Acadia National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the U.S. Attracted by the vistas of where the mountains meet the sea, over 2,300,000 people visited Acadia in 2011, making it the ninth most-visited national park.
Acadia is also a great vacation option for families on a budget. With just a little planning, you can enjoy great scenery, restaurants, and outdoor activities – without a credit card bill the next month that takes all the fun away.
1. Rent a cottage so that you don’t have to eat every meal out. There’s a wide array of rental options available through Mount Desert Island real estate agents or online.
2. Better still, camp! Sites at Blackwoods and Seawall, the two National Park sites on Mount Desert Island, are within a 10-minute walk from the ocean and only cost $20 a night.
3. Take advantage of free ranger-led programs. You don’t have to be a camper to join the evening festivities at the campgrounds, which are very entertaining, especially for kids. Other programs take place throughout the park.
4. If you’re 62 or older, get a $10 lifetime entrance pass. The regular pass to enter Acadia National Park is only $20, but seniors can buy discounted passes at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center that they can use at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites.
5. Bring your own bikes. It may be inconvenient to schlepp them, but Acadia’s carriage roads offer 45 miles of car-free biking great for the whole family around lakes, beside babbling brooks, and up mountains. If you want to bike more than once – and you will – renting for a family can get pricey, with rates running around $22 a day for adults and $15-18 for kids.
6. Stock up at supermarkets to avoid paying higher prices in small specialty markets. There are large Shaw’s and Hannaford’s in Ellsworth, where we often stop. Hannaford’s also has a large store on Cottage Street in Bar Harbor.
7. But bring staples from home. Pack just a few of the items you buy in bulk at home (tea bags, lemonade packets, and sweetener) so that you won’t have to stock up and then waste what you don’t use.
8. Gas up off island. If you forget, don’t worry. The Somesville One-Stop/Mobil, conveniently located right in the center of Mount Desert Island, has great prices. However, prices fluctuate significantly around the island. For example,we’ve seen prices 11 cents higher in downtown Bar Harbor.
9. If you’re renting a house or cottage, look for one that offers a kayak you can use. Tandem kayaks run $35 for three hours. Depending on your family size and how long you want to explore, this could add up. Remember, places like Great Long Pond and Jordan Pond (below) offer hours of exploration and relaxation.
10. Take the Island Explorer bus around the island and save on gas. The island is big. You can put 130 miles on in 4 days. And, remember, taking the bus is a great, safe way for teenagers to show a little independence and get around the island themselves.
11. Explore options for educational activities. Kids love touch tanks as a way to learn more about lobsters and sea life. As wonderful as they are, boat cruises can run as high as $43 per person. A less expensive option is an oceanarium.
12. Substitute activities like tide pooling as a no-cost alternative to movies or shopping. Kids love climbing the rocks around Bass Harbor lighthouse. Blueberry picking is permitted throughout the park. Another great activity is to walk across the sand bar Bar Harbor to Bar Island while it’s low tide. Last time I did this I saw a baby seal.
13. Cook out ocean-side at one of Acadia’s great picnic areas, such as Seawall (below) or Pretty Marsh, with grills provided by the park service.
14. 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.
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