“How much longer?” is not what you want to hear as you take in your first refreshing breaths of spruce-scented air. “Can we do this again tomorrow?” is more like it.
However, that’s a sentiment that, frankly, takes some planning. In addition to your kids’ safety and fortitude, you also have to take into account how to keep them interested for sustained periods of walking.
Choosing the right hike for your family is often the most challenging part of the experience.
I have surveyed online postings and hiking guidebooks to get recommendations for the most kid-friendly treks, then I hiked all of these trails myself. In addition, I have the experience of a daughter who thought hiking was “boring” unless a hike offered special features or rewards.
If hiking with your kids is one of the things you want to do when you visit Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, I’m happy to offer up these four alternatives.
Roundtrip Distance: 1.3 miles
Draw a map of a figure 8, tell your kids that’s the shape of this trail, and then ask them if they want to do the woods or harbor shoreline loop first. Whatever the course, your outermost point is a scenic picnic spot where you can contemplate the wreck of a schooner that ran aground there in the early 1600s. We loved the shoreline along Ship Harbor where we collected some beautiful sun-bleached shells.
Bonus: Nearby is Bass Harbor Lighthouse. The kids will enjoy climbing on the rocks at its base with the headlight above and the pounding surf below. Great photo opps.
Roundtrip Distance: Approximately 1.2 miles
You’ll encounter many families taking advantage of the terrain of this hike: it has some exciting elevation, yet the trail’s series of crib box surfaces make it much easier than hiking over rocks or roots. The summit of South Bubble, at 768 feet, provides a dramatic vista southward over Jordan Pond. Many families will be there with willing hands to take a great family shot for you.
Bonus: Tell the kids they’ll have a chance to try and push over the famous Bubble Rock glacially transported to the top of South Bubble.
Total Distance: 3.2 miles
This longer hike will let you and your family walk all the way around scenic Jordan Pond. Just about all of the circuit is close to the water, which can be 100 feet deep near the shoreline. Although the terrain is flat, this hike engages my imagination because there are a bridge of flat stones, rock-to-rock hiking, a birch suspension foot-bridge, a section to tiptoe over extensive root systems, and bogwalks.
Bonus: At the end of your hike, pick blueberries below the tea lawn in front of Jordan Pond House. Then have lemonade, popovers, and strawberry ice cream at the restaurant. There’s a gift shop, too.
Total Loop: 1.5 miles
Of all of the hikes listed here, this one probably feels the most like a “real hike.” It’s relatively short, but there is a bit of climbing and elevation at the beginning that’s fun for energetic kids. The views of Somes Sound, Sargent Drive, and Norumbega and Sargent Mountains are stunning. (And mom may be intrigued by the spacious homes and lawns across the sound in Northeast Harbor.) The return back to the car is easy along a fire road, where you can collect some dried cedar branches for the kids to make into cedar pillows.
Bonus:The hike’s midpoint is at Valley Cove. The rock beach there is a great spot for the kids to skip rocks and play. You may even see a peregrine soaring above Valley Cove.
It’s smart to hike with a map. I highly recommend you pick up one of the good topographic maps published by Map Adventures in one of the local shops. While you’re there, look for Tom St. Germain’s A Walk in the Park, now the most dog-eared volume on my Maine bookshelf. It provides detailed route descriptions and maps of 59 different hikes and was the source for the walking distances here. A pair of inexpensive binoculars from WalMart or Amazon is also a great investment. Don’t forget plenty of water and some snacks, and these walks may become a mainstay of your family vacations.
After expending all of that energy, where are you going to eat? Mount Desert Island offers everything from ice cream shops with delicious blueberry pie to casual wine bars that will welcome your kids. There’s even a lobster pound that serves PB&J. So, rest assured, there are lots of restaurants to eat with kids when visiting Acadia National Park. If you’re renting, you can also tap local markets on Mount Desert Island for superb local crabmeat, local goat cheese, organic vegetables — and lobster. Many of the local markets also have very good wine selections.
What’s on the agenda for tomorrow? A ride on a lobster boat? What if it rains? How about an oceanarium? Click here for 22 great things to do with your kids in Acadia – one of which is to plan another hike!