals in the area. They have a mix of one- and two-bedroom cottages that are clean and comfortable.
Inn on Mount Desert, Bar Harbor – For a more traditional hotel stay, this is a great place right in Bar Harbor. I’ve stayed here with my wife a few times. They offer breakfast, clean, comfortable rooms, and is walking distance to Main Street and a short drive to the park.
To me, Acadia National Park is the east coast’s crown jewel national park. You have awe-inspiring views, fantastic hiking, coastal mountains, oceans, lakes, and more. It’s well worth a visit, if not more than one. I consider myself lucky to live within a couple of hours of the park, able to visit almost whenever I want.