Best Things To Do in Acadia National Park For Families

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Planning a family trip to Acadia National Park? As a mom myself, I know how daunting it can be trying to find activities that both you and your kids will enjoy. But Acadia National Park in the United States is one of the best places for stunning natural beauty and family-friendly adventures!

Located on gorgeous Mount Desert Island on Maine’s scenic East Coast, Acadia is the only national park in New England.

One of the most popular national parks in peak season, it draws visitors from across the country with its rugged pink granite coastline, miles of historic carriage roads, towering mountain vistas and family-tailored ranger programs.

In this detailed guide based on my own family’s unforgettable Acadia vacation, we will explore the best things for families to see and do in the park during both peak times and off-the-radar spots.

From ranger-led otter sightings to winter cross-country skiing, I’ve handpicked the most popular things to do that will delight and captivate even the most active kids and tired parents.

Read on for insider tips to make your Acadia family getaway fun, relaxing, and filled with special memories you’ll treasure for years.

three children in front of Acadia National Park sign in MainePin
Thibodeau kids getting at the Acadia NPS entrance sign in Maine

Top 15 Family-Friendly Things to Do in Acadia National Park

1. Stop at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center

Be sure to stop by the Hulls Cove Visitor Center located right at Acadia’s main northern park entrance off Route 3. This should be your family’s first stop to get oriented and let the kids pick up fun explorer gear for your trip.

Inside the Nature Exploration Area, kids can earn their official junior ranger badge after completing interactive challenges in the child-sized ranger station.

Budding explorers can try on park ranger uniforms and wide brim hats while parents gather maps and activity schedules from the information desk.

Outside, don’t miss exploring trails that wind behind the Visitor Center through idyllic Acadian forests and over gurgling brooks. Use the trail markers and numbered guide to turn it into an educational scavenger hunt for the whole family.

Kids will also enjoy climbing on and exploring the full-size vintage carriage on display with its giant wheels and lanterns.

entrance pavillion for visitor center at Acadia National Park in MainePin
Pavilion off of the large parking area in Acadia NP. Behind the pavilion is a short walkway that leads to the visitor center. (NPS Photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

2. Whale and Lobstering Tours

No family trip to the Maine coast is complete without a whale watching and/or lobstering tour! Hop aboard one of Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company’s state-of-the-art catamarans, equipped with multiple viewing decks so kids can scan the ocean for those telltale whale spouts.

Bring some snacks and set up camp on the lower deck which has padded bench seats perfect for little ones. The naturalists onboard will teach your kids all about the different whale and marine life species found in the cold North Atlantic waters.

If you’re lucky (and are in town at the right time of year), you may even glimpse the massive humpback whales breaching, which is sure to elicit squeals of delight!

Combine your whale watch with a lobster fishing cruise for an even more memorable nautical experience. Kids will get to haul up traps with juicy lobsters inside, learning how Maine’s iconic crustaceans are caught.

woman learning to band a lobster on a lobstering boat tour near Acadia NP MainePin
My mom learning how to band a lobster during our tour.

Check out this detailed whale-watching guide for tips to pick the right tour operator and make the most out of your time on the high seas.

kids with a Maine lobster during a lobstering tour in Bar Harbor MainePin
Our family loved our lobster boat tour through this company. Everyone had a great time!

3. Carriage Rides

For a unique and tranquil experience, saddle up or hop on a carriage for a guided ride through the miles of carriage roads in Acadia National Park. Acadia Horses offers horseback and carriage rides suitable for all skill levels.

Reservations are strongly encourages, so be sure to call them to arrange your tour. They offer tours that range from 1 to 2 hours and will take you to areas like Day Mountain and to see the bridge built by John D. Rockefeller.

4. Ranger-Led Biking Tour

Explore Acadia’s wonders on two wheels with a ranger-led biking tour. Geared towards families, these tours provide a safe and informative way to discover the park’s hidden gems.

our ranger during the NPS Carriage Road Bike Tour in Acadia National Park MainePin
Our family loved the ranger-led bike tour in Acadia! It’s not strenuous, and was done at a pace that everyone, kids, adults and seniors could tolerate. The group stops periodically for rest and to hear awesome info about the park.

Taking about 2 1/2 hours, these tours cover 6 miles of carriage roads and include lots of stops so the rangers can teach you about the area.

Best of all, you can keep your bikes until the end of the day, so you can continue exploring on your own!

Two kids relaxing during a ranger-led bike tour of the carriage roads in Acadia National Park, MainePin
Charlotte and Hudson chilling while listening to our ranger talk during the bike tour.

5. Ranger-Led Boat Tour

Dive into Acadia’s maritime magic by joining a park ranger-led boat tour. These tours are the best way to learn about the park’s coastal wonders, offering a unique perspective from the water.

Cruise along the rugged coastline, spotting wildlife and enjoying the sea breeze.

There are two ranger-led tours available, so pick the best one for your family based on your interests in schedule.

The first is a Baker Island Cruise, which leaves from Bar Harbor and passes Sand Beach, Otter Cliff, and mansions on the shoreline. You’ll transfer to a smaller boat that you’ll take to Baker Island, the site of a 19th century homestead and the Baker Island Lighthouse.

The second is the Isleford Historic and Scenic Cruise, which departs from Northeast Harbor. Take in the sights on the bay like the Bear Island Lighthouse while the ranger on board teaches about the mansions, the lobster industry, and the natural history of the area. You’ll land at Little Cranberry Island where you are free to wonder and explore. Be sure to check out the Isleford Historical Museum while you’re there!

NPS ranger on an Acadia NP boat tourPin
NPS ranger speaking during a boat tour (Victoria Stauffenberg, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, Acadia National Park, Maine)

6. Drive to Cadillac Mountain for Sunrise/Sunset and Stargazing

Watching the sunset over Frenchman Bay from the summit of Cadillac Mountain is an iconic Acadia experience. But reservations are required to drive there from May through October, and the sunrise/sunset hours book out quickly.

The drive to the summit takes about 30 minutes. If you want to be at the summit for a specific time, remember to allow an extra 15-20 minutes to park, find a spot and get situated, especially during busy summer months.

Pack a picnic basket filled with your family’s favorite snacks and wrap everyone in cozy blankets to watch daylight slowly fade over the horizon. Have your cameras ready to catch epic sunset photos worthy of your family holiday cards!

Afterwards, use a smartphone app to identify stars and constellations glittering brightly thanks to the park’s low light pollution.

It’s a peaceful cap to a fun-filled day that kids and parents will fondly remember.

cadillac mountain summitPin
Cadillac Mountain summit at sunset – my friend Julie took this shot on a trip with her sons. When we went to Cadillac Mountain the fog was so thick, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face!

7. Jordan Pond House and the Scenic Walk

No family trip to Acadia is complete without indulging in Jordan Pond House’s signature popover brunch. These hollow pastries baked fresh daily perfectly accompany egg dishes and smoked salmon.

Request a table outside on the expansive lawn overlooking the lake and mountains so the kids have space to play tag while waiting for your food. Just beware – those popovers arrive piping hot right out of the oven!

After your meal, walk part or all of the 3.4 mile trail looping Jordan Pond.

It’s a flat trail that borders the pond. Identify birds, flowers, mushrooms and more with an informative trail guide.

Be on the lookout for the famous North Bubble summit which looks remarkably like a bald bubble head when viewed from across the pond.

Stop to collect unique stones or to sketch plant life in a small journal. It’s the quintessential leisurely Acadia afternoon stroll.

family sitting on rocks in Acadia National ParkPin
my family on the Jordan Pond trail

8. Shop around Bar Harbor

Afterward, head into Bar Harbor for harbor exploration, dining and shopping.

Thibodeau clan enjoying a meal al fresco in downtown Bar HarborPin
our family enjoying some apps outside at one of many restaurants in downtown Bar Harbor

Snap pics of your kids hanging off the historic Balance Rock stone sculpture near the pier as fishing boats unload fresh lobster catches.

Wander the quaint local boutiques in search of souvenirs like handmade sea glass jewelry or nautical-themed children’s books.

Fuel up with salt water taffy from one of the candy shops before heading back to your hotel for much-needed showers and naps.

waiting for a lobster boat tour in Bar Harbor MainePin
my kids taking a break from shopping along the streets of Bar Harbor to sit by the water and enjoy the scenery

9. Cocktails at Ivy Manor Inn Garden Bar

Cap off your day of exploration with a leisurely cocktail at the Garden Bar located on the front lawn of the Ivy Manor Inn.

Ivy Manor garden dining area, downtown Bar Harbor MainePin
Our family LOVED this little downtown Bar Harbor gem! The Ivy Manor Inn garden

Sit around the firepits and listen to the live music (offered daily in the afternoons)- It’s the perfect way to unwind and toast to the memories you’ve created here in Acadia.

Ivy Manor garden dining area, downtown Bar Harbor MainePin
my bad cell phone picture of people lounging at the Ivy Manor Inn’s garden bar in the evening…grab a spot on the lawn and enjoy some cocktails after a day in the park

10. Hike the Precipice Trail

If (and ONLY if) your family loves adventurous hikes, consider tackling the steep ascent up the Precipice Trail. Located on the eastern side of Champlain Mountain, this strenuous out-and-back trail climbs nearly 1,000 feet over 1.6 miles of steep stone steps, narrow ledges, and iron rung ladders up the cliffside.

Due to tricky terrain and fall hazards, the Precipice Trail is not suitable for children under 10 years old. Parents should assess their older kids’ fitness levels before attempting. Note that proper footwear with grippy soles is essential, along with exercising caution on wet or icy days.

We didn’t try this trail as it rained during most of our time in Acadia…AND I tend to be a pretty protective mama when it comes to my kids and cliffs, steep terrain and big drop-offs 😳.

view along the Precipice Trail, Acadia National ParkPin
view along the Precipice Trail

To access the trailhead from Park Loop Road, head to the small hiker Precipice Trail parking lot located just south of the Park’s northern entrance. Arrive early, especially on peak summer days, as the lot fills up quickly.

Pack plenty of water and nutritious snacks to fuel your ascent. And be sure to keep dogs leashed, as much of the trail travels along steep cliff edges.

Once you power through the initial challenging switchbacks, you’ll soon emerge onto the cliffs with non-stop sweeping views over Frenchman Bay and adjacent parklands.

view along the Precipice Trail, Acadia National ParkPin
view along the Precipice Trail

11. Explore Sand Beach

Got tiny beach bums in your brood? Treat them to some fun in the summer sun at Sand Beach, one of Acadia’s most family-friendly shore spots.

The adjacent park loop road offers plenty of parking and the large sandy beach rarely gets overcrowded.

Pack your beach wagon with towels, sunscreen, shovels and snacks galore. Build epic sandcastles adorned with shells, seaweed and red, white and blue flags made from sticks.

Wade into the refreshing Atlantic waves or layout on blankets listening to lapping waves and seagull calls.

Sand Beach on a foggy day, Acadia National Park, MainePin
Sand Beach was foggy during our stay, but it gave this place a hauntingly beautiful, quintessential “New England” look, I think.

12. Visit Thunder Hole

This is a sight not to be missed! Time your visit to Thunder Hole carefully for the full dramatic effect. Consult tide charts and aim to arrive 1-2 hours before high tide when the inlet is at its most turbulent.

Thibodeau family on the path to Thunder Hole, Acadia National Park, MainePin
our clan on the path to Thunder Hole

Be sure to claim your viewing spot early on the wooden platforms overlooking the rocky inlet, then wait for waves to crash into the cavern below, unleashing the deafening thunder clap roar and giant plumes of sea spray.

It’s nature’s spectacular fireworks show you can experience again and again with each crashing wave!

Nearby Otter Cliff offers dramatic views over pounding surf and offshore islands. Use binoculars to spot seals sunbathing on rock outcroppings below the 110-foot precipice.

things to do in Acadia National Park: three kids on the platform at Thunder HolePin
Jack, Charlotte and Hudson prepared for cold sea spray at Thunder Hole

13. Wild Gardens of Acadia

For a more relaxing stroll, wander the curved gravel paths through the Wild Gardens of Acadia’s vibrant displays of native ferns, flowers and other plants.

Peek inside the small seasonally available Seedling House to spy tiny tree saplings that will later be planted across the park.

See if your kids can spot all the local species described in the colorful informational booklet provided.

To extend your botanical discoveries, follow the short 0.2 mile loop Jessup Path to view more floral varieties up-close, like cotton-cloud lady’s slipper orchids and vivid magenta rhodora shrubs dotted with delicate blooms.

wild gardens of Acadia in autumnPin
Wild Gardens of Acadia in the fall

14. Jordan Pond Path to the South Bubble Overlook

For another hiking adventure, pack snacks and head out on the mellow 3.4 mile Jordan Pond loop trail (which I already mentioned above), one of the best family friendly hiking trails easy enough for even tiny trekkers.

Stop often to balance on felled tree trunks, examine mushroom varieties, and skim stones across the mirrored lake surface.

Work up an appetite while identifying birds amongst fragrant spruce forests before being rewarded with South Bubble Summit’s jaw-dropping panoramas.

Afterwards, don’t forget to grab some of those popovers at Jordan Pond House!

South Bubble trail, Acadia National ParkPin
view from the South Bubble Trail

15. Schoodic Peninsula

Looking for less crowded Acadia adventures? Make the 1-hour scenic drive to the Schoodic Peninsula, a great place to take in more gorgeous rocky vistas minus the crowds.

Sign the kids up for a ranger-led intertidal exploration to uncover sea stars and snails in the muddy tide pools, releasing them after friendly examination.

shoreline on the schoodic penninsula, mainePin
Schoodic Penninsula

Or simply find a quiet section of pink granite shoreline to spread out picnics and watch the kids scramble over boulders dotted with determined evergreens.

End your Schoodic visit at the Peninsula’s tip, where Schoodic Point’s hillside perch has panoramic ocean views, a great spot for snapping photos of the kids.

rocky cliffs on the Schoodic Penninsula, MainePin

Off the Beaten Path Gems

Looking to avoid crowds during Acadia’s peak summer season? Venture off the beaten path to discover some of the park’s hidden treasures ideal for families wanting a more tranquil experience.

16. Echo Lake Beach

Head to Echo Lake Beach, nestled at the base of Beehive Trail with mountain-framed lake views. Let the kids splash in the refreshing cool waters while you lay out on the sandy shore.

Afterwards, enjoy an easy 2 mile hike around the lake loop spotting songbirds, chipmunks and deer along the forested path.

Echo Lake, MainePin
Echo Lake

17. Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Don’t miss the scenic Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Acadia’s only remaining manned light station. Snap photos of sweeping views over the harbor as waves crash against rocky outcroppings.

Let kids bound up and down the grassy lighthouse grounds while keeping an eye out for whales spouting in the coastal waters just offshore.

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Maine at sunsetPin
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

18. Long Pond

Another favorite hidden gem is Long Pond, AKA “Great Long Pond”, nestled on Mount Desert Island’s quieter western side with mountain-framed views.

Let the kids splash along the uncrowded shoreline or rent kayaks and canoes to paddle across pristine waters backed by Acadia’s peaks. Watch eagles and other raptors circle above, scanning for fish in the lake waters.

small dock at Long Pond, Maine at sunsetPin
Long Pond, Maine

Winter Adventures

Just because it’s the off-season doesn’t mean the adventures have to stop! Acadia transforms into a true winter wonderland perfect for memorable family bonding during the colder months.

Sign up for cross-country ski lessons and watch the kids delight in gliding across Acadia’s famous carriage roads. Stop for hot chocolate and cookies at a trailside shelter amid fragrant, snow-dusted evergreens.

For (much) older kids (and very fit adults), snowshoe up the winding Cadillac Summit Road accessing trails typically off-limits to vehicles in winter. Be rewarded with far-reaching views over the snow-covered landscape all the way to the distant Atlantic waters.

Cap off frigid days wrapped in blankets sipping hot cider as the sun sets over frozen Jordan and Bubble Ponds. Then head back to your cozy cabin or hotel for games, stories and hot soup as flurries swirl outside your frosty window panes. Unforgettable!

Cadillac Mountain in the winter, Acadia National Park, MainePin

From whale watching adventures to wintry cross-country ski sessions, Acadia National Park offers memory-making fun for the whole family year-round.

As you plan your perfect getaway, take note of these hidden gems and seasonal highlights.

Here’s to creating magical moments together amidst Acadia’s stunning beauty in any season!

Pin this Acadia NP information for later! And if you found this article helpful, leave a comment on the pin. That helps others decide whether to use this information, too!

BEST 18 family-friendly things to do in Acadia National Park, MainePin
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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.

10 thoughts on “Best Things To Do in Acadia National Park For Families”

  1. We went to Acadia for the first time last memorial day and just loved it so much! I can’t wait to go back and while we did lots of things on your list we haven’t done them all yet.

    Reply
    • There’s SO much to do in Acadia! We plan to go back as well! Plus, it’s great to see a park like this one in different seasons!

      Reply
  2. You mention Eagle Lake as a destination but you described Long Pond in Southwest Harbor. Eagle Lake is just outside of Bar Harbor. It is a great destination and has a carriage road all around it for thinking and biking. But, it is a water supply for Bar Harbor and there is no boating or swimming or wading allowed.
    Long Pond does have kayak and canoe rentals. It is on the “quiet side”. You should correct your article. I live in Maine and work in Bar Harbor.

    Reply
    • THANK YOU for seeing this and letting me know, Kathy!! I wasn’t always the best record keeper while traveling since this was a website I never intended to create! Really appreciate you taking the time to comment with this info. I’ve corrected the copy to reflect that Long Pond is being discussed, not Eagle Lake 🙂

      Reply
  3. These are pretty good ideas, but some are costly. Families are looking for inexpensive day trips. …..like visit Southwest Ha4bor, go to Wonderland near Southwest Harbor, visit Somessound, vist Northeast Harbor and drive along Sargent Drive…just some thoughts from Mainer

    Reply

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