In recent years, things have improved in Acadia in the realm of accessible travel, though the options are still pretty sparse. You'll find a handful of accessible sites including a few nature trails and campsites.
For people with hearing loss, personal assistive listening devices are available by advance reservation for ranger-led programs. Call (207-288-8832) or send an email through the National Park site (www.nps.gov/acad/contacts.htm). If you would like to attend a ranger program and need an ASL interpreter, get in touch at least three weeks in advance.
People who are blind or visually impaired can purchase an audio tour on CD of the Park Loop Road, Cadillac Summit and the Somes Sound. Acadia also produces a park brochure in braille that provides an overview of the park. The CD and the brochure are available at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center.
Download a copy of the park's Accessibility Guide (www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/upload/AccessibilityGuide.pdf) for a list of its accessible sites.
Permanently disabled US citizens or permanent residents are eligible for the Interagency Access Pass. The pass offers free lifetime admission at all national parks. It's available at Hulls Cove and other park visitor centers. It admits the pass owner and all other passengers traveling together in a private vehicle.
Find further information and download an application at www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm.
The free Island Explorer shuttle buses all have wheelchair lifts. These operate daily from late June to early October, and connect sites within the park with villages around Mount Desert Island.
If you're driving, you'll find designated accessible parking spots near the main attractions.
The following paths are accessible:
- Hemlock Path This trail winds through woodlands for 1.5 miles round-trip. Trail access is at the Wild Gardens of Acadia, to the right of the parking lot entrance.
- Jesup Path From the Sieur de Monts area, this boardwalk path winds through a white birch forest. Note that the path is wide enough for a single wheelchair, but there are wider sections at various intervals that allow for passing or turning around.
- Jordan Pond Parts of the loop around Jordan are accessible, namely the first mile or so, going north (counterclockwise direction) from Jordan Pond House. There are also connections here to the carriage roads. While you're in the area, the Jordan Pond House is a lovely and accessible spot for tea and popovers (buttery, hollow muffins), served with jam.
- Carriage Roads Many sections of the carriage roads are steep with uneven paths and loose gravel. The most accessible sections of the carriage roads are as follows: on the northwest corner of Eagle Lake, the carriage road heads north to Witch Hole Pond (5.3 miles round-trip). There's a parking lot off ME 233 with accessible restrooms. The carriage road along Bubble Pond is also recommended. There's parking (and accessible restrooms) on the Park Loop Rd.
- Although it's not in the park, the half-mile Shore Path in Bar Harbor is accessible, and offers pleasant views over the waterfront.
Lookouts & Other Attractions
- Cadillac Mountain From the top of Cadillac Mountain, a path provides views over Frenchman Bay and the Porcupine islands. The path is short and accessible, though it has some mild uphill sections.
- Thunder Hole A ramp leads to the upper viewing area above this natural wonder. Park in the right lane of Park Loop Rd or the upper parking area near the restrooms and accessible walkway.
- Schoodic Point Over on the Schoodic Peninsula, you'll find scenic views at Schoodic Point, accessible from the parking lot.
- Ranger-led programs The park hosts ranger-led programs from mid-May to mid-October. Accessible activities are listed in seasonal ranger program schedules, which are available at information centers.
- Boat cruises Accessibility varies. Boarding is easiest at high tide, when the boat ramps are less steep.
- Horse-drawn carriage rides Carriages of Acadia has two wheelchair-accessible horse-drawn carriages, each of which accommodates two passengers using wheelchairs and up to four additional passengers.
Dangers & Annoyances
Like other wilderness regions, Acadia National Park poses some dangers, but you can minimize risks by traveling sensibly and being prepared. You'll always want to account for adverse weather, as conditions can change rapidly in the park.
Mosquitos can be a problem anywhere in Acadia National Park from June until September. In the height of summer, you'll need to liberally apply repellent to avoid getting bitten. At other times of year (and at higher elevations), the nefarious insects are not a problem.
Ticks can also be present in the region from March through December, so you'll want to check yourself carefully after visiting the park. Since some ticks can carry diseases (including Lyme disease), try to avoid them if possible. Using DEET repellent and wearing appropriate clothing (such as long pants and a hat) will minimize the risks.
Blackflies can be a problem in the deeper wooded sections of Acadia (less so near the coast and at higher elevations), and tend to be most prevalent from mid-May to mid-June. Unlike mosquitoes, blackflies hatch near clear running water, so look out for them on trails near creeks and waterfalls. Apply repellent with DEET and avoid using fragrant perfumes, lotions, deodorants or shampoos before hitting the trail.
You're highly unlikely to see a bear or moose in the park, but remember the cardinal rule: stay at least 50ft away from all wildlife in the park. Never approach an animal, and make sure you dispose of food scraps and other waste in the animal-proof receptacles at campgrounds and some trailheads.
Some animals, including skunks and raccoons, carry rabies, so be sure to report any unusual animal behavior to a ranger.
Even short hikes can become treacherous after heavy rain. At any time of year you might encounter moss-covered rocks, wet leaves and slick roots. These can lead to bad falls, and the consequences can be significant on trails that traverse steep, narrow cliff faces. Always travel with appropriate footwear: wear ankle-supporting boots with good soles, and use crampons or other winter traction devices during icy conditions – which can persist into May on some trails. A good walking stick is also useful.
Cold & Heat
Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition that occurs when prolonged exposure to cold thwarts the body’s ability to maintain its core temperature. Hypothermia is an all-season danger and can even occur during the summer due to wind, rain and cold. Remember to dress in layers and always carry rain gear.
During the summer, you'll also need to prepare for the heat, when midday temperatures in Acadia can soar. Carry plenty of water to avoid dehydration, wear a wide-brimmed hat and use sunscreen. Know your hiking limits: uphill hikes along the mountain trails can lead to heat exhaustion.
The three-leafed poison ivy plant is present throughout the park, both along the coast and inland. Be alert when hiking, keep pets close, and warn your children to avoid it. Remember the saying: 'leaves of three, leave it be.' If you do come into contact with poison ivy, wash the affected area within 30 minutes with soap and water.
If you're prone to seasickness, take preventative measures before undertaking cruises around the bay, or boating to the Cranberry Islands off the coast.
Rules & Permits
Be sure to purchase your park pass before entering the park.
Where to Purchase Park Passes
Passes can be purchased on the Acadia National Park website: www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/fees.htm. If you're purchasing a pass online, you'll need to print it out and display it in your vehicle window (or carry it with you if you're arriving by bike or on foot).
In person, there are over a dozen places where you can purchase park passes, including the following locations:
From May to October, all visitors to the park are required to pay an entry fee. Prices are as follows:
- $30 Private Vehicle One-week pass for those arriving by car, truck or van. Covers all occupants of the vehicle.
- $25 Motorcycle One-week pass covering a motorcycle rider and a passenger.
- $15 Cyclist or Pedestrian One-week pass for those arriving on foot or by bicycle and not traveling by private vehicle.
- $55 Acadia Annual Pass Provides admission for one pass holder and all passengers for 12 months.
Campfires & Firewood
Charcoal and wood fires are permitted in campgrounds and in designated picnic areas. Firewood brought from other areas is not allowed into Acadia, as the wood may contain non-native pests that pose serious threats to Acadia's forests. Firewood is available for sale at all of the campgrounds.
The use of drones (operating, launching or landing) inside the park is prohibited.
Hulls Cove Visitor Center This informative center anchors the park's main Hulls Cove entrance, 3 miles northwest of Bar Harbor via ME 3. Buy your park pass and pick up maps and info here. The 27-mile-long Park Loop Road, which circumnavigates the eastern section of Mount Desert Island, starts near here.
When the visitor center is closed (November to mid-April), head to the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. National park staff provide information there during winter and spring.
Travel with Children
Acadia National Park can be a wonderland for small travelers. There are adventures aplenty, with mesmerizing coastal walks, fun-filled action on Sand Beach or at Echo Lake, boat trips and hands-on ranger-led activities. Plan ahead to make the most of your family holiday.
Best Regions for Kids
- Acadia National Park
Building sand castles on Sand Beach, going for a chilly dip in Echo Lake, taking a horse-and-wagon ride on the carriage roads, roasting marshmallows at a campsite, looking for beavers on the Jordan Pond Nature Trail.
- Bar Harbor
Whale- and dolphin-watching boat trips, hands-on kids' activities at the Abbe Museum, coastal walks (including the Bar Island walk across the exposed harbor bottom at low tide).
- Cranberry Isles
Island-hopping, exploring empty shell-covered beaches, short walks through woods, snacking on village treats.
- Southwest Harbor
Checking out bird carvings (and picking up a kit for a rainy day), feasting on lobster (or grilled cheese) and blueberry pie at Thurston's, checking out the island's only lighthouse.
While it's always a good idea to allow free time for some serendipitous discoveries, you'll definitely need to do some planning before hitting the road.
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
When to Go
Over 3.5 million visitors come to Acadia National Park annually, mostly between June and early September. While this is the best time weather-wise, you'll want to plan carefully to avoid big crowds.
From late September to mid-October, the bright colors of autumn transform Acadia into a blazing wonderland of red, yellow and orange. The park still draws visitors, though weekdays are much quieter. One big seasonal event is the Acadia Night Sky Festival (www.acadianightskyfestival.org), with hands-on activities for budding astronomers of all ages.
May sees a bit of activity, though many places remain closed until the end of the month. At other times of year, the cold weather means you'll largely have Acadia to yourself. The wintery months of November through March draw only the hardiest of souls. Many roads are closed and hikes can be dangerous. Expect lots of snow and icy temperatures.
Reservations for park campgrounds are accepted up to six months in advance. Plan as far ahead as possible for summer trips. Cancellations or date changes to a campsite reservation incur a $10 fee.
Outside the park there's a wealth of family-friendly options, including hotels, motels and inns, some of which have appealing extras such as swimming pools. Most accommodations outside the park do not charge extra for children under 12, though policies vary from place to place.
What to Pack
You’ll be able to find just about anything you could need at Bar Harbor and other major towns en route to Acadia, but to avoid a long drive out of the park while you're enjoying the scenery, it's best to be prepared.
- Children’s paracetemol and ibuprofen Always good to have on hand for an unexpected fever that arises in the middle of the night.
- Fleece Even in the summer, nights in the park can be chilly.
- Rain jacket Precipitation is always a possibility in this wet region.
- Hiking shoes Bring something sturdy that ties and covers the toes, plus socks.
- Sun hat A must at any time of year.
- Sunscreen and bug repellent Mosquitos and ticks are the concern, and you'll want repellent during the warmer months (late June through September).
- Water bottles Keep everyone hydrated and happy throughout the trip.
- Beach towels For drying off after dips at Sand Beach and in Echo Lake.
Trails can be narrow and slippery, with slick roots that can cause a twisted ankle, and there are dangerous drop-offs on some mountain hikes. You'll also need to be mindful of ticks and poison ivy, which can be found in every part of the park.
With all this in mind, it's best to lay down some ground rules before you arrive in the park. Young children will undoubtedly see other kids scrambling up boulders and heading off trail. Make sure you keep small children close on hikes. As an added precaution, it's wise to have all children carry a whistle in case they get lost.
A bigger threat than falls or drowning is car accidents, which are one of the leading causes of injury in the park. Be particularly careful when exiting and entering a parked car. Sometimes you'll have to park beside the road, without much room to maneuver, and other drivers don't always slow down for young families wandering across the road. If you bike the carriage roads, take it slow. There have been many bicycle collisions over the years.
Even the most upscale restaurants outside the park welcome families. Within the park you'll find a handful of picnic spots – all with picnic tables and restrooms. The relatively small size of the park means you're never far from a meal, whether it's in Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor or Southwest Harbor.
Like some other national parks in the US, Acadia has a junior ranger program, which is geared towards kids aged five to 12. You can pick up a junior ranger booklet, with activities for kids to complete, at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center. Afterwards, present the book to a ranger at any of the visitor centers, and the children will be on their way to earning a junior ranger badge. While it might sound a bit hokey, it can be a fun way for young minds to get involved and learn about the park in a non-traditional setting.
During the summer, the park offers a number of ranger-led programs. These include ranger-led boat trips and bicycle tours, bird-watching trips, narrated walks through the forest or along the shoreline, storytelling at one the park campgrounds and stargazing on Sand Beach. Ask at a visitor center or check the website for upcoming activities.
Acadia National Park for Kids
Acadia offers loads of outdoor activities, including outstanding hikes (short and long alike), plus picnic areas, shoreline spaces to explore, and intriguing exhibitions curated with kids in mind.
That said, there are some challenges. Dining services are nonexistent in the park, so load up on snacks before entering the wild. Have plenty of water on hand (or a filtration device), as only a few places have water fountains.
Drives can be long within the park, so make sure you look at the map when planning the day's activities. Large crowds can also be a big turnoff in the summer. You can beat the worst of the holiday parade by heading out early and avoiding the most popular areas during peak hours.
Lastly make sure everyone is properly outfitted with good shoes, warm clothes and rain gear. The weather can change quickly in the mountains and can vary from one side of the park to the other.
- Diver Ed's Dive-In Head out on a boat trip with Diver Ed and learn about (and touch) the creatures he brings onboard.
- Ranger-led Wildlife Walk Check at the visitor center for upcoming tours with rangers, who lead walks devoted to hawks and other Acadian creatures.
- Lulu Lobster Boat Gain a new appreciation for Maine's beloved crustacean (aka the American lobster) on a fun two-hour cruise.
- Hiking Easy trails such as the Jordan Pond Trail, Ocean Path, Wonderland Trail or Ship Harbor Nature Trail are good options for pint-sized visitors.
- Carriage Rides Sit back and enjoy the scenery on a one- or two-hour clomp through pretty forests and up to spectacular lookouts.
- Bike Riding Hire bikes and go for a spin on the carriage roads. You have 45 miles to choose from.
- Swimming Sure it's freezing, but Sand Beach and Echo Lake are great fun for a bit of splashing around.
- Timber Tina's Great Maine Lumberjack Show Watch log-rolling, pole climbing and handiness with big saws during this one-hour funfest.
- ImprovAcadia In July and August you can catch family-friendly comedy nights at this popular Bar Harbor theater.
- Stars over Sand Beach Several nights a week, rangers lead guided night-sky tours on the beach. Bring a blanket and warm clothes.
Travel With Pets
Pets are allowed inside Acadia National Park – though not everywhere – and there are restrictions to keep in mind. At all times, pets must be on a leash not to exceed six feet in length (park rangers have documented many traumatic encounters between dogs and porcupines, among other wildlife). Pet owners must pick up and properly dispose of all pet waste (remember that pet waste can carry germs that harm other wildlife in the park). Pets must never be left unattended in vehicles. Even on fairly cool days, the temperature inside cars can reach dangerous levels.
Dogs are also not permitted inside public buildings, at the Wild Gardens of Acadia (in the Sieur de Monts area) or on any ranger-led programs.
Apart from at Echo Lake, pets (and people) are not allowed to swim in the lakes in the park, as many of these function as public water supplies. From May 15 to October 15, pets are not allowed on Sand Beach or in the area around Echo Lake.
Hiking With Pets
Pets are allowed on around 100 miles of hiking trails and all 45 miles of carriage roads. There are certain trails where pets are not allowed to go, owing to the steepness of the trails, which require the use of iron-rung ladders. These trails include the following:
- Beehive Loop Trail
- Precipice Trail
- Ladder Trail to Dorr Mountain
- Beech Cliffs Trail
- Perpendicular Trail to Mansell Mountain
- Jordan Cliffs Trail connecting Penobscot East Trail with the carriage road
Additionally, the park service strongly discourages pet owners from taking their furry companions on the following 10 trails.
- Acadia Mountain
- Flying Mountain
- Giant Slide
- Cadillac Mountain (west face)
- Bubble and Jordan Ponds Path, between the carriage road and the Featherbed Pond
- Norembega Goat Trail
- Bubbles-Pemetic Trail
- Penobscot Mountain (Spring) Trail
- Upper Beachcroft Trail
- Upper Gorge Trail
Those who are really keen on learning the ins and outs of responsible travel with pets can ask at a park information office about becoming a Bark Ranger. You'll get an activity checklist, which once completed allows dogs to be sworn in as Bark Rangers (you can also purchase a nifty Bark Ranger collar tag for your newly enlightened four-legged sidekick).