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.