The Cadillac Mountain sunrise is one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring natural phenomena that you will ever witness. With an incredible view of both land and sea, it may be the greatest sunrise you’ll ever see.
In this post, I am going to provide some tips for getting up early enough to see all the beauty of a sunrise at Cadillac Mountain without any regrets.
This post may contain affiliate links.
Cadillac Mountain Facts
At 1,530 feet tall, Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain on the eastern seaboard and the tallest mountain in Acadia National Park.
Cadillac Mountain was named after the French explorer and adventurer, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac in 1918. Prior to this, it was known as Green Mountain by the Wabanaki peoples.
The mountain rises abruptly from sea level; there are no foothills before reaching its summit. This gives it a unique and striking presence.
The top of Cadillac Mountain has an alpine maritime climate that supports only tundra vegetation in its rocky soil because there are no trees to provide shade or shelter from the wind. In springtime, these plants bloom with delicate white and pale pink flowers. In the summer, low-lying plants grow in their shade to create a beautiful carpet of green and reds.
The mountain is home to many rare species that are only found at such high altitudes. Protect the delicate ecosystem by staying out of the roped-off areas during your visit.
Tips for the Perfect Cadillac Mountain Sunrise Experience
1. Get Your Reservation and Your Park Pass
If you are visiting between May 26 and October 19, reservations are required to drive the Cadillac Summit Road between 3:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m (exact times vary throughout the season).
Reservations are $6 per vehicle and are available exclusively through Recreaton.gov. They can be made over the phone (877-444-6777) or online. You cannot make reservations at the park.
You also need to pay your park entrance fee or supply your annual pass. You can purchase your entrance fee online to save time.
There are reservations required for Cadillac Mountain sunrise as well as Cadillac Mountain during the day. Make sure you are purchasing the correct ticket!
About Cadillac Mountain Sunrise Reservations
The tickets for each day are released in two separate windows: 30% are available 90 days in advance while the remaining 70% are available 2 days in advance. They are released at 10 a.m. EST and the second batch of tickets usually sells out within seconds.
I cannot stress this enough: planning ahead is imperative.
You cannot make a reservation without an account. I highly recommend you make an account in advance so you don’t lose your chance to see the Cadillac Mountain sunrise.
Service is limited at the entrance to Cadillac Mountain Summit Road. Print or download a copy of your reservation offline prior to your arrival.
Reservations are per vehicle, not per person. You only need to make one reservation per car.
While you have a 2-hour window to arrive, there is no departure time. You can stay on the mountain for as long as you’d like.
2. Cadillac Mountain Isn’t Always First Light
Due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis, Cadillac Mountain only receives the first light in the United States between October 7 and March 6. For the rest of the year, the first sunrise appears at other locations in Maine.
For an especially unique Cadillac Mountain sunrise, visit on January 1 and hike, ski, or snowshoe to the summit to see the first sunrise of the New Year.
3. Pack Everything You’ll Need
It’s important to dress appropriately for sunrise at Cadillac Mountain. Remember to dress in layers so you can stay warm, but also be comfortable. Long sleeve shirts, jackets, and a raincoat are recommended in addition to hats and gloves. I’d also bring a blanket to sit on in addition to another blanket to wrap up in on chilly mornings.
Furthermore, remember to wear shoes that are appropriate for the terrain. Granite rock is particularly slippery when wet and you don’t want to slide around or fall in the dark. Make sure you wear shoes that are comfortable and have a good grip.
For the best sunrise experience, try to get up at least an hour early and have breakfast with a view before heading back down. Bring enough food and water with you in addition to coffee, tea, or hot cocoa in a travel mug to keep warm (and awake!).
Hiking Acadia Guidebook
Acadia National Park Sticker
Acadia National Park Candle
Acadia Scrapbooking Kit
Acadia National Park Cross Stitch Kit
4. What To Do If You Don’t Have a Reservation
Hikers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and taxis are not required to have a reservation to reach the top of Cadillac Mountain for sunrise.
Unfortunately, due to tight turns along the road, the summit is not serviced by Acadia’s Island Explorer bus system.
Hike/walk: Two trails lead directly to the summit of Cadillac Mountain: Cadillac North and Cadillac South. Cadillac Mountain sunrise hikers usually take Cadillac North as it’s significantly shorter (North is 4.4 miles, South is 7.1 roundtrip). North is steeper while South is more gradual. Plan on hiking for 1-2 hours before reaching the summit. Both hikes are featured on my list of the best hikes in Acadia if you’d like to learn more about them. You can also walk the summit road, though with so much traffic while it’s still dark, I wouldn’t recommend this.
Bike: Adventurous visitors can bike the 3-mile road to the summit without a reservation at any time. Please use caution biking the Cadillac Mountain Summit Road, no matter what time of day. It’s very steep with tight, blind corners. It’s especially dangerous in the darkness, including before sunrise.
Taxi: If you don’t want to (or are unable to) hike or bike up the mountain, taxis are your best option. Taxis are permitted to drive to the summit without reservations.
5. Prepare for Bad Weather
Cadillac Mountain brings about unpredictable conditions. Some days are so cloudy that you won’t see the sunrise, others are so pristine and beautiful that people have cried. It’s difficult to know what conditions will be like. Checking the weather in advance can help you prepare.
Since you can only purchase one Cadillac Mountain sunrise reservation per vehicle in a 7-day period, try to plan ahead and pick the day with the best weather.
Refunds are not issued if there’s bad weather on the day you were supposed to see the sunrise. You can either make the most of some bad luck and head to the summit anyway or try again some other time. Sometimes, sunrise is even better with a little cloud cover. Also, weather forecasts can be incorrect, so you might as well get up early and see what you can see.
6. Wake Up Early
Your reservation does not mean you have a specific parking spot. I recommend waking up early in order to park without a hassle. If you arrive later, park rangers may ask you to park in a pullout and walk to the summit.
You’ll have a time listed on your reservation. For Cadillac Mountain sunrise ticket-holders, you may arrive anytime within 2 hours of the time on your reservation.
I recommend checking the actual sunrise time on the date you will be there. Then, plan to arrive on Cadillac Mountain at least an hour prior to that time.
Most importantly, watch your timing. You only have a couple of minutes before the main sunrise event is over, and you don’t want to miss it.
7. Decide Where to Watch the Sunrise
Once you’re at the summit, there are a few different places you could watch the Cadillac Mountain sunrise from.
Many people like to watch it from the summit marker. Otherwise, you aren’t technically seeing the first light because you’re below the summit. The true summit is behind the bathrooms by the tower. The summit marker is placed very unceremoniously on a small rock there.
The Cadillac Summit Loop trail is another option. The easy, paved trail has lots of space for visitors to watch without crowding each other. This is typically the most popular place for sunrise.
Visitors will also leave the trail to find a secluded place. Please use caution if you do this to protect the fragile plant life at the summit. Step on the granite only, and watch your footing if it’s wet.
If you want to get away from the crowds, hike down the mountain a bit. A lot of people want to be at the top to watch, understandably. But the sunset is just as pretty from a little bit lower elevation, and you might have it to yourself. I’d recommend hiking a bit down the Gorge Path, which faces east.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain
Why is there a reservation system?
Acadia is one of the most popular national parks in the country. In the last decade, visitation increased by almost 60%! New England’s best-kept secret is no longer a hidden gem.
Those crowds descended on Cadillac Mountain while visiting Acadia.
The parking lot at the summit would fill leading visitors to park their cars on the sides of the Cadillac Mountain Summit Road. This led to so much congestion that there wasn’t enough room for two-way traffic.
Most importantly, if there had been an emergency at the summit, ambulances and emergency vehicles were not able to respond. In order to combat these severe crowding issues, Acadia has instituted this reservation system.
Cadillac Mountain reservations limit the stress on park rangers and visitors alike. With a reservation system, Cadillac Mountain sunrise a much more enjoyable experience.
There are 150 parking spaces and 150 tickets. The experience couldn’t be any easier than that.
Why does it cost so much? What is the money used for?
In 2020, Acadia National Park ran a pilot version of its reservation system. At that time, tickets were only $2.
The park tested a reservation system at both the Cadillac Mountain Summit Road and the Sand Beach Entrance Station. There were a lot of difficulties with the Sand Beach pilot, so it was postponed.
The Cadillac Mountain Summit Road pilot, however, was deemed a success and brought back for the full 2021 season. With this came a price increase of $4, bringing the total to $6 per vehicle to drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain.
Why the increase? For one, Recreation.gov charges a $1 fee for processing. The other $5 goes back to Acadia. Then, the National Park Services uses that money for two things.
First, the reservation system required hiring additional park rangers to manage parking, ticket collection, and fee collection. The cost of your reservation goes toward paying their salaries.
Additionally, Acadia National Park is planning some exciting improvements. These include a new visitor center at Hulls Cove, renovations to the Jordan Pond area, and a new parking complex in Trenton to ease the parking congestion on the island. This is called the Acadia Gateway Center and will bring visitors to the park via the Island Explorer shuttle. They also plan to expand the shuttle system with these funds.
Is it worth it?
If you’re the type of person who loves sunrises, sure. It’s also pretty cool to be able to say you saw the first sunrise of the day. Plus, it truly is a spectacular view. Witnessing a Cadillac Mountain sunrise is an experience, to say the least, and I’m glad I’ve done it. Many visitors say it’s the best sunrise they’ve ever seen.
That said, for some people, it’s probably not worth it. If you don’t enjoy waking up early or experiencing large crowds, you may want to choose another location or activity. There are plenty of other beautiful, quiet places to watch the sunrise in Acadia National Park.
Can you see the sunrise at other places in Acadia?
Of course! Any viewpoint facing east is a great place to watch the sunrise in Acadia. Some of my favorites include Otter Cliffs, the Ocean Path, Schoodic Point, and Schooner Head. You can also watch the sunrise from the Shore Path in downtown Bar Harbor.
As for the sunset, the west side of the island is an ideal location. Visit the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, Seawall, or Pretty Marsh for beautiful views.
Where should we stay?
There are lots of places to stay nearby. You could camp in Acadia or one of these nearby campgrounds:
- Mount Desert Campground
- Oceanside KOA
- Hadley’s Point
- Echo Lake View
- Somes Sound View
- Quietside Campground
- Forest Ridge Campground
There are also hotels nearby:
What are some other things to do at Acadia?
I’m glad you asked! Check out the articles below for more information about visiting Acadia National Park.
Pin Our Tips for a Cadillac Mountain Sunrise
In conclusion, sunrise at Cadillac Mountain is a great experience to have before heading back home. I hope these tips have prepared you for the exciting experience. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments!