Acadia National Park: Affordable Travel Destination

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This is such a great affordable vacation idea. Scrolling through all the ideas and getting ready to take my kids to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor this summer!

Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine is so incredibly beautiful. With temperate summers and gorgeous, deciduous-lined beaches that change colors in the fall, it’s a perfect natural get-away for people who love to passively enjoy the beauty of nature or like to tackle it through extreme sports.

Best Times to Travel to Acadia National Park

To keep the trip frugal we’ll start with our cardinal rule:

Travel before Memorial Day or after Labor Day.

Prices on lodging and essentially everything touristy will be seriously reduced. That includes airfare–ticket prices double for those who must travel in the summer.

That being said, it’s absolutely beautiful in the summer and every possible thing you could imagine to do there is open.

If you’re traveling in the off-season, be sure to pack warm clothing.  Spring and fall are bearable and beautiful, but undoubtedly colder than what you’d expect.

Getting into the Park

Acadia National Park Fall

The only sandy beach on Mount Deseret Island.

Acadia is one of the national parks which requires an admission fee. The good news is that for one car it’s only $20 for a week. It’s not bad, but to eliminate the cost completely you can go during one of the National Parks’ free days.

You can also berid of the entrance fee if someone in your car is:

  • Disabled.
  • A fourth grader.
  • A member of the military or a military dependent.

Frugal Fun Inside Acadia National Park

Precipice Mount Desert Island

The Precipice in Fall.

Aside from the entrance fee, going to the park a pretty frugal thing to enjoy the outdoors. Pack your own food and do any of the following:

  • Bike or hike any of the carriage roadsThese roads were built by Rockefeller with the restriction that no cars could ever drive on them. You can even ride down them in a horse-drawn carriage at certain times of year. In the winter, some of these trails are open to cross-country skiing.
  • Visit Cadillac Mountain, where at certain times of the year you’ll be able to see the sun rise before anywhere else in the United States.
  • Visit the Abbe Museum in the woods or in the town of Bar Harbor to explore Native American history/culture.
  • Visit Thunder Hole, where the waves crash in on a narrow cove creating a thunderous effect. You may just get drenched. There are tons of tide pools off to the side, but you’re not really supposed to climb over to see them as doing so can be extremely dangerous.
  • Visit the only sandy beach on the entire island.  The water’s not all that warm, but the view is stunning with pines and other trees lining the coast.
  • Rock climbers can tackle the Precipice, which will be worth writing home about.
  • Anyone can climb the Precipice Trail. It’s intense and can be dangerous. It’s not for people who are children, afraid of heights, or have any health problems. But if you get a thrill out of this sort of thing, you’ll enjoy the challenge.
  • Kayak.  The ocean is at your disposal.
  • Ranger-led programs are also available and may be a great option if you have kids in tow.
  • Swim in your choice of ponds.

Affordable Things to do Near Acadia National Park

the ovens mount desert island maine

Cavernous rock formations at The Ovens.

There’s lots of other fun things to do and explore on other parts of Mount Desert Island, too Here are some ideas to get you started.
  • Go geocaching!  Free activity that will help you explore other parts of the island that you wouldn’t have ventured to before.
  • Take a boat tour of the surrounding islands and learn about lobstering.
  • Visit the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.
  • Go whale watching. Admittedly, this one isn’t super frugal, but can be really cool. I’ve seen humpbacks on an excursion out of Bar Harbor before.
  • Go shopping in the quaint town of Bar Harbor.  The tchotchke shops have a lot of stuff made in China, but it will be cheap.
    The shops where stuff is a little more expensive usually carry products and artwork made by Maine locals–supporting the local economy and artists.  The town butts up against the ocean providing a great view lined with an array of restaurants.
  • Visit the Ovens–but only at low tide!

 National Parks Make For Frugal and Memorable Vacations

Tide pools in Acadia National Park

Tide pools outside of Thunder Hole.

My list is by no means exhaustive, but is meant to demonstrate that if you enjoy nature, national parks can be a great way for you to vacation on a budget.

Acadia has a nice balance of small town civilization and isolated wilderness so you can have a great time whatever your preferences may be. I’ve been lucky enough to visit several times, and it’s always a new adventure!

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26 thoughts on “Acadia National Park: Affordable Travel Destination

    1. femmefrugality

      I’ve done Acadia and Yellowstone….they were so great! The others are amazing, too, I’m sure. You should check out some of those free days and see if any of them work for you.

      Reply
  1. Modest Money

    Frugal outdoor vacations are awesome…definitely something I need to do more of. For most people there are so many great nearby parks and trails to check out. So you don’t necessarily need to drive far to enjoy this kind of thing.

    Reply
  2. femmefrugality

    Thanks all for your comments! It really is a beautiful place and I’m glad a few of you have been able to make it up that way before!

    @JP–Unfortunately, I have never taken the camping route when I’m up there. I’m lucky enough to have family nearby and save that way. BUT here is a bunch of information on where you can go camping on the island and I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find reviews! http://www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm

    Reply
  3. Aaron

    Looks like a beautiful place to visit. We’ve never been up in the NE part of the US.. perhaps one-day. I love the national parks. My favorite is Yellowstone. Outside the US, I’d have to put Banff / Jasper as my favorite in Canada. One of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      You have great travel taste! Banff may be the only one I’ve been to in Canada (not sure) but HOLY GORGEOUS AND BREATHTAKING.

      Reply
  4. FullTimeFinance

    I finally made it to Acadia last summer. We normally spend time mid summer in mid Maine so it was a three hour drive. Worth every minute as my kids loved hiking around some of the lesser paths.

    Reply
    1. femmefrugality Post author

      So glad you were able to make it happen! And I like the easier paths just as much–sometimes more depending on my motivation levels haha. That’s actually how I discovered the museum in the woods!

      Reply

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