The drive from Boston to Acadia National Park in Maine is one of the coolest road trips in New England. The journey can be done in about 5 hours, but it’s fun to turn it into a 2- or 3-day journey with stops along the way.
From fun beach towns to historic sites and old military forts, the drive offers a lot of potential highlights. Stroll along a gorgeous beach in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire; explore the state capitol building in Augusta, Maine; or see cemeteries and museums related to the infamous Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts.
I’ve personally taken this road trip going north from Boston to Acadia, and again in the reverse direction. Where should you stop and what should you see? Read on for my recommendations for the best itinerary between Boston and Acadia NP.
How Far is Acadia National Park From Boston?
What’s the distance from Boston to Acadia National Park? The quickest path covers 280 miles and takes about 4 hours and 35 minutes. It follows I-95 from Boston through Portland and Bangor, Maine, before veering south to Acadia.
My recommended route, shown in the map above, takes about 6 hours, since it stops in several towns along the way.
For a more direct route, you could hug the Atlantic coastline most of the way. That would only require 266 miles. But it would take an extra 30 minutes, because you’re mostly traveling on two-lane roads with lower speed limits. And you’d be missing a lot of highlights from the cities on I-95.
For that reason, this itinerary will use the first route that travels through Bangor. If you’re making a round-trip, you may want to try both routes to see as much as possible.
If you plan to do this drive in two days, with just one overnight stop, then Portland, Maine would be the ideal place to spend the night. If you want to extend it and make it a three-day trip, with more time to visit the towns and cities along the way, then I suggest overnighting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Bangor, Maine.
When should you make this drive? Obviously, summer has the best weather, so that is the ideal time to go. Summer is also the busiest tourist season, so plan ahead by booking your lodging in advance.
Autumn is a great time to visit as well. The scenery with the colorful leaves is hard to beat. Spring is doable, but it’s still chilly and rainy. Winter is not ideal, unless you’re into the snow and have a reliable vehicle.
Boston to Acadia Road Trip Itinerary: Where to Stop
Let’s start with our city of departure. Beantown! Just kidding, nobody calls Boston “Beantown” anymore. That was a former nickname, derived from the days when Boston baked beans were all the rage.
If you’re a Boston local, you can skip this section. But tourists should be sure to experience all the city’s coolest spots before setting off for Maine.
The biggest tourist attractions in Boston are history-related. This is where so many important moments of the American Revolution took place, from the Boston Tea Party to Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride to the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Walk the Freedom Trail to see it all. The 2.5-mile path winds through Boston’s downtown and North End. The trail highlights 16 historic attractions, such as the Paul Revere House, the Massachusetts State House (aka, the state capitol building), the Boston Massacre Site, and the Bunker Hill Monument. Give yourself at least half a day to do the whole trail.
The Bunker Hill Monument is the last stop on the trail. That’s the site of one of the most significant battles of the war, where American forced first showed they could match firepower with the Brits. You can climb up 294 steps to the top of the monument, if you’re motivated.
Another noteworthy stop on the Freedom Trail is Granary Burying Ground. This large cemetery downtown features the graves of iconic figures like John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Paul Revere.
One more stop on the Freedom Trail worth seeing is the USS Constitution. Having been built in 1797, it’s the oldest functioning ship in the world! You can board it and take a tour.
Elsewhere in Boston, walk through Boston Common, a huge park area with lots of green space and historic statues. Walk over to the nearby Cheers bar to see the famous exterior from the hit ‘80s and ‘90s Ted Danson sitcom.
If it’s baseball season, take in a game at venerable Fenway Park. Built in 1912, it’s the oldest active ballpark in Major League Baseball, and features the famous 37-foot-tall Green Monster wall in left field.
Also spend some time in the neighborhood of Cambridge, which is technically its own city. Stroll around Harvard University, hang out at the shops and restaurants in Harvard Square, visit Mike’s Pastry and order the famous cannoli, and check out Graffiti Alley to see some next-level street art.
Once you’ve fully explored Boston, it’s time to hit the road!
Whether the city likes it or not, Salem is best-known as the home of the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 1692. That was the event where the entire town went hysterically crazy, started accusing everybody of being witches, and put more than 200 people on trial for witchcraft, executing 19 of them.
This unfortunate history makes Salem a hotbed of tourist activity, especially during the Halloween season. Sights include a Salem Witch Trials Memorial, The Salem Witch Museum, The Witch House, the Witch Dungeon Museum, the House of Seven Gables… you get the picture.
The quirkiest attraction in Salem is the statue featuring the character Samantha from the ‘60s show Bewitched.
You could zip through Salem in a couple hours, or you could stay overnight here and dig into the history. Be prepared for traffic jams on the city’s small roads, especially on weekends and peak tourist times.
Where to stay in Salem: The Salem Inn. A boutique hotel consisting of three historic houses, the Salem Inn is an older property that will enhance the old-time vibe of your Salem visit. It’s located within walking distance to all of Salem’s major attractions. Book the Salem Inn here
DETOUR OPTION: If you have extra time, head northeast from Salem to the towns of Gloucester and Rockport, on the Cape Ann Peninsula of Massachusetts. This area has lots of lighthouses and beaches, plus Halibut Point State Park (busy during the summer!), the Hammond Castle Museum, and the fun Bearskin Neck retail and residential district of Rockport.
DETOUR OPTION: Another detour option involves driving an hour northwest from Salem, Massachusetts to the town of Salem, New Hampshire. You won’t find any witches here, but you will see “America’s Stonehenge,” a mysterious 4000-year-old rock formation created as an accurate astronomical calendar. Guests can walk through the stone chambers and ruins.
Hampton Beach, NH
After Salem, the Boston to Acadia road trip heads up through New Hampshire. We’re only in NH for a short time, but it’s worth leaving I-95 to visit the coastal town of Hampton, and its leading attraction, Hampton Beach.
Hampton Beach has a beautiful beach and lengthy boardwalk with lots of restaurants and gift shops. Stop here for a meal, or a swim if the weather is nice.
Also check out quirky sights like the Summer Santa statue outside the Sand and Santa gift shop. This Santa wears shorts and sandals and stands 16 feet tall!
Portsmouth is a cute New England city with a number of houses and buildings dating back to the 1700s. Points of interest on this part of the Boston to Acadia drive include Strawberry Banke Museum, the Governor John Langdon House, and the USS Albacore Museum.
This is a great spot for a dinner break on the road trip. Portsmouth also has a number of excellent restaurants of all types, from seafood houses to upscale Italian to American tapas to Himalayan cuisine.
Portsmouth sits right on the Maine-New Hampshire border. In fact, you can walk across the World War I Bridge into Maine, one of the rare chances to walk from one state into another.
Where to stay in Portsmouth: Hotel Portsmouth. I love local hotels that are not chains and which have some character and charm. Hotel Portsmouth is exactly that. It’s a Victorian house right in the center of town. Book Hotel Portsmouth here
Stop in the small town of Kittery, Maine for one reason: To get a funny pic in the giant chair.
It’s officially called the Big Easy Chair, and it’s a 12-foot tall lounge chair with a fiberglass shell. Pull into the parking lot and grab a pic in the chair, which sits on a grassy lot next to a brick building. The address is 78 Government Street.
If you’ve got an extra hour on your hands, swing by the Kittery Historical & Naval Museum. It’s a small facility with limited hours, but you can learn about the history of the town and its naval heritage.
DETOUR OPTION: Some road trippers may want to make the short drive over to Kittery Point to visit Fort McClary State Historic Site. It’s a former military fort with a museum and preserved cannons and buildings dating back as far as 1808. The site is named after Revolutionary War Major Andrew McClary, who served at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Travelers of a certain age who remember the presidency of George HW Bush (#41) surely recognize the name Kennebunkport. That’s the coastal town where Bush and his family would vacation when they needed a break from Washington DC.
The Bush family still owns that property in Kennebunkport. Known as Walker Point, the house is not open to the public, but you can see it from a nearby park. Here’s how to see the Bush compound.
There aren’t a ton of other activities in Kennebunkport, but you can find several restaurants. This is as good a place as any to try local foods like lobster and clam chowder.
Located about 2 hours north of Boston, Portland is the biggest city in Maine by far, with a population of nearly 70,000.
Explore the cobblestone streets of the Old Port waterfront neighborhood for shopping and dining. Visit the Portland Museum of Art or Victoria Museum, or get a bird’s eye view of the city at the Portland Observatory tower.
In nearby Cape Elizabeth, see Portland Head Light, a lighthouse from 1791 that is the state’s oldest, and Fort Williams Park, a 90-acre stretch of rugged coastline.
Where to stay in Portland: Hampton Inn Downtown. Most of the hotels in Portland are chains, so go with the best of the bunch, the Hampton Inn Downtown. It has all the fancy amenities and it’s right by the water and the ferry port. Book the Hampton Inn Downtown here
DETOUR OPTION: To get really off the beaten path, take the ferry from Portland to one of the islands in Casco Bay. Peaks Island is an interesting stop. That’s where you’ll find Battery Steele, a landmark fortress from World War II that has become a nature preserve. It’s often muddy, and the concrete is now covered in graffiti, so it’s not for everyone. Peaks Island is also the home of the quirky Umbrella Cover Museum, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It is literally a small museum dedicated to those sleeves that cover your umbrella.
This stop is optional. Open only on weekdays, the Eartha Globe is a museum with the world’s largest rotating and revolving globe inside. It’s 41 feet in diameter and makes for an impressive sight. You can see the globe easily through the large window if the museum is closed.
Here’s a quick stop for another quirky attraction: The LL Bean flagship store. It’s literally open 24 hours a day, so you can go in at 4 am and shop for outdoor gear and clothing if you like.
But the real reason to visit is the 16-foot-tall rubber boot in front of the store! It’s a fun roadside attraction to photograph.
Augusta is the capital of Maine, but it’s actually quite a small city, with fewer than 20,000 residents. That makes the state capitol building itself the primary attraction. The public can visit on weekdays from 8 am to 5 pm to tour the interior.
Fans of roadside attractions have another good one in Bangor: The giant Paul Bunyan statue! It’s 31 feet high and weighs 3700 pounds.
Other interesting Bangor attractions include the Cole Land Transportation Museum, which showcases trains, fire trucks, and various other forms of transport; and the Stephen King House. It’s the horror fiction author’s actual residence, which means you can’t go inside, but you can take pictures of the stately mansion from the sidewalk.
Bangor is a good place to spend the night, since it’s a 65-minute drive from Acadia National Park, and hotels here are cheaper than lodging right next to the park. You can sleep in Bangor and head straight into Acadia the next morning.
Where to stay in Bangor: Country Inn at the Mall. Located close to I-95, the Country Inn at the Mall has free wifi and breakfast. It’s a convenient spot to stay overnight so you can get up early and head straight to Acadia early in the morning. Book the Country Inn at the Mall here
Holden, Ellsworth, Trenton, ME
These are some of the small communities you’ll pass through on the way from Bangor to Acadia. There’s no shortage of grocery stores, convenience stores, inns and bed & breakfasts on this part of the drive.
Two attractions to look out for: the Telephone Museum in Ellsworth, which has exhibits on the history of phone communication; and the Whistling Buoy in Trenton, one of several gift shops in the area. This one has hundreds of buoys on its exterior, and a cardboard cutout of a lobster you can stick your face through.
Bar Harbor, ME
Finally, you’ve arrived in Bar Harbor! Bar Harbor is the town of 5500 people that borders Acadia National Park. You can go straight into the park, or stop in Bar Harbor for great seafood, ice cream, and gift shops.
Bar Harbor gets very crowded due to the tourists, so expect traffic and perhaps some difficulty parking. I enjoyed a lobster roll at Peekytoe Provisions, one of numerous eateries on Main Street.
If you don’t mind paying a bit more, stay overnight in Bar Harbor and you’ll be less than 5 minutes from Acadia.
Where to stay in Bar Harbor: Bar Harbor Grand Hotel. The Bar Harbor Grand Hotel has an old, impressive exterior, but modern and elegant rooms inside. The location could not be better – just a short drive to Acadia National Park, and within walking distance of everything in Bar Harbor! Book the Bar Harbor Grand Hotel here
Acadia National Park, ME
The Boston to Acadia road trip finally ends when you reach the Hulls Cove Visitor Center! Stop in to get your park maps and use the restroom.
Most everyone who visits Acadia National Park will drive the full length of Park Loop Road. It’s a 27-mile one-way scenic drive with lots of cool overlooks and stops. Take your time and pull over whenever the mood strikes.
Sand Beach is a great first stop. If it’s summer, bring your bathing suit and enjoy the water! If not, walk along the shore and take in the views.
Thunder Mountain is a unique natural formation. At this rocky outcrop, waves often bang against the rocks and the crevices, creating a loud bang that almost sounds like thunder.
Reservations are required to drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain, which has some of the best views in the park. Go online and book in advance ($6 per vehicle) to get access to that road. Don’t forget to look up – I saw a bald eagle flying around here!
Acadia has lots of good hikes, many of which provide ocean views. I recommend the Gorham Mountain Trail. It’s a nifty 1.6-mile hike with 430 feet of elevation gain. That makes it moderate enough for most anyone to finish.
This is not like a normal hiking trail. Much of the path consists of large boulders that you have to step on or around. It’s a fun change of pace from a flat dirt trail!
Go in the afternoon when the sun is in the west for the best lighting. The views up there are awesome!
Jordan Pond House is a good final stop on the road. Take a short stroll to see the large lake, stop in to a gift shop, or take in a full meal at the restaurant.
Acadia is the kind of park where you can zip through all the highlights in a single day, or you can spend 2-3 full days exploring all the trails, beaches, campgrounds, and other attractions, such as the Abbe Museum, Nature Center, and Wild Gardens of Acadia.
Short Road Trip: Portland, Maine to Acadia National Park Itinerary
If you’re looking for a Portland to Acadia itinerary, just follow the second half of the guide above. Portland to Acadia is 160 miles and about 3 hours if you drive straight through.
Figure closer to 5-6 hours if you want to take your time and stop in some of the communities along the way. From Portland to Acadia, it might make sense to take Route 1 and stay closer to the shoreline rather than speeding along on the freeway. On Route 1, you can experience small towns like Rockland and Camden.
Do you have any other suggestions to add to the Boston to Acadia National Park itinerary?