Distance: 40 miles
Time: 3 hours
Season: Spring through fall. Expect traffic in July, August, and late September (for foliage). Not maintained in winter.
The Park Loop Road of Acadia National Park is a gently graded, two-lane blacktop winding through dense woodland and along rocky shoreline to the top of 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain, with 360-degree views of the Atlantic Ocean and Maine coast. (If you’re an early riser, drive to the summit before dawn for a spectacular sunrise.)
The drive begins about 10 miles north of Acadia on Route 3. South of Buttermilk Road in Trenton, watch for rare moose and other diverse wildlife inside the Trenton Interior, where seasonal deer hunting is permitted. On Thomas and Thompson Islands, explore wildlife and tidal pools while watching for boats and planes launching from Northeast Creek. Continue east on Route 3 about 5 miles to Hulls Cove.
This loop begins at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center near Frenchman Bay, first explored by Samuel de Champlain in 1604. After 5 miles, turn off for Sieur De Monts to visit the Nature Center and the Abbe Museum.
Continue for 1 mile to the Champlain Mountain Overlook, offering a magnificent panorama of the Gouldsboro Hills, Frenchman Bay, and the tip of Schoodic Peninsula. As you leave, look back to the left toward Thrumcap Island, a rookery for gulls and cormorants. Four miles farther is Sand Beach, consisting mostly of crushed marine shells.
Stop a half mile past the beach at Thunder Hole. When seas run high, huge waves rush into a narrow slot in the rocks, forcing air trapped at the back of the chasm to compress and make a thundering sound. A mile past Thunder Hole, near the pink granite Otter Cliff, explore the tidal pools an hour or two before low tide at Otter Point. Just beyond, the road enters a spruce-fir forest. Wildwood Stables, 4.5 miles past Otter Point, offers wagon rides on some of the 57 miles of wide, gravel Carriage Roads begun by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1917; they’re also open to horseback riders, hikers, bikers, and cross-country skiers.
A mile past the stables, stop at Jordan Pond House for a meal or the century-old tradition of tea on the lawn. Four miles beyond, turn right off the main road to ascend the 3.5 miles to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the eastern seaboard north of Brazil. To return to the visitor center, follow the signs.
Don't Miss: Look up after the sun goes down to find some of the darkest night skies in the eastern U.S., a quality that makes for outstanding stargazing.
On the Way: Philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., built 45 miles of gravel roads on Mount Desert Island that can now be enjoyed on foot, bike, and even by horse-drawn carriage.
Jaw-Dropping Viewpoint: Climb Cadillac Mountain—the highest point on the North Atlantic coast—before dawn to earn bragging rights as the first people in the U.S. to see the sunrise that day.
Be Safe: Exploring tide pools can be great fun, but never turn your back on the ocean as large rogue waves can occur without warning.
Motorcyclist Memo: Ocean breezes and occasional fog can often make temps chilly enough to require donning extra layers.
Map and information originally published in National Geographic's Guide to Scenic Highways and Byways