Unemployment numbers and 401K statements don’t put any of us in the mood for planning a great summer vacation. But before you give up and give into a staycation, consider Mount Desert Island in Maine.
With its well-known village of Bar Harbor, MDI is the third largest island on the East Coast and has such spectacular scenery that it is regularly ranked among the most beautiful islands in the world. Yet, for families on a budget, it offers affordable places to stay, lots of dining options, and great things to do with kids of all ages.
What To Do
A key reason to go to Mount Desert Island is Acadia National Park. Occupying half of the island, this national treasure has 130 miles of hiking trails, including those to the top of Cadillac Mountain. Cadillac is the highest peak on the eastern coast of the U.S. — which you can also summit by roadway. There are also 57 miles of car-free carriage roads, where walkers, cyclists and horse-drawn carriages wind around lakes, streams, and evergreen forests.
For parents who want to “get the kids outside,” this is the answer.
An entrance pass to the park costs $20 and admits one vehicle for seven days. But it’s also your pass for a lot of entertainment. Park rangers host daily walks, talks, amphitheatre programs, and cruises. Parents will be as eager as the kids to learn about birds of prey, insects in a stream, and the stars over Sand Beach. Or families may want to split up — while Dad takes the kids to look for frogs and tadpoles during “A Frog’s Life,” Mom can get a lesson on photographing wildflowers. Most programs are free, although some do require nominal fees; many are customized for different age groups.
Oh, did you say teenagers? Don’t worry. My experience with teens in Acadia is they enjoy the hiking, biking, and kayaking as long as you also schedule some beach time at Sand Beach. Another big benefit is the island offers a free Island Explorer bus on eight different routes, so that teens can head into town independently to explore the shops and visit the Internet café.
Apart from the many activities in Acadia National Park itself, there are museums, whaling trips, miniature golf courses, and lots of other great things to do with kids on Mount Desert Island, especially in its largest town, Bar Harbor.
Where To Stay
If you have camping equipment, you can cut your lodging expenses to $20 a night and enjoy the beautiful wooded campgrounds of Acadia. The two primary park campgrounds are Blackwoods Campground and Seawall Campground, both within a 10-minute walk of the ocean. The island’s towns, especially Bar Harbor, also offer a wide range of motels, cottages, and B&B’s.
A great way to save money is to rent a cottage so that you can avoid eating all of your meals in restaurants. Bring some basics from home and go to one of the local markets and farm stands on arrival. I just checked the listings at one of Mount Desert Island’s top realtors and found a new 3-bedroom log cabin-style house with a deck — five minutes from the national park and 10 minutes to downtown Bar Harbor – that is $1250/week. Some realtors have told me that there is actually a greater supply of rental properties on MDI than demand, so this may be a good year to try some bargaining.
Mount Desert Island is a little over three hours north of Portland. For a family it can be a great drive with a lot of interesting places to stop. Another option is to fly to Portland on JetBlue, which has low-price fares from New York’s JFK, and rent a car there. Because there’s the free bus service on the island, you may even want to consider one of the eight car-free options of getting to Mount Desert Island.
More Money-Saving Tips
- Bring your own bikes to cut out those steep rental fees.
- If you’re renting a house or cottage, look for one that also offers a kayak.
- Take the Island Explorer bus around the island and save on gas.
- Research options to some of the more costly cruise tours. Some local museums research laboratories have touch tanks — even if there aren’t all the bells and whistles of the commercial operations.
- Do a little more research and find an outdoor concert, book sale, or national park program as an alternative to more expensive movies or shopping trips.
- Cook out ocean-side at one of Acadia’s great picnic areas, including Seawall and Pretty Marsh, with grills provided by the park service.
- When you finally splurge on lobster (as you should!), choose a lobster pound that offers options for your kids if they prefer grilled chicken or even PB&J.
For more information on how to explore, eat, and relax on your visit to Acadia National Park, visit OUR ACADIA. You’ll find tips on the best times to visit, what to pack, and great things to do on a rainy day.