Want to see the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain? We’re sharing everything you need to know for this beautiful and must-do experience at Acadia National Park.
One of the most iconic experiences to have at Acadia National Park is seeing the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain. As sunrise lovers, we knew that we HAD to do this in the park, and we can confirm that seeing the sky light up in beautiful shades of pinks and oranges was one of the highlights of our time in the park.
Watch our experience at Acadia National Park, including sunrise at the top of Cadillac Mountain.
However, visiting Cadillac Mountain any time of day, especially at sunrise, requires some planning, including reservations to drive to the top. And despite being a very early morning activity, it is very popular and being one of the lucky ones to see the sunrise can be tough. But we’re here to help!
In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know to see the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, as well as information to visit any time of the day, including the different methods to get to the summit, how to get a reservation, what to bring, and more!
Looking for more things to do at Acadia National Park and in Maine?
- The Best Things to do in Acadia National Park (+ Itinerary options!)
- Our favorites hikes in Acadia National Park
- Hiking the Precipice Trail at Acadia National Park
- How to backpack the Cutler Coast in Maine
- The BEST things to do in Portland, Maine
- New England Fall Road Trip Itinerary
- About Cadillac Mountain
- When to visit Cadillac Mountain
- How to get to the summit of Cadillac Mountain
- How to obtain a vehicle reservation for Cadillac Summit Road
- Other things to know before visiting Cadillac Mountain
- What to bring for sunrise at Cadillac Mountain
- Our experience seeing the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain
- Is sunrise at Cadillac Mountain worth it?
- Other sunrise spots in Acadia National Park
- Looking for more things to do at Acadia National Park?
About Cadillac Mountain
Cadillac Mountain is located on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park and is the tallest mountain on the North Atlantic seaboard at 1,530 feet.
The mountain was named after a French explorer in 1918 (Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac), but was previously known as Green Mountain. And there used to be a cog railway that would take you up to the Green Mountain Hotel at the summit.
Unfortunately, this hotel burned down in 1895, but if you want to experience the railway, the railway materials were sold and moved to Mount Washington in New Hampshire and is now the Mount Washington Cog Railway!
The road to Cadillac Mountain’s summit was built between 1924-1931 and winds 3.5 miles up to the top. While the scenery from the summit is amazing, with views of the Schoodic Peninsula, different islands, the Atlantic Ocean, and so much more, what makes the mountain extra special is that from October 7 to March 6 it is the first place in the United States to view the sunrise!
Before visiting Cadillac Mountain for sunrise, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors. While on the summit, also be mindful of roped off areas, which protect fragile terrain.
When to visit Cadillac Mountain
While Acadia National Park can be visited year-round, from December 1 until April 15, Park Loop Road is closed to vehicles, including the Cadillac Summit Road. While you can still make it to the Cadillac Mountain summit for sunrise in the winter, you’ll have to hike, which we will share more about below.
Between mid-April until the end of November, you’ll have many more options to get to the summit. However, in the summertime and during peak foliage, the park gets very busy and reservations ARE required, which can make getting to the top a bit harder. Visiting in the off-season (from mid-April until mid-May or late October through November) will have the least crowds and least logistics.
As for time of day, sunrise, which is what this guide is about, is the most popular time. The summit faces east, but there is truly no bad time to see the views from the top!
How to get to the summit of Cadillac Mountain
Regardless of what time of day you visit, there are four options to get to the summit of Cadillac Mountain.
Requires timed entry reservation
The easiest and most popular way to reach the summit of Cadillac Mountain is to drive. Cadillac Summit Road is a two lane, paved road. It winds up to the summit and has several scenic viewpoints along the way.
However, there are a few important things to know before driving this road. As we mentioned above, this road closes from December 1-April 15. And between mid-May until mid-October, you will need a reservation, regardless of what time you plan to visit. We will share more about the reservation process below.
Also, RVs and trailers are NOT allowed on this road. We drive a 22.5 foot Sprinter van and called in advance to ask if we would be allowed to drive up there, since depending on who you ask, we can sometimes be considered an RV. The ranger told us that it’s kind of a gray area, but that we should be fine. We thankfully were allowed, although we saw the parking attendant’s face kind of grimace when he saw our length.
Does NOT require timed entry reservation
Hiking to the summit is a great option if you want some exercise or if you do not get a reservation to drive to the summit.
There are a handful of trails that can take you to the top. One important thing to note is that these trails, similar to many in Acadia, are rocky and have some scrambling. Make sure you’re comfortable with being on a rugged trail in the dark if you plan to hike at sunrise. They also can be dangerous if it is wet out.
The two most popular routes to the summit are:
Cadillac North Ridge Trail
Elevation: 1,128 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
The North Ridge Trail is steep, but as one of the shorter options to the summit, this would be a good route to take if trying to arrive for sunrise. The North Ridge trailhead parking area is just off the side of the road and isn’t very large. You’ll need to arrive very early for a spot.
Cadillac South Ridge Trail
Elevation: 1,548 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
While longer than the North Ridge, the incline on the South Ridge trail is more gradual. There is also a little bit more parking at the South Ridge trailhead area.
Does NOT require timed entry reservation
If you’re a cyclist, you can ride your bike to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. Although, the ride up to the top is all uphill, so make sure you’re physically fit, as you’ll be climbing for almost 3.5 miles.
While you bike to the top for sunrise, make sure you have reflective gear on and a light!
Taxi & rideshare
Does NOT require timed entry reservation
According to the National Park website, you can take a taxi or rideshare (like Uber or Lyft) to the summit. A benefit of this is you do not need a reservation, but this may not be super doable. While there are some taxi services in Bar Harbor or Ellsworth, some reviews claim that they can be hard to get a hold of. As for Uber and Lyft, it seems there are very limited drivers, so it would be a bit risky to try to rely on this.
How to obtain a vehicle reservation for Cadillac Summit Road
Due to the popularity of Cadillac Mountain and limited parking, between mid-May to mid-October you need a vehicle reservation to drive on Cadillac Summit Road, regardless of the time of day. However, sunrise is the most popular and most difficult time to get a reservation for.
Reservations are required May 24 through October 22, 2023.
Cadillac Road will also be under construction through early summer. Check the status of the road at the park website.
NOTE: This is the only area of the park that requires a reservation. You do NOT need this reservation if you plan to hike, bike, or taxi to the summit.
Here’s everything you need to know to get a reservation!
Reservations cost $6 and can only be made on recreation.gov. You will need to create a recreation.gov account to do this. Make sure you create your account beforehand. If you’re creating your account when it’s time to reserve your spot, you’re going to miss out.
Two types of reservations
There are two types of reservations: sunrise and daytime. The time slots for sunrise and daytime are shown in the chart below. As you can see, the summer months are VERY early time slots!
Sunrise reservations have a two hour entry window, while daytime reservations have a 30 minute entry window. You must enter within these windows, but can stay as long as you’d like.
You can get one sunrise reservation a week, while for daytime, you can get one per day.
When reservations become available
May 24 through June 30
100% of reservations are made available at 10 AM ET, 2 days before the reservation date. This is a temporary condition because of the road repaving work.
July 1 through October 22
30% of reservations are made available 90 days before you plan to visit, at 10 AM ET. The remaining 70% are made available two days before your visit at 10 AM ET.
The reservations for the sunrise timeframe sell out in under ONE MINUTE! We were able to get a reservation both 90 days before and two days before. Our original date changed, so we had to try for a new date and were lucky to get one each time.
Our tip is to make sure you’re logged into recreation.gov 10 minutes before reservations open up. If you can, have another family member or friend also log in from a different device so they can try as well. Keep an eye on your phone clock and two seconds before 10 AM ET, refresh the page and the time slots should be open.
This method worked for us both times, but it could have just been luck. We hope it works for you too!
You also need an entrance pass
In addition to a reservation, you also need an entrance pass to the park, which costs $30 for 7 days. These can be purchased online in advance or at the park. Purchasing online will save you time, just make sure to print it out.
However, if you have the America the Beautiful Pass, which is $80 per year, you will get into the park, as well as any National Park, monument, or forest for FREE for one year.
Print or screenshot your reservation
Make sure you print or take a screenshot of your reservation (the QR code). Cell service is limited in the park and you won’t want to have to rely on it to show to the ranger when entering the road.
Make sure to cancel if plans change
Since permits for sunrise are very hard to get, make sure to cancel your reservation if you no longer need it so that others can use it. We had to cancel our first reservation since our dates changed and were able to get a refund by canceling more than 48 hours in advance.
Other things to know before visiting Cadillac Mountain
Besides getting a reservation to visit Cadillac Mountain, here are a few more important things to know before visiting.
Dogs are allowed
One awesome thing about Acadia National Park is that dogs are allowed in most areas. You can see which trails they are and are not allowed on here. And Cadillac Mountain is one of them!
While you can bring your dog, just keep in mind that at sunrise, it is very cold and windy, which your dog may or may not enjoy. We figured Kona would get bored sitting for over an hour in the dark and cold, so she napped in the warm van.
During our visit in October, we could enter the road starting at 5 AM, with sunrise being at 6:52 AM. We left the Walmart in Ellsworth (where we were sleeping the night before) a little after 4 AM and arrived at the entrance booth at the base of the summit road just before 5 AM and were very glad we did!
The line was less than 10 cars deep and it enabled us to get a good parking spot. Your reservation does not give you an assigned parking spot and there are two parking areas at the top, with one being a further walk. So arrive early if you’d like to have easier parking!
While we could have stayed warm in our van for a bit, we went to find a spot to watch the sunrise right after arriving. Despite being very cold while sitting for over an hour, we enjoyed having our pick of spots. Plus, some of the best colors were well before the sunrise. The sky went from pitch black to a deep red and pink color.
Go down the trail a bit
At the top, there is a trail that loops around the rocky summit and while it seemed many people sat to watch the sunrise on the rocks right by the parking lot, if you go down this trail some, it gets slightly less busy and you can spread out a bit more.
We had hoped to sit far from the actual summit to have less people around, but since it was pitch black when we got there, it was hard to see where we were. We believe we ended up sitting around the area marked with a red arrow in the photo above.
Despite not being maybe as far away from the parking lot as we hoped, it was less busy than the areas behind us.
NOTE: Make sure to keep an eye out for roped off areas, which protect fragile terrain. DO NOT step over these ropes!
What to bring for sunrise at Cadillac Mountain
No matter what month you visit Cadillac Mountain, it is COLD and can be very windy at the top for sunrise. We brought our sleeping bags, which we unzipped and put over us, and then sat on a blanket. While we were still pretty cold due to the wind, this helped a bunch!
Layers were also key in staying warm! We both had on two jackets, including one with a hood so we could keep our heads warmer.
Gloves & hand warmers
Gloves really helped keep our hands warm and hand warmers would also come in handy (see what we did there?!).
A warm drink
We brought a hot coffee in our YETI tumblers to the top. It not only helped warm us up, but also perked us up a bit after the early wake up call.
If you plan to take any videos of the sun rising or want longer exposure photos, make sure to bring a tripod! We have this tripod and it is sturdy and lightweight!
Whether you drive to the top or hike, make sure to bring a head lamp. It’ll be handy when walking around in the dark! We use these headlamps and they are great!
If you plan to hike to the top in the winter, make sure to bring some microspikes, as the trails can be very dangerous and icy. We love our Kahtoola MICROspikes!
Our experience seeing the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain
Our visit to Acadia National Park was in mid-October, just days before the reservations were no longer required for Cadillac Mountain. We arrived at the road for Cadillac Mountain right before our entrance time of 5 AM. At the booth we showed our America the Beautiful Pass and reservation QR code, and made it up to the summit.
We were one of the first to park in the lot and soon after arriving, found a spot. Although the temperature itself wasn’t horrible (it was in the 40s we believe), sitting still, plus wind made it pretty brutal. But we kept telling ourselves it would pay off!
The spot we had was right in front of a roped off area, which meant no one could sit directly behind us, which we really liked. At first, we were the only ones around, but slowly more people arrived. However, looking behind us, there were a LOT more people, especially as it got closer to sunrise.
As the time inched closer to sunrise, the sky went from completely dark, with only lights flickering in the distance, to a deep orange and red color on the horizon, which only got more colorful over time. Despite being freezing, we were very glad we got there early to see the entire process of the sun rising!
The sky was getting brighter and brighter, and at around 6:52 AM, the sun popped over the horizon. It was a pretty cool feeling to sit in silence with hundreds of strangers as we all got to see the FIRST sunrise in the United States for the day.
Right after the sun rose, most people started to leave, but we found the sky to remain beautiful for at least 20 more minutes, lighting up the land below and around us. So make sure to stick around!
After taking tons of photos, we finally were too cold to stay any longer and headed back to our van. Along the way, we visited a small overlook, right about here, which looked off towards Bar Harbor. We found this view to be so stunning, especially with the golden light and islands.
Heading down from the summit was easy and offered amazing views that we couldn’t see on the drive up in the dark. And while we were a bit tired, we also felt even more pumped to explore the rest of the park and had the BEST rest of the day!
Is sunrise at Cadillac Mountain worth it?
In our opinion, YES! But we are known for being early birds and enjoying (well, as much as you can enjoy) getting up for sunrise anyways.
But beyond the gorgeous colors, views, and possibly getting to experience the first sunrise in the United States for the day, we also loved the experience. It helped us start our day early so we could hit the trails before the crowds rolled in. We overheard many people talking about breakfast at the summit, but we decided to go hiking right after and didn’t encounter many people for a bit.
However, in our opinion, the experience will only really be worth it if it’s a nice day. The days before our visit were very rainy and it wouldn’t be worth getting up so early. And the downside of the reservation system is that it is hard to be spontaneous and adjust plans for weather. But if you don’t mind hiking, it’ll give you a lot more flexibility.
Other sunrise spots in Acadia National Park
If you can’t get a sunrise permit or don’t want to hike to the top, there are many other awesome spots in the park that face east, making them great for sunrise and also less busy than Cadillac Mountain. Here are some good options to check out, all of which are a short walk or no walk at all!
- Egg Rock Overlook on Park Loop Road
- The eastern side of the Great Head Trail (short hike required)
- Thunder Hole or Otter Cliffs on the Ocean Path
- Schooner Head Overlook, which is on a side road from Park Loop Road
Looking for more things to do at Acadia National Park?
For more tips of things to do in Acadia National park, suggestions of places to stay and eat, as well as itinerary options, check out our guide to the Best Things to do in Acadia National Park and these hiking guides:
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