Updated March 2018
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Guide to Acadia National Park with Kids | Top Things to do with the Family
Acadia National Park in the state of Maine makes for an amazing family vacation. Known as the place where sea meets mountain, that perfect chemistry of land and water, it is as captivating as the guide books say, as the photos suggest. With the rugged coastline of Maine, Cadillac Mountain (the tallest mountain on the East Coast), lakes, beaches, ponds, trails and carriage roads, it is a remarkably beautiful and adventurous park to explore.
Covering 47,000 acres mostly on Mt. Desert Island, you can hike, bike, kayak or simply take in the scenery on a coastline walk or beach picnic. We spent 5 fabulous days in Acadia, and could have spent more. There are a number of activities you can do with the kids, and it is known as one of the most family-friendly national parks in the country. Below is my guide to all things Acadia National Park with kids.
Need to Know about Acadia
First, make sure to check in at the Hulls Cove Visitors Center, where you can purchase a $25 car pass (good for a week), along with a map of the park. If you prefer not to take your car, thanks to the support of L.L. Bean, Acadia has an excellent free shuttle bus system called the Island Explorer; it links hotels, inns and campgrounds with destinations within the park. Either way, you still have to purchase an entrance pass. We preferred to take our car as, in general, we like to explore places as much as we can, and having the car gave us the freedom to do that. We drove all around the park as well as some of the towns right outside of it. And with kids, there’s always so much to schlepp..I do suggest taking your car.
Listed below are all the places within the park I recommend going, and they are listed in order of priority according to my girls, ages 8 and 6. The Park Loop, actually, is listed as number one by me, not the girls, because it is a great way to orient yourself when you arrive to the park.
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Acadia National Park with Kids – Top Things to See and Do
#1: Drive the National Park Loop
This 27 mile road takes you along Maine’s dramatic rocky coast and into the mountains. For some of the best views you will definitely want to head here; it almost feels like you’re driving along the west coast. The loop takes you along Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, Jordan Pond and Cadillac Mountain.
#2: Relax at Echo Lake
This was my girls’ favorite place in Acadia, for all those summery simple pleasures. Compared to the ocean, Echo Lake has warm water, and is the preferred watering hole in the park. They splashed around and swam in it for a long time. Even my husband too, as it is fresh lake water us suburban New Yorkers don’t get very often. It has a scenic beach set against the backdrop of towering, forested hills and is a peaceful and serene little spot. I read my book as the girls played in the sand, and it was one of those lakeside relaxing summer days you dream about during the winter. Bonus: it has lifeguards, restrooms and changing rooms.
#3: Go see Thunder Hole
The girls absolutely loved this. Thunder Hole is a small inlet carved out of rocks where the waves roll into – when the current is strong enough the waves come crashing in and water and air are let out with the sound of thunder. But you have to go at the right time – two hours before high tide – so make sure to ask your hotel or the park the best time of day to go for that day. We completely missed it! Yet the girls still thought it was great – so if you can’t time it right, don’t despair, it’s still worth going for the views alone, and the stunning formations of rocks. They loved all the crevices and cliffs.
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#4: Hike up to Bubble Rock
This ½ mile moderate hike is so much fun for the kids because it’s all about the destination. Bubble Rock is a huge boulder that looks like it’s been stopped in time rolling down the mountain (it’s said that it got its position here due to the movement of ancient glaciers). Get that must-have pic with the kids trying to push the rock down the mountain, and you’re sure to have some good laughs. Keep the youngsters close to you though, as there are drop offs. Make sure to also take the path that leads you to the right of Bubble Rock and out to the rock formations above Jordan Pond. Here you will find incredible views of the lake, some of the best views in the park. It is one of my favorite spots from our entire vacation.
#5: Go to the top of Cadillac Mountain
The highest point on the Atlantic East Coast, you have panoramic views of Acadia and Bar Harbor. Depending upon the ages of your kids, you can hike up from various points, or drive up. We chose to drive up as we were doing a lot of other hiking. It’s beautiful, with cascading rocks running into the horizon. There is lots of space to roam around, but naturally, it gets crowded. There is a gift shop with snacks if you need to refuel. For a real treat, go at sunrise. Cadillac is one of the first places on the east coast where you can catch the earliest bit of the sun rising.
#6: Explore around Jordan Pond
Jordan Pond comes highly recommended by all the guide books as it is a picturesque part of the park, and where all the Acadia National Park carriage roads are for biking, walking and hiking. It’s a big Acadia social and meeting spot. The girls enjoyed the pond and jumping around all the rocks that pop out of the water. We also went walking along the lakeside path, as well as a bit on the carriage roads. We never went biking because many of the roads go uphill for a while, and we didn’t think renting bikes for our 6 year old was worth it; there’s only so far she could have gone. But for older kids this is a very popular biking area.
While Jordan Pond was beautiful and scenic, we personally thought Jordan Pond House was over-rated. It has a restaurant where everyone comes to eat popovers and drink lemonade – a tradition over 100 years old – and while I’m all for tradition, it was just too factory-ish for us. A ton of people with long waits for the restaurant, and we didn’t want to spend our time that way. So we didn’t – we went to a nearby coastal town for lunch instead. We also couldn’t find parking for a long time. It’s highly recommended you take the Island Explorer as parking is tight!
#7: Visit Sand Beach
Sand Beach is beautiful. It’s not near the top of the list because it’s not great for swimming – the Atlantic water is very, very cold. But it is nestled in between mountains and rocky shores and offers a setting as sublime as they come. It’s also a great spot to just let the kids run free – it’s a bigger beach than the one at Echo Lake – and dodge the incoming waves.
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#8: Take a walk on Ocean Path
Ocean Path starts in the upper parking lot of Sand Beach and takes you 1.5 miles along the coast southward to Otter Point. Thunder Hole is about half way in between. This is the path where you get all those classic, rugged coastal Maine views, often with fog, the kind you see in the magazines and movies. It’s simply stunning. But it is not at the top of the list for kids either, the reason being there are serious drop offs along the way. I don’t recommend it for young kids. Older kids are fine, but even with mine there were some hairy spots. I couldn’t leave Ocean Path out of my post though, because it’s just so breathtaking. Use parental discretion.
#9: Visit Wildwood Stables
We did not do this but hear it is popular. This is where the well-known carriage rides originate, the horse-drawn carriages that go along the carriage roads. They are either one or two hours in length and include a tour and history of the area. See here for more information.
We loved Acadia National Park and had such an adventurous and relaxing time there. I can’t recommend it enough, and we most certainly will be returning.
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