From the time we started #parkchasing in 2010, watching the sunrise in Acadia National Park ranked high on our national park bucket list. With some of the best views of the Atlantic coast in all of New England, there’s a good reason Acadia is famous for mornings.
As soon as we planned our Acadia itinerary, we started looking for spots to start the day. Today we’re sharing some of the most popular (and secret spots!) we found while researching where to watch the sunrise in Acadia National Park.
1. Cadillac Mountain
By far, the most popular place to watch sunset in Acadia National Park is Cadillac Mountain. In part it’s because at 1,530 feet, Cadillac is the tallest point in the park. (It’s also the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard!) But visitor’s also come to Cadillac because at certain times of the year, it’s the first place that the sun hits the United States seaboard.
Because of its popularity, Cadillac Mountain can be incredibly congested at sunrise. During the busy summer months, you should be prepared for long waits along Cadillac Mountain Road to park at the top. We visited in October and had difficulty finding a view of sunrise without people in it.
It makes our list of places to see the sunrise in Acadia National Park because its iconic–just be prepared that everyone else on vacation will be there also.
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2. Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
If you’d like just as stunning of a sunrise view but with far less traffic and congestion, try another one of Acadia’s popular tourist spots: the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. Located at the southern tip of Mount Desert Island, the lighthouse offers a perfect spot for ocean view sunrise. It’s also a popular spot for sunsets as well.
Be sure to arrive with plenty of time to park and walk the short trail down to the shore. The tides and rocks here can be unpredictable though, so make sure you pack a flashlight and hike with extra care.
3. Otter Point
As Cadillac Mountain has grown in popularity, the National Park Service has tried to recommend alternative locations to watch a sunrise. Otter Point and the Otter Cliffs are one of the places that park rangers now frequently recommend.
Located along Park Loop Road near the Ocean Path, Otter Point is an easy drive and has ample parking for vehicles at sunrise. With more than 2 miles of roadway, there are plenty of places for people to spread out and find some solitude.
4. Thunder Hole
Just a few minutes away from Otter Point is Thunder Hole, another good spot along Park Loop Road to catch a sunrise. Depending on the tide and wind conditions, you may also be treated to the unique sounds that give this area its name. When the tide is at the right level, the waves crashing into the rocks here create a deep, thunderous noise that can add some extra fun to a sunrise experience.
The Ocean Path leads in both directions from Thunder Hole. Park in the available lot and hike a few yards to find a clear spot to wait for the morning to arrive.
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5. Thompson Island
If you would like a near 100% guarantee to watch a sunrise without another visitor around, try the parking area near the Thompson Island Information Center. Located on the north end of Mount Desert Island just as you enter the park, there’s a large open parking area for easy sunrise viewing.
If you’ve already gotten the mountain peak view at Cadillac and a rocky shoreline sunrise along the Ocean Path, Thompson Island will offer a completely different view. The scenery is much different here, with wide marshy flats and easy access to tidepools.
6. Schooner Head Overlook
Another secluded spot to watch the sunrise is along Schooner Head Road to the Schooner Head Overlook. The overlook area can be reached either by taking Schooner Head Road south from Bar Harbor or by turning off Park Loop Road just before the Sand Beach Entrance Station.
Schooner Head Overlook is well-suited for anyone with mobility issues as the view can be seen right from the parking area. It’s also possible to see Egg Rock and the Egg Rock Lighthouse from this location. If you prefer to get closer to the water, there is a short paved footpath that leads from the parking area. Be sure to bring a flashlight as it can be tricky to navigate in the dark.
7. Shore Path, Bar Harbor
Although technically not within Acadia National Park, another popular spot for sunrises on Mount Desert Island is the Shore Path in Bar Harbor. The path begins in downtown at the pier about 3/4 of a mile south along the eastern shore.
While it doesn’t offer the same scenery as the sunrise locations within Acadia National Park, it doesn’t require waking up extra early to drive either. You’ll also compete with the guests of the inns, hotels, and private homes along the Shore Path for sunrise views. It’s by far the best spot in Bar Harbor.
Things to Know About Watching Sunrise in Acadia National Park
Dragging yourself out of bed in the early hours of the morning while on vacation is no small feat. If you’re planning to catch a sunrise, there are some tips you’ll want to know so that you and your family have a memorable experience:
Decide ahead of time where you plan to watch the sunrise. Figure out how long it will take you to arrive at the destination, find a parking spot, and give yourself 5-10 minutes to settle in. At popular places like Cadillac Mountain, you’ll need to arrive well before sunrise.
Check sunrise schedules.
The park’s visitor’s centers will have posted sunrise times for each day you’re in the park. You can also check timetables online to give you an idea of when you need to be at the destination.
Check the weather.
It goes without saying that the weather in Acadia is unpredictable. Our first attempt to see the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain was a bust because of fog.
Even the warmest summer days in Acadia can start on the chilly side. Dress in layers and bring extras like a hat or gloves depending on weather conditions. The best locations to watch the sunrise are also exposed to the wind and elements, so be prepared.
What to Bring
Assuming your goal for sunrise is to capture some great photos and enjoy the landscape, it goes without saying that you’ll want to bring a good camera and tripod. If you need some additional national park photography tips, check out our series with National Park Patch Lady Sandra Ramos!
Other things to bring:
- A blanket and extra layers — even in the summer months, temperatures drop quickly as the sun goes down.
- A sturdy camp chair
- Board games, playing cards or a national park trivia — In Acadia you may need to stake out your spot for sunrise an hour or more ahead. Our travel-size cribbage board is never too far away before the sun comes up.
- Warm beverages are nice. Don’t bother with coffee or hot chocolate in the hotel. Put it in an insulated travel mug and enjoy the extra warmth while you’re waiting for sunrise.
Bring a flashlight or headlamp.We watched plenty of people struggling to navigate on Cadillac Mountain in the dark. The trails in Acadia are rocky and can be slippery if it’s wet. Make sure to pack a flashlight or headlamp.
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One final tip: Pack the night before.
Gather up everything you’ll need for the early morning excursion the night before. That way you can spend a few extra minutes sleeping rather than scrambling to find your camera and gear.
What Else to Do In Acadia National Park
Need trip planning advice for the rest of your time in Acadia? Check out these other posts on hiking, camping, and enjoying nearby parks in Maine.
4 thoughts on “7 Places to Watch the Sunrise in Acadia National Park”
Our favorite time to drive along the park loop road is just after sunrise. There is no traffic, plenty of solitude to enjoy, and the early sun makes photographing wonderful, the Rock colors and shadows really stand out
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