We love to hike Acadia National Park‘s bald granite summits and bike its 50 miles of carriage roads but when we really want to experience the quiet of Acadia we jump in our canoe. A canoe is the best way to see wildlife in the Park.
Kayaking in Acadia National Park is also popular and will be sufficient in allowing you to explore the beauty of the Park from the water and cover more distance on your tour.
Most of Acadia National Park’s 47,000 acres is located on Mount Desert Island, a road-accessed island on the northeastern coast of Maine. This means the Park is as much about the sea as it is about the mountains. The ocean waters of Acadia National Park contain a myriad of paddling opportunities rich in wildlife. We often spot seals checking us out as we paddle and occasionally we are startled by the nearby exhales of harbor porpoises as they surface to breathe between dives.
The dozens of small islands surrounding Mount Desert provide great lunch-time destinations, at times however several can be off-limits to paddlers due to nesting eagles.
While backcountry camping is not allowed in the park, the Maine Island Trail Association maintains campsites on private islands along the Maine coast including several in the area near Acadia National Park.
Acadia National Park is one of the United States’s most visited national parks and sees between two million and three million visitors every year.
In the summer, you can expect temperatures anywhere from 50 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
Whitetail deer, red fox, and beaver are common. You may also spot Atlantic puffins among other seabirds as well. Harbor and grey seals as well as harbor porpoises are common throughout the in-shore waters.
Canoeing in Acadia National Park
If you have half a day
Try the 5-mile paddle upstream and back on Northeast Creek on Mount Desert Island. You’ll find parking on the east side of ME Route 3, 2.5 miles east of the Park’s Thompson Island Information Center. Current is negligible and within the first mile you enter Fresh Meadow, a boggy wetland filled with birdsong and wildlife sightings, including great blue herons, belted kingfishers, river otters and whitetail deer.
If you have a day
Start with a sunrise paddle of Eagle Lake. Views of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest on the United States Atlantic coastline, will be with you the entire time as eagles and osprey circle above. After enjoying Eagle Lake, head over to nearby Jordan Pond, stopping first for lunch on the lawn at the famed Jordan Pond House—reservations recommended. A late afternoon paddle on Jordan Pond usually involves common loon sightings and the occasional visit by peregrine falcons which nest high up on adjacent Jordan Cliffs.
If you have a weekend
You can paddle around the Cranberry Isles, which are just off the southern coast of Mount Desert Island. Spend the night camping on tiny Crow Island. You’ll need to join the Maine Island Trail Association for access. Or stay at one of the handful of bed and breakfasts on Little Cranberry Island, otherwise known as Islesford.
If you have a week
You can island hop in the Acadian Archipelago, a collection of islands in eastern Penobscot Bay. Navigate your chosen route to Isle au Haut, an island six miles off the coast of Stonington, Maine. It hosts an Acadia National Park campsite where you can reserve a lean-to for up to three nights. Reservations are recommended for Isle au Haut.
6-day kayak trip itinerary
Day 1: Leave Bar Harbor and set out for Blackwoods campground.
Day 2: This is a day to do some hiking and exploring.
Day 3: A full-day paddle following the shoreline up Somes Sound and back down to the next base camp at Seawall campground.
Day 4: Explore the rugged west side, paddling to Seal Cove and then back to Seawall campground.
Day 5: Paddle to Baker Island for some exploring and lunch, and then back to Blackwoods campground.
Day 6: Head back to Bar Harbor, taking the time to paddle by the smaller Porcupine Islands and keeping an eye open for whales.
While you’re there
Take a whale-watching tour from Bar Harbor. Minke, humpback, and fin whales are all spotted in the off-shore waters of the Gulf of Maine.
Sunrise from the summit of Cadillac Mountain. A road leads to the bald top of Acadia’s highest mountain, the first spot in the United States to be touched by sunlight every morning.
Stay at the Bar Harbor Inn overlooking Bar Harbor and the Porcupine Islands.
Plan your trip
Find canoe and kayak rentals in Acadia National Park from the following companies:
Acadia National Park kayak tours run the gamut from short, two-hour excursions to multi-day adventures. See the companies below for offerings:
These articles originally appeared as “Dream Departures: Acadia National Park” in Adventure Kayak‘s Spring 2006 issue and “Put-In: Acadia National Park” in Canoeroots’ Early Summer 2017 issue. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or browse the archives here.
Marcy and Jerry Monkman first discovered Maine’s Acadia National Park in 1989. Experienced backpackers, the Monkmans were looking for an alternative way to explore the outdoors after Marcy injured her foot. Paddling in Acadia National Park was the perfect antidote. The Monkmans have visited every year since and have written three books about the park, including AMC’s Outdoor Adventures: Acadia National Park published by AMC Books.
This article originally appeared in Canoeroots Early Summer 2017 issue.
Subscribe to Paddling Magazine and get 25 years of digital magazine archives including our legacy titles: Rapid, Adventure Kayak and Canoeroots.