Acadia National Park Family Overview

Gorp.com

Many of you have written and asked our experts how and where to introduce your families to our national parks. This month, we're answering the call. In a new series, GORP tackles our nation's most popular parks and serves up the best picks for active families.

Acadia is one of the best national parks for families, whether your kids are infants or teenagers. While hugely popular, the park isn't as crowded—and therefore not as frantic—as, say, the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. Take Maine's rugged seaside scenery—full of rocks, mountains, and plenty of surf—and combine it with northern New England's lovely summer climate and miles upon miles of carriage roads, and you've got Maine's dramatic national park, where the mountains reach the sea.

Hiking

Acadia has plenty of great family hiking—the mountains aren't too tall, the weather is rarely too hot, the views are superb, and there's plenty of tide-pool exploring:

Cadillac Mountain. Many wouldn't consider an Acadia visit complete without a hike up the park's tallest peak, which reaches 1,530 feet. The best family trail is the 2.2-mile North Ridge Trail.

Pemetic Mountain Trail. This is a smaller (1,248 feet), less crowded hike with some of the best views of Mount Desert Island and the Atlantic Ocean—two miles round-trip, of moderate difficulty, with a bit of scrambling and rocky terrain.

Ship Harbor Nature Trail. An easy 1.5-mile loop with markers provides a self-guided nature tour along rocky bluffs, perfect for families.

Schoodic Head Trail. You have to drive a distance to get to this more isolated section of the park, but there are fewer crowds plus a short-but-steep hike up to a summit that offers one of the best views of Acadia.

Isle au Haut. Another isolated part of the park worth the extra effort to get there, the isle is only accessible by boat (there's a ferry). Enjoy solitary exploring and camping (reservations required).

Biking

If you're a biking family, Acadia is definitely the place for you. Miles and miles of car-free carriage roads—57 to be exact—make this an idea cycling destination for kids. Several bike rental shops are available in Bar Harbor. Here are a few important tips:

If you need to rent bikes and are visiting in the height of summer, be sure to make reservations ahead of time, just to be safe.

While carriage roads are car-free, they're usually busy with other bikers, walkers, and equestrians. If you're unsure of your child's stamina or navigating skills, get a trailer bike for your child.

Get out early. Beat the crowds and the heat by biking as early as possible (best before 8:30 a.m.).

Check out Audrey Minutolo's Biking on Mount Desert Island for specific trail details.

Children's Programs and Camps

Check the Acadia National Park Web site for a listing of the ranger-led programs offered during your stay. Many are specially designed for families and children.

Two other organizations in the area offer programs and camps for kids: the Mount Desert Island YMCA in Bar Harbor (207-288-3511), and Harbor House Children's Center in Southwest Harbor (207-244-3713). Be sure to check out their offerings early, well before your visit, to reserve a spot.

GORP'S Insider Tips

Here are a few more tips for making your family's Acadian visit idyllic:

Beware of the black flies, which bite, generally, between mid-May and mid-June. These nasty little creatures can ruin a day's activities, so either avoid this season or bring plenty of bug spray.

Check out the Jordan Pond House restaurant, built in the 1870s. The best place for families is at the outdoor lawn tables. Be sure to stop in for afternoon tea, which is hardly stuffy and their famous delectable treat of popovers and homemade ice cream.

For a Bar Harbor snack, don't miss the homemade ice cream at the popular Ben & Bill's Chocolate Emporium. If you're brave, fill your cone with lobster ice cream.

Help your kids fully appreciate the park by arming them with a copy of the book Discovering Acadia: A Guide for Young Naturalists (Acadia Press), by park naturalist Margaret Scheid.

Younger kids shouldn't miss Robert McCloskey's wonderful picture books about Maine, including Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, and Time of Wonder. Read these before your trip or each evening of your vacation, when the kids are tucked into their sleeping bags or beds.

Bring water shoes for everyone. Wet rocks are slippery and dangerous, so beware.


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