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What Is The Best National Park For Dog Owners?

Published on August 12th, 2022 by Terri Nighswonger
This post was updated on February 15th, 2024

dog at acadia - feature image for best national park for dog owners
Acadia National Park is the best national park for dog owners. Photo: Shutterstock

The Best Trails In Acadia National Park For Dog Owners

Why is Acadia National Park the best national park for dog owners? I’d say it’s the best because you can take your dog on a lot of dog-friendly hiking trails in the park. Compare that to other national parks that only allow dogs in a few areas. If you love to go hiking or let your dog swim, as we do, you will love Acadia for that reason and many more.

There are some 100 miles of hiking trails and 45 miles of carriage roads in Acadia National Park where pets are permitted. Many campgrounds in Acadia are dog-friendly as well.

Check out some of these great hikes to get your four-legged buddies, and yourself, some good exercise.

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1. Little Long Pond

One of our favorite places to go is a 1,000-acre park called Little Long Pond. This hike is just outside of the park, but it’s a can’t-miss whether you have a dog or not. You can let your dog off-leash, but they must be under your voice control. The trail isn’t well marked, but it’s well known so it can be busy. It’s at Bracy Cove between Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor.

The area is formerly owned by the Rockefeller family and is now managed by the Land and Garden Preserve. Your pets can swim in the pond, splash in the stream, or hike the trails and carriage roads.

Check out the Long Pond Boathouse and then continue up the carriage road. At the northeast part of the pond, you will see a sign to your left that takes you into the woods. This path will take you completely around the pond and meet up with other trails.

The trail has several wood planks to traverse to keep you out of the muck. Our dogs were pretty good about staying on the path, so there were no muddy feet, but they can wash up in the water at the end of the hike. The trail also has a lot of exposed roots, so make sure you take your hiking boots. It’s not very difficult but just a bit of rough terrain.

When you get to the end, take a seat on the bench and enjoy the view of the boathouse across the pond while your dog swims. Our two active dogs were completely worn out by the time we were done.

2. Wonderland Trail

Spring and fall are a great time to explore the quiet side of Mount Desert Island. This family and dog-friendly 1.6-mile stroll will take you through some beautiful scenic places that lead toward spots along the ocean shoreline. The trail follows an old gravel road to coastal outcroppings where you can search for signs of life in the tidal pools.

Stay a while and observe the lobster boats pass by, or plan your hike to watch a beautiful sunset.

The trail is located along Route 102A southeast of Bass Harbor. Along several sections of the trail, ropes surround both sides to protect vegetation. Don’t forget to plan your trip around low tide.

3. Ship Harbor Trail

Once you are done exploring the Wonderland Trail, an easy 1.5 miles, extend your hike by heading west around the bay to join up with Ship Harbor Trail.

This is also a great stroll through forested scenery that leads to more of the coastline. This well-groomed trail is easy to follow and has two additional spurs. The trail that hugs the harbor is the most scenic. Ship Harbor is a shallow inlet and has a spot where you can watch the tides flow in and out of the narrow channel.

Enjoy looking for sea life here, but watch where you walk so both humans and pets won’t have a negative impact on the environment.

4. Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail

At about 7.1 miles, this out-and-back trail is considered moderate but will likely take you the better part of a day to complete. You can always hike as far as you like and turn around at any point.

Make sure you take plenty of water for both humans and pets. You will also need to make a reservation to go up Cadillac Mountain to get to the trailhead and start down the trail. Reservations are required from May 26 to October 19. Make your reservation here:

You can also begin the trail from Blackwoods Campground. There is no sign for the trailhead, and this trail has one iron rung. The trail takes you on an exposed granite ridgeline with awesome views of the Atlantic Ocean and outlying islands.

5. Great Head Trail

This moderate 1.4-mile trail loops around the perimeter of a small peninsula called Great Head. Located on the east side of Sand Beach, this trail is great for the whole family.

Park in the lower Sand Beach parking area on the east side of Mount Desert Island. Granite steps lead down to Sand Beach. Straight ahead to the east on the far end of the beach, you will see the cliffs where the hike begins.

The beach is closed to dogs in peak season between May 15 and September 15; however, you can traverse the beach with your dog just to get to the trailhead. The trail can also be accessed from the Schooner Head Road out of Bar Harbor.

Just before the base of the headland, at the far eastern side of Sand Beach, look to your left to get a great view of The Beehive. The Beehive is a strenuous hike, not for the faint of heart, and dogs are not allowed, but if you look up, you might see people on the trails and trekking along the cliff face.

6. Ocean Path Trail

Ocean Path Trail is also accessible from the Sand Beach area and is a great way to get awesome ocean views, and if you can, see the sunrise. It’s a popular path with many dogs and people, so be prepared for tons of tourists during the late morning to early afternoon in peak season.

We went on a Tuesday afternoon and had some difficulty finding a parking place. By the time we left, later in the afternoon, the crowds had thinned down some.

The trail follows the road much of the way to Otter Point, and if you choose to do the whole thing, it’s about 4.5 miles out and back. Along the way, many paths off the main trail lead to rocks that are high above the water. Some are more difficult than others to traverse, and always watch out for wet, slick areas.

For a reference, we walked straight back from Otter Point to the parking lot, and it took us about 45 minutes. This is a place where you can wander as long as you like, stepping off the trail at various points along the way.

Thunder Hole is one of those stepping-off points and should be viewed at high tide. The water is said to make a thunderous roar. The steps down to view the opening are easy. There are also restrooms and a gift shop there.

Don’t forget to check out Monument Cave and get out your best hiking shoes for the last push to Otter Point. The trail isn’t difficult, with some moderate elevation changes. This is a great hike to wear out your two-legged and four-legged kids.

7. Gorham Mountain Trail

Gorham Mountain Trail, a moderate 1.6 miles, is another trail close to Ocean Path Trail. This hike is popular, with a modest elevation gain, and is considered a great family-friendly hike. This may not be the most difficult hike, but you can get great views from the summit of Gorham Mountain with Sand Beach to the east, The Beehive to the north, and Otter Point to the south.

The mountain is covered in blueberry bushes, which are in season from late July into early September.

Make sure you stop for a minute to look at a plaque dedicated to Waldron Bates. The man was a visionary when it came to outdoor recreation, and many trails in the park exist because of his dedication. His exploration of the island began in the 1880s during family trips. He fell in love with the island and dedicated much of his life to making it better.

8. Jesup Trail/Hemlock Path

Jesup Trail is an easy 2.2 miles through stands of white birch and hemlock into the Great Meadow, beyond Sieur de Monts. This walk is great for families and kids and is wheelchair accessible.

The terrain is a compact flat trail with a wooden boardwalk, benches, pullouts for viewing the scenery and interpretive signs, and a wide, gravel fire road.

Start this hike just before the entrance to the Wild Gardens of Acadia at Sieur de Monts. As the boardwalk ends, the trail crosses Hemlock Path for the second time. Continue through the Great Meadow, ending at the Park Loop Road. As you cross the road, turn right on the Great Meadow Loop.

At the next trail junction, turn right and cross back over the Park Loop Road onto Hemlock Path. Follow Hemlock Path back into the Great Meadow, past the boardwalk, through a forest of hemlocks. The path leads back to the Sieur de Monts parking lot.

This trail is great for birdwatching, and it’s recommended you hike the loop clockwise for an easier path.

9. Hadlock Pond Trail

This mostly level, moderate hike will get your pooches some great exercise and you some peaceful scenery for quiet contemplation. Located between Norumbega Mountain and Cedar Swamp Mountain, both the Upper Hadlock Pond and Lower Hadlock Pond function as catch basins for all streams flowing down from the peaks southwest of Sargent Mountain. Both ponds are public water supplies, so there is no swimming or wading allowed.

Start your trek at the Brown Mountain Gate. The Brown Mountain Gatehouse parking area is located along Route 198, less than one mile south of Upper Hadlock Pond, and roughly half a mile north of the junction with Route 3 at Asticou Gardens. From the parking area, cross the road and walk south for a bit before picking up the trail around Lower Hadlock Pond.

Check out the waterfall on this moderate 2.3-mile trail. It’s best to see it right after the rain because the waterfall will be at its peak. This is also a great fishing area with brook trout, brown trout, and white perch.

Lower Hadlock Trail heads counterclockwise and joins up with the main Hadlock Pond Trail. As you choose your path, know that both ways offer great scenery, and a trail junction at the north end of the pond has some notable wooden bridge constructions.

Once on the main Hadlock Pond Trail, head north through a grassy, forested area along Hadlock Brook. The trail crosses Route 198 and then follows the eastern shores of the Upper Hadlock Pond. Here you will see the beautiful peaks of Norumbega Mountain and other peaks in the distance.

The trail ends at the Hadlock Brook Bridge, a carriage bridge built in 1926. At this point, you can return the way you came, hike the carriage road back to the Brown Mountain Gatehouse parking area, or continue north along the Hadlock Brook Trail for more adventures.

10. Blue Horizons Preserve

Located on the western side of Mount Desert Island (here it’s pronounced dessert), this 82-acre area features small meadows surrounded by a maturing spruce forest and is bordered by a cobble beach.

The property was donated to Maine Coast Heritage Trust in 2010, so the inhabitants of Mount Desert could swim, picnic, kayak, sail, and enjoy the shoreline. Here you can observe wildlife, particularly near the shore and by a vernal pool where wood frogs and spotted salamanders can be seen. Mudflats offshore are popular with shellfish harvesters.

At trail’s end

Whatever path you choose to hike in Acadia National Park, make it a point to stop for a lobster roll at one of the many outdoor lobster pounds along your route. Grab the dogs a pup cup and take some time to plan out your next adventure, or plan to spend the evening in Bar Harbor at one of the many restaurants, listen to some live music, and enjoy recounting your wonderful day in this beautiful park.

Plan your RV-safe route

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Acadia is the best national park for pet owners.

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