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Visiting Acadia National Park with kids is definitely a bucket list trip. It has such a diversity of landscapes, habitats, and wildlife, and is an incredible place for families of all ages and abilities. Acadia with kids is magical!
We loved exploring the park with our 5 kids, and want to share some tips, tricks, and things to do in Acadia National Park with kids whether you’re taking a day trip to Acadia or spending a longer time.
Whether you’re camping, picnicking, hiking, or taking a tour in Acadia, or even just learning about the history of the park from home, I hope this Acadia National Park guide is helpful and informative. You’ll find info on Acadia activities, lodging, and food, as well as indigenous history of the lands, book recommendations, and more – perfect whether you’ve never visited or whether you’ve been 100 times.
I hope you enjoy this Acadia travel guide!
Table of Contents
Learn About Acadia National Park
Before we visit a national park, our family loves learning about it! It helps us enjoy it more and appreciate the people who have stewarded it well before us. We love learning about the indigenous history, as well as about wildlife and ecosystems.
Here are a few ways to learn about the park either before a visit or as part of an Acadia virtual tour!
Acadia National Park History & Natural Features
The area now known as Acadia National Park has been populated for over 12,000 years.
Mount Desert Island is the main area of the park.
Both the Wabanaki and European colonists used the seas as means of transportation in the area.
The Wabanaki used the land for much gathering and used the resources of the area to create tools, such as birchbark canoes and porcupine quill baskets.
Farming, shipbuilding, and quarrying became widespread with European colonization, and contributed to roads and construction in the area.
Acadia was first established as Sieur de Monts National Monument.
Peregrine falcons essentially disappeared from Acadia, but were reintroduced through a historic nesting program.
Wealthy tourism became a big industry in the area in the late 1800s, when many rich wanted to vacation there and wanted comfortable retreats. Many “cottages” (truly mansions) were established to house some of the wealthiest families in the country.
Acadia National Park was the first national park created from private lands gifted to the public through the efforts of conservation-minded citizens, though those lands were originally stolen from indigenous tribes.
In 1919, President Wilson signed the act establishing Lafayette National Park; the name changed to Acadia in 1929. The park was created to protect “ocean, forests, lakes, and mountains.” (Source) (Source)
Acadia Indigenous History
“Today people from the four tribes—the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot—collectively known as the Wabanaki, or “People of the Dawnland” live throughout the state of Maine.”
The collective Wabanaki people came starting thousands of years ago overland and via birchbark canoes.
They originally set up temporary camps and hunted and gathered food. While the Wabanaki spent time on Mount Desert Island during all seasons, they did not typically live year round at a single site.
The Wabanaki people knew Mount Desert Island as Pemetic, “the sloping land.”
The Wabanaki remained in the area throughout European colonization and resisted attempted forceful eviction, disease, and genocide.
The federal government eventually prohibited the Wabanaki from harvesting sweetgrass on their ancestral homeland until 2015, when some areas of the park were reopened to indigenous tribes. This is also important for including indigenous practices and knowledge in the scope of park science.
In November 2021, US President Biden issued a memorandum recognizing and committing to incorporating indigenous-led science, citing the Acadia National Park sweetgrass study. (Source) (Source) (Source) (Source)
As part of your visit supporting the Wabanaki peoples here.
Acadia Packing List: What to Pack For an Acadia Family Vacation
Acadia National Park weather definitely has four distinct seasons. This means that it can vary quite a bit during different times of year! Here are some of my favorite all-season essentials to pack when traveling to Acadia National Park with kids.
I like these hiking boots for women and men, and these hiking sandals for women and men.
I’d recommend either sneakers with good tread or hiking shoes when exploring Acadia trails with kids. My kids love either hiking sandals, hiking boots, or regular sneakers depending on the type of hike. (I like these and these for kids because they’re also waterproof.)
It can definitely get buggy around here, especially in the summer. We like this bug repellent in areas that don’t have a high prevalence of disease-carrying mosquitos (we use Deet in Zika/dengue/malarial areas).
This and this are our favorite water bottles for toddlers.
Packable picnic blanket– this is convenient for quick picnics out and about, especially if the ground is wet as it has a waterproof underside. It packs up super small so it’s great for heading out on hikes.
Child hiking carrier – Acadia has a number of wonderful hikes, and we love having a carrier to pack along a baby or toddler when visiting Acadia with kids. This is our favorite backpack hiking carrier for visiting Acadia National Park with toddler that also has plenty of room for snacks and even our big camera. We also love this soft structured carrier for younger babies.
How To Get to Acadia National Park
Acadia does have a public shuttle bus within the park, the Island Explorer, but families may find it easier to rent a car to get arrive at the park itself.
The closest large airport is in Boston, about a 4.5 hour drive.
You may also fly from Boston to Hancock County Airport, 10 miles outside the park.
Bangor airport is about an hour drive from the park.
How Many Days Should I Spend at Acadia National Park?
While you can certainly experience Acadia in a day or a week (or more!), I recommend 2 days in Acadia or 3 days in Acadia National Park. That will give you time to experience the highlights of Acadia with kids without cramming it all into a single day, including a couple hikes, playing by the water, and eating some local food.
Where to Stay Near Acadia National Park with Kids: Acadia Lodging for Families
Camping in Acadia National Park
There are several established campgrounds at Acadia National Park. Most of the campgrounds can accommodate tents and RVs and have accessible sites available. Backcountry, wilderness, and dispersed camping is not permitted inside Acadia National Park.
Bar Harbor, ME Lodging with Kids
Bar Harbor is a darling town just outside Acadia National Park, and is a perfect home base to stay. There are plenty of Acadia lodging options, restaurants, and shops to explore. Here are some recommended places to stay in Bar Harbor for families:
Best Time of Year to Visit Acadia National Park: Acadia National Park Weather
As I mentioned before, Acadia has four distinct seasons, each unique and special. The main park loop road and some picnic areas are typically open from the middle of April until the beginning of December, while some unpaved roads may not open until mid-May and may close by mid-November.
If you’re wondering when to visit Acadia National Park, summer in Acadia National Park and fall in Acadia National Park are very popular, and with good reason! Summer tends to be warm and pleasant, and opens opportunities for water play. It is, however, by far the most crowded time in the park. September and October tend to be a bit less crowded, but tend to boast stunning fall foliage. It’s a wonderful time of year to visit Acadia National Park – just be sure to pack layers as it can get quite chilly.
Spring in Acadia tends to be pretty wet, so be sure to pack along waterproof gear on your Acadia National Park family vacation.
Winter in Acadia National Park means that many facilities and restaurants won’t be operating, but it can be a great time if you love winter sports. It’s a great time for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Day Trip to Acadia: Top Acadia Checklist
If you have limited time and are wondering about what to see in Acadia National Park, here are some of our favorites for a day trip to Acadia. These would all be wonderful as part of an Acadia National Park itinerary and are the top things to do in Acadia National Park.
Drive part of the Park Loop Road
Go on an Acadia hike (we love the Beehive Trail!)
Visit the top of Cadillac Mountain
Play at Sand Beach
Eat popovers at Jordan Pond House Restaurant
These activities will give you a wonderful overview of the best things to do in Acadia, including its wildlife and ecosystems, in a short period of time. If you have longer, be sure to drive the full Park Loop Road and check out some of the other amazing stops!
Best Things to Do in Acadia National Park with Kids: Acadia National Park Itinerary
If you’re still not convinced and are wondering, “Is Acadia National Park kid friendly,” here’s more detail on family friendly Acadia when on an Acadia family vacation:
1. Visit the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor
Before heading into the park, consider visiting the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, focused on educating about the Wabanaki Nations. The first and only Smithsonian Affiliate in the state of Maine is a wonderful, accessible, and immersive way for adults and kids alike to learn about the native peoples of the land before enjoying and recreating on it. It’s sure to make your Acadia National Park family vacation even more meaningful.
2. Guided Ranger Programs: Talks, Walks, Bike Tours, Boat Tours
Acadia National Park has a whole host of incredible and free ranger programs, from campfire talks to guided walks to nighttime astronomy to peregrine falcon watch times. There are also guided bike tours available during the peak season. Be sure to stop into a park visitor center or check the online park calendar to get more info about the various free and paid programs available – they’re for sure one of the best things to do in Acadia National Park. There’s tons of information about the various park ranger programs right here.
There are also paid guided tours led by park rangers available, including a scenic and historic boat tour. Here are some of those options:
Islesford Historical and Scenic Cruise – Explore the connections between people and the sea on a ranger-led boat tour of Great Harbor and Somes Sound, with a visit to the Islesford Historical Museum on Little Cranberry Island
Baker Island Cruise – Spot seabirds and marine mammals on a cruise along coastal Acadia. Explore beautiful Baker Island, its homestead, lighthouse and history for a one hour, 1.0-mile walking tour. Terrain requires good mobility and footwear. Not recommended for young children. No pets or strollers. No restrooms on island.
3. Junior Ranger Program & Children’s Centers/Activities
There are also special programs geared to younger visitors. Pick up a wonderful Junior Ranger booklet at a park visitor center to learn more about the park, its history, ecology, and conservation. The Sieur de Monts Nature Center is an excellent place to not only stop to pick up your booklet, but to also explore gardens and exhibits about the park.
And don’t miss the Carroll Homestead Drop-in Program to explore an 1800s farm, and there are touch tanks and ranger talks to explore and learn about intertidal creatures in the Schoodic district.
4. Hike An Acadia Trail: Best Hikes Acadia National Park
There are so many fantastic Acadia hiking trails of different lengths and good for a variety of abilities. Truly, Acadia hiking is wonderful for everyone from experienced hikers to novices, families with young children to disabled people to those ready for a major challenge.
If you’re interested in some of the best Acadia hikes with kids, here’s a list of 13 easy Acadia National Park hiking Trails, and just some of the overall best Acadia National Park hikes.
John D. Rockefeller wanted a way to travel on motor-free roads through the beautiful and peaceful Mount Desert Island. He thus developed the carriage road system for horses and carriages to traverse the area. The crushed rock surfaces of the old carriage roads make for perfect biking with kids in Acadia National Park and it’s one of the best things to do in Acadia National Park. Here’s a map of the carriage roads to direct you.
Keep in mind that these roads often get muddy during the wet spring, so they’re best used in the summer and fall. Be sure to stay on public carriage roads, and keep an eye out for horses and pedestrians!
6. Climbing and Scrambling in Acadia National Park
Acadia has so many wonderful opportunities for rock climbing and scrambling – it makes for such fun and easy Acadia National Park family activities! You can take advantage of one of the official climbing tours based out of Bar Harbor, or you can just do some low-key scrambling on your own with the many rock formations available.
7. Enjoy Food & Picnicking in Acadia National Park
There are so many beautiful spots to simply relax and enjoy a picnic in Acadia National Park. Set up in an established picnic area, or simply perch on a rock to enjoy the views around while you eat. Be sure to pack out everything you pack in (including any peels!), and refrain from feeding or interacting with wildlife. This is our favorite packable picnic blanket that folds down super small and is waterproof on the underside. Great to throw in a backpack for the day.
Speaking of picnicking, consider picking up some famed Jordan Pond House popovers to take along on your picnic. The lines can be long, so it’s a great option to get them to go and eat them while you take in the beautiful scenery all around. There are also a number of terrific restaurants in Bar Harbor and beyond.
8. Take A Driving Tour of Acadia National Park’s Iconic Spots
The scenic 27-mile Park Loop Road is a wonderful way to experience the landscapes of Acadia National Park with kids from the comfort of your vehicle. You’ll be able to access some famous spots, such as Sieur de Monts, Sand Beach, Otter Point, Jordan Pond, and Cadillac Mountain (great for sunrise/sunset; advance reservations required during the peak season). You can also take the free Island Explorer shuttle during peak months.
Be sure to stop at Thunder Hole, a small inlet where the water makes a loud noise by hitting the rocks and can shoot 40 feet up in the air.
9. Swim & Play at the Beach At Acadia National Park
Sand Beach is Acadia’s only sandy ocean beach and is very popular with families. While the water is chilly year round, little ones will love splashing and playing regardless. You can also consider swimming at Echo Lake Beach or Lake Wood. This is a perfect activity when visiting Acadia National Park with toddlers!
10. Explore Acadia National Park Tide Pools
When the tide goes out each day, little pools of water are often caught in rocky coastal areas, where marine life remains until the next high tide. Acadia has a number of tidepool areas where you’ll be able to view a variety of sea creatures during low tide. Tidepooling is generally best 1-2 hours before and after low tide. Walk carefully as rocks can be slippery (we love having our kids wear rain boots for good traction and foot protection when tide pooling). And always be extremely careful to not damage or disturb marine life.
This is sort of built into all the other activities but it’s such a quintessential part of planning an Acadia family vacation that I had to include it separately. The wildlife around is unique and so fun to see, and the birds especially are so diverse.
12. Paddling and Boating in Acadia
Acadia boasts a number of lakes and ponds on Mount Desert Island that permit boating – it’s one of our favorite Acadia National Park family activities. Consider renting non-motorized watercraft in surrounding communities or bring your own (we own and love this inflatable boat; be sure to bring along Coast Guard approved life jackets). You may also want to consider a commercial tour for sailing or cruising, like this wonderful sail in Frenchman Bay.
13. Fishing in Acadia National Park
Did you know you can go fishing within Acadia National Park? The park works with the state departments to create regulations to protect the lands and requires fishing licenses. It’s a wonderful way to connect with the land in Acadia. Here’s more information about fishing in Acadia.
14. Carriage Ride in Acadia National Park
It’s true – you can take a horse-drawn carriage ride within the park! Such a treat. Contact Wildwood Stables if you’d like to set this up. You may also go on a horseback ride, but must bring your own horse as the stables do not provide horses for riding. This is a really fun activity when visiting Acadia National Park with a toddler!
15. Stargazing at Acadia National Park
There are several incredible spots perfect for stargazing in Acadia National Park, including Cadillac Summit and Sand Beach. Here’s more information about stargazing in Acadia.
16. Photography in Acadia National Park
Acadia is a photographer’s dream! With the abundance of birds and wildlife and the beautiful light on mountains set against coastal landscapes, it makes for some pretty spectacular photography opportunities.
Here’s a fantastic video of Acadia National Park. It’s a great way to learn about the history, peoples, wildlife, and landscapes native to Acadia before visiting.
Enjoy Your Visit to Acadia National Park with Kids!
We’ve loved putting together this Acadia National Park travel guide to take an in person or virtual visit to the Acadia with kids. We’d love to hear if you do any of these activities on a family trip to Acadia!
We hope to inspire curiosity and connection through exploring and learning, and we hope this guide helps you and your families. Please share any activities you do with us over on our Instagram. And we’d be delighted if you passed this guide to Acadia National Park with kids along to others, as well!
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