Three things to do in Acadia National Park with kids

Acadia National Park may be quite a hike from the nearest urban center or major airport, but this beautiful corner of downeast Maine offers families unlimited adventures, from bikes to boats to hiking trails and, if you’re lucky, the earliest sunrise in the continental US! Acadia is a relatively small park, and offers a lot of short, gentle hikes (and some tough ones as well) in addition to their expansive network of bicycling carriage trails.

Acadia National Park with kids:

These carriage trails are perhaps what Acadia is best known for (in addition to lobster, blueberries, and the rugged Maine coast, of course!) and are perfect for an easy Acadia hike or bike excursion. After a day in the park, you shouldn’t miss Sand Beach (Park Loop Road). A beautiful beach with great spots for checking out tide pools, kids may even want to take a dip…although the water is almost always freezing!

The lovely town of Bar Harbor is located just a mile or so from the park. Bar Harbor has everything you’ll need—outdoor stores, restaurants, and an ice cream parlor on almost every block! Below, get the nitty-gritty on navigating the carriage trails, plus two other great things to do with young kids in Acadia National Park:

carriage trail

Bike the carriage trails:

Perhaps the best way to see the park with young kids is via bike. I rented a bike at Acadia Bike Rentals and took Homer (3.5) and Greta (1.5) out for a ride around Eagle Lake. The folks at Acadia Bike were friendly and helpful, and had me set up and ready to ride in just a few minutes. If you’re visiting during peak seasons—summer and fall—they recommend that you contact them before you travel to reserve your bikes, especially if you plan to rent specialized equipment, like a child’s trailer or tagalong.

To save you from some of the pitfalls that I encountered, I’ll include a few helpful carriage trail tips if you’re riding with or pulling young kids. Access to the carriage trails is within riding distance from Bar Harbor (where most bike rental shops, including Acadia Bike, are located), but it’s about two miles and a lot of it is uphill. You never really know how heavy your kids are until you’re hauling them up that hill! I walked a good portion of the trip to the carriage trails, but I did manage it with enough juice left over for a good morning ride.

I had two toddlers (3.5 and 1.5 years old) sharing a seat, and had to endure a lot of bickering and squirming from the trailer. It might have worked better to have the younger one in a child seat, and the older one in the trailer. Even better, if you have two adults on the ride (sadly, we had one parent stuck at work all day), you can split them up and share the burden—literally!

touch tank

Visit Mount Desert Oceanarium:

Located on the north side of Mount Desert Island, just a few minutes drive from Bar Harbor, is the Mount Desert Oceanarium. The Oceanarium hosts the Maine Lobster Fishing Program, the Maine Lobster Hatchery, the Thomas Bay Salt Marsh, and the Discovery Touch Tank. My advice? Call ahead! You can’t tell from their website, but the only way to see the Oceanarium is by guided tours that go every 1.5 hours or so. Also, a lot of the tour involves lectures on various subjects from a local expert, so very small kids might be too squirmy to enjoy the visit. When we showed up, the last tour of the day had already started and we were able to join them for the last part—the Discovery Touch Tank. In hindsight, this was the best thing that could have happened for us, since our kids are too young to sit through a lecture-format tour anyway. If you have very little ones, you might see if they can accommodate you by giving you a brief tour or letting you join up with another group at the touch tank, since this is definitely a toddler favorite!

Eat at Jordan’s Restaurant:

When I was in college (in Maine, albeit a little bit farther south), I remember coming to Acadia to snowshoe with friends and having a delicious breakfast of blueberry pancakes at Jordan’s Restaurant (80 Cottage Street). I’m happy to report that Jordan’s is still there, and still serving up some tasty pancakes 10 years later! Needless to say, my kids ate blueberry pancakes for lunch every day of our trip…with blueberry juice, of course!