Acadia National Park Whale Watching: Family Guide

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If you’re planning a family trip to Acadia National Park, you’re going to want to include a whale watching excursion on your itinerary!

Whale watching is one of the most unique experiences Acadia NP has to offer, so you definitely don’t want to miss out!

Acadia is located on the east coast, mostly on Mount Desert Island along the coast of Maine and is known for its breathtaking landscapes as well as its fascinating marine life.

In this article, we’ll dive into the world of whale watching in Acadia National Park, where you’ll see the gentle giants and other incredible marine animals in the Gulf of Maine.

three children in front of Acadia National Park sign in MainePin

The Gulf of Maine: A Marine Wonderland

Nestled in the Gulf of Maine, Acadia National Park is a destination for all marine enthusiasts and animal lovers. Here, the deep blue waters are home to a breathtaking array of marine life, with some of the most notable being the Humpback, Finback, and Minke, Pilot, and North Atlantic Right whales.

When you embark on a whale-watching excursion, your family treated to an unforgettable experience, with the possibility of encountering various species of sharks and giant tuna, among other incredible creatures.

landscape shot of the gulf of mainePin

The Giants of the Sea

The Gulf of Maine is renowned for its nutrient-rich waters, making it a thriving ecosystem for marine life. Here, you’ll encounter a diverse array of species, but the show’s true stars are the whales.

Let’s take a closer look at the variety of whale species you might encounter on any given day on your whale-watching adventure in the Gulf of Maine:

Humpback Whales

These gentle giants, known for their distinctive flukes and enchanting songs, can reach astonishing weights of up to 45 tons and lengths of 56 feet. Their graceful movements in the water are a sight to behold.

tail of a humpback whalePin

Finback Whales

As the second-largest of the great whales, massive finback whales, or “fin whales” are true ocean behemoths, reaching a staggering 130 tons and an impressive length of 89 feet. Witnessing these majestic creatures in their natural habitat is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

top down shot of a fin whalePin

Minke Whales

Distinguished by their streamlined bodies, minke whales can reach lengths of 25-35 feet and weigh between 5 to 10 tons. Despite their smaller size relative to other whale species, they are no less incredible to see.

These whales have the sad nickname of “stinky minkes” because of their notably bad breath (think: fishy diet). According to the naturalist on our recent Alaskan cruise, you can often smell a minke before you see him.

looking down on a swimming minke whalePin

North Atlantic Right Whales

These critically endangered whales are stocky and mostly black in color. If you see one, you’re having a VERY lucky day!

tail of an endangered north atlantic right whale waving at the cameraPin

Pilot Whales

These are the most elusive of the whales in the Gulf of Maine, but they are a delight to see as they travel in family groups or “pods”.

head of a pilot whale poking out of the waterPin

Orca and Beluga Whales

Although sighting are much more rare, Orca and Beluga Whales have also been spotted off the Maine coast near Mount Desert Island!

But the marine wonders of Acadia National Park aren’t limited to whales alone. Keep your eyes peeled for other remarkable wildlife, including dolphins, seals, puffins, sharks, bald eagles, ospreys, gulls, and various seabirds.

What to Expect on a Whale Watching Tour

Bar Harbor, the gateway to Acadia National Park, serves as a hub for whale watchers, with several reputable tour operators ready to guide you on your adventure. Here’s what you and your family can expect on your Acadian boat tour:

  • Experienced Tour Operators: The success of your whale-watching experience hinges on the expertise of your local guide. Thanks to their years of experience and intimate knowledge of the Gulf of Maine, they know precisely where to find the marine action. They’ll take you as far as 20 miles offshore, ensuring maximum viewing time and increasing your chances of an exciting whale sighting.
  • A Family-Friendly Adventure: Whale watching fun for all ages! Onboard narrators offer information about the diverse species in the Gulf of Maine and the conservation efforts that safeguard them. It’s an educational opportunity that both children and adults will enjoy.
  • Duration: Whale-watching tours generally last two to four hours, so it’s a good idea to prepare for varying weather conditions.
  • Attire: Even on a warm day ashore, the boat ride can get chilly, so bring layers…a sweater, jacket, and hat. Remember sunglasses, sunscreen, and essentials like your camera and binoculars.
  • Sea-Sickness Prevention: If anyone in your family is prone to sea-sickness, be prepared! Find out what the cancelation policy is in case the weather is bad and the sea is rough. Consider taking Dramamine, Bonine or another motion sickness medication before your trip. Carry some ginger chews or candies. Use motion-sickness ear patches or wrist-bands, and don’t forget my personal favorite tip if things go downhill…a cold compress or ice pack on the back of the neck is a miracle-worker for sea-sickness (ask me how I know)!

The Best Time for Maine Whale Watching

Whales are migratory animals, which means that they don’t just hang around the Maine coast all year. If whale watching is your goal, you’ll need to go when the whales will be there!

While whale-watching tours typically operate from June through October, late October is often considered the best time to witness these gentle giants. Here is when you can find each of the whale species throughout the year:

  • Spring: Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, North Atlantic Right Whales, and Pilot Whales
  • Summer: Humpback Whales, Minke Whales, and Pilot Whales
  • Fall: Finback Whales and North Atlantic Right Whales

Even if you can’t visit Acadia during the peak of whale season, lobster tour boats are also a perfect family activity offered in this area!

Lobster Tours in Acadia National Park

While you have to be in Maine at the right time if you want to go whale watching, lobstering is a huge industry in this area that happens year round!

waiting for a lobster boat tour in Bar Harbor MainePin
Getting ready for our boat tour in Bar Harbor, Maine – right outside Acadia NP

Lobster boat tours are a unique way of experiencing lobstering firsthand and taking in all the sights of the landscape. On your tour you’ll be able to pull up traps and you’ll learn how lobstermen decide whether a lobster is ready to be pulled in or needs more time in the sea.

kids with a Maine lobster during a lobstering tour in Bar Harbor MainePin
The stars of any Maine lobster tour…lobsters!

Kids will love all the other creatures pulled up in the traps too, like starfish, sand eels and crabs!

Our tour was through Lulu Lobster Boat Rides. Our guide was an experienced lobsterman who was engaging, and gave us a lot of information about sustainability, the local ecosystem, and the lobster industry.

We were also able to see other local wildlife like harbor seals on the tour, which was a definite bonus!

woman learning to band a lobster on a lobstering boat tour near Acadia NP MainePin
my mom learning to use the banding tool for lobsters

Acadia National Park’s Puffins

In addition to whales, the Gulf of Maine is home to the Atlantic Puffin, a seabird perfectly suited for ocean life.

These pigeon-sized birds spend most of their lives on the open ocean, swimming beneath the waves. However, during the breeding season, they return to land, offering an opportunity for families to witness these adorable animals in their natural habitat!

If you visit Acadia in June or July, you may have a chance to see these birds.

Atlantic puffins on a cliffPin

The Best Maine Whale Watching Excursions and Other Nature Tours

The most well known of the tour companies for Acadia National Park whale watching is Bar Harbor Whale Watching Company. They offer a variety of whale watching and other nature cruises and lighthouse tours on high-speed catamarans and private charters. Here’s a quick look at the options they have:

  • Bar Harbor Nature Cruise- Promises opportunities to see harbor seals, grey seals, bald eagles, harbor porpoises, and a variety of seabirds
  • Lobster Fishing and Seal Watching
  • Whale Watching
  • Puffin and Lighthouse Cruise

The National Park Service also does their own boat tours including the Baker Island Cruise and the Islesford Historic Scenic Cruise.

They even have a handy online calendar to help you plan your visit, which shows all the cruises, ranger talks, and bike tours offered by the NPS.

Not only are the NPS programs always awesome, they are also very affordable. As always, I’d highly recommend them!

family in bike helmets near a stream during a bike tour in Acadia NPPin
Our family loved the ranger-led bike tour in Acadia – they had plenty of opportunities and explore during the tour, like by this beautiful stream under one of the Rockefeller carriage road bridges inside the park

Acadia National Park Whale Watching Summary

Whale watching near Acadia National Park is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the wonders of the Gulf of Maine and its astounding marine life.

Whether you spot whales, puffins, or take in a lobster tour, this region offers an incredible chance for your family to see these creatures in their natural environments on your Maine vacation.

With knowledgeable guides, breathtaking scenery, and an array of wildlife to discover, a whale-watching excursion in Acadia National Park promises a great trip for the entire family!

family sitting on rocks in Acadia National ParkPin
my family relaxing during a hike on a foggy September morning in Acadia NP

More Information

Pin this Acadia NP whale watching article for later! And if you decide to take a tour, leave a comment on the pin…that helps others decide whether they’d like to try one, too!

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About Heather Thibodeau

Heather Thibodeau is the founder and mom behind nationalparksmom.com.

She and her husband Dave (AKA Tib) are on a mission to travel to as many US national parks with their three kids in tow as they possibly can, doing their best to keep the little ones out in nature and off of screens in an increasingly digital world.

Heather has earned degrees in biology & chemistry from Virginia Tech (Go Hokies), and holds master's and doctorate degrees in physical therapy from Duke University (Go Blue Devils).

Heather is also the creative force behind The Heathered Nest where she shares her love of all things DIY and home decor.

Her work has been featured in Better Homes and Gardens, House Beautiful, Good Housekeeping, This Old House, Today.com, The Washington Post, Boston Globe, and more.

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