Top Reasons to Visit Acadia National Park in the Fall
As the far-and-away most popular national park in New England, and one of the most visited parks in the entire nation, Maine’s Acadia National Park beckons like the gem that it is. With 3.5 million annual visitors, travelers are clearly excited to marvel in this Maine park, revered for its craggy coastline, lush forests, oceanside mountains, misty islands, and the bucolic town of Bar Harbor. By and large, a vast majority of these annual visitors make the trip in the summer and fall, and rightfully so, but despite the dip in temperature and lack of swimming opportunities, the latter season is easily the optimal time to experience the one-and-only Acadia National Park. Here are several reasons (and tips!) for visiting Acadia in the fall.
Photo courtesy of Acadia National Park/NPS
It’s Less… Messy!
The biggest reason why summer and fall are prime times is because snow and mud make the park practically impassable in parts during the winter and spring. In the winter months, Acadia is often blanketed in snow and ice, and while pretty and serene, it’s also extremely difficult to navigate, and many roads are not open at all. Come spring, in addition to infamously fickle weather (with lingering wintry conditions, to boot), the melting ice results in muddy trails and a general dampness that tends to envelop the park unpredictably. Once summer arrives, though, and the park has sufficiently thawed and dried, conditions become much more splendid. And by the time fall rolls around, it’s downright paradise.
Largely due to school vacation and the general tendency to embark on summer road trips, the months of July and August are by the far the busiest in Acadia. This is the time of year when Mount Desert Island fills up most quickly with traffic (both the car and hiker variety), parking lots max out their capacities by mid-morning, and lodging becomes sparse—and/or outrageously expensive. After Labor Day, although fall is still popular for its own reasons, the park becomes much easier to traverse and visit at leisure, and prices at area hotels drop off.
September is Hiking Heaven
Not only do the crowds reduce after Labor Day, but the temperature becomes downright dreamy for hiking. With daytime temps hovering in the 50s and low 60s, it’s the kind of weather that’s great for light jackets or sweatshirts, or even just a regular shirt if you’re hiking up a sweat. And with more than 120 miles of trails to explore, that’s easy to do here. Added bonus: the summertime swarms of mosquitos and black flies have finally waned by this point.
Photo courtesy of Acadia National Park/NPS
Foliage at its Peak
Mid-September marks a drop-off for visitation and a refreshing sense sweeps over Acadia, with comfortably cool temperatures adding the perfect cherry to the sundae. Things pick back up in mid-October, when fall foliage reaches its seasonal apex, and the park appears to practically glow in vivid hues of oranges, reds, and yellows. This is one of those quintessential New England settings that lives up to the hype. Not only are the leaves stunning, but the unique juxtaposition of landscapes—the foggy ocean coastline, still lakes and ponds, rolling mountains—really adds to the splendor of it all.
Night Sky Festival
Foliage gets all the glory in the fall, but come nightfall, there’s a whole other reason to gawk at Acadia. Taking advantage of the park’s dark skies and minimal light pollution, September is an excellent time for stargazing, and Acadia celebrates accordingly with its annual Night Sky Festival, typically held late in the month for about a week, with various events and opportunities throughout the park.
Be Warned: Bar Harbor Goes Into Hibernation
In the summer months, Bar Harbor is a bustling coastal town teeming with tourists, restaurants, inns, shops, and galleries. As fall settles in, though, many of the independent businesses in this seasonal town close for the season starting in November. At this point, only a select few lodging and dining options remain open, so keep that in mind before making the trek. That being said, the environment in Bar Harbor is incredibly peaceful.
Lobster roll at West Street Cafe in Bar Harbor/Photo by Matt Kirouac
Maine Knows Comfort Food
Cold-weather dining is the best dining, especially in a region that specializes in hearty comfort food. Maine is a famous foodie mecca thanks to its its abundance of seafood and oceanside restaurants serving up local specialties. Come fall, that means creamy bowls of chowder become nourishing staples, available at area standbys like Galyn’s, The Thirsty Whale, and Stewman’s Lobster Pound.
Header photo: Courtesy of Acadia National Park/NPS
Matt Kirouac has been writing about food and travel since 2008, for outlets like Travel + Leisure, TripSavvy, DiningOut magazines, Plate Magazine, KOA, Culture Trip, Zagat, and Food Fanatics magazine. He’s the author of The Hunt Guides: Chicago and Unique Eats & Eateries of Chicago. He fell in love with national parks while on a trip to South Dakota, where Badlands National Park stole his heart…and has been holding it ransom ever since.