The wind whips up over the mountaintop. It’s the kind of night where you can’t help but shiver – except there are so many stars overhead that it’s distractingly beautiful. This is what it’s like stargazing in Acadia National Park.
If you want this experience for yourself, you’re not alone. Acadia National Park is one of the best spots for stargazing in New England, and one of the biggest dark sky locations in the Eastern Seaboard. Read on to get all the information you need to plan your own stargazing trip in Acadia National Park.
Note: Due to the novel coronavirus, National Parks vary in opening hours and access. Be sure to check if the park you want to visit is open before planning a trip.
How to Get to Acadia National Park
If you’re flying to Maine to visit Acadia National Park, you’ll probably end up flying to either Portland or possibly Bangor. In general, flights to and especially within Maine are pretty expensive, so it might be cheaper to fly to Portland and drive from Portland to Bar Harbor (the biggest town near the park).
It’s a three-hour drive between Portland and Bar Harbor on the fastest route (I-295 and I-95); if you want to take the coastal route (US-1), this can stretch up to five hours depending on how often you stop and traffic.
The majority of Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island, as are the towns of Bar Harbor and Southwest Harbor. Parts of Acadia National Park are also located on nearby islands and the Schoodic Peninsula – so to visit those parts will obviously add on additional travel time.
When I visited Acadia in May 2019, I flew into Portland and drove to Bar Harbor. It took me about 3.5 hours to get there, and 4.5 hours to get back on the coastal route.
Where to Go Stargazing in Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is known for its great night skies. Here are the top stargazing spots in Acadia:
If you ask locals, everyone says that Cadillac Mountain is the place for stargazing in Acadia. This mountain is topped by a parking area that looks out over the entire surrounding region. That makes it an ideal spot for stargazing, though you will see a bit of light pollution from nearby Bar Harbor.
During the summer months, you can drive to the top of Cadillac until midnight and enjoy the night sky above you.
Jordan Pond House
Jordan Pond House is one of the main visitor spots in Acadia National Park – but it’s also a great stargazing spot! At night you can park at Jordan Pond House and walk out to the shores of Jordan Pond to see the stars and their reflections.
Sand Beach isn’t quite a secret stargazing spot – but it’s far less popular than other spots. You can park at the lot near Sand Beach, and walk out onto this unique sandy strip of land. The reason this is a great stargazing spot is that it’s protected from light pollution in Bar Harbor, and looks out toward the southern part of the night sky.
Seawall Picnic Area
Located near Seawall Campground, Seawall Picnic Area is another great spot with views of the southern part of the night sky. You can park in this day use area once the sun goes down and admire the stars overhead.
Seawall Picnic Area is a great stargazing spot if you’re staying in the campground or in Southwest Harbor.
If you’re willing to travel further, Schoodic Peninsula is the most remote spot for stargazing in Acadia National Park. The best way to go stargazing here is to camp at the Schoodic Woods Campground.
Where to Stay Near Acadia National Park
You have plenty of options for where to stay each night after stargazing in Acadia. Here’s a quick breakdown:
Hotels near Acadia
There are a number of hotel options in Bar Harbor, including many of the major hotel chains which operate small properties here on a seasonal basis.
During my trip, I stayed at the Bar Harbor Inn, which is located right on the waterfront in Bar Harbor. If you’re looking to experience this coastal Maine town along with Acadia National Park, the Bar Harbor Inn is a great option. You can also enjoy all the town has to offer (and depending on your class of room, warm up from stargazing with a toasty fire in your in-room fireplace!).
Camping in Acadia National Park
There are a couple of campgrounds in the main part of Acadia National Park, as well as one on the Schoodic Peninsula (Schoodic Woods Campground) and one on Isle au Haut (Duck Harbor Campground).
The main campgrounds are:
- Blackwoods Campground – Located 5 miles south of Bar Harbor on Route 3, Blackwoods is slightly inland on Mount Desert Island. This campground is open year-round.
- Seawall Campground – Located 4 miles south of Southwest Harbor on Route 102A, Seawall looks out over the Atlantic Ocean. This campground is open from late May through mid-October.
The National Park Service strongly recommends making camping reservations in advance as there are rarely spots available on any given day. You can make Acadia campground reservations at recreation.gov.
What to See & Do During the Day in Acadia
As you plan your trip to Acadia, there’s more than just stargazing to keep in mind. Here are some additional resources to help you plan your whole trip.
What to See in Acadia National Park
Like all national parks, Acadia is home to a bevy of natural wonders. The best way to see them is by driving the Park Loop Road which makes it easy to stop and park at each one. Some of the top sights in Acadia National Park include:
- Park Loop Road – The 27-mile Park Loop Road is a must-drive. This route takes you past almost all of the other main sights in Acadia.
- Sand Beach – This unusual sand beach is a fascinating geologic feature. While you won’t be sunbathing on this beach, it’s a picture perfect spot.
- Cadillac Mountain – In addition to being a great stargazing spot, Cadillac Mountain is also great during the day. There are trails of varying difficulty and some great views of the entire region.
- Thunder Hole – A submerged sea cave formed by wave action, Thunder Hole makes a great racket during the hours leading into high tide. If you can time it right, this site makes quite a splash (literally!).
- Jordan Pond & The Bubbles – Jordan Pond is an inland body of water with beautiful views of surrounding mountains, especially The Bubbles. These two unusual hills were formed by glacial erosion.
- Bass Island Lighthouse – Located on the southernmost point of Mount Desert Island, Bass Island Lighthouse is an additional drive beyond the Park Loop Road, but it’s the most picturesque view in the park.
These are just the greatest hits of Acadia National Park… but if you build an itinerary to see these, you’ll have a great time.
What to Do in Acadia National Park
In between nightly stargazing sessions, there’s plenty to do during the day in Acadia. Here’s a quick rundown of the best things to do in Acadia National Park:
- Hiking – Acadia National Park is full of great hikes for all skill levels. These include The Precipice, Jordan Cliffs, or Valley Cove Trails for more advanced hikers, or Wonderland Trail, Great Meadow Trail, or Jordan Pond Path for less strenuous options. The NPS always notes which trails are open on the main Acadia webpage.
- Cycling – If you love to explore on two wheels, the roads of Acadia National Park are perfect. You can do a good 27-mile loop of the Park Loop Road.
- Sailing/Boating – It’s possible to go kayaking in several of the lakes and ponds in Acadia National Park. There are also great coastal kayak routes and guides if you want to go kayaking with more expertise.
- Wildlife Watching – Acadia and the surrounding waterways are home to amazing animals you probably don’t have in your own area. Some popular activities include birdwatching, tide pooling, and wildlife watching off the coast. You might spot otters, seabirds, or even whales!
- Rock Climbing – There are a handful of good climbing areas in Acadia; the NPS has a page about the best climbing routes in Acadia.
- Horseback Riding – There are 45 miles of carriage roads in Acadia that are perfect for horseback riding!
- Ranger Programs – As opposed to unprotected wilderness where there are no educational programs or stewards to teach you about the land, Acadia has loads of Ranger Programs on topics like birds, coastlines, and human history in the park. Most of these are great for kids too.
These activities will give you plenty of things to do during the day in Acadia!
Other FAQ About Stargazing in Acadia National Park
When is the best time to go stargazing in Acadia?
Acadia National Park has four distinct seasons, and the winters are long and cold here. If you choose to visit in the winter, you will encounter snow and cloudy skies.
The best time of year to visit Acadia National Park is the summer, between mid-May and mid-September. The weather is warmest in July and August and the skies are clearest in September and October. However, you can take advantage of the shoulder season (mid-April to mid-May and mid-September to early October) to get better rates on hotels and fewer crowds in the park.
Can you see the Milky Way while stargazing in Acadia? When?
Yes, it is possible to see the Milky Way while stargazing in Acadia National Park. The best way to make this happen is to visit during the right time of year. The Milky Way is best visible in the summer months, especially July and August when it rises early in the evening and says visible most of the night.
Keeping in mind that the best weather in Acadia is typically between May and September, this will help you plan a trip if you want to see the Milky Way.
Can you see the northern lights in Acadia?
In the winter months, it is possible to see the northern lights in Acadia! You’ll need to visit in the coldest, snowy months like December and January.
Be sure to check an aurora forecast tool or a site like this NOAA page to see what the northern lights prospects are – and bundle up! It’s frigid during Maine winters.
Is Acadia National Park open at night?
The Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park is open at night, which means you can drive into and around the park at night. You’ll be able to visit Sand Beach and Jordan Pond House at night. It is also possible to drive up Cadillac Mountain at night, though the final spur to the top of the mountain may be closed at certain parts of the year. The Acadia NPS site will always have the most up-to-date info on road closures.
Are there guided night tours in Acadia?
The National Park Service has strict requirements and rules about tours in any park (even during the daytime), so there are currently no stargazing tours in Acadia National Park.
If you want a guided nighttime experience, consider booking a bioluminescence night kayak tour with Castine Kayak or Acadia Park Kayak. These companies will take you out in a kayak after dark to see the bioluminescent plankton and the night sky too!
Is there a dark sky festival in Acadia?
Heck yes! The Acadia Night Sky Festival happens each year in the autumn. Now in its 11th year, the Acadia Night Sky Festival is September 25-29, 2019. You can learn more about the activities planned, how to book your trip, and what you’ll see in the night sky on the Acadia Night Sky Festival website.
Have other questions about stargazing in Acadia National Park? Let us know in the comments!
Featured photo credit: Eric Kilby via Flickr
Special Thanks to R’lyeh Imaging for sharing so many Acadia night sky photos on Flickr.