We absolutely loved visiting Acadia National Park with kids last August and I finally have a comprehensive post sharing our itinerary, things we wish we’d known, and tips for visiting! None of us had been anywhere in the Northeast before and Maine was such a wonderful introduction. We ate great food, saw beautiful landscapes, and had some amazing hikes. This is a fantastic national park for families and I hope I can make your planning easier!
Be sure to check out our best tips for planning a trip – all the things we’ve learned while traveling with kids in tow! I also have a list of National Park books for kids, with a few fun Acadia National Park books options on it.
This post focuses on this specific trip we took, but be sure to read about the more general top 10 mistakes to avoid when planning a national park trip, too!
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Acadia National Park with kids
Big news! New change is the upcoming permit system – check it out if you’re headed there after October 2020!
Tips on visiting Acadia National Park with kids – what I wish we’d known (or was glad we did)!
- The park is relatively small and parking is tight! We got up early and were in the park before 8 am each day, with no trouble finding parking or crowds on the trails. Once we left around 11-noon, it was jam packed. The road is a 1 way so you have to do a gigantic loop if you have to get back and try again. During busy times, there is a shuttle you can ride instead as well.
- Tidepooling requires you arriving to the water an hour before low tide; consult the tide chart online before planning hikes. The higher negative number the better for visibility!
- The main visitor’s center, thunder hole, & cadillac mountain visitor center have minimal exhibits and huge lines; we just grabbed junior ranger badges or refilled waters and left. The schoodic peninsula visitor center had several exhibits and things to interact with.
- The Bar Island hike (outside the park but nearby) you have to head over and back 90 mins before & after low tide, to avoid being stranded.
- Thunder hole, the natural formation that roars when the water comes in, is loudest 2 hours before high tide (though we were not impressed the day we went!).
- George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History has touch tank times, call ahead and plan accordingly.
- Notable things that I was glad we packed:
We flew into Portland and rented a car (use autoslash.com for the best deals, it compares across companies and emails you if the price drops after you’ve booked!), driving 3 hours to Ellsworth and taking “the scenic route” which added an extra 30 minutes. Route 1 featured a ton of adorable small towns, a giant lobster restaurant, lots of beautiful ocean views, a surprising number of used bookstores, and lots of antique shops.
Staying in Ellsworth kept our housing costs down and kept us out of the busy tourist fray; the place we stayed at was spartan but big and clean which is great for us (though I wish it had some outside/yard space)! Read why we love AirBNB over hotels, in this post!
Day 1 – Cadillac Mountain, the Gorge Trail, Bar Island.
We drove up Cadillac Mountain, getting out to roam on the rocks and explored the Gorge trail, marked by blue blazes and rock cairns (stacks) from the summit parking lot, for a while, walking maybe out a mile or two and then back (not finishing the trail). Wild blueberries were everywhere, and we felt worlds away from the crowds and tour buses that we knew were nearby. This was a great time to look down at see Bar Island (there is a sign near the parking lot that helps identify it), which we had plans to hike at low tide that afternoon!
We then stopped by to pick up junior ranger books and went into town to eat at Bar Harbor Lobster Company. Food is never a focus of our trips, much to my husband’s sadness, but I liked my quirky ginger-coconut chicken banh mi and he liked his fish tacos. The kids were ‘meh’ about it; the mac & cheese came with bread crumbs on top, which neither of them appreciate, and the fish didn’t seem to thrill them either. I picked up a cool, free map of Bar Harbor there and a nice little tourist brochure with all the NP programs, tide tables, etc. and then we killed some time in the open “village green” space.
We then set off to hike to Bar Island, a fun island with a trail only available at low tides! We arrived a full hour before they said you could walk through, but the trail was totally clear. My kids *loved* running in the shallow water and spent a very long time exploring and piling up the seaweed, crabshells, seashells, and random other bits and pieces.
I decided to hike to the Bar Island summit by myself and let them play with my husband, and I’m glad I did. I found this actual hike to be pretty disappointing; it was easy enough with a few twisty roots and slight incline, but the view at the top wasn’t that thrilling and it was super crowded.
When I got back and the tide was lowest, we watched a seagull catch and eat a crab, and then walked back slowly, spotting sea creatures ourselves or ones other people had caught. We got to see a sea urchin, jellyfish, several starfish, a sea cucumber, clams, and tiny shrimp. It was tough to tear my children away, but we did, finishing out with dinner at Jalapenos mexican (expensive, but decent food. I wouldn’t seek it out but I’d eat it again without complaining) and dessert at Jj’s Ice Cream Academy & World-Class Lobster Rolls. This might have been the best ice cream ever; Maine Blueberry in a cone was a huge hit.
Day 2- Ocean Path, Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, The Great Maine Lumberjack show
We got up super early and out the door, entering the park by 7:20. It was virtually empty, and we drove over and parked by sand beach. We hiked the Ocean Path trail roughly 4 miles out & back (paved), stopping to enjoy the many side trails with incredible views.
We stopped by Thunder Hole, at low tide, eventually coming back at the recommended time of 1 hour before high tide and honestly the main difference was just hundreds of people. The ocean must have been too calm, because we were not impressed with the noise it made!
We hiked all the way down to Otter Point; in retrospect, stopping at Otter Cliffs would have been sufficient, if you are looking to save little hikers’ energy. It was fun watching the rock climbers at Otter Cliffs, and to look back at sand beach where we had started.
The walk back, around 11 am, was not nearly as much fun. The roads were packed, with people honking, and the trails were also full. We were very glad to have enjoyed it on the way out, in peace! I was also glad we packed a ton of snacks, because it took forever to actually leave the park.
We then spent some time down on Sand Beach, where the water was only 55 degrees. My kids loved letting the cold waves wash over them, and the view was gorgeous. They had bathrooms and foot showers there, but we managed to go home covered in sand regardless.
An afternoon spent relaxing and dinner at home was followed by The Great Maine Lumberjack show, which was super fun. We arrived early to get front row seats, and I was really glad to have brought their headphones (from the plane ride) because the chainsaws got loud in parts. Timber Tina, who runs the show, does an excellent job of sharing about the history of logging, talking about the tools they use, and making corny, family-friendly jokes. My kids were enthralled watching the 3 lumberjacks & 1 lumberjill throw axes, chainsaw, handsaw, climb trees, and logroll. In the middle, they let all kids under 11 come up and try the double hand saw, which was really fun. They couldn’t stop talking about it and I’m really glad we went! The only drawback was the popcorn, which was terrible.
Day 3- Schoodic Peninsula, Jordan Pond Trail
We started out with a foggy day, driving out to the Schoodic Peninsula. The exhibits at the welcome center didn’t open until 10 AM so we kept driving out to Schoodic Point. This was beautiful and my kids loved climbing on all the rocks, watching the seagulls, and feeling the mist of the ocean. We headed back and checked out the exhibits, interviewed the park ranger for the junior ranger badges, and planned on stopping to hike near Blueberry Hill but it was raining and there wasn’t any parking left. We kept driving to eat at the Pickled Wrinkle; named after an edible, carnivorous sea slug (which my husband tried, blech!).
Drove back, relaxed, and then headed back to hike the Jordan Pond Trail, which is about 3.2 miles. Driving back into the park around 5 pm was fantastic because almost everyone was leaving. My kids LOVED this hike; we started to the left, which is the “harder side”, running down lots of wooden planks through the bog and then clambering over rocks.
The pond/lake was stunningly clear, we spotted fish and enjoyed the views. The second half is quite easy, and we stopped at the Jordan House for dinner. Sorry, I guess they are a tradition, but the popovers seemed ridiculously expensive and not that exciting. The kids meals came with a salad, which was nice to get some veggies in the mix.
Day 4- Tidepools on the Wonderland Trail , Diver Ed’s Dive-In Theater, Abbe Museum & George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History.
Tidepools! The Wonderland trail is about 1.5 miles out & back. I-spy is super fun when everything moves, we found sea stars, lots of different crabs, a sea urchin being eaten, sea snails, and mussels.The rocks were slick! I was glad I put them in hiking shoes but keens would’ve worked too.
The afternoon took us to Diver Ed’s Dive-In Theater where we got to watch ocean life in real time and high definition, and then get up close and personal with sea cucumbers, lobsters, different types of crabs, and sea stars. Diver Ed goes down in a scuba suit with a camera and narrates what he finds, bringing some of it up! Super fun and family friendly. Afterwards we popped into the nearby George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History, Last but not least, a little bit of hiking in the park and learning about Wabanaki history at the Abbe Museum on Mount Desert Island.
Day 5- South Bubble trail
We started off bright and early, hiking up to the South Bubble summit (3 miles roundtrip, lots of rocking/climbing) and pushing the iconic boulder, giant ice creams, and pirate putt putt. This was one of my favorite hikes because it was a ton of rock scrambling, which we all enjoy!
Day 6- Gorham Mountain hike & Carroll Homestead.
For our last day, we tackled the Gorham Mountain hike (roughly 4 miles) – we took the cadillac cliffs loop which had one tiny bridge section and one small metal rung area that was perfect for the kids.
We hiked to the summit where we could see sand beach and then went down the regular gorham mountain trail.
To wind up our last day, we stopped by the Carroll Homestead for some ranger programming. It was fun, but I wouldn’t make a special trip out here if you didn’t have time to kill, especially if there wasn’t programming.
Lastly, we checked out the carriage roads, a network of paved paths within the park interior. These are hugely popular with bikers, you can rent them in the park, but we just poked around briefly and then headed out. I can’t bike comfortably because of an old tailbone injury! Finally, we had dinner at Pat’s Pizza in Ellsworth which was tasty.
Back to Portland to fly out & we hit up the Portland kid’s museum since it was rainy, which was really fun.
Things we didn’t do/visit but I considered:
- A carriage ride in Acadia
- Indian Point Blagden Preserve — “2-3 hours before low tide so you can see the seals nursing. The seals will finish weaning the pups in the next week or so, but for a late May, early June activity, this is nice.”
- Lamoine State Park, which has a loop trail with a treehouse
- Reel Pizza (dinner & a movie)
- Maine Wildlife Park in between Ellsworth & Portland
- https://mdibl.org/ – a working biological lab that studies animals, the Moon guide book mentioned them having family friendly events/tours but I didn’t see any
- Wild Acadia fun family arcade/ go kart / climbing type park (ages 4 & older)
- Kayaking to “The Ovens”, cool sea caves that you can only access by public water or booking one of the private hotels that back up to it.
- A birding or tide pool tour
- A whale watching cruise, due to reviews of extreme nausea/choppy waters
- Log rolling lessons at the lumberjack show
Have you been to Acadia? Did I leave you with any questions about our trip? Leave a comment!