Road Tripping to Acadia National Park & White Mountain National Forest - A Complete Itinerary

by - 7:30 AM


The perks of a road trip are being able to carry as much stuff as you want (no weight limit) and going wherever your heart desires (because... you have a car). Since I wanted to plan a summer vacation around camping and hiking, a road trip made the most sense.

I love the mountains and my boyfriend Mike enjoys being by the water, so Acadia National Park was an easy choice to please both of us. We planned our trip with Acadia in mind but while we were looking for other places to stop along the way, I saw a big green area on the map in New Hampshire and we decided to check it out. Somehow I wasn't aware that White Mountain National Forest is a gorgeous mountain range with the highest peak in the northeast.

Keep reading for the entire itinerary of our eight-day road trip from Virginia to Acadia and back with a few great stops along the way.


Day 1: Drive to White Mountain National Forest

The day began at 6 AM when Mike and I left his house in Fairfax, Virginia. We drove ten hours (ugh! traffic was bad) to Hartford, Connecticut for a brief stop to pick up food and supplies and continued the last hour and a half to our destination. When we reached White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, we popped into the visitors center to purchase a trail map before checking into Maple Haven Campground for the night.

The long drive wore us out, so we set up camp, took a little walk along the river, cooked chicken with onions and sweet peppers over the campfire and went to bed.

Riverside camping at Maple Haven Campground in New Hampshire

Day 2: White Mountain National Forest

The morning began with campfire eggs, onions and sausage with avocado on the side. We packed up camp and went to the Falling Waters Trail for a little morning hike to see a couple waterfalls.

We had plans of hiking to a shelter for backcountry camping that night, but an access road was closed and a forest ranger discouraged us from going. Instead, we called and reserved the last available tent site at Tarry Ho Campground. (This turned out to be our favorite campground of the trip because of a very clean bathroom with free showers.)

For lunch, we made turkey avocado wraps on a picnic table near Willey House Pond and relaxed before our hike up Mount Willard. It was a steep trek, but the views were absolutely incredible.

Views from Mount Willard in White Mountain National Forest
The day was fading fast, but we wanted to do one last hike to a waterfall recommended by the visitor center's staff. The hike to Arethusa Falls was another short but steep one. Since we didn't have much time, we really pushed ourselves and made it to the falls in about 35 minutes. And... WOW! I hadn't looked up pictures or reviews of Arethusa Falls, so I had no idea how big and beautiful this waterfall is. If you go to White Mountain National Park, you should most definitely end your day with a visit to this waterfall to swim in the pools at the base. Mike and I were so thrilled that we added this hike to our day in the White Mountains!

We got back to camp pretty late and were too exhausted to cook dinner. Mike ate a can of ravioli and I made a bag Backpacker's Pantry Corn Chowder. Not glamorous, but we didn't go to bed hungry.

Arethusa Falls in White Mountain National Forest

Day 3: Acadia National Park

A day that was equal parts sad and exciting. While we were eager to see Acadia National Park, we loved White Mountain National Forest and did not want to leave. Since we had a nonrefundable campsite in Acadia already booked, we woke up early, ate a couple hard boiled eggs and protein bars and drove North to Maine. We stopped in Augusta to eat lunch and replenish our supplies.

When we arrived at Quietside Campground on Mount Desert Island, we quickly set up camp and got back in the car to explore. We checked out the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse then I walked around Fernald Point while Mike did some fishing there.

Back at the campsite, we made a delicious salmon dinner with roasted potatoes cooked in the cast-iron skillet over the fire. And, of course, had s'mores for dessert.

A camping necessity

Day 4: Acadia National Park

Another morning of packing up camp and hitting the road. By this point, we'd gotten really good at setting up and breaking down our campsite quickly and efficiently. We ate protein bars for breakfast and got an early start on the Acadia Mountain Trail. This hike is a good option on the western side of Mount Desert Island and offers great views of Sommes Sound. I'd suggest going early like we did. As we were finishing our hike, we passed quite a few groups just getting started.

View of Sommes Sounds from the top of Acadia Mountain
Acadia Mountain
But the best part of the morning was the reward after the hike. Directly across the street from the Acadia Mountain Trailhead and is a short path to Echo Lake Ledges. At the beginning of the trail, there's even a bathroom where you can change out of sweaty hiking clothes and into a bathing suit. Jumping from the ledges into the water was so refreshing after a hot July hike, but the best part was that we had the whole spot to ourselves (we didn't get so lucky on our second visit to the ledges).

Echo Lake Ledges in Acadia National Park
We checked into Hadley's Point Campground and set up camp, ate turkey wraps for lunch, and relaxed in the shade during the hottest part of the day. This was the biggest and busiest campground, but since we were only around camp to eat and sleep, we didn't mind.

Later in the afternoon, we hiked the Beehive Loop Trail and it was so much fun! Seriously. I think I had a smile on my face the whole time. My adrenaline was rushing as I climbed the iron rungs and crossed narrow bridges to get to the top. At the summit, we took in great views of Acadia, The Bowl, Sand Beach, and the ocean. We continued down the loop to The Bowl, a clear mountain pond, for a swim.

The Beehive Trail in Acadia National Park

On top of the Beehive
Views f Acadia on the Beehive Loop Trail
After the loop, we walked to Sand Beach for some time by the ocean... the freezing cold Atlantic Ocean. It was too cold for me to swim, but there was soft sand and nice views. When leaving the beach, it started to rain and we caught a gorgeous rainbow at the south end of the island at Boulder Beach.

For dinner back at camp, we roasted sausages and potatoes with a side salad... and a couple s'mores.

Day 5: Acadia National Park

We woke up in the morning feeling so relaxed because we didn't need to pack up camp! This was the only time on our trip that we were sleeping in the same place for two nights, so we used our extra time to cook a big breakfast over the campfire: bacon, eggs and sauteed onion with avocado on the side.

Campfire breakfast
I'd heard good things about Jordan Pond, so we set out to hike the loop around the pond and quickly realized that it wasn't going to be enough for us. It's a nice stroll, but we were used to getting our hearts pumping and sweat pouring each morning so we changed plans and hiked the nearby Pemetic Mountain.

I didn't know what we were getting into or how long this hike was. I saw the trailhead listed on the map and Mike said: "Let's go." This four-mile loop was a rugged climb on open face granite with the sun beating down on us. We said we wanted a sweat. Well, we got it! I did love this hike and especially enjoyed the panoramic views of Jordan Pond, the ocean, and the surrounding islands.

Halfway up Pemetic Mountain
Near the top of Pemetic Mountain with views of Jordan Pond
I was quite exhausted after the Pemetic Mountain Loop and ready to reward myself. We scarfed down bacon turkey wraps back at the car and then visited the infamous tourist attraction of Jordan Pond House for the popovers. We didn't know what popovers were, but were told we needed to try them!

A popover is a light hollow roll served with butter and jam. While you can never go wrong with bread and jam, I don't think Jordan Pond House as a must-do on your Acadia itinerary. The popovers were good, but definitely overpriced and not worth the hype. Our campfire food was much better!

Popovers and chai tea at Jordan Pond House
Then, we wanted to go back to our favorite place for a swim... Echo Lake Ledges. Take my advice and go to these ledges instead of the crowded Echo Lake Beach. There are limited options for swimming in Acadia, and this is one of the best!

After our swim, we drove up Cadillac Mountain for the sunset. At 1,530 feet, it's the tallest mountain on Mount Desert Island and the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. Many people head here for sunrise, but I'm not that much of a morning person so we opted for sunset instead. It's also a popular hike, but since there's an option to drive to the summit, hiking Cadillac Mountain was less appealing. I preferred hiking to summits in the park that can only be reached on foot.

We snacked on pepperoni and wheat thins, drank a spiked seltzer and watched the sun go down behind the mountains. It was the perfect end to our time in Acadia.

On top of Cadillac Mountain
Sunset at Cadillac Mountain
Day 6: Freeport & Portland, Maine

We woke up and made our final campfire meal: eggs, onions, and potatoes in the cast iron. I really miss these meals. There's something special and more rewarding about eating a meal cooked over a fire you built yourself.

We packed up the camp for the last time and drove south. Our first stop was Red's Eats in Wiscasset. The roadside stand is known for the best lobster rolls in Maine so I was set on trying one. Mike wasn't too happy about standing in the hour-long line in the sun, but we were committed.

The lobster rolls were $25 a piece and piled high with big chunks of fresh meat on a buttered, grilled New England–style hot dog bun. They were absolutely delicious. The fried shrimp we ordered as a side was also amazing.

I'm glad we went, but would I wait in the line again? Honestly, probably not. I recommend you try it out for yourself, but I'm sure there are lobster rolls found elsewhere that are just as good with less of a wait time.


Lobster Rolls at Red's Eats
Long line at Red's Eats in Wiscasset, Maine
After lunch, we stopped in Freeport to visit the L.L. Bean. Flagship Store. I had no idea that this was more of a campus with four other L.L. Bean stores: Home, Outlet, Bike, and Boat & Ski stores each have their own buildings. If you go, don't skip the outlet store for the best deals.

Eventually, we arrived in Portland and checked into the Westin Portland Harborview for a luxurious night of hotel life after five nights of camping. We walked down the road and stumbled upon live music, pizza and beer at Slab and needed nothing more... well, until we realized we also needed Beal's Old Fashioned Ice Cream. Try a scoop of the Maine blueberry!


Slab Pizza in Portland, Maine


Day 7: Portland, Kennebunk, Portsmouth

We woke up to a gloomy day in Portland so when the hotel offered us free room service breakfast (due to making us a wait an hour the night before at check-in), we gladly accepted.

We then checked out the Portland Head Lighthouse and endured the drizzle while wandering some of the trails in that area.

Portland Head Lighthouse
Next stop: I really wanted to see the beach. We drove along the shore and eventually found free parking at Ferry Beach. This was the perfect little beach for a short walk along the water while watching fishermen dig for clams.

Ferry Beach
Back on the road, the sun was finally starting to shine by the time we pulled into the little town of Kennebunk. We had a good seafood lunch at Allisson's and walked around town to check out some of the beachy shops.

If I were to do it over again, I would've scheduled a whale watching or lobster boat tour for this stop on our trip.

That evening, we redeemed my free night as a Marriott credit card holder at the Fairfield Inn in Amesbury, but we drove the 20 minutes back into Portsmouth, New Hampshire for dinner. We settled on beers and a meal at Portsmouth Brewery. They're known for their mussels and they were delicious!

Mussels and a beer flight at Portsmouth Brewery

Day 8: Drive back to Virginia

Sadly, this was the last day of our trip. We woke up, had continental breakfast and hit the road for a nine-hour drive back to Virginia.

Overall, I am so happy that Mike convinced me to take a road trip for our summer vacation. Because we camped, cooked most of our meals, and used hotel points, the trip was relatively inexpensive. We spent less than $1,000 altogether (gas, tolls and lobster rolls were some of the highest expenses!).

Did I miss any good stops on the trip? Please tell me! I'd love to redo this vacation another time and I highly recommend you recreate it for yourself!


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