Acadia National Park for Families
Acadia National Park in Maine is known for its tide pools, rugged ocean cliffs, blueberry patches … and throngs of tourists. Often called the Crown Jewel of the Eastern shoreline, Acadia is one of the 10 most popular national parks, but it is significantly smaller than the other parks on the top ten list.
Besides the crowds, visitors to the park often have to contend with unpredictable weather and tidal fluctuations. If Acadia is on your list of places to visit (and it should be!) here are a few tips and tricks for enjoying your visit. Hopefully this post will help you plan your itinerary for visiting Acadia National Park with kids.
What to pack for visiting Acadia
When planning a trip to Acadia National Park, pay close attention to the weather. Even in the balmiest of seasons, Acadia may be rainy or cold. The weather changes often and visitors may be trapped in unexpected rain showers.
Pack Layers and Rain Gear
Bring swimsuits, sweaters, wool layers, and rain gear – even in July or August! In July, we experienced several days of intermittent to heavy rain with highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s as well as a few days in the 80s. The downpours tested the quality of our tent and our kids’ rain gear. (They both leaked.)
I wished I had packed extra wool layers and rain gear as even water-proof layers can become uncomfortable after hours of rainfall. We were thankful for fleece and wool layers that stayed warm even when damp.
Don’t Forget Extra Tarps
If camping, bring extra tarps and prepare for the occasional rainstorm. Early one morning, our tent leaked. Covering the tent with a spare tarp, we were able to stay dry for the rest of the trip.
Later, our screened pavilion had begun dripping water onto the table and also needed an additional tarp.
Wear Sturdy Shoes
Pack sturdy hiking boots and substantial water shoes. Most of the beaches are lined with granite. These impressive rocks create dramatic landscapes but can also be sharp. Flip flops can slip on the slick rocks and moist seaweed. Avoid cuts and slips by wearing sturdy water shoes.
Tide Pools Are More Fun with Nets and Buckets
Our kids loved collecting creatures in the tide pools and observing them closely in their buckets. While not necessary, these simple toys enhanced the experience.
Bring Your Dog; Acadica Is Pet Friendly
Acadia National Park welcomes your furry friends! We loved taking our dog the hikes and finding a cozy place in our campervan for her to rest while we tackled harder trails. Many campgrounds in and around the park also welcome pets, but they may request that you not leave your dog at the campsite. Even the tour boat allowed passengers to bring their fur babies.
Check The Tides
Much of the activities listed here are influenced by the tides. Maine has huge tidal swings! The state boasts of the largest range on the East Coast with a range of 20 feet near Eastport, ME. While Acadia’s tidal range is closer to 11 feet, it is still quite significant. When you plan your activities, consult the tidal charts.
Tricks to Avoiding Crowds in Acadia National Park
With two million visitors each year, Acadia can quickly become crowded. Visitors to Acadia can find solitude with these tips.
Visit During the Off Season
The park is most crowded during July, August, and September. Avoid the crowds by visiting during the off-season. Fall, in particular, is stunning in Acadia and the water is still relatively warm.
Don’t Let the Rain Dampen Your Experience
Don’t be afraid of bad weather. While the most challenging hikes should not be attempted in rainy conditions, many other activities are available to those who don’t fear being damp. Kayaking can be lovely in the rain, and the tide pools are beautiful under a cloudy sky.
Look Beyond Mount Desert Island
The quieter Schoodic Peninsula offers the same scenic coastline as Mount Desert Island with fewer tourists. Visitors can camp at the Schoodic Woods Campground, which offers tent, hike-in, and RV sites with hookups. Biking and hiking trails traverse this area.
For a truly remote experience, book a passage on the ferry to Isle au Haut, a remote island in the Atlantic. This island offers five miles of paved trails and seven miles of mountain bike paths. (If planning to bike, be aware that the ferry only transports bikes from the Isle au Haut Town Landing and charges an additional fee.)
How to get around Acadia
Most visitors rely on their car to tour Acadia, but the park also offers a free bus service, called the Island Explorer, that stops at all the major tourist sites and campgrounds in and around the park.
Other tourists prefer to travel by bike. Mount Desert Island’s carriage trails are closed to traffic and offer riders 45 miles of hard-packed gravel trail.
The only access to Isle au Haut, the most remote area of Acadia, is by passenger ferry. The ferry also services the outer islands south of Mount Desert Island.
Best Acadia National Park Family Hikes and Activities
Acadia offers something for everyone — biking, hiking, boating, shopping. It’s hard to narrow down the options! Our family selected a few great things to do in our short time.
Take a boat tour in Acadia
While in Acadia, we enjoyed an Acadian Nature Cruise from Acadian Boat Tours. The tour delivered everything it promised. We saw large populations of seals sunbathing. Small porpoises emerged from the water alongside our boat, and a bald eagle soared overhead.
Our guide also suggested many great hikes ways to explore the island during our stay. It was a great way to get to know what Acadia has to offer.
Hike to Bar Island
If the timing is right, find a place to park your vehicle and cross from Bar Harbor to Bar Island. This uninhabited tidal island has many hiking trails through its birch and pine forest.
Mountain Mama Tip: Walk across the sand bar to Bar Island 2 to 1 ½ hours before low tide! This will give you enough time to explore the island and return before the tide rises too high. If you are stranded on the island, don’t panic. In four to six hours the water will recede, and you can cross again safely.
Hike A Loop Trail
On a rain-free day, our family hiked a four-mile loop, beginning at Gorham Mountain Trail Head. We then proceeded to Beehive Trail and Bowl Trail. Bowl Trail ended at Ocean Path which took us past Sand Beach and Thunder Hole. This loop provided an awesome way to explore the variety of landscapes and ecosystems around Acadia.
Gorham Mountain is one of the smaller mountains, only 525 feet in elevation, its proximity to the ocean provides spectacular views. Although Gorham Mountain is a popular trail, it has a less-traveled spur trail that ducks under the cliffs and provides an interesting view of a cave. This trail, called Cadillac Cliffs Path, is considered challenging because it contains a set of steep stairs and two iron rungs to assist climbers.
We then continued down Gorham Mountain to Beehive. This one-way loop trail is not for those with vertigo! It’s quite technical and consists mostly of iron ladders from which hikers dangle as they scale the cliffs. We had to wait in line for our turn to climb as some hikers progressed slowly up the rungs.
I would not recommend this hike unless you and your family have extensive climbing experience, and you are prepared to coach your children as they climb.
Bowl Pond Trail
Fortunately, Beehive is easily skipped and families with young children can immediately continue to Bowl Trail. This trail meanders past a woodland pond nestled between mountain rims. This short hike descends to Park Loop Road near Sand Beach.
Ocean Path to Sand Beach
Ocean Path runs parallel to Park Loop Road and provides a safe and scenic way to trace the shoreline near, but not on the busy Park Loop Road.
Sandy beaches are rare along this rocky coastline, and Sand Beach offers the traditional beach experience in a cove protected from harsh surf. That being said, only the very hardy swim. Maine’s coastal waters average a cool 54 degrees in the summer.
My niece described Sand Beach perfectly, “It looks like the Caribbean until you put your toes in!”
After attempting to swim at Sand Beach, our family meandered down Ocean Path towards Thunder Hole. This busy path has many spurs leading to the granite ledges jutting into the ocean. Thunder Hole, a crevice in one of these ledges, produces spray and a percussive roar when the ocean’s waves careen into it.
Mountain Mama Tip: Thunder Hole roars its loudest one hour before high tide. Sometimes the walkway to the hole may be closed because the steps are slick from the spray. You can still observe this natural phenomenon from the surrounding cliffs. If you do, proceed with caution! The rocks can be slick and the waves are fierce.
See the sunrise at Acadia National Park
Catch the Sunrise on Cadillac
Cadillac Mountain is the first place touched by the sun’s rays in the centennial U.S. Although it means waking up at 3:30 for summer visitors, this experience is not to be missed! (Unless it has sold out. Then see my suggestions below.)
Mountain Mama Tip: Make sure you have your login completed before you try to register for this! As of July 2021, visitors must purchase a vehicle reservation at 10 a.m. two days before they plan to watch the sunrise.
These reservations are very popular and sell out quickly. The day we attempted to go, it sold out in four minutes and we missed our chance to drive up the mountain.
It’s very possible that you may not get a reservation to drive Cadillac Summit Road at sunrise. Don’t despair! there are many other ways to enjoy this spectacular moment.
Hike or Bike Cadillac
Driving isn’t the only way to reach Cadillac’s summit. Some visitors chose to hike the four-mile North Ridge Trail to the summit.
My husband decided to bike up Cadillac for sunrise. At the top, he noticed a few other hardy cyclists had also climbed the Cadillac Summit Road, including one dad with his kids. Be aware, this is a steep climb of a road filled with vans, RVs, and cars. Proceed with caution!
The kids and I watched the sunrise at an overlook off Park Loop Road. This was an awesome experience, but there are other, even more picturesque, places to experience the first rays of light. A few popular choices include:
- Otter Point Cliffs
- The Cliffs near Thunder Hole
- Bass Harbor Lighthouse
- Schooner Head Overlook
Check Out the Tidal Pools in Acadia
Maine’s beaches may not encourage swimming, but they are ideal for exploring tidal pools. These pools host crabs, starfish, snails, schools of fish, and colorful seaweed. Our kids loved searching for animals and exploring this amazing ecosystem.
As an additional bonus, exploring tide pools is also an excellent activity for a rainy day.
Most people enjoy exploring the tidal pools in Wonderland and for good reason. This 1 1/2 miles round trip hike takes visitors through a stretch of coastline dotted with tide pools.
Wonderland Alternative: Seawall
If Wonderland looks too busy, check out Seawall.
While not as vast as Wonderland, Seawall also is home to many tidal pools and interesting creatures. We found lots of sea life here. After dipping our toes in the icy Maine waters, we warmed up with a fire in one of the firepits along Seawall’s beach.
Mountain Mama Tip: Pack some firewood and enjoy a beachside fire at one of the picnic tables surrounding Seawall. We enjoyed mountain pies while watching the ocean reclaim the tide pools.
This app-based challenge, created by the Friends of Acadia, recommends trails and activities for visitors. This would be ideal for the go-getter who loves to complete a challenge or for the family seeking less-known wonders around Acadia.
Time to Go Back!
We left Acadia too soon. All of us felt as if three days was not enough time to truly experience the park, but we left excited to return again. This national park deserves multiple visits!
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Visit Acadia National Park with your family
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