Family Guide to Acadia National Park

The tagline on the Maine license plate says “Vacationland” and after a trip up to Acadia National Park this summer I can see why.  Summer in Maine has great weather, long days and cheap lobster!  We loved Acadia National Park and think it is a great summer destination for active families.

We spent three nights camping in the Blackwoods campground within the park.  Reservations for this campground fill up months in advance so you will need to plan way ahead.  You can reserve sites at  Cost is $20 per site per night.  A second campground, Seawall has some first come, first served spots for those who like to plan last minute.  The campsites at Blackwoods were fairly large and shady and had both a fire pit and picnic table.  Bathrooms with flush toilets and sinks were kept relatively clean by the park staff and there were plenty of places to get water for drinking, cooking and cleaning.

Acadia National Park is an outdoor enthusiasts paradise.  There is hiking, biking, rock climbing, and boating all available.  For those looking for a break from outdoor activities the towns of Bar Harbor, Seal Harbor and Northeast Harbor flanking the park have ample shopping and dining.  Its impossible to see and do it all in Acadia in only three days so the listings below reflect how we spent our days and nights.

Things to Do

  • Drive the Loop Road – For a quick tour of Mount Desert Island you can drive the Park Loop Road.  From Bar Harbor to Otter Point the road is one way with parking allowed in the right hand lane.  This enables you to stop at sights even if the lots are full.  There is also the free Acadia Shuttle system to get you from point to point on the Park Loop Road.  The Ocean Path walking trail from Sand Beach to Otter Point allows you to get out of your car and take in the beautiful sea views.  Once you pass Otter Point the road becomes two way traffic.  The sites on this side – Jordan Pond, the Bubbles and Cadillac Mountain are much more crowded and the parking lots are small.  It is recommended to use the Acadia Shuttle to access these highlights of the park.
  • Hike – We chose the 2 mile Gorham Mountain Trail for a family friendly hike.  The trail was well marked but rocky and had great views of Great Head, Otter Point and the Atlantic Ocean from the top. You can buy a hiking map of the park from the Visitor’s Center to determine the best route for your family.
  • See the view from the top of Cadillac Mountain – Whether you hike the 7 mile trail from the Blackwoods campground or drive to the top, taking in the view from Cadillac Mountain is an Acadia must.   As a bonus, the top of Cadillac is the only place in the park where you can get 3G cell service so you can catch up on emails and phone calls while taking in the view.
  • Become a Junior Ranger – You can pick up a Junior Ranger Booklet from the Visitor’s Center or campground office at Acadia National Park.  There are activities for kids ages 5 to 18 to complete in their packets while they explore the park.  One requirement of earning their badge is to attend a ranger program.  Check the schedule in the Acadia magazine.  Some programs need prior registration and extra fees while others are included in the $20 park admission (per vehicle).
  • Explore the Tide pools – At low tide Acadia has several places to visit tide pools.  Otter Point and Wonderland are two recommended areas for checking out life at low tide.  We spent a few hours walking around near Otter Point looking for sea stars and crabs.  Sturdy shoes that can get wet like Keens are great to have for this activity.
  • Rent a Canoe at Long PondNational Park Canoe Rental rents canoes, kayaks, tandem kayaks and stand-up paddle boards in 3 hour blocks of time – 8am to 11am, 11am to 2pm, and 2pm to 5pm with some flexibility depending on availability.  All equipment is roughly $36 per 3 hour period.  You can also rent for half day and full day time slots.  Life jackets are provided with rentals.  There is also a small swimming beach on Long Pond near the boat put-in spot.
  • Visit Timber Tina’s Great Maine Lumberjack Show  – The most fun we had!  This hour and a half show located in Trenton, Maine (about 30 minutes from Bar Harbor) had it all – great competitions, comedy and audience participation.  Two teams compete in typical lumberjack events like axe throwing, speed climbing, and underhand chopping.  Midway through the events all kids in the audience are invited to come up to try their hand (with assistance) at cross-cut sawing.  Shows are every night at 7pm and tickets are sold at the door for $7.50 for children 11 and under and $12.00 per adult.

Other recommended attractions that we would love to have visited had we stayed longer included the Dive-in Theater, Mount Desert Oceanarium and Pirate’s Cove Adventure Golf.

Places to Eat

Since we were camping we cooked and prepared many of our meals.  There is a Hannaford grocery store in Bar Harbor as well as many great looking restaurants.  We did splurge for a lobster dinner one night and took a trip into town for delicious ice cream on another evening.

  • Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound – You can find lobster everywhere in Maine.  Cooked hard shell lobster was most expensive at the restaurants in Bar Harbor itself.  Trenton Lobster Pound is located in the town of Trenton about 15 minutes away from Bar Harbor.  You can select your live lobster and watch it cooked in seawater pots over wood burning fires.  There is both indoor and outdoor seating here and many other menu items such as clams, corn and crab cakes.
  • Bar Harbor Farmer’s Market – Sunday mornings in summer mark the weekly farmer’s market in the YMCA parking lot.  Here you can buy produce, meat, baked goods, live lobsters, eggs, cheese, coffee and granola all from local producers.  We bought most of our food for our three day stay here.
  • Ice Cream – Bar Harbor has no shortage of ice cream shops.  We enjoyed scoops from Mount Desert Island Ice Cream (two locations in town), known for their unique flavors such as Plum Sorbet and Mexican Chocolate.  There were no shortage of lines at Udder Heaven and Ben and Bill’s on the same evening.

Bottom Line

Acadia National Park was an amazing destination for a summer vacation.  We hope to return again to stay longer and explore more of the trails and carriage roads for biking within the park.

Photos by Kim Engstrom.

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