Our family has visited Acadia National Park (almost) every summer since 2014.
Acadia National Park is on Mount Desert Island, which consists mostly of the Park and the town of Bar Harbor. It was originally home to the Wabanaki people before the large-scale arrival of Europeans in the 1600s.
You haven’t tested your resilience until you’ve dipped your toes into the frigid water of Sand Beach. The bravest will actually swim; going in up to my ankles checked the box for me. The color of the water rivals the Caribbean, even if the temperature doesn’t match up.
Park Rangers lead many guided tours for visitors of all ages. Alice was “sworn in” as a Jr. Ranger on Sand Beach after an hour-long activity that highlighted beach’s the geology and ecology.
At just over 1500 feet, Cadillac Mountain has the highest elevation on the East Coast of the US. Despite the daunting height, the top is flat, wide, and easy to explore with kids.
Sunrise is a super popular time on the mountain, but it begins at 4:30am during the summer, so we’ve never made it. You can also hike from the bottom to the top, but we know the limitations of our physical capabilities, so we’ve never tried it.
Hikes at ANP range from the flat Carriage Roads to nearly vertical climbs up rocky cliffs. Our most challenging (and rewarding) hike to date was the Great Head Trail, with views of Sand Beach below and the remnants of an early 1900s teahouse.
Southwest Harbor is a quieter section of the island with many activities for young families. Wonderland Trail is an easy hike for all ages and Echo lake offers calm water for swimming.
Alex had spotty memories of trips to Acadia in high school and college, so we attempted a few hikes that required a bit more rock scrambling than we were ready to do with a toddler. It turns out that Man-o-War falls is much easier to get to when you are a 16-year old on a sailboat than it is as a thirty-something adult carrying a sleeping child.
Jordan Pond is one of the most popular destinations in the park. The Pond House is famous for its popovers. Dining inside gave us a classic National Park lodge experience, while dining outside on the lawn comes with views of Jordan Pond.
The Jordan Pond loop is a moderate 3.4-mile loop and was relatively easy to do with a three-year old in a carrier. The trail was mostly flat with some rock scurrying and wooden planks that made two-way passing tight.
Loop Road is a mostly one-way road that takes you to the major attractions of the Park; Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Sieur de Monts, Otter Point, Jordan Pond, and Cadillac Mountain. Parking was nearly impossible at the major stops mid-summer, but the NPS offers a bus service around the Loop. The bus also gives you the option to hike along the cliffs from Sand Beach to Thunder Hole without having to backtrack for a vehicle.
The Sieur de Monts stop was perfect when Alice was two, with short walking trails and a museum that introduced us to the flora and fauna that we might see in the park.
Our Northeast Harbor highlight was an afternoon boat ride with friends who were visiting family in Bar Harbor. If you don’t have friends with a boat in Bar Harbor, there are private rental companies with boats of all sizes and guided tours.
We climbed the moderately difficult Asticou Terrace Trail to reach Thuya Garden and Lodge.
The Asticou Inn is a historic hotel with both lodging and a fantastic restaurant with views of the harbor. Asticou Inn also served what some argue are the best popovers on the island (and they serve them with ice cream). They also made one of the best blueberry pie slices we’ve had in Maine, and we’ve had a lot of blueberry pie slices in Maine.
Bar Harbor is the main town on Mount Desert Island, and where most of the lodging and dining are found. On our first trip we stayed at Harborside Hotel, which was centrally located in town and is more modern than many of the other options. For a more historic experience with great views of the harbor, we loved The Bluenose Inn. In the lobby we listened to live piano and played monopoly (Jen probably won.) The Looking Glass Restaurant, located at the Bluenose Inn, had the combo of good food and amazing views.
After five trips to Bar Harbor I think we have yet to eat at every ice cream shop. The town is a mix of standard tourist shopping and small restaurants.
If you are ever lucky enough to go to Bar Harbor with Alex, he will say “Bah Habah Habah Bah at least ten times a day.
4 Steps to Get Ready to Visit Acadia National Park
Read About the History
The National Service Park Site provides a detailed history of Mount Desert Island.
Download Maps & Make Reservations
Cell phone service can be hard to come by when you are in the Park, so make sure you have maps of the area and the hikes you plan to take. Jordan Pond house and Asticou Restaurant reservations fill quickly, so book in advance.
Watch Film & Television Filmed on Mount Desert Island
- Cider House Rules, Film
- National Parks Adventure, Documentary
- Shutter Island, Film
Get Your Park Pass
You can save time by getting a park pass in advance, allowing you to go to any destination without stopping at an office first. Lines for park passes can be long in the summer. Or consider an Interagency Annual Pass to the National Parks.