Breathtaking views, great hikes, history and geology lessons, plus bustling coastal towns – Mt. Desert Island, the host to it all, has a lot to offer.
We went camping in Acadia National Park for the first time with our kids last year and it was a success. Once we got our packing lists straight, and our gear under control – we felt like we were ready for anything! With an 8 person tent and some other hacks (thank you Pinterest – seriously search camping hacks) we were comfortable and ready to enjoy the outdoors.
Ahhh yes…. the right of passage. The required trip of your childhood. We wanted to give the kids the experience of sleeping in a tent but in a place that had a lot of activities to keep us busy during the day that adults would enjoy too. If you’re an experienced camper know that Mt. Desert is a stunning place to go and pitch your tent. You’ll find lots to do in the great outdoors. If the idea of camping makes you quesy – know that there is great gear out there to keep you comfortable and being always on the move and having something to do keeps kids happy during the day and tuckered out at night.
There are a few campsites to chose from but we like the Mt. Desert Campground with its water views and well maintained grounds and bathhouses and almost every site has a wooden platform to set up your tent of the ground. Online reservations can be made starting in January. Our minivan gets packed to the gills with all the stuff that will keep us comfortable.
Some of the best things that kept more comfortables:
- A large 8 person tent that you can stand in to get dressed. For our family of 5 this provided the ample sleeping room and room for luggage. An extra tarp to put under your tent if you’re pitching on the earth.
- A pre-lit LED canopy with a dimmer (not a joke) to go over the picnic table. Keeps the table lit and provides great light without having to fuss with lanterns! It packs up really well into its own case and sets up in a few minutes. Phenomenal product.
- Inexpensive kitchen items – a trip to the dollar store allowed me to load up on plastic table cloths, citronella candles, can openers, wooden cooking spoons, aluminum foil, plastic cutting boards, grill tools etc.. Even fun stuff like glow in the dark bracelets and string lights decor for your site are seasonal products available during the summer months.
- Folding Chairs – one for each person.
- Large plastic bins – Bins!! Large plastic bins is how we stored everything and organized our stuff for the kitchen.
- Kitchen – we really like our folding camp kitchen table that packs great and holds our propane stove – identical to the one my parents had in the 80’s.
- Sleeping – in our tent, the adults get basic cots with self inflating sleeping pads, the kids get the same sleeping pads on the floor of the tent. These pads were affordable and did the trick for us.
What To Do
Our youngest was 4 years old when we first hit the trails and surprised us all by how much we was able to do in his effort to keep up with his sisters. It can be done! There are a lot of trails to chose from. With kids we tend to stick to the carriage roads – a network of wide gravel roads with easy inclines that give you options on the distance you commit to when you hike. Plus you could easily push a running stroller on them. They are also used by the park’s horse drawn carriages. Carriage rides must be reserved in advance at Wildwood Stables and fill up quickly.
The loop around Jordan Pond is about 2 miles and a lot of fun with great views of ‘the bubbles’ (two small peaks) and the pond. Make a reservation at the Jordan Pond House for lunch in advance and rewards yourself for your effort with their famous popovers.
Just east of Northeast Harbor on Rt 3 you’ll find the trailhead for carriage roads around Little Long Pond. You can park along the road and take in the breathtaking sights of the rocky shore before heading on this casual loop. At the top of the trail you’ll run into some beautiful bridges that have stairs down to Jordan stream where kids can explore the stream as they hop from boulder to boulder.
Sand Beach & Thunder Hole
Parking at Sand Beach can require some patience, but this inlet beach has breathtaking views amidst the rocky Maine shore. Just south of the beach is Thunder Hole, a must see attraction. At high tide it is fully submerged, so try to time it right when the tide is coming in for the full effect of the surf crashing into this rocky hole (created by the repeated erosion from waves crashing into it) to hear the thunder sound occurs when air gets trapped by waves. Check tides here.
Bar Harbor & Cadillac Mountain (Science alert!)
Grouped together because of their proximity, you’ll want to see these two main attractions. Bar Harbor, is a quintessential New England seaside town. There are great restaurants (try family friendly Geddy’s, Galyn’s, or Testa’s but you’ll have lots to choose from). Fun shopping (Cool As a Moose) and old fashioned ice cream and candy stores.
Take a 20-min drive to the summit of Cadillac mountain, the highest point on Mt. Desert at 1,530 ft and first place the sun hits the northeast at sunrise, for some extraordinary 360 degree views. Created some 360 million years ago, tectonic plates and volcanoes formed the mountain range that Cadillac is a part of, the same continental collision that created the Appalachian mountains between North America and a continent that is now buried under the sea – mind-blowing! Check out this site for your budding geologists to learn more about how these mountains were formed. There’s lots of open space to explore, some paved areas and walkways if you’re pushing a stroller, and dramatic back drops for memorable pictures, ample parking and a gift shop.
Note: Northeast and Southwest Harbors are also worth exploring although much smaller. Try the Docksider restaurant in Northeast for a casual seafood spot and lobster.
Happy camping and general out-doorsing!