Acadia National Park with Kids: A Comprehensive Guide
The coast of Maine has undoubtedly got to be one of the most scenic locations in the United States, as I quickly learned on my recent road trip through the state. From the rocky shorelines to the lighthouses, wildlife, and quaint towns, you surely will be amazed at the beauty!
Topping it off is Acadia National Park. One of the most popular national parks in the country and the only one in the Northeast, Acadia National Park has much to offer every type of traveler and is plentiful in family friendly activities. Take a long drive around Mount Desert Island, take a dip at Sand Beach, hear the roar at Thunder Hole, and view Bar Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean from the top of Cadillac Mountain. Continue on to see why you should visit Acadia NP with Kids.
How to Get There
The best way to explore Acadia National Park with kids is by car. Driving Park Loop Drive gives you a great preview to the park before diving in with any hikes. If you are driving up to Acadia, you will also enjoy one of the most scenic road trips in the United States. Drive along the coast from Kittery to Bar Harbor before exploring Acadia NP.
If you are arriving by plane from the Boston area, fly into Hancock County–Bar Harbor Airport, which is about a 10 minute drive from Acadia National Park.
Other airport options are to fly into include the Bangor International Airport or the Portland International Jetport. Bangor is about an hour from Acadia National Park and Portland is about three hours away, but again flying into Portland will give you the chance to take that Maine coast road trip.
Best Time to Visit
There are a couple times of the year that make for a great visit to Acadia National Park with Kids.
Summer is a great time for pleasant weather, although it does get hot at times. On our visit in August we saw an average of 88 degree days. If you are looking to do a lot of hiking, I would recommend starting early in the morning (beat the heat and the crowds!).
The fall is also a great time to visit, because along with the natural beauty that can be seen year round, the views of the fall foliage are stunning! For the lowest crowds visit in the first couple weeks of September. You will beat both the summer crowds and the leaf-peeping crowds.
- Range from below 0 to the low 30’s.
- The park averages 61 inches of snow during the winter months.
- Range from 30-70 degrees.
- The Spring months are usually foggy and rainy.
- Range from 45 to 90 degrees
- The summer season is when you will see the most crowds.
- Range from 40-70 degrees
- The fall foliage makes this one of the best times to visit.
How Long Should You Visit
To be able to fully explore Acadia NP with kids, especially if you are planning on doing a lot of hiking, I would recommend 3-4 days.
If you are planning on taking a Bar Harbor Cruise, you will want to allow one day for this. Along with the cruise, which average 2-3 hours to all day long tours, you will want to explore Bar Harbor itself, take some great seafood, and spend some time shopping in downtown Bar Harbor.
If you are hiking, you will want to allow 1-2 days specifically for this, especially if you hiking with young children. They will need plenty of rest breaks.
You can spend another day driving Park Loop Drive, checking out the visitor center, participating in the Junior Ranger Program, and checking out some of Acadia’s most kid friendly spots.
Entrance fees are required for entrance to Acadia National Park between May and October.
Entrance is $30 per car for 7 days. Be sure to stop at the Visitor Center or the Sandy Beach entrance to get a pass. You are able to drive parts of the Park Loop drive without the pass, but there are many lookouts that require a pass. Don’t make the same mistake we did when we drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain, get the pass first!
Where to Stay
- Atlantic Oceanside Hotel and Event Center: oceanfront hotel with access to a private beach and playground, onsite dining, indoor and outdoor pools, hot tub, and close proximity to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.
- Acadia Inn: A waterfront hotel located only 1/2 mile from Acadia National Park. There is direct access to Acadia NP trails from the hotel. The hotel also has an option to make the overnight experience even more fun for the kiddos with their Kids Kampout Package. The package includes a small tent, lantern, and padded mat for a “camp out” inside the hotel. Other activities include an outdoor pool and s’mores at the firepit.
- Camping in Acadia: If you are up for it, Acadia National Park is home to two campgrounds on Mount Desert Island, one campground on the Schoodic Peninsula, and fie lean to shelters Isle au Haut.
The Top Family Friendly Sites
Park Loop Road
Park Loop Drive is a must for anyone visiting Acadia National Park and is very family friendly. The drive is a 27 mile drive around Mount Dessert Island and will take you to all of the major points in Acadia National Park, including Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, and the summit of Cadillac Mountain.
Aside from the major stops along the drive, there are many pull off areas that will give you some stunning views of the park, Bar Harbor, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Thunder Hole is a great spot to visit, especially during high tide. It is beautiful any time of the day, but if you visit about two hours before high tide you will see waves crashing through and into a hole in the rock.
If you are lucky enough to visit at just the right time you will be treated to the thunderous sound created by the waves crashing into the cavern and sometimes sending water 40 ft. into the air. This is always a great sight to see for young eyes (or any eyes for that matter!).
Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on Mount Desert Island and luckily it is reachable by car, making it a great spot for even the youngest traveler in your party.
There are plenty of trails that you can take to hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain, but if the little legs in your group can’t handle it, you can still get the great views! Along the drive up Cadillac Mountain there are plenty of lookout areas where you can stop for some great views and photos!
The view at the top is indescribable and the beauty can’t possibly be captured in an image.
Sand Beach is said to be the most beautiful beach in the area. It is a great swimming area, but it does get very crowded. When we visited, the parking lot was overflowing and we were not able to visit.
Another important fact-the water will be COLD! With Acadia’s location on the Atlantic Ocean, the water will be cold year round, even in the hot summer months.
Jordan Pond is a glacial lake featuring clear, pristine water surrounded by mountains on all sides. The Jordan Pond Trail is a 3.5 mile long flat trail around the shore of the pond. The easy terrain makes this a great trail for the family.
The Jordan Pond House is also near by and as the only full service dining option in the park makes for a great place to stop for lunch. The Jordan Pond House has plenty of seafood options, salads, chickens, and even Vegan friendly options. They also have a kids menu, so every member of the family will find something they like.
Family Friendly Hikes
Hike to Bubble Rock
The hike to Bubble Rock is one that will be well rewarded. The trail is 0.7 miles one way. At the top the kiddos can take their shot at pushing bubble rock of it’s cliff. The rock is a large boulder that looks like it could roll of the cliff at any moment. The rock was shaved off a mountain 42 miles away and carried to its current position by a glacier.
Ocean Path is a flat, easy trail with stunning views of the rocky Maine coast, Atlantic Ocean, and some of the most popular spots in Acadia National Park. The trail begins at Sand Beach and runs along the side of Park Loop Drive. The trail goes on for two miles (one-way) and ends at Otter Point. Along the trail you will pass Thunder Hole. Along the trail you will find plenty of areas to climb out onto the rocks.
Wonder Land Trail
The Wonder Land Trail is a 1.3 mile round loop trail that is relatively flat and easy to navigate. The trail takes you through a forest with the main destination being a scenic, rocky shoreline. Along the shoreline you will see plenty of boats out on the water and Duck Islands. If you take the hike at low tide you will likely come across some tide pools.
Ship Harbor Trail
Ship Harbor Trail is another very family friendly trail. The trail is a 1.2 mile long trail shaped like an “8.” The trail is relatively flat with only a few steps and rocky areas on the trail to climb up. Along the trail you will get great views of the Duck Islands, Great Cranberry Island, and Ship Harbor.
The Great Head Trail
The Great Head Trail is a moderate trail that may be appropriate for older children. The trail has plenty of rocky climbing areas and uneven surfaces, making for a bit of a more challenging hike. The trail begins on the East side of Sand Beach and takes you to Great Head, a small peninsula. Along the trail you will see granite cliffs, Otter Cliff, the rocky coastline, and the Atlantic Ocean.
See Acadia National Park from the Sea
We opted for a Puffin and Lighthouse Cruise with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. and I am glad we did. We ended up getting some great views of Acadia National Park from the sea and lots of wildlife!
The tour took us out onto the Frenchman Bay and the Gulf of Maine. Along the tour route we saw:
- Egg Rock: The Egg Rock Lighthouse, sea fowl, and plenty of sunbathing seals!
- Petit Manan: The Petit Manan lighthouse, sea fowl, and the Atlantic Puffins
- Schoodic Island: Bald Eagles
- Schoodic Peninsula: Great views of the Acadia shoreline
- Winter Harbor Lighthouse
There are plenty of other tour options available from Bar Harbor that will make for some great views of Acadia National Park. Do some research and find the perfect one for your family to get these unique views of the park.
- Pick up a junior ranger book at the visitor center. The book is full of fun activities for the kids to complete.
- The park can get very crowded, especially during the summer. Plan on arriving at the park early to find parking.
- Check the tide chart for daily low and high tide times. Tide pooling is best one hour before low tide and Thunder Hole is best to visit two hours before high tide.
- Be sure to pack: Sunscreen, waterproof hiking boots, binoculars, windbreakers or a hoodie, and bug spray.
- Weather can be unpredictable in Maine, so pack for cold and warm weather. If you plan on getting out on the water, be sure to pack a jacket/hoodie as it can get very windy and chilly.