Visiting Acadia National Park with kids is easy and fun.
Acadia National Park is on Mount Desert Island located in the state of Maine. Connected to the mainland by a bridge, the park stretches out over 49, 000 acres of land and takes up about half of Mount Desert Island.
Acadia National park and charming Bar Harbor were highlights of our Maine road trip. The park is super family friendly and is one of the top 10 most visited National Parks in the USA. If you are visiting Acadia National Park with kids read on to find out about the best things to see, the best family hikes and some of the top places to try the amazing local food.
Acadia is a year-round destination where all four seasons can be experienced in their full glory.
We visited in the summer, but fall is also a very popular time to visit due to the spectacular colors of the changing foliage in the park and all throughout Maine. I love autumn foliage.
Craggy seaside cliffs, glacial carved lakes and valleys, deciduous and coniferous forest and wetlands make up the geography of the park.
One of the things that make Acadia unique is the 125 miles of car free carriage trails. These trails interlace throughout the park, making for safe and pleasant biking, walking and even snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing in the winter months.
Motorists can access the park on the 27-mile loop road which circles the parks most remarkable landmarks and make navigating the park an easy and stress-free experience. This can be a great option for those travelling with toddlers and babies who can nap in the comfort of the car while parents enjoy a scenic drive.
What does entrance to Acadia National park cost?
Visitors are required to pay an entrance fee to visit Acadia National Park between May and October. For most families buying a car pass ($30/7 days in 2019) will be the best value for money. You can buy your pass ahead of time but be sure you have access to a printer as you are required to display the pass in your windshield. Otherwise there are many places within the park you can purchase a pass.
Where to stay when visiting Acadia with kids?
We stayed in Bar Harbour only a mile from the entrance to the park. Being so close to the park meant we could get up early and beat the heat and crowds, spend the hottest part of the day relaxing and exploring Bar Harbor, and then head back into
What to do in Acadia National Park with kids:
Acadia park has plenty of family friendly hikes suitable for kids as well as attractions that can be reached easily by car.
Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on Mount Desert Island and one of the first places in the USA to catch the sunrise.
If you want to visit for sunrise or sunset you will need to arrive early to secure parking or take the shuttle bus. There are also options to hike the North or South ridge trails.
We headed to Cadillac Mountain after an early breakfast and arrived in the nearly empty car park by 8.30 am in August.
While we had long missed the sunrise, the light was soft, and the heat of the day hadn’t yet set upon us. From the carpark we walked the short easy to manage loop track around the summit, enjoy the views out over the park and the waking Atlantic Ocean.
We were also able to purchase our park passes at the gift shop at the top since we hadn’t come into the park through the main entrance.
Sier de Monts Spring
The Wild Gardens of Acadia have many plant species that can be seen throughout Acadia and the Acadia Park Nature Centre is here.
There is usually a Park Ranger on site and kids can pick up a Junior Ranger booklet here and interview a Ranger as well as complete other activities throughout the park to earn a Junior Ranger Badge.
Many of the activities for the Junior Ranger Program take place at the Nature Centre. My kids joined in a getting to know the wildlife activity and were thoroughly entertained learning about the various creatures in the park as completed different challenges with the Ranger.
Check when a Park Ranger will be on site here.
Hulls Cover Visitor Centre
We never made it here but if you are passing by it is worthwhile to stop in and learn more about the park and ask the Park Rangers any questions you might have.
There is a 3D model of the park here as well as a 15 min video about the park to spark some interest and excitement about the park for both kids and adults.
The view from the edge of Jordan’s Pond is beautiful the crystal-clear water reflects the surrounding forest and mountains making it a picture perfect location. Leave plenty of time to take photos here.
Photography tip: Try some different angles and get down low to get some of the rocks in the foreground, this will add depth and interest to your photo
Swimming in the lake isn’t allowed as it’s clear water also serves as a source of drinking water for the Island. Head to Echo lake it you want to swim.
At Jordan Pond House a café looking over the lake you can enjoy you can enjoy the view and a ‘Popover’ – similar to a Yorkshire pudding but filled with jam and cream. Book ahead of time to ensure you can get a table.
The Ocean Path is a paved walkway which runs from the South end of Sand Beach to the Otter Cliffs.
Sand Beach is the largest sandy beach on the Island and makes a great spot to relax and beat the heat, it can get crowded in Summer and hard to find parking so if you see a spot within walking distance grab it.
The water is also very ahem…refreshing…aka cold. We were some of the only people to brave the icy water which was wonderful on a scorching hot day but not for the weak of spirit.
The Ocean Path is about 4 miles long, and can be joined at many points.
The Thunder hole is another popular attraction. When the tide and sea are optimal waves crash against the cliffs here and rush up like a geyser through a hole in the rock. When the water is calm, there is nothing to see.
Thunder Hole is a very popular spot so carry on a little further and you will find expanses of cliffs and less people with plenty of nooks and rockpools to explore.
Best Family Hikes in Acadia
This hike in Acadia is well worth doing with kids. The walk up to the rock took around 30 minutes at 4-year-old pace and was mostly through the shade of the forest.
The Bubble Rock is a large round boulder which teeters on the edge of a cliff edge like it is about to tumble off into the valley below.
The rock was shaved off a mountain 42 miles away! And dropped by the passing glacier into
Enjoy the view and some fun photo opportunities.
If you are looking for some easy to access tidal pools head towards Bass Harbour, in the South of Desert Island.
Here you’ll find the nearby Wonderland trail or the nearby Ship Harbor Trail. The Wonderland trail is part of an old road, so the flat smooth gradient is perfect for families hiking in Acadia with kids.
Time your walk with low tide and search the many rock pools for tiny sea creatures.
Please take caution if the sea is rough and never turn your back on the ocean.
Continue past the Thunder hole and the next parking lot you will find is for the Gorham Mountain track.
While it is not the highest of the mountains on Desert Island the view over the ocean side of Desert Island is spectacular.
This is a moderate hike and family friendly, lined with lots of wild blueberries in the summer time. We didn’t do the hike ourselves as there was a heat wave and it was just too hot, friends of ours had done it a few weeks before with a 4 and 7-year-old and it was their favourite hike.
For older or more adventurous kids consider taking the Cadillac Cliffs Trail back down, this trail is more challenging with some rock scrambling and caves to explore.
See Acadia National Park from the Sea
It is well worth seeing some of Acadia Park from the Ocean. We took a sunset/nature/happy hour cruise with Bar Harbor Whale Watching co. The highly knowledgeable guide gave an excellent commentary and we saw many seals and birds including 2 bald eagles. We also got to see some of the large private mansions along the cliffs of Mount Desert Island and pass some of the smaller Islands with their quaint light houses within the bay.
There are many different cruises you can including lobster fishing, and whale watching.
Horse and Carriage rides around Acadia
It is still possible to tour the carriage roads by horse and carriage, there are many companies that offer tours with different highlights. It is worthwhile to book ahead during peak season. This can be a good option to see more of the park if someone in your group has mobility issues or if you are coming into Bar Harbor on a cruise.
What else is there to do in Bar Harbor with kids?
Walk to Bar Island at low tide
Bar Island is a small Island which is connected by land bridge to Bar Harbor either side of low tide. Check your tide times and visit the island within 90 mins of low tide.
Don’t risk staying on the Island any longer, people frequently get trapped and the only way off the Island is waiting until the next low tide or an expensive water taxi. The sand bar is covered by 2-4 m of water outside of these times, so it is more than just a matter of wading through shallow water to get back to shore.
Once you reach the Island you can walk to the summit (technically part of the Acadia National Park so some people say you need a pass). We didn’t walk to the summit but instead spent our time exploring the shallow waters, watching shrimp and tiny fish scatter and lifting rocks to find many starfish and crabs. The water on the ocean side is cool and clear but great for a refreshing dip on a hot day, the harbour side is shallow and warms up a little in the sun.
The kids loved playing here and we had a great view back to the mainland.
The walk is easy on a packed gravel path, you won’t get wet feet. Put in some flip flops or water shoes if kids want to explore into the water to protect their feet from the rocks, you can also find some sandy areas if you don’t have these available.
Where to Eat with visiting Acadia:
Thurstons Lobster Pound
Thurstons Lobster Pound is in Bernard, near the southern most tip of Mount Desert Island. This was recommended by a friend. We never made it there, but it is said to have the best lobster on the Island and excellent blueberry pie.
Head to Adelmann’s Deli to eat frozen custard. The creamy desert comes in an array of delicious flavours.
Smokey’s BBQ and Lobster Pound
A visit to Smokey’s BBQ and Lobster Pound is worth the drive, it is about 20 minutes from Bar Harbor back on the mainland. Set up with picnic tables and some outdoor games it is easy to keep the kids entertained while waiting for your food. Delicious moist smoky BBQ meats and sweet fresh lobster. Sides like fried clams, smoked mussels, baked beans and coleslaw make delicious accompaniments.
If you are looking for a small hometown style diner Jordans Café is the place to go, you’ll find it in downtown Bar Harbor. It can get busy at times but they give you a buzzer which means you can wander around outside until your table is ready. They are best known for their wild blueberry pancakes, I tried gravy and biscuits here for the first time and have been hooked since. Yum.
Getting Around Acadia National Park with Kids:
It is likely you will have arrived in Bar Harbor by car, even if you have your own vehicle you might want to use the free Island explorer bus service. This seasonal bus service has 9 different routes including on the loop road in Acadia National Park. This is a great option if parking is tight or you want to do a one-way hike such as along the Ocean Path. With a number of the routes passing through the Village Green in downtown Bar Harbor it is a great way to get into Bar Harbor from wherever you are staying, maybe you want to enjoy a few drinks with dinner or just don’t want the hassle of finding parking.
What to pack for visiting Acadia National Park with kids
- Choose shorts and t-shirts that are comfortable, light and breathable. Hiking in the summer can get hot.
- If you are sun sensitive consider long sleeves and long pants in light, breathable materials.
- Pack a light jacket or sweater for early morning and evening.
- A rain jacket or disposable poncho means there is no time wasted even if the weather turns bad.
- Swimsuits and a towel if you want to swim or paddle in the water.
Sunscreen, sunhat and sunglasses: don’t ruin your trip with sunburn.
First aid kit: Be sure to pack some bandaids in case of scrapes or blisters as well as tick removal tweezers.
Refillable water bottle: Carry plenty of water with you to stay hydrated, there are water fountains where you can refill your bottle at Sand Beach, Jordan’s Pond and Sier de Monts as well as other spots throughout the park.
Snacks: There is only one restaurant in the park at Jordan’s Pond, snacks
Walking shoes: Wear sturdy shoes that you are comfortable to walk in with good grip. A good walking sandal are another option but I don’t find these suitable for younger kids unless you want to be stopping to pick gravel out of them every few minutes.
Toddler or Baby carrier: we are lucky to be past this stage now but having a carrier that you can put a tired toddler in is a blessing.