If you are looking for an extraordinary national park to visit, add an Acadia National Park family vacation to your list! Located in Northern Maine, the park is situated on rocky cliffs, with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and rugged coastline. Founded in 1929, Acadia National Park was the first national park created from private lands and given to the public through the efforts of conservationists.
Acadia National Park is ranked the sixth most visited national park, with over four million visitors annually. The peak visitor season is June through September, but the prime time to visit is mid-October, when the crowds drop and the fall leaves pop. Whether you want to hike, beachcomb, admire sunsets, or take a carriage tour, there is something for you and your family!
Native American History to Know Before You Go
Acadia National Park is on the traditional lands of the Wabanaki people. The Wabanaki people include the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes. The Wabanaki would hunt, fish, gather berries and clams on the lands where the park is located. This national park holds a rich cultural history for the Native American tribes who lay claim to this land.
With any national park that you visit, keep in mind the people that came before you. It is important to recognize and educate yourself on the full history of the soil that you walk on, interact with, and acknowledging the Native American peoples is the first step. Always give respect to the land and those who came before you.
With over a 100 million visitors a year taking outdoor outings a year, doing our part to not leave an impact on natural spaces is important! Take your time to educate yourself and your family on the Leave No Trace Principles:
1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What You Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Others
Six Adventurous Family Activities
Drive the Park Loop Road
The first adventure for your Acadia National Park family vacation is an easy one for all ages. Get your bearings for Acadia National Park by driving the scenic Park Loop Road. Park Loop Road is a picturesque 27-mile road around the east side of Mount Desert Island. On this drive, you will pass popular destinations in the park, such as Sieur de Monts, Sand Beach, Otter Point, Jordan Pond, and Cadillac Mountain. If you would prefer not to drive your car, you can take a guided bus tour or take the free Island Explorer shuttle. To get the full experience, start the drive at Hulls Cove Visitor Center. From there, the road heads south along Paradise Hill Road before starting the “loop” section.
Photo by: Megan Edwards
Get Splashed at Thunder Hole
Along the Park Loop Road, stop at Thunder Hole to see tides at work. This area is on the National Register of Historic Places for its rustic design. Thunder Hole is a carved out inlet nestled along the shore of Mount Desert Island. As a strong tide or storm forces waves into the narrow channel, you may be lucky enough to hear a booming noise like thunder! You’ll have the best chance of catching this phenomenon coming one to two hours before high tide. If you come during low tide, take the stairs down to see the cliff walls carved out by water.
Thunder Hole is an exciting stop for you and your family, but stay aware of rogue waves that can suddenly wash over the granite ledges.
Photo by: Adobe Stock
Watch the Sunset on Cadillac Mountain
Cadillac Mountain is a must see stop on your Acadia National Park family vacation. With a summit at 1530 feet, you’ll have views of Mount Desert Island, the surrounding coastal landscape, and may even be able to see Bar Harbor on a clear day. Cadillac Mountain road is located off of the Park Loop Road and you can access the summit by car or by foot.
To hike the summit, take the Cadillac North Ridge Trail, a moderate out-and-back 4.4 mile hike. This hike may be doable with older kids, but the trail is not wheelchair or stroller accessible due to its rocky terrain and steps.
If you prefer to drive, take the 3.5 mile windy paved road off the Park Loop Road to reach the summit. If you visit the park between May 25 through October 22, you will need a vehicle reservation pass that can be purchased on Recreation.gov in advance.
Once you reach the top of the summit, you can take the short paved Cadillac Summit Loop Trail to enjoy the spectacular view at the top of the mountain. While you are at the summit, check out the Cadillac Mountain Eco Store to pick up an earth friendly, sustainably made souvenir. Try to make it to the summit before dusk to enjoy a breathtaking sunset.
Eat Popovers at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant
It wouldn’t be an Acadia National Park family vacation without a stop at Jordan Pond House Restaurant. This historic restaurant has been serving guests for over a century. It is a great place to rest and relax after a morning of hiking and sightseeing. They are famous for their afternoon tea and infamous popovers. These fluffy, airy baked goods are best paired with butter and jam. The sprawling lawn in front of the Jordan Pond House is also the perfect place to let your young kids run around and get some energy out. It is recommended to make reservations at the restaurant, as it gets very busy during the summer months!
Walk off the popovers by taking a hike at nearby Jordan Pond. There are several hikes to choose from, varying from short to strenuous.
Photo by: Megan Edwards
Explore Tidepools on the Wonderland Trail
Open your children’s eyes to a new world by exploring tidepools. The Wonderland Trail is located on the Western side of Mount Desert Island, and is typically less crowded than the Eastern side. The Wonderland Trail is a doable 1.5 mile hike along an old gravel road that winds through a pristine pine forest. The hike ends along the coastline. Tidepools will greet you during low tide. Check the visitor center to find the times for low tide, or download a tide chart map.
Photo by: Megan Edwards
Take a Carriage Tour on Historic Carriage Roads
There are 45 miles of historic carriage roads throughout Acadia National Park. The carriage roads were a gift from John D. Rockefeller Jr., a skilled horse rider who wanted to travel on car-free roads by horse and carriage throughout the park. Construction of the carriage roads was completed in 1940. Today hikers, bicyclists, those on horseback, and horse-drawn carriages use it.
You can bring your own horses, or you can opt to take a horse-drawn carriage tour on the historic carriage roads. Carriage tours are offered through Carriages of Acadia and offer one to four hour tours throughout the park. Getting a reservation is best.
Photo by: Adobe Stock
These six activities barely scratch the surface of the adventure you can have on your Acadia National Park family vacation. Whatever you decide to do, the beauty of Acadia National Park will create lasting memories.
More National Park Family Guides
Looking for more family-friendly guides to America’s national parks? See the complete list here.