Family Vacations to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine

Acadia National Park Overlook
Acadia Overlook (courtesy, Maine Tourism)

Acadia National Park Highlights

  • Drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain for a scenic view.
  • Bicycle or take a horse-drawn carriage ride along car-free roads.
  • Hike along wind-blown shores.
  • Sail the Atlantic on a windjammer.
  • Go on a whale- and puffin-watching cruise.

Acadia National Park's 47,000 acres offer the classic Maine landscape of sea-splashed rocky coasts, granite cliffs, and mountains. Come here to hike through forests, walk along wind-blown sand beaches, paddle inland lakes, and explore untrammeled offshore islands. The park, except for the mainland section on Schoodic Peninsula, occupies Isle au Haut, Baker Island, much of Mount Desert Island, and a smattering of smaller islands.

From the gateway town of Bar Harbor, head to the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to find out about special activities. Yes, Acadia will be crowded in July and August, but that's also when the park operates a full schedule of ranger-led programs, some targeted to families and kids. On Beyond the Beach, rangers take families for a walk along the sands to discover crabs, sea stars, and other maritime critters.

The ever-popular 27-mile Park Loop Road winds past many of the park's Mount Desert Island highlights, as well as branching off up 1,530-foot Cadillac Mountain. To avoid traffic on this scenic tour, begin the drive early in the day. Ten miles up the road from the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, a good place to get out of the car is the Ocean Path, a four-mile round-trip route to Sand Beach. It's a nice place to stretch your legs, but don't think about swimming unless you can handle water that rarely gets above 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Farther along the Park Loop Road, Thunder Hole at high tide offers the awesome sight of incoming surf shooting into the air through a rock crevice. Although it may be crowded, the Jordan Pond House (open mid-May through mid-October) is a nice place to pause for tea and popovers. With little kids try the one-mile Jordan Pond Nature Trail loop; older kids may want to circle the pond on the longer 3.3-mile Jordan Pond Shore Trail. Alternatively, explore Acadia's 45 miles of carriage roads, which are off-limits to cars, by bike or on a horse-drawn carriage.

Get a taste of the less-crowded Acadia by taking the ferry to Isle au Haut, accessible aboard the 45-minute mail boat from Stonington Harbor on the mainland. A good hike for day trippers is the 3.8-mile Duck Harbor Trail from the town ferry landing to Duck Harbor, where if you time it right, you can board a return ferry. Be sure to bring water and food.

There's lots to do in Bar Harbor. A family favorite is Diver Ed's Dive-In Theater, a two-hour boat trip with movies of the deep taken as Ed videotapes his Frenchman Bay underwater finds. He brings lots of them—sea urchins, starfish, sea cucumbers, and lobsters—aboard for kids to ogle and touch before returning the critters to the sea. You can also get a demonstration of lobstering aboard the Lulu lobster boat, help hoist the sails on a four-masted schooner with Downeast Windjammer Cruises, or go on a whale- and puffin-watching tour with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company.

Tip: Bring raingear and dress in layers. While it's warm during the day, at night temperatures drop into the 50s.

Recommended Side Trips: Portland, Bath, Kennebunk, Freeport's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 7 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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