It would be a shame for you to go to Acadia National Park, and only have enough time to do one thing. But if you find yourself in a severe time crunch, you can get a good feel for Mount Desert Island in just one hour or less, by taking Acadia National Park’s Loop Road. The road is just as much an attraction as any of the park’s other trails or mountain peaks, and it provides access to some of the most beautiful Atlantic Ocean coastline in the park.
If you do have time to see more than the bare minimum in Acadia, you’ll quickly become familiar with the Loop Road. I circled it at least a half-dozen times during my two and a half days on Mount Desert Island. The Loop Road circles the eastern lobe of MDI. More than half of the road is one-way, forcing you to make a clockwise loop if you want to go all the way around. You can go counter-clockwise to access Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond and Seal Harbor. There are several access points that allow you to hop off onto Route 3 or Route 233, which are a little less scenic and a bit faster.
I’ll show you some pictures from various spots along the Loop Road in just a moment, but the best way to get a feel for the area is to watch the Drivelapse of the loop road, starting atop Mount Desert Island:
You’ll probably start your first loop around the park at the Visitor Center, which is about a mile outside Bar Harbor. Hop onto the loop here, and you’ll miss the congestion of the downtown streets. At first, the loop road is high above Route 3 and the coastline, providing some great views towards Bar Harbor.
Before long, you’ll cross over Route 233, then circle around the foot of Kebo Mountain, and arrive at the Sieur de Monts area of the park:
Sieur de Monts is part of the original Acadia National Park, back before the park expanded to cover much of Mount Desert Island. I’ll cover this area on other pages, including the Wild Gardens of Acadia page (the Wild Gardens is where I took this picture).
Drive just a little further, past Route 3…
… and you’ll come upon Beaver Dam Pond. It’s a good place to spot some wildlife, so keep an eye out. You can park along the road here, and enjoy the view of Champlain Mountain.
Champlain Mountain dominates the next few miles of the loop road. Its rocky eastern face is home to the Precipice Trail — which is more like a jungle-gym built into the side of a mountain, than a conventional hiking trail. I’ll show you more of it, on my Precipice Trail page.
I was able to take some nice pictures of the loop road as I hiked back to my car, at the Precipice trailhead. I took a different trail down from Champlain Mountain, which ended about a mile away from the trailhead, so I hiked the road to get back. No one rushes around the loop, but hiking part of it on foot gave me a greater appreciation for the beauty of this road.
Beyond the Precipice Trail, there’s an overlook (which I checked out briefly, and didn’t think was especially exciting), then you’ll pass through the toll booths.
South of the entrance station/toll plaza, the loop road passes by some of the island’s best coastline.
There is a sandy beach on MDI, and it’s appropriately called “Sand Beach“.
Next up… Thunder Hole. Sadly, the restrooms are not nearly as exciting as the sign implies…
… but the coastline is! This is a good place to watch the sun rise, while listening to waves boom in Thunder Hole.
The loop road makes a dramatic curve around Otter Point…
… then ducks into Otter Cove.
One of my favorite places along the road is nearly hidden, and easy to miss on the park map. Watch for this bridge, just past Otter Cove. A staircase leads down to Little Hunters Beach. Thanks to its obscurity, you might have it all to yourself.
The next few miles of the loop road aren’t quite as dramatic. The road runs up the middle of Mount Desert Island, so there are no great views of the ocean. You will catch glimpses of Jordan Pond and the Bubbles…
… and see some of the park’s stone bridges, which carry the wonderful Carriage Roads.
This triple-arch bridge is on the connector road, that links the Stanley Brook Entrance (near Seal Harbor) to the loop road.
Of course, I saved the best for last. The road leading up to Mount Desert Island’s highest point, Cadillac Mountain, isn’t technically part of the loop road, but it is equally graceful and fun to drive.