Planning a trip to Cadillac Mountain for the sunrise can be overwhelming and leave visitors feeling unprepared. Without proper preparation, you may miss out on the stunning sunrise views or even be denied access to the summit due to the lack of obtaining a vehicle reservation in advance.
Welcome to your ultimate guide to experiencing a Cadillac Mountain sunrise at Acadia National Park near Bar Harbor, Maine!
This comprehensive guide walks you through every step, from reserving your vehicle to packing the essentials, ensuring you have the best experience possible. Don't let poor planning ruin your trip – let our guide be your trusted companion.
I assure you, it's absolutely worth all of the planning and preparation to witness the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. It is a spectacular bucket-list experience that's truly unparalleled. As the tallest peak on the Eastern Seaboard, Cadillac Mountain holds the unique distinction of being the first place in the United States to greet the sun's rays each morning. This celestial spectacle unfolds as a stunning play of colors, painting the sky in hues of pink, orange, and gold as the sun peeks above the Atlantic Ocean.
This is a phenomenon that attracts thousands of visitors every year to this majestic peak on Mount Desert Island. If this is your first sunrise, well consider yourself warned that it's addicting. When you discover how peaceful and almost spiritual it is, you'll keep coming back for more.
While you may not be an early bird, this is one of those times you will want to break that habit and create a memory that you'll never forget!
Read on as we guide you through everything you need to know, from securing summit reservations, parking in the limited parking lot, what to pack the night before, preparing you for your trip, and answering frequently asked questions.
Visiting Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island
Cadillac Mountain is a beautiful and iconic peak with breathtaking views overlooking Frenchman Bay and the Porcupine Islands. At 1,530 feet in elevation, it's the tallest mountain and highest point on the eastern seaboard coast of the United States, making it one of the most popular places to watch sunrises in North America.
Cadillac Mountain is located within Acadia National Park. So, not only can you visit Cadillac Mountain summit for the sunrise, but you can explore Acadia National Park and all it has to offer from hiking trails, swimming, blow holes, and more.
Then you can head into Bar Harbor, Maine which is near the park for a bite to eat or some shopping. We actually took a sail on a large windjammer sailboat that allows dogs too.
If you’re looking for a picture-perfect place to check off your bucket list then a Cadillac Mountain sunrise will not disappoint.
I will never forget my first visit to see the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain on this early morning adventure. It was one of my most memorable encounters as I shared the summit with others in this quiet awestruck moment of beauty.
Cadillac Mountain Facts
- Serves as a habitat for many rare and endangered species
- A popular spot for bird watching, with a variety of bird species to spot
- The first place to see sunrise in the U.S. for part of the year
- Known for its subalpine look with rocky pink granite peak and lush pine forests
- Cadillac Summit Road is the main road that is 3.5 miles and offers stunning views of the surrounding area
- The summit can be reached by car, bike, on foot, or motorcycle
- Has been featured in a number of movies and TV shows, including “The Cider House Rules” and “Pet Sematary”
- In 1918, Cadillac Mountian was renamed from its former name of “Green Mountain” in honor of Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, who was given the royal grant of Mount Desert Island in 1688 by King Louis XIV of France.
- Located inside of Acadia National Park which was first established in 1916 as Sieur de Monts National Monument. It was later renamed in 1929 to its current name of Acadia National Park.
Geological Features and Formation
Cadillac Mountain boasts a fascinating geological history that has led to its current grandeur. The mountain was shaped by a process known as glaciation, where vast ice sheets moved across the land, carving and molding the landscape.
The mountain's impressive pink granite peak was formed millions of years ago from molten rock that cooled and hardened beneath the Earth's surface.
As the glacier advanced, it scraped and wore away the softer material surrounding this granite, eventually revealing the mountain we see today.
The glacier also left behind other telltale signs of its passage, including U-shaped valleys and large, boulder-like deposits known as glacial erratics.
Pick up an Acadia National Park map like the one below or download the NPS app.
Map of Cadillac Mountain Summit Road and where to park at either the West Parking Lot or East Parking Lot.
Plan Your Sunrise Trip in Advance – It's a Must!
Due to its popularity, it's important to plan ahead and make your sunrise reservation in advance if you are considering driving to the summit of Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunrise.
Before driving to the Cadillac Mountain summit, it's important to follow these guidelines to make sure you're well-prepared and don't miss out.
When Can You Access Cadillac Mountain Summit?
Acadia National Park is open year round, but parts of it are closed, including the Park Loop Road and Cadillac Mountain Summit Road during the winter. Cadillac Mountain Summit Road is the road you'll need to take in order to view the sunrise at the top.
Cadillac Mountain Summit Road is closed typically during December through mid-April depending on the weather conditions so make sure to check if it's open before heading up especially if you are thinking of going close to that time frame.
Who Needs a Cadillac Mountain Summit Sunrise Reservation?
If you plan to travel by vehicle, this includes motorcycles and scooters, it's important to note that summit reservations are required due to the limited areas to park.
If you're entering by hiking, walking, or bicycling then you do not need reservations. Also, note, the local Island Explorer bus system will not take you to the summit.
Vehicle Summit Reservations Required for Cadillac Summit Road
Summit reservations for your vehicle must be made in advance for sunrise viewing to take the Cadillac Summit Road from May 25 through October 22. The vehicle reservation is per vehicle only and not by each person.
If you're traveling with a group of friends and family, this would be a great time to carpool together in one vehicle.
If you're like me and travel more spontaneously, then do not fret. You can still get reservations closer to the date you want to reach the summit starting two days in advance.
How to Obtain a Vehicle Reservation
You have two convenient options to make a reservation through Recreation.gov online or by phone:
- Plan ahead and secure your spot. National Park Service rules stipulate that 30% of reservations become available 90 days in advance of your desired visit date.
- For the remaining 70%, don't worry! They're released at 10 am ET, two days before your visit to Acadia National Park and Cadillac Mountain.
Tip: If you choose option #2, reservations can sell quickly so login to the website early and be prepared to act quickly to secure your spot.
Whether you're a meticulous planner or a spontaneous traveler, there's an amazing opportunity for you to secure a sunrise reservation for this incredible experience.
Print or Download Your Reservation is Required
Make sure to print your reservation or download it to your phone so the QR code can be scanned before arriving since the cell signal is limited.
Cost for Vehicle Reservation
The cost per vehicle reservation is $6 and is non refundable 48 hours prior to your reservation.
Don't Forget Your Entrance Pass to Acadia National Park
You'll need an entrance pass into Acadia National Park. You can purchase the National Park pass on Recreation.gov or purchase it at the park itself.
Did you know there is an annual pass?
By simply visiting a couple of National Parks each year, you not only cover the cost of an annual pass, called America the Beautiful pass, but also support the preservation of our National Park treasures and wildlife.
Additionally, the annual pass provides various benefits, such as saving on multiple trips to national parks and enjoying discounted rates at select campsites.
Timed Entry to Cadillac Mountain Road
Once you obtain your reservation, make sure you arrive during the time specified or you'll miss out and have to purchase another reservation. Even though there is a timed entry, there is no departure time so enjoy for the rest of the day.
I saw so many people enjoying mimosas, picnics, and doing morning meditation and yoga after we saw the sunrise.
Additionally, if you're unable to make your reservation, please cancel it to allow someone else the opportunity to go.
Once you're in, you're in, but if you leave you will not be allowed re-entry.
Driving & Parking Cadillac Mountain Rules
There are National Park Service rules for a reason to keep people safe. Make sure you abide by the rules and don't try to drive off-trail or walk in areas that are off limits. If you do, be prepared for hefty fines—we want our national parks to thrive!
Exercise caution and safety as your drive Cadillac Summit Road 3.5 miles of narrow and winding pavement to the summit. Acadia National Park has rules to prevent accidents and make sure everyone is safe.
Vehicle Length Limit
Any vehicle over 21 feet long is prohibited from accessing Cadillac Summit Road. This includes if your vehicle, van, or RV has a bike hitch or storage that adds additional length to the vehicle.
My van is only 20 feet, but with the bike rack, I'm definitely beyond the 21 feet. I ended up traveling with my friends in their Jeep to the summit, but if you do not have this option, you can take a taxi.
My Ultimate Guide to RV Living for Beginners | 17 Tips You Need to Know is another great resource for you as you hit the road and want to know all the do's and the don'ts. There are many!
Taxi's aren't required to have a vehicle reservation either.
Your reservation is not for a designated parking spot in the parking lot so you'll need to find parking at either the east or west parking lot once you arrive.
Make sure not to park outside of that area since it's strictly prohibited.
Is It Worth Going to a Cadillac Mountain Sunrise?
You might be wondering if all this headache with reservations, planning, and packing is worth it just to see a sunrise.
Well, I guess only you can be the judge of that, but in my opinion it's absolutely worth it.
Cadillac Mountain is stunningly beautiful and the view of the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean is an experience I'll never forget.
If you're able to make it, don't hesitate! You won't regret it.
To make your sunrise experience even better, here are some tips
Cadillac Mountain Sunrise Tips
Since I want you to have an incredible experience as I did, I've put together some useful tips for you when catching the sunrise on top of Cadillac Mountain.
Download the App
It's a good idea to download the National Park Service app before you arrive to Acadia National Park since the cell service is limited.
The NPS app has so many features, such as a park maps, hours of operation for the different areas and trails, real-time announcements regarding maintenance and safety information.
Are Dogs Permitted?
Yes! Your pet must be leashed at all times and can be in the designated areas. This is a huge bonus because so many National Parks do not allow dogs, even when leashed.
Your dog will be fine on the granite rock to view the sunrise and they are also allowed on limited trails.
I brought my dog, Lily, to the summit and I also bundled her up with a jacket. It's a little chilly on this early morning adventure, even in the summer.
Monitor the Weather Forecast and Conditions
Make sure you check the weather forecast before you arrive so you can prepare yourself and your furry friend.
The hard part about making a reservation is that you don't always know if it will be raining on the day you are to arrive.
Rain of course can make the experience challenging and maybe not as special especially if there is a lot of cloud cover that reduces the visibility of the sunrise – the entire reason you are there.
If it is raining when you arrive then be careful walking on the smooth granite rocks since it can be a little slippery and slanted down the mountain. Wear some hiking shoes or boots that help you to grip the gravel and rock.
Check the Sunrise Time and Your Reservation
Double check what time sunrise is and your reservation the night before and make sure your watch and alarm is set to the correct time zone to Eastern Time. That may sound silly, but I almost missed my window by not setting my alarm to the correct time zone.
My friends were banging on my door to wake me up. Thankfully I had packed my stuff the night before. I've never gotten ready so fast in my life. Five minutes and I was out the door and hopping into their Jeep with my dog.
Wake Up Early
So this may not be your favorite thing to do – wake up early – but I assure you, this time it will be worth it.
You'll want to allow plenty of time to get yourself ready, unlike I did, pack your belongings (see more of what to bring with you below), make some coffee or your beverage of choice, maybe eat a little something, and hop in the car.
Additionally, keep in mind that parking can fill up quickly; so make sure to arrive early so you can find a good spot to perch on the granite rocks to view the sunrise and also get an unobstructed view for photography and videography.
Dispose of Trash
Follow the leave-no-trace behind rule of picking up your trash and belongings or even others trash to keep our parks clean. Leave it better than you found it is my motto!
What to Bring for a Cadillac Mountain Sunrise
Another tip is to pack your belongings that you want to bring with you the night before in a backpack or bag that's easy to carry. That way you won't be running around trying to find things or forget something important.
Mountain mornings can be a little chilly, even in the summer so I advise you prepare by wearing layers that you can shed as the temperatures rise with the sun.
Remember your pet may be cold too depending on their fur length and size. My Lily was a very short haired Chihuahua and was prone to getting cold fast so I layered her up with a shirt and puffy jacket.
Just think of it as this magical moment you will encounter and how you want to experience it when you think of the items to bring with you. You don't want to overdue it, but you also want to be prepared as you watch the sun rise and then enjoy the moment afterwards.
Remember, it's nature and even when the sun is up, it can get chilly with the breeze. Here's a list of essentials for any sunrise viewing:
- Your vehicle reservation for Cadillac Summit Road printed or downloaded
- Rain, wind, and/or warm jacket
- Hiking boots or shoes with a good tread
- Dress warm with a hat for your head and ear warmers for your ears especially if it's windy
- Hand warmers or gloves
- Blanket to spread out on the granite rock and sit or to cover up – My favorite!
- Folding chairs
- Hot coffee or tea in an insulated tumbler
- Acadia National Park map
- Camera equipment for photos and video
- Headlamp or flash light
- Picnic of food to enjoy during or after sunrise
- Champagne to celebrate an occasion or simply seeing this breathtaking sunrise.
What to Expect After the Sun Rises
Many people will leave as soon as the sun rises, but I suggest staying and relaxing in the moment.
The view is expansive and you can see the sun kissed water dancing around the Porcupine Islands.
After the sun rises, it casts a beautiful golden light on Cadillac Mountain which creates an ethereal feel. The granite rock formations are unique to this part of the world and are breathtaking.
You might have this euphoric feeling after witnessing such a truly remarkable event. No sunrise is ever the same and every experience is different.
This is the perfect opportunity to soak in the beauty and appreciate the moment. Enjoy your time here, take photos, meditate, stretch, or do some Yoga. It's your time whether you're with friends or family or this is a solo trip for you.
I recommend taking a moment to be still and silent. Feel the fresh air on your face, hear the sound of the birds, and watch nature come alive in front of you.
Cadillac Summit Road when leaving can be congested as well so it's another great reason to take your time, let the traffic die down, and enjoy the moment.
Cadillac Summit Loop Trail
When you're done relaxing and you're ready to explore, the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail is a great way to do that. The short .4 mile loop trail is accessible for strollers, wheel chairs, and mobility challenged individuals.
It provides spectacular views of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park from high above the tree line.
As you walk along, you'll be able to witness how nature interacts with its surroundings and see how the landscape has been shaped over time. You'll also find some interesting historical markers along the trail that might provide you with additional information about the area.
At the end of the loop, don't forget to snap a picture! This is one destination you won't want to forget!
Overall, experiencing a Cadillac Mountain sunrise is unlike anything else. It's ultimately up to you how you want to spend your time here.
Take some pictures, enjoy the moment, and if you brought a picnic, now would be the time to enjoy it.
My Trip to See a Cadillac Mountain Sunrise
Hands down, visiting Acadia National Park and seeing the Cadillac Mountain sunrise is one of my favorite moments while traveling full-time in my van. I'm still in awe of my experience there and to be able to do it with friends and my dog made it even more special.
I actually went when vehicle reservations weren't needed and it was extremely crowded. The ascent up the mountain was slow and we had to park pretty far away and walk the rest of the way in since there was no parking.
However, I'm glad they implemented the reservation system to reduce the chaos surrounding this event.
Of course if I had been up when I was supposed to instead of setting my alarm for the wrong time zone, we might have gotten a parking spot. Oops.
Since this was my first time there, I had no idea what to expect or how to prepare so I was glad that my friends and filled me in on what to bring for warmth.
We all layered up at the top of the mountain. As the sun was rising, we slowly shed hats and gloves. It seemed like everyone had come prepared with their jackets, hats, gloves, and blankets.
At sunrise we were met with an incredible view and a stunningly orange, blue, and pink sky. It was unlike anything I have ever seen before in my life!
I loved people watching and seeing all the other things that people had brought with them to celebrate this moment.
I saw people clinking their champagne glasses.
People doing yoga.
People proposing to their loved one.
Dogs curled up in their parents lap.
Of course lots of pictures being snapped.
The energy was so calming and peaceful. Even with so many people up on the rocks it felt quiet. We respected the reverence the moment.
It was one of those moments where you just had to be there to experience it yourself. I highly recommend checking out Cadillac Mountain and experiencing a sunrise if you ever get the chance!
I will never forget this moment and this one, very beautiful spot in Maine. I've captured that day and my trip to Bar Harbor, Maine in a video. This was my very first year of traveling and filming for YouTube.
Less Populated Area to Watch the Sunrise in Acadia National Park
A few years after my first experience seeing a Cadillac Mountain sunrise, I discovered another hidden gem on Schoodic Peninsula that offers breathtaking sunrise views without needing reservations.
Location of Schoodic Peninsula
Located on the tranquil Schoodic Peninsula just east of Mount Desert Island, this spot is easily accessible by car – I drove my van right up to it.
Map of Schoodic Peninsula and the one-way park loop road.
Even though it's not on Mount Desert Island it's still part of the Acadia National Park. You'll have to drive over to the mainland from Mount Desert Island, drive east on Interstate 1 (Route 1), then south to the Schoodic Peninsula.
It's a little over an hour from Bar Harbor to Schoodic Peninsula.
Camping and Accessing the Park Loop Road
I found an amazing and clean place to camp in my van at Schoodic Woods Campground. Watch the video here. It's super clean with lots of trails hike. It's also within walking distance of the Schoodic Point Lighthouse.
There is also a park loop road that circles around the peninsula with several great viewpoints along the way – perfect for sunrise-watching. I highly recommend driving this loop road to take in all the amazing views.
I woke up early to witness the beautiful sunrise from the southeast point.
The scenic route leading to it is a winding road that runs alongside the sparkling waters, with multiple pull-outs for you to stop and savor the magnificent vistas. I found numerous pull-outs facing east, perfect for observing the sunrise.
I parked my van, opened the door, made some coffee and patiently waited. The serenity and stillness of the moment were remarkable, with very few people. It's amazing how many spots you can find when exploring the area.
Afterward, I took another drive around the peninsula, eager to explore the sights I missed during my previous visit when it was too dark to explore.
The whole experience was truly magical, creating memories that will last a lifetime.
You can watch this rare vantage point to see the sunrise and my trip around Schoodic Peninsula.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How tall is Cadillac Mountain? It's the highest point on the east coast of the United States at 1,530 feet.
- Is Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park? Yes, it is located in Acadia National Park which will require a park entrance pass and also a vehicle reservation to visit the summit.
- Can you hike up Cadillac Mountain for the sunrise? Yes, but use caution as it will be dark with vehicles, motorcycles, and bicycles occupying the Cadillac Summit Road. It's 3.5 miles up so give yourself plenty of time.
- Can you drive up Cadillac Mountain? Yes, you can drive it with a vehicle reservation prior to arriving.
- Can you drive an RV up to Cadillac Mountain? Vehicles over 21 feet are prohibited including any hitch with bicycle racks or storage that lengthens the RV.
- Are there bathrooms at the summit? Yes, near the gift shop.
- Is Cadillac Mountain a difficult drive? It's only 3.5 miles but it can be narrow, heavily trafficked during the busy morning hours and it's winding. No RVs or vehicles over 21 feet are allowed.
A Cadillac Mountain sunrise in Acadia National Park is a must-visit destination for its breathtaking views, colors, terrain, and landscape. As the highest point on the east coast of the United States, it provides unparalleled panoramic views.
Remember to plan ahead by securing summit reservations and ensuring your vehicle meets the size restrictions. It's essential to prepare for your visit by bringing the necessary provisions, understanding the parking limitations, and maintaining safety and respect for both the natural surroundings and other visitors.
With these Cadillac Mountain sunrise tips in mind, you'll be well-equipped to enjoy an unforgettable experience at the summit and in Acadia National Park.