By: Megan Scanielo
We have vacationed in Maine the last two summers and much like everyone said, you start south in Kennebunkport or Oguinquit and love it so much that you want to explore more and keep “going up”. They were right. So our family of 5 made the trip from New Jersey to Bar Harbor last August and we absolutely loved it. It is equal parts adventure, discovery, foodie, and relaxation. Here are tips for visiting Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor with kids.
I will say our kids are definitely the play outside all year, a beach day means an 8 hour beach day, don’t mind a long road trip (like we have driven to Florida twice kind of road trips), scraped knees and drink from the hose kind of kids. We take them on bike rides and hikes locally and we have done a lot of road trips so Bar Harbor was up our alley for sure. However, if you aren’t sure your family is sporty enough…I think you are. My husband had wanted to go for a few years and he was so excited to plan the “adventure” stuff that he gave me the okay to plan everything else: hotel and restaurants we are all me. So we both were happily planning away.
Where to Stay
The hotel I had my eye on for a while. I will admit I obsessively pre-plan trips and scour through reviews and websites and pictures and maps and then save it all. I have three kids under 8 and we love traveling so I keep all these saved plans in my phone because I don’t want to forget anything. It looked perfect and would be the ideal second half to our early mornings somewhere in the woods in hats and hiking shoes. Let’s be honest, after that I needed a gorgeous pool and the ability to just stroll to great restaurants. It is a vacation after all! My kids are happiest in water. I knew we needed a pool and some room. The Harborside Hotel was everything I envisioned.
The Harborside Hotel is a large, 4 star, oceanfront hotel, spa, and marina overlooking Frenchman’s Bay and it is tucked away, yet steps from the bustling downtown of Bar Harbor. When you are on the property you can’t even tell that an entire town is right up the block, but sure enough steps out of the front door is everything. Being able to walk to grab coffee and head to dinner or maybe a late ice cream after some nightswimming was priceless. We only used our car to explore Acadia.
When we first arrived and parked we couldn’t miss the shores below the hotel’s property so we went to walk along the rocks while we waited for our room. The shore below is so incredible. At low tide it becomes almost like a stone covered island you can walk on. During high tide it is just the bay. People are so nice and right way as we began to chat here and there, we discovered that you need to get off the stones before the tide came up or you would be swimming! So we kept an eye and paid attention to when others headed off, but we were out there for a good hour. My kids just love walking on beach rocks and finding creatures so they were so captivated by it all. All three not only found a starfish, but got to hold them and they were huge. They found snails, fish, and all types of creatures and shells. “Treasure” they call it. This is the kind of stuff my kids could do for hours.
By the way, the parking is ample at The Harborside and we always got a space right near our room which was great for when you are heading out or coming back from Acadia, organizing the trunk or bikes or gear or grabbing something you kept in the car. I know valet is nice, and they definitely offer valet, but with kids and a packed minivan…I was thankful for the ease of just pulling into a spot and going in a side door to our room.
The rooms are large and newly decorated. We opted for a room facing the pool with a small patio off the front and a kitchenette. I specifically chose this room because I figured with three kids who love swimming I would be looking at the pool much more than the ocean (and I was right, but guess what I could see the ocean a little bit too so it was great) and because if my husband or I had to be in the room (because one of the kids was tired and ready for bed or I was making snacks and straightening up or whatever) we could still sit on the Adirondack chairs or peek out the doors and be watching the rest of the family in the pool and not feel like we were missing out. I think I brought some magazines with the hopes of sitting and reading while the kids played in the pool, but let’s not get too carried away here. They went untouched. The kitchenette is a must too with kids. It just isn’t fun to eat out for every meal with kids and it is expensive, so I love just being able to hand my kids food when they are hungry…especially breakfast at 7:30am when some are still sleeping. We grabbed coffee, cream, cereal, milk, muffins, bagels, fruit, granola bars, trail mix, water and a few easy lunch meals like PB&J and turkey and cheese at the grocery store up the road so we had a nice stocked little kitchenette. I would suggest the Hannaford Grocery store up the block at 86 Cottage Street. Little place, but great for the basics.
The pools (yep there are two) were amazing!!!!!! I am not sure we would have enjoyed ourselves as much if we didn’t have the pools to unwind in after our adventurous days. Guests at the Harborside have the main pool and they also have access to the Bar Harbor Club which is right next door and a quick stroll along a path by the main pool. The Bar Harbor Club’s pool is right on the water and very chic. They also have a large hot tub nestled away in a little garden area. This pool has a gorgeous pool house where you can help yourself to water and the locker room. Both pools were never crowded and were welcoming to kids jumping on in. Poolside service for food was also available. We did a late lunch one day and the food was great, but we also brought a pizza and our own drinks to the main pool one night and sat at a cute little table off to the side and that was welcomed as well. The hotel was not the kind of place to nitpick about “no outside food or drinks” which is a huge plus in my book.
Steps from the front doors is downtown Bar Harbor. There are parks overlooking the harbor with all of the yachts and sailboats and the restaurants and stores line the tiny streets for a few blocks behind. It is steps away. The “lawn” called Agamont Park is breathtaking and a great spot for families. It has a Central Park feel and people are lounging and picnicking all over. There are weekly movie nights and they are all family friendly and free. The Shore Path is a little paved walkway that runs by lawn all along the water right in front of the park and is the best place to take a stroll. You will see all of the yachts and some other smaller hotels and restaurants along the water. We did this a few times. We also grabbed take out one night from Rosalie’s Pizza and had a perfect picnic on the lawn. We just sat afterwards and the kids just ran freely. It was lovely.
Have you ever wanted to stay in an RV? With RVshare, you can arrive at a National Park (or nearby) and your RV is waiting for you. There are even RVshare rentals that you can pick up, all set up, at a campsite in or near a National Park. An RV rental with kids doesn’t get much easier than that! For more on RVshare, check out this blog post: RVshare for Family Travel.
What to Do
Acadia! So you are probably wondering how an almost 4, 6, and 8 year old did on mountains and cliffs. Well I have to say they did great! It isn’t as strenuous and treacherous as you may imagine. The park itself is extremely easy to navigate. You simply follow the signs from the hotel or town and then there are signs everywhere pointing to the major points of interest. There are literally signs for Cadillac Mountain, Bubble Rock and Jordan Pond and you just drive and park and there they are. In my head I pictured hiking Cadillac Mountain like I was that guy in that Netflix documentary climbing El Capitan with no ropes. Except with 3 kids on my back. It isn’t anything like that! It is actually like walking on a rocky bluff you drive all the way to the top of. I felt comfortable letting my kids go a little ahead of me, but also held hands when needed. It is really high up, but the area where everyone stops to take it all in is quite flat and expansive.
Jordan Pond is another major to do on the Acadia checklist and it was our favorite. It is about 3.5 miles to hike around the whole pond and it mostly wooden planks like a mini boardwalk except for the very beginning which was simply hiking trails that little ones will just need help with️. I began with my 3 year old on my backpack carrier, but once we made it to the boardwalk they were all off and running. I didn’t use the backpack carrier again. It was super easy to navigate and serene as we walked. Many people also stop to eat at The Jordan Pond House when they are done (restaurant right there) and it looked nice. We will do that on trip #2 for sure. They have world renown popovers.
We did a morning of biking on the Carriage Roads. There are over 40 miles of these old gravel wide roads and you can decide which road to take. When we arrived we saw other families getting their bikes off their cars and heading towards the roads. A park guide was there under a tree and offered advice and tips and we were off. We had a 7 mile route planned and I will say uphill (incline not steep) was tough at times and downhill was a nice break. For our family bike situation we had my oldest (7) on her own bike, my middle (5) on his own bike and then my little guy (3) on a WeeRide attached to my husband’s bike. We all have decent mountain bikes and my middle was the only one who really struggled. He was on his own bike so there was no one but him to pedal to the finish line so we did have to stop sometimes, but when we talk about that bike ride he always asks if we can do it again one day. I think his sense of accomplishment was tremendous. Bring snacks and water! My husband always had on a backpack fyi.
We also went to Bubble Rock, Thunder Hole and Sands Beach and they were all so fun! Similar to Cadillac Mountain, all three are easy drive and park situations and great for pictures. You could do all in a couple hours and they should be on the list for sure. My kids loved waiting for the water to splash them at Thunder Hole and pretending they were holding up the huge rocks at Bubble Rock. We saved Sands Beach for last knowing they would go in the water. Definitely bring a change of clothes. There are bathrooms and outdoor showers to get the sand off at the entrance to the beach so that is good to know!
If you are going to do a boat tour you must do Diver Ed’s Dive In Theater. It is interesting, hysterical, and so exciting. The kids could not get over this boat trip. Diver Ed is quite the character and he has his dogs on board too. The boat is equipped with underwater cameras and he shows and teaches the kids what the sea creatures are via a huge TV screen on deck. He then brings some of them up for the kids to touch and discover. It was worth every penny. I highly recommend booking your seats ahead of time via his website because they sell out.
Where to Eat
We did eat well on this trip! How can you not with all of the seafood and restaurants everywhere. With kids I definitely do a lot of research on Yelp ahead of time. I love outdoor seating and seeing pictures that show we will have a bit of space so we aren’t crammed in. Oh and it is loud? Even better! So the top two restaurants on my list would be Stewman’s Lobster Pound and Lompoc Cafe.
Stewman’s is the quintessential touristy hold a lobster and smile kind of place. It is steps from the Harborside and so welcoming. There is a huge scale the kids can jump on to weigh themselves, funny stick your head in lobster cutouts for photo ops and the men working the lobster tanks call the kids over to look at the lobsters and talk about how much they weigh. We actually wished we had to wait for a table so we would have had more time hanging around. They have indoor, outdoor, covered deck and even a few tables out on a dock tables. We sat on the dock under an umbrella and had an amazing meal. The waitress brought the kids crayons and the kids meal options were perfect. There was an early special from 4-6 that we didn’t even know about, but were so thrilled about. The lobster meals were huge! What a great deal! The kids got to try everything we ate and their meals came in a cute little box. Sitting on the water is the best.
Lompoc Cafe is a little side street cafe and it is definitely not a lobster place. I love lobster, but after a few days this place was something to write home about. It is dim lit with outdoor twinkle lights and has a garden with random tables throughout. There is a large bocce ball court outside and people were playing and watching. I knew my kids would be entertained watching so we requested a table right by the court. We walked around waiting for our table and just checked out some of the little cottages on the cobblestone block. The kids menu was different which was nice. One of mine got fish sticks, one a brick oven pizza, and another a hummus platter. That was just such a good change from the usual chicken fingers. And our food?! Fabulous!!!! Get the Beehive appetizer. We walked to get ice cream after at Jordan Pond Ice Cream Shop. Homemade blueberry is to die for.
The Bar Harbor and Acadia areas are absolutely something you should visit with your kids. Done right it is easy to get around and the perfect combo of adventure and vacation. The weather is beautiful and the vibe is cheerful and it is the kind of place kids enjoy and parents too, which is sometimes a challenge we all know. We plan to go back again within the next couple of years. It is a trip filled with smiles, adventure, quiet, views, and good meals. The air is fresh and the water glimmers. A stroll at night is the main activity and it is wonderful to slow down and vacation with your kids like that.
Planning a trip to a National Park? Check RVshare for a fun way to get there, a way to camp onsite or to drive between parks. You can use their handy National Park section of their site for RVs available near the parks. Details here: RVshare National Park Info.
Pin this post for later!