Washington DC to Acadia National Park road trip

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Embark on an unforgettable adventure from Washington DC to Acadia National Park. Along the way, explore some of the East Coast’s biggest attractions, ranging from human accomplishments to raw nature.

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Travel north via the metropolitan hubs of Philadelphia and NYC. While these offer a never-ending array of sights, avoid the morning and afternoon rush hours at all costs or expect to be delayed.

Detour to Newport for a pleasant seaside vibe, but if you’re short on time, skipping it and heading straight towards Boston and Salem saves you a good 45 minutes.

Both Portsmouth and Portland fit the bill perfectly for a convenient overnight stop — right along the route with a walkable downtown that isn’t overwhelmingly big or congested.

Finally, Bar Harbor welcomes you to Acadia National Park. After a long but rewarding drive up, check into your hotel before plunging into the stunning natural playground.

Map showing the best route from Washington DC to Acadia National Park
Click for interactive mode.
  • Total distance: 785 mi / 1,264 km
  • Total driving time: 14 h 30 min

1. Washington DC

Not ticked off the essential spots yet? Be sure to appreciate Washington DC’s impressive sights of national significance prior to hitting the open road for Acadia National Park.

Highlights:

  • The White House – Peer through the fence, across the lawn at the iconic home and workplace of the USA’s president (getting a tour spot can be frustratingly hard).
  • Lincoln Memorial – Walk from monument to monument in the National Mall, a landscaped park crowned by the Lincoln Memorial in the west.
  • Smithsonian Institution – Take your pick(s) from a treasure trove of inspiration encompassing 17 museums, galleries and a zoo.
People wandering along the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Point during a warm day
The National Mall makes a stunning starting point.

2. Philadelphia, PA

139 mi (224 km) / 2 h 30 min

Hit the break and soak up the USA’s birthplace. This is an excellent opportunity to uncover a city commonly overshadowed by its noisy neighbors, political powerhouse DC and bustling NYC.

Highlights:

  • Liberty Bell – Get a selfie with the Liberty Bell, famously inscribed with: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof”.
  • Independence Hall – See where it happened — the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence here in 1776.
  • Philly Cheesesteak – Try the quintessential Philly dish, a hoagie roll loaded with sliced steak and melted cheese.
Red-brick Independence Hall in Philadelphia under a clear sky
Refuel in Philadelphia.

3. New York City, NY

94 mi (151 km) / 1 h 45 min

Sticking to the highway could save you half an hour, at least. The question is: Can you resist the heights of The City That Never Sleeps?

Highlights:

  • Central Park – Find peace in the 843-acre city oasis tying together the Upper East Side and Upper West Side, with Midtown rising to its south.
  • One World Trade Center – Ride the elevator to the top of one of NYC’s enormous skyscrapers — One World Trade Center, at 1,776 feet, is the tallest of them all.
  • The Met – Set aside several hours, maybe a full day, for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, bringing overwhelming art spanning 500 years to the public.
Yellow cabs on a busy street flanked by towering skyscrapers in NYC
NYC — a busy highlight.

4. Newport, RI

181 mi (291 km) / 3 h 15 min

What could Newport, Rhode Island, offer to your Washington DC to Acadia road trip? Park the car, inhale the salty air, and you’ll quickly find out.

Highlights:

  • Newport Harbor – Recharge in style as you enjoy the fresh seafood, revitalizing beverages and friendly ambience in downtown Newport, beautifully set by the harbor.
  • Cliff Walk – Get some exercise along the Cliff Walk, framed by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and grand mansions on the other.
  • The Breakers – Step into the grandest mansion of them all, the Gilded Age-style Breakers, built as a summer home for the Vanderbilt family in 1895.
Pile of stones on a big rock facing crashing waves in Newport, RI
Unwind in Newport.

5. Boston, MA

72 mi (116 km) / 1 h 30 min

History lovers go bananas in Boston, where a good story awaits around every corner. This is sightseeing at its best.

Highlights:

  • Boston Common – Start at the USA’s oldest public park, Boston Common, then tick off the other 15 designated sites of historic importance along the 2.5-mile (4 km) Freedom Trail.
  • Fenway Park – Catch a baseball game at Fenway Park, the legendary 1912 home of the Red Sox.
  • Harvard University – Sign up for a student-led tour to gain a unique insight into life at what possibly is the world’s finest institution of higher education.
The exterior of Fenway Park, Boston, after dark
Root for the Red Sox in Boston.

6. Salem, MA

25 mi (40 km) / 30 min

Salem occupies a dark chapter in the history books (google the 1690s witch trials), but the peculiar Harry Potter-esque character is what draws many here. We’ll promise you one thing: There’s no other place quite like it.

Highlights:

  • Peabody Essex Museum – Learn about the infamous witch trials on a self-guided walking tour and immerse yourself in captivating galleries and rotating exhibitions.
  • House of the Seven Gables – Enter the landmark home of the namesake 1851 novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
  • Essex Street – Feel the quirky vibe as you walk along the cobblestone Essex Street Pedestrian Mall, hunting for a witch-themed souvenir — or maybe just a cup of coffee.
Brown seaside shack by Salem Harbor under a blue sky
Salem — a unique stop on the Acadia route.

7. Portsmouth, NH

47 mi (76 km) / 1 h

Get off Interstate 95, and minutes later you find yourself in downtown Portsmouth. And the convenience is just the beginning.

Highlights:

  • Market Square – Start your Portsmouth experience at Market Square, the heart of a charismatic downtown area filled with all from good eats to art galleries to bookstores.
  • USS Albacore – Step into a research submarine that conducted countless experiments during its service years between 1953 and 1972.
  • Strawbery Banke – Travel through time at the seasonal Strawbery Banke Museum, complete with historic houses and costumed performers.
Memorial Bridge spanning the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, NH
It doesn’t get more convenient than Portsmouth.

8. Portland, ME

52 mi (84 km) / 1 h

Maine’s love for lighthouses is unmistakable. Pause in Portland to admire one of the most iconic lighthouses in America.

Highlights:

  • Portland Head Light – Marvel at the main attraction, then see if you can spot the beacons of the four neighbors.
  • Old Port – Power up in the atmospheric Old Port, abounding with cobblestone streets, brick buildings and fishing piers.
  • Portland Museum of Art – Be inspired by a surprisingly diverse collection spanning all from regional favorites to Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet.
Red-painted Harbor Fish Market in the Old Port of Portland, ME
Eat yourself into a food coma in Portland.

9. Acadia National Park, ME

175 mi (282 km) / 3 h

After an epic journey from Washington DC, you arrive in Bar Harbor on Mount Desert Island. First, settle in at your hotel, then let the remarkable outdoor adventure in Acadia National Park begin.

Keep in mind: On top of a park entrance pass, you need a permit to drive Cadillac Mountain Road from typically mid-May to mid-October.

Highlights:

  • Cadillac Mountain – Conquer the Northern Atlantic’s highest peak, especially known for its sunrises but equally breathtaking throughout the day.
  • Park Loop Road – Leisurely cruise the 27-mile (43 km) Park Loop Road that links Mount Desert Island’s popular east side.
  • Bass Harbor – Absorb the quiet west side of Mount Desert Island, crowned by the Bass Harbor Head Light Station, dramatically perched on rocky cliffs.

Where to stay when reaching Acadia National Park

No, there’s no lodging within Acadia National Park. Luckily, you find great places to stay in Bar Harbor, the complete gateway town offering unbeatable access (think a 5-minute drive) to Acadia’s famous Park Loop Road.

Snap up a room at convenient Island Place to have the best of downtown Bar Harbor at your fingertips. Let the car be parked and effortlessly stroll down the road to enjoy seafood restaurants and cute shops.

If you rather spread out in a free-standing unit, consider the white-painted Bar Harbor Cottages & Suites. Sure, this is 15 minutes’ drive from town, but the idyllic New England setting more than makes up for it.

Bass Harbor Head Light Station perched on cliffs in orange shades in Acadia National Park
Welcome to breathtaking Acadia National Park.

Best time to go from Washington DC to Acadia National Park

Have a flexible schedule? While Acadia is a beautiful destination around the year, each season has its own character.

Enjoy an incredibly still setting until mid-April, when the Park Loop Road typically opens for the season. With temperatures reaching above 60°F (16°C) come May, you might be able to hike without a jacket.

This is another helpful guide by Howtobookyourtrip.com

Although summer means beautiful days around the mid-70s (24°C), you now have more fellow visitors to share the scenery with. Tip: Drive to the west side of Mount Desert Island for peacefulness.

Leaf peepers flock to Acadia during the fall months. While the exact peak window changes from year to year, October is generally an excellent time to delight in fall foliage.

Winter visitors find unmatched solitude. Just take into account that most of the Park Loop Road is closed to vehicles and that freezing temperatures are highly likely.

Where to stop on the way back from Acadia

Surprise! We saved a few favorites for the way back. Make your return journey to Washington DC extra special with some new scenery.

  • Follow Route 1 from Ellsworth to Freeport, a much more scenic (but slower) stretch than Interstate 95.
  • Hunt for cool merchandise at the L.L. Bean Flagship store in Freeport, ME.
  • Spread a towel on New Hampshire’s finest strip of sand, Hampton Beach.
  • Take a tour of the renowned Yale University in New Haven, CT.

Washington DC to Acadia road trip FAQ

How long is the Washington DC to Acadia National Park road trip?

This ultimate Washington DC to Acadia National Park drive is 785 miles (1,264 km) long, taking 14 h and 30 min excluding the time you need for the stops along the way.

What to see between Washington DC and Acadia if I’m short on time?

Portsmouth, NH, and Portland, ME, make great overnight stops, especially if you’re short on time. Both are easily accessible from the interstate and lack the congestion of the larger cities further south.

Where do you enter Acadia from Washington DC?

You’ll first enter Acadia National Park at Thompson Island, home to a small seasonal visitor center. Continue on Route 3 to find the main hub of information, Hulls Cove Visitor Center, just a few miles before reaching downtown Bar Harbor.

Keep planning your New England trip

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