Our Top 10 Things to do in Acadia National Park with Kids
Acadia National Park is located just outside Bar Harbor, Maine and encompasses many of the images that we dream about when we think of the Northeast. Despite being one of the smaller National Parks in the country with around 49,000 acres, it is a popular place for visitors on the eastern seaboard due to its diverse landscape, breathtaking scenery and rugged coastal cliffs. With it’s endless array of outdoor activities and close proximity to Bar Harbor, it is one of the most visited park in New England. Ideally you’d want at least a few days to explore Acadia National Park and the surrounding areas, but we will share our favorites on a recent trip to the park as a young family and we hope that you’ll plan a trip in the near future. Be prepared to be amazed with our favorite things to do in Acadia National Park with kids!
Here is a map with the ten places highlighted in order of when to visit them with helpful descriptions. You can open the map in google maps and save it for future reference.
1. Acadia National Park Loop Road
Maine’s Acadia National Park has over 2 million annual visitors and the park loop road is the first stop! With over 27 miles to discover, you won’t have to venture far from your car to discover many of its scenic highlights, which include Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, Otter Cliff, Cadillac Mountain and Jordan Pond, just to name a few. Note that the road is one way, so if you miss something, it isn’t easy to return, so go slow and use my helpful map below to guide your adventure.
How much does it cost to enter? Acadia is a national park, so fees do apply. A personal vehicle pass is good for 7 days and costs $30. A motorcycle is slightly less at $25 for 7 days and if you enter without a vehicle, then it is $15 person, valid for 7 days. Or buy your park pass online.
*Frequent visitor? Purchase an annual pass for $55 (includes the family)*
When is the Park Loop Road open? The Park Loop Road is open from April 15th- December 1st. The busiest time of year is July and August.
What if I don’t have a car? If you are visiting the area from a cruise ship or you do not have a car at your disposal, there is a free Island Explorer shuttle bus that will drive around Acadia National Park (Stopping at key attractions). It runs from the end of June until Columbus Day.
*The park is not accessible to larger vehicles, such as RV“s, so plan accordingly.
How long will it take? Each family is different, but the Park Loop Road can easily take the better part of a day. Even if you don’t drive the entire 27 miles, you’ll spend quite a bit of time finding parking, visiting the attraction and taking breaks to eat. If you are an avid photographer, add a bit more time to capture that perfect shot of little sea creatures in the tide pools, plumes of water shooting up from Thunder Hole or the majestic cliffsides.
Important Items to Note:
-Summer is Acadia’s tourist season and it gets BUSY. Start your day early to get ahead of everyone and make it easier to find parking. Break your visit into two days so you don’t feel rushed or avoid driving and take the free Island Explorer shuttle bus instead.
-Buy your pass at Hulls Cove Visitor Center or online (see link above).
Sand Beach (add info about the stargazing program), Thunder hole, looking for tide pools. CD to listen to along the drive? Welcome center. EarthCache
Now let’s hit the road to discover all the fantastic sights in Acadia National Park.
Looking for something a bit different? Check out Acadia National Parks Earthcache. You’ll need a GPS in order to use, along with clues from the website and hidden along the way to learn more about the geology of the park. We enjoyed completing the Earthcache during our visit. Best for adults or older children.
Looking for something fun for the kids? Check out Acadia National Parks Quest program. Complete 3 quests (speed quest) or all 6 quests to win a prize.
2. Beehive Trail Head
If you have a real sense of adventure, you aren’t afraid of heights and you want a short hike with some incredible views, then the Acadia Beehive trail is the hike for you! It is NOT for families with small children, but probably okay with adventuresome teenagers.
Trail head: The beehive loop trail is located just north and across from the one way loop road. Park at the Sand Beach parking lot, head up the stairs and through the forest.
Blaze Color: Light Blue
Length and difficulty: 1.4 miles round trip. Moderate to Difficult with cliff climbing on steel rungs.
Items to Note: This is NOT a family friendly trail unless you have teenagers. It is also NOT recommended for anyone that isn’t steady on their feet, in good physical shape or has an issue with heights. No pets are allowed.
Views from the Beehive Trail (Acadia National Park)
3. Ocean Path Trail Head
Enjoy a family friendly stroll along this 2-mile path. There are multiple parking areas along the Trail, so feel free to complete all of it, or just a section. The path is mostly flat and level and covers the section from Sand Beach to the Otter Cliffs. Explore the beach, then head towards the water’s edge and explore the tidal pools. Stop along the trail to view Thunder Hole (more on that later) and end at Otter Cliffs to watch the rock climbers.
Trail head: The ocean path trail head starts at the Sand Beach Parking Lot. The trail runs parallel to the road, so it’s easy to find.
Length and difficulty: 4.5 miles round trip. Moderate due to distance.
Items to Note: This is a family friendly trail and dogs are allowed (on leash). It is a well known trail for its wild flowers and attractions.
Fun for Kids: Explore the the tidal pools to find hidden creatures (be careful on the slippery rocks), discover the power of Thunder Hole and play eye spy with the cliff climbers at Otter Cliff.
Views from the Ocean Trail (Acadia National Park)
4. Sand Beach
Visiting sand beach is a must when visiting Acadia National Park. If you come during the summer, be sure to arrive early to secure parking. It is a beautiful inlet tucked between granite cliffs. The water temperature never exceeds 55 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s perfect for playing in the sand, searching for seashells and enjoying the crashing waves. Families with small children can head over to the little tributary that runs between the ocean and the Beehive Lagoon for safe water to wade in and splash around in.
Items to Note: No pets are allowed on the beach from May 15 through September 15. Arrive early in July and August to find parking in the parking lot or along the road.
Star Gazing on Sand Beach: If you visit in September, take advantage of Acadia National Parks “Stars Over Sand Beach” program. One of those is their stargazing program where you can head to the beach after sunset and learn about constellations, satellites and planets. Wednesdays, Saturdays (September only), 8pm, 1 hour, Sand Beach
Sand Beach (Acadia National Park)
5. Thunder Hole
Not far from Sand Beach is Thunder Hole, Acadia. Look for a parking area on your right, then cross the street and follow the signs down to Thunder Hole. You’ll see a small inlet that has been carved into the rock by the crashing waves. The cavern inside the inlet causes s huge plume of water in addition to a thunderous sound (hence the name). If it is a calm day at low tide, you won’t get to experience much, but if you plan your visit when the tides are coming in and the waves are crashing, you’ll be in for a treat! Water can spout as high as 40 feet, so watch your surroundings and precede with caution down to the handrail-protected viewing area.
This is a popular location, but if you can, time your visit 1/2 way between low tide and high tide. Here is a great website to look up daily tide schedules, just time in your location.
Items to Note: The Island Explorer Shuttle Bus stops here every half hour during normal season hours. The last bus leaves just before 7 pm, be sure to check their schedule.
Thunder Hole (Acadia National Park) wasn’t overly active during our visit, so we enjoyed exploring the cliffs and watching the waves crash against the cliffs instead.
6. Boulder Beach/ Otter Cliffs
I’ve combined boulder beach (Acadia National Park) and otter cliffs together because they are near each other, but have separate parking lots. You can park at boulder beach and walk down to otter cliffs and back via the ocean trail,. Both are worth a quick stop unless you are an avid photographer or looking to do some rock climbing/rappelling over the beach rocks.
Boulder Beach: You’ll find a small parking area off to the right side of the road after you’ve passed Thunder Hole. Walk down towards the ocean and walk along the Ocean Path until you reach the beach. Boulder beach gets its unofficial name from the beach filled with rocks of all shapes and sizes. The rocks have been smoothed over years of erosive acts from the wind and water.
This beach is popular for watching the sunrise and lends itself to some beautiful photos. Be careful if you walk along the rocks because they can be uneven and slippery.
Otter Cliffs: Just down the road from the boulder beach parking lot, you’ll see the Otter Cliff Overlook parking area (just after otter cliff drive). Then cross the street back to the Ocean Trail and head back up to the Cliffs. At 110 feet high, this cliff is one of the highest in North America. It is a spectacular sight, but use caution when visiting due to slippery rocks, loose rocks and waves that crash against the cliff sides.
Feeling a bit adventuresome? You can arrange to rappel down the cliff edge with a local company.
Otter Cliffs (Acadia National Park)
7. Carriage Road
The carriage roads are located just before you reach Jordan Pond and after you pass otter cove, and hunters beach. It is about a 30 minute drive from Otter Cliff to the Carriage House. The carriage roads are a network of graveled roads inside Acadia National Park. They are an impressive 45 miles of car free roads which are perfect for bike riding or a horse drawn carriage ride. The carriage roads were a gift from John D. Rockefeller Jr. who wanted to give visitors a safe way to experience the park. With a variety of trails from challenging to flat and family friendly, they are a wonderful addition to the park experience. Along the trails, you’ll discover stone walls, stone bridges, meandering streams and ponds teeming with life.
If you are looking to explore the Acadia National Park carriage roads at a slow pace without renting a bicycle, be sure to book a carriage ride with Wildwood Stables. Belgian draft horses will pull you on a wooden wagon where you will discover stone roads that took more than 25 years to build. The “drivers” will give you a narration and history of the carriage roads in addition to a stop to explore one of the stone bridges from below and a stretch break. Private Acadia carriage rides are also available. Reservations are highly encouraged: 877-276-3622
Looking for a bit of romance? Check out their mountain summit horse carriage trips to enjoy the sunset.
Exploring the carriage trails via Wildwood Stables carriage rides (Acadia National Park).
8. Jordan Pond House & Jordan Pond Trail
Jordan Pond is a must stop for anyone visiting Acadia National Park as well as a visit to the Jordan Pond House for their famous popovers and tea that they have been serving for over 100 years! We really enjoyed the Jordan pond house popovers with a bit of jam and butter with their perfect blend of soft interiors with flaky crusts. Be sure to get a seat outside for beautiful views of the Jordan pond while you enjoy your treats.
Jordan Pond House is extremely popular, as it is the only restaurant inside the park. I highly recommend making reservations, call Jordan Pond house reservations at 207-276-3316. If you can’t make a reservation, the shortest waits for tables are before 11:30am or after 4pm.
After you’ve enjoyed a nice meal or those famous Jordan Pond popovers, consider taking a hike around the Jordan Pond loop trail. It starts just at the waters edge and continues the length of the pond. Children will enjoy spotting signs of beavers and stomping along the wooden paths. If you go counter clockwise, you’ll end with a little scramble over the rocks before heading back up to Jordan Pond House and then to the parking lots.
Trail head: Walk down from the Jordan Pond House towards the pond, you’ll see the gravel trail. I recommend walking counter clockwise for the most pleasing views. You’ll start on a gravel trail, then transition to wooden planks before ending with some boulders with well marked paths.
Length and difficulty: 3.4 miles for the entire loop around Jordan Pond (Acadia), moderate (distance)
Items to Note: This is a family friendly trail (bring a carrier for small children) and dogs are allowed (on leash). Swimming and wading is NOT permitted in the pond.
Fun for Kids: Keep a lookout for beaver activity and admire the beaver dam at the far North end of the pond. See if the kids can spot birds and frogs along the path.
Getting ready to hike the Jordan Pond trail!
9. South Bubble Rock Trail
If you are looking for a fun family friendly hike with beautiful views over Jordan Pond and the fun attraction with a massive boulder perched on the cliff side, then South Bubble Rock trail is the perfect hike. Once you reach the summit, you’ll be rewarded with views overlooking Jordan Pond and a balanced rock known as Bubble Rock. This rock was carried by the glaciers and deposited on the edge of the cliff.
Trail head: The bubbles (South and North) trail head begins at the parking lot (Bubbles Parking Lot) located just off the Park Loop Road, about a mile south of Bubble Pond and 1.5 miles north of Jordan Pond House. Look for the “Bubbles Divide” Trail head. You’ll hike through the forest until you pass the North Bubble trail (on the right) and continue to the South Bubble trail (on your left).
Length and difficulty: 1 mile to bubble rock and back, you’ll ascend 250 feet up (moderate)
Items to Note: This is a family friendly trail (bring a carrier for small children) and dogs are allowed (on leash). It is a well known for its views and bubble rock.
Fun for Kids: Check out Bubble Rock at the summit, but keep an eye on children near the cliff sides.
Bubble Rock, Acadia National Park, was one of our favorite hikes for its ease and views.
10. Cadillac Mountain
The summit of Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the East Coast. There are two Cadillac mountain trails including the North Ridge Trail and the South Ridge Trail. If you really enjoy hiking, you can hike 2.2 miles on the North Ridge Trail to the summit at an elevation gain of just over 1,500 feet on a steeper trail or for a slower ascend along a less strenuous path, then the South Ridge trail might be the one for you. If you aren’t feeling quite so adventuresome, there is a seven mile road to the top where you can enjoy its 360 degree view. Even if you don’t complete the Cadillac mountain hike to the summit, be sure to spend some time exploring the summit to take in the surroundings, see the alpine vegetation, do some bird spotting and soak in the views.
Looking to enjoy an Acadia National Park sunrise? Then I highly recommend heading to the top of Cadillac mountain to catch the sunrise. As the tallest mountain on the Northeast Atlantic coast, you’d be the first one in the US to see the sunrise from October until March. Since we aren’t really morning people with a baby in tow, we elected to enjoy the summit for a nice sunset. Be sure to bring a blanket or towel to sit on and a little picnic if you’d like. If the clouds stay away, you can also enjoy some stargazing after the sunset.
Cadillac Mountain is beautiful day or night!
I hope this list has inspired you to explore the natural beauty and trails in Acadia National Park, Maine. If you are staying in Bar Harbor, Maine, head over to our post about the top things to see and do in Bar Harbor.
Want to see where else we’ve visited in the US and Europe? Explore our destination map.
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