Planning a trip for the Acadia centennial? Here’s how to make it the best

In case you haven’t heard, this year marks Acadia National Park’s 100th birthday. That means there’s an extra level of excitement buzzing around Mount Desert Island these days. There are extra events, special exhibits, and centennial spins on regular programs. In fact, there’s so much going on in Acadia and the surrounding Mount Desert Island towns that it can be hard to figure out what to do, especially when you have a kid (or two, or five) along for the ride. So I thought that over the next few months, I’d lay out my best ideas for exploring Acadia with kids.

I have lived on Mount Desert Island for 14 years and have spent eight of those years exploring it with children. I’ll use my experience to share the best hikes, the best swims, the best ways to learn about and celebrate the experience that is Acadia. I thought I’d start by laying out what I think of as the framework for a good trip. This is an overview, if you will. These items will help you plan activities, get excited, and keep momentum going during your stay.

Let’s get going.

Get grounded in Acadia

The official Acadia National Park website is great for a quick overview and critical updates like trail closures, but if you are looking for trip prep information, you are going to need to dig a little deeper.

The most useful site for this summer is probably the Acadia Centennial 2016 website. There’s great Acadia history on there as well as some fun merchandise, but the real treasure is the  searchable events listing. You can narrow your search to just Kids, Teens, and Families and even down to the dates of your visit to help cut the overwhelming amount of information down to size.

If you’d like something more convenient on the go, check out the Chimani Acadia app. Created by a Maine-based company and free to download, this app keeps events, maps, regulations and other guidance with you at all times–regardless of whether you have a cell signal. I’ve started experimenting with it this season and so far I am very pleased. (I’ll probably post a full review in a few months.) It’s a handy tool in the toolbox as long as you remember to not let it take over your outdoor time.

Jesup Path in Acadia

Jesup Path in Acadia

Don’t forget that a key way to get your kids interested in your trip is to have them help plan. Also, I have found that there’s nothing kids like more than recommendations from other kids. Now there’s a great way to combine these two ideas in one: kids in Bar Harbor’s elementary school have put together a website covering their favorite places on Mount Desert Island. From their favorite hikes, to history, to the best places to get pizza and ice cream (there’s disagreement on this), all the content was researched, written, and illustrated by Conners Emerson School‘s third grade and is completely kid-friendly. They even grilled local innkeepers about what activities they have for kids to do on rainy days. Tough crowd!

Guide your activities

I’ve praised Acadia Quest before, and for good reason. This program of Friends of Acadia is the single best way to get your kids excited about getting out and exploring Acadia. Download your quest packet and then start planning which five activities from each category appeal the most to you. This year the activities specifically celebrate the centennial: historic events, historic places, historic people, and planning for the future. (If you won’t be in Acadia long enough to complete the whole thing, you can do a speed version that only requires three activities from each category.) If you’ve downloaded the Chimani app, there is an Acadia Quest section so you can gather badges and track your questing within the app itself.

Bubbles in Acadia

My son’s rendition of the Bubbles in Acadia

If Acadia Quest seems like too much for your kiddo, try the Junior Ranger program instead (or alongside). Developed by the Park Service itself and perfect for daytrippers, you can either download the booklet ahead of time or pick it up at the Visitor’s Center. The short series of activities encourages observation and creativity while teaching some basic Acadia history. After completing the book, your kids can take the Junior Ranger pledge from a park ranger and get their own patch. If your children are young enough to still have a certain amount of awe for the folks in the brown hats, this is a pretty great moment.

Explore Acadia in depth

Find some new friends as you hike by checking out local author Ellen Dohman’s book Rock Friends of Acadia. Dohman has a knack for seeing animals, faces, and other shapes in the granite lining Acadia’s trails and she’s gathered them all together in one book. Pick a trail and then keep your eyes open for the pictured rock; she provides both photos and a sketch to help you. Dohman’s book is not available online, but try Sherman’s in Bar Harbor or swing into the Jesup Library in Bar Harbor and find some friends for the trails you will be taking.

Champlain Mountain

Frenchman’s Bay from Champlain Mountain in Acadia

If you are looking for something more intense, or for older kids, try Acadia’s geocaching program. Regular geocaching isn’t allowed in the park because it involves disturbing the terrain, so Acadia participates in the Geologic Society of America’s EarthCache program. Just read the rules, fire up your GPS, download the first clue, and head out. We haven’t tried this yet as a family, but I’m really curious about it. If you give it a go, let me know what you think.

There you have it, some ways to get your family trip to Acadia planned out and framed up. Coming in future weeks: the best hiking spots, swimming spots, cultural activities, nature experiences, and special challenge adventures. If there’s anything in particular you’d like me to cover, let me know. I’m always taking suggestions!

In celebration of Acadia’s Centennial, I’m running a series of posts about making sure your trip to Acadia is the best yet.This is part one.
Part two, kid-friendly hikes, is here.
Part three, great swimming spots, is here.
Part four, great camping spots, is here.
Part five, rainy day adventures, is here.

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.