Acadia National Park (With Kids)
Updated: Jul 9, 2019
Our Top Six Things To Do
After a gorgeous family road trip along the coast of Maine, we reached our main destination: Acadia National Park located on Mount Desert Island. We stayed just north of Bar Harbor in an adorable Maine cabin (more on that later) and drove into Acadia for sightseeing everyday. This was our second time visiting one of the nation's most popular parks and we were so excited to explore the natural wonders with our now five year old and new baby girl. If you've seen some of our past blog posts, it should come as no surprise that we LOVE Maine and we hope between our photos and recommendations, you and your family will fall in love with Maine too. Below, we share our favorite things to do as a family in Acadia National Park. Enjoy!
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1. Walk to Bar Island
Let's start with our favorite. Okay okay, it's my favorite! The walk over to Bar Island was just the best. We heard about the excursion from our tour guide on the Acadia sightseeing boat tour ( more on that below) and I knew we had to do it because when you take your small kids to a national park, a manageable day hike is the way to go. And, the walk to Bar Island was just that a leisurely walk but more than that it was an immersion in nature and a great family adventure.
To get to Bar Island, you have to walk across a gravel land bridge only accessible during low-tide. So, you have roughly a two hour window to walk there and walk back. THAT'S IT! Otherwise, you'll get stranded when the tide comes back in. Which based on all the signage and the warnings from the locals it seems a lot of people get stranded on the island. Don't be one of those people! Especially with kids. Check the local tides here. Other than that large caveat, the walk to Bar Island is a super safe and easy day activity with the kiddos, small and large. We passed so many families on the trail and guess what...I even breastfed on this hike. Thanks to my Aden and Anais muslin nursing cover, I was able to breastfeed comfortably (while many people passed me by) with one of the best views of my life.
And, I kid you not, my son would have been so content just playing on the land bridge to Bar Island the ENTIRE vacation! He just loves rocks and sticks and bugs. And, being able to explore on his own. The low-tide created a tidal pool atmosphere so there was a lot for little "nature explorers" to crouch down and discover. Overall, Bar Island is a super family-friendly activity in Acadia. BUT, if you don't like crowds then maybe this isn't the hike for you. It's super popular and there are people all around. Make sure to wear tennis shoes or hiking boots as it's wet and you and the family are walking over slippery rocks and all-level terrain.
pictured below, left to right: (1) the rocky land bridge to Bar Island is bound to be a favorite with kids, there are no cliffs here and they can walk and explore all by themselves (2) Bar Island is a part of Acadia National Park only accessible during low-tide (3) The walk to Bar Island is a popular activity in Acadia. Once you get to the island though there are little patches of privacy nestled along the wooded path
2. Sunrise At Cadillac Mountain
This is for the early risers (and the not so early risers) This is a MUST-DO family adventure while visiting Acadia. Acadia National Park has a special relationship with the sunrise. See, for half the year (October-March) the first sight of the sun is seen from atop Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak on the Eastern Seaboard. If you visit during the summer, it won't be the first sight but it'll be really darn close. And, let me tell you, it'll be early.
Usually sunrise is around 4:00-5:00 am but you can check the specifics for your visit here. But, don't worry, it won't be dark and creepy, there will be A LOT of families and tourists there with you to witness the nation's first sunrise. And, it is just glorious and tranquil and breathtaking beyond belief. Some important things to note, because of the elevation, it will be chilly even in August so come prepared with light jackets and sweaters. Of course, you'll need a camera and give yourself time before the sunrise to get parked and to set up your tripod. Afterwards, head down to Bar Harbor for blueberry pancakes. I tell you where to go in my last blog post.
Pictured below, left to right: (1) There is a beautiful contrast of light and shadow during the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain (2) You don't have to be fancy or get dressed for the day to go to the early morning sunrise at Acadia, you can wear your pajamas like us and just throw jackets and sweaters on top (3) A sunrise on Cadillac Mountain will be a treasured family memory
3. Guided Sightseeing Boat Tour
Alright, I already shared my favorite family activity in Acadia Natl Park and the nature sightseeing cruise was definitely my son's favorite! We visited Acadia during late May/early June which heads up is when boat tour companies are just starting to wake up. We had originally planned for a whale watch but they were only on their 2nd day of operation and hadn't had any whale sightings yet so we went with the nature sightseeing boat tour instead.
And, I'm sure glad we did. Not only did we see lighthouses, Acadia Natl Park highlights like Sand Beach and Monument Cove, but so much wildlife. We saw seals sunbathing and freshly born seal pups, bald eagles flying overhead, nesting peregrine falcons, and so many sea birds. My son thought is was THE BEST thing to do! After some research, we chose Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company because they had large modern boats, clean bathrooms, and heated cabins (which were all a must with baby on board). I'd highly recommend bringing binoculars and a camera for sightseeing. We rented binoculars from the tour company but wish we would have had them for other outdoor adventures in Acadia. NOTE: I get seasick and if I hadn't had taken my dramamine on the nature cruise, I would have definitely hurled. The seas were choppy that day and I felt for those who were less prepared. PACK THAT DRAMAMINE!
Pictured below, left to right: (1) You will see so many islands on your nature cruise on the coast of Acadia National Park (2) Father and son thoroughly enjoyed the spacious clean cabins on the nature sightseeing cruise with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company (3) We had to use binoculars to see them but we saw so many nesting peregrine falcons and bald eagles
4. Drive Park Loop Road
If all else fails, just go on a drive. We are Long Drives (With Kids) after all! There is so much to see right outside of your window and when you have a small baby or a sleeping kid sometimes that's just the way to go. You could spend all day on this one-way route making sightseeing and hiking stops along the way and there would be #noregrets. Park Loop Road which is 27 miles long is one way for most of the route. We'd suggest getting on at the Route 3 entrance near the Jackson Lab, located just south of Bar Harbor.
Our favorite Park Loop Road stops are Sand Beach, Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, Jordan Pond (profiling next), and Otter Cliffs. The Acadia National Park highlights! They never get old to us. Make sure you check the tides to really get the effect of the thundering crash at Thunder Hole. Our son thought it was AWESOME! The park ranger at the entrance station will give you a map of Acadia National Park with an in-depth Park Loop Road route so you'll be able to choose your own family adventure. You can even just use the Park Loop Road as a gateway for your next family hike. A popular coastal hike is the Ocean Path which begins at Sand Beach and ends at Otter Point. TO NOTE: There is a $30 entrance fee that you will have to pay to travel along the route. The fee will need to be paid at the park ranger entrance station located just north of Sand Beach.
Pictured below, left to right: (1) There are so many lake views along Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park (2) You can make a stop at Sand Beach and other famous landmarks along Acadia's Park Loop Road (3) The road views along Park Loop Road are drool worthy
5. Hike Around Jordan Pond
We love Jordan Pond and made sure to make a stop during each of our family vacations to Acadia. It has a large parking lot accessible along the Park Loop Road and clean modern bathrooms to get the kids cleaned up (just in case you had a poop explosion along the way) We did! During our first visit, we hiked along a portion of the Jordan Pond Trail, a loop that circles the water, and then headed to a more evenly-lined Carriage Road with our jogging stroller. During our second visit with the baby, we walked to the pond with our less navigable double stroller and my hubby and son just enjoyed skipping rocks. There are so many hiking trails that begin or intersect with Jordan Pond that it should be a guaranteed stop in Acadia Natl Park with kids.
Another reason to stop is the delicious perfectly risen popovers served at the Jordan Pond House restaurant. Yum Yum Yummy! The restaurant is open during peak season, May through October, 1130 am-9:00 pm. Eating at the restaurant can be an expensive splurge but you can always just order two popovers with jam for $8. Which is what we did the second time around. Besides, why in the world would you want to go through the headache of eating at the restaurant with kids when you can just order to-go and nosh with a view?!?
Pictured below, left to right: (1) There are (2) Part of the Jordan Pond trail was manageable with our jogging stroller, we'd recommend an off-road stroller or just babywearing (3) There were so many trails near Jordan Pond, this one led to a Carriage Road
6. Rock Climb at Bass Harbor Light
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is located a bit off the beaten path but absolutely worth the extra drive. It is located in the town of Tremont on the southeastern side of Mt. Desert Island accessible by State Road 102A, about 45 mins from Jordan Pond. Because of its location, it is not nearly as crowded as the other famous Acadia landmarks. So head here my introvert friends!
When you arrive, there is a parking lot that leads to a path to the actual lighthouse. But, that's not where the fun is. The fun family adventure begins after you climb down the steep staircase that leads to the rocks. That is where it's rock climbing and nature exploration at its finest. AND, would it really be a Maine vacation if you were climbing on the rocky coast? But beware (and careful), the rocks can be very slippery so wear hiking boots or shoes with strong grip. I'd only recommend rock climbing for 5 year-olds and above. That meant baby and daddy had to sit this one out!
The famous view of the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, the one highlighted on all the New England calendars, is only captured from the rocks so if you decide not to make the climb down for whatever reason, you may be disappointed. NOTE: If you're driving from Park Loop Road or State Road 3, I'd suggest a stop at the lesser known (and lesser visited) gardens of the Land & Garden Preserve. All three: the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden, the Thuya Garden, and the Azalea Garden are all on the way! Some people complain that there isn't enough around Bass Harbor Head Light but there are actually plenty of trails and overlooks in Southeast Harbor.
pictured below, left to right: (1) a rocky outcrop at Bass Harbor (2) The view of Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse from the parking lot (3) Acadia National Park, where the land meets the sea
Acadia National Park (with kids) Recommendations Map
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Many Blessings and Happy Travels,