Visiting Acadia National Park In The Spring

Plan a spring trip to Acadia National Park to experience beautiful sights, eat like a local, and see the Maine storybook setting.

By Michelle Van Deusen
Explore Ambassador

Fall is the season when most people dream of visiting Acadia National Park, and while the leaves at their peak are something everyone may want to see in their lifetime, a spring trip is absolutely delightful.

The crowds are light, and the weather is beautiful. Fewer restaurants are open, but the open ones are the places where the locals eat. All in all, mid-May proved to be a fantastic choice for visiting this part of the country. I highly recommend the book Acadia: A Complete Guide by James Kaiser when you’re planning a trip “down east.” It is a great resource and one of the best travel books I have owned.

Driving into Maine, we made a slight detour at Portland to Cape Elizabeth to get our first taste of fresh Maine lobster at the Lobster Shack. Red picnic tables along the rocky shore with crashing waves, a view of the lighthouse, and buttery lobster made for the perfect introduction to the state.

After eating, we made a brief stop at Two Lights State Park to see the lighthouse up close at sunset. It is a storybook setting!

View from Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine (Michelle Van Deusen)

On our first day in Acadia National Park, we drove the park loop road and found it is definitely among the most scenic and well laid out drives in the country.

We stopped at the visitor center to get a Junior Ranger program booklet for our children, watch the park film and pick up a park map.

National park visitor centers often also have a bookstore and exhibits to help orient visitors, as well as a variety of printed information. There are park rangers who are happy to help you plan your trip or answer questions about hikes. We have a National Park Service passport book, which I always highly recommend to families, and every visitor center also has a stamp station. It’s fun to collect the stamps and be able to look back on previous trips.

(Michelle Van Deusen)

After the park loop road, we decided to drive around the coast of Mount Desert Island to Bass Harbor to see the lighthouse there and hike the Ship Harbor Nature Trail, which is a fun 1.3-mile hike.

On the way, we made a brief stop in the village of Somesville to see the beautiful buildings and famous footbridge. The village is the oldest settlement on the island, dating back to 1761.

Beal’s Lobster Pier, Southwest Harbor, Maine (Michelle Van Deusen)

Beal’s Lobster Pier in Southwest Harbor is an authentic lobster shack. It has been a local staple since 1932 and is the perfect place to stop when driving the coast of Mount Desert Island. With boats unloading their catch behind the eatery at the working lobster pier, huge starfish living along the shallows and the picturesque village surroundings, a meal here is a feast for all the senses.

When we travel, we like to obtain a deep sense of place, and sampling local food is a great way to do that. The more senses we engage when we travel, the stronger the connection we make with an area. This also forms memories that last, even in young children.

Blackwoods campground, Acadia National Park, Maine (Michelle Van Deusen)

Sleeping in Acadia’s Blackwoods campground in a pop-up allowed us to hear the wind in the trees, the quiet pounding of the surf and the distant sound of a ringing buoy. No soundscape could be better for sleep!

The sites are nestled in a forest, so the campground is aptly named. It has a North Woods atmosphere and a pathway to the ocean. The restrooms have flush toilets and sinks. Each site includes a picnic table and fire ring. The nearby village of Otter Creek has a self-service pay shower facility. Reservations open six months ahead of time and are site specific.

On the Miss Samantha lobster cruise with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. (Michelle Van Deusen)

Our second day in Acadia National Park started early with amazing wild Maine blueberry pancakes at Jordan’s in Bar Harbor before we boarded the Miss Samantha to take a lobster cruise with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.

On the Miss Samantha lobster cruise with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. (Michelle Van Deusen)

The Miss Samantha is a working lobster boat, retrofitted for passengers to ride along and experience the crew pulling traps from the ocean floor and then explore what is inside of them.

It’s a two-hour trip that also includes a lighthouse and seal viewing. It is very family friendly, and the crew is extremely knowledgeable about sea life.

Our children loved watching the crew pull traps, asking them questions and of course getting to hold everything that came out of the traps before tossing all the creatures safely back in the water. A chance to steer the boat was an added bonus!

On the Miss Samantha lobster cruise with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. (Michelle Van Deusen)

We spent the afternoon exploring the charming village of Bar Harbor after our lobster boat cruise and took the opportunity to eat at a quirky little local market called Peekytoe Provisions.

Peekytoe Provisions, Bar Harbor, Maine (Michelle Van Deusen)

The shop is named for a Maine rock crab whose nickname “peekytoe” comes from “picked toe,” which references both the handpicking of the leg (or toe) meat and the pointed shape of the crab leg (“picked” can mean “pointed” in Maine).

It was once a throwaway byproduct of the lobster industry but is now enjoyed in its own rights as a sweet, mild crab. We were able to grab a table outside to enjoy the beautiful weather and the sights and sounds of Bar Harbor. Everything we ate was locally sourced and absolutely delicious, including the house-made chowder.

Bar Harbor, Maine (Michelle Van Deusen)

After lunch, we made our way to the village and harbor namesake: Bar Island. Accessible via a short walk across a land bridge, only at low tide, from the north end of Bridge Street, the island is a fun adventure.

There are tide pools to explore, as well as a beautiful view of Mount Desert Island once you arrive. It is recommended that you start out once the land bridge emerges and pay attention to the time, as you will want to arrive back in the village of Bar Harbor within an hour and a half of leaving — it wouldn’t be fun to end up stranded on Bar Island until the next low tide! The tides around the area are large, averaging 12 to 15 feet, which is what allows the land bridge to emerge.

As we made our way back to camp for the night, we made stops along the park road to walk sections of the Ocean Path, as well as stops to see Thunder Hole, Otter Point and Little Hunters Beach.

Otter Point has some great tide pools if you can time your visit along with low tide. Adding to the magic of Acadia is the beautiful carriage road system designed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. He commissioned artisans to build each bridge in the system as a completely unique structure.

It is well worth the time investment to see as many as possible while visiting the park. The carriage roads were built so people would have a peaceful option for touring the park, despite the presence of automobiles on the park road.

Winter Harbor Lighthouse (Michelle Van Deusen)

Our third day in Acadia started again on the docks with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.

This time we boarded a large catamaran for a three-hour tour (lots of Gilligan jokes with that!) of the shoreline of the national park, some of the beautiful summer “cottages” (mansions) on the island, lots of enjoyable wildlife and several historic lighthouses. As with the lobster cruise, the crew was knowledgeable and professional, and we all enjoyed the trip very much!

At some point during a visit to Acadia, it is a great idea to get out on the water for a whole different perspective of the area and its seafaring history.

We really enjoyed parking in one spot in Bar Harbor and then walking around the village. While we were visiting, we only shared the town with a cruise ship one day. While the town was busier that day, we did enjoy looking at the ship in the tiny harbor because it looked like an oversized bath toy! Since the harbor is small and relatively shallow, the cruise ships ferry passengers in smaller boats back and forth to the docks in town. But whether it’s busy or quiet, Bar Harbor is a fantastic place to visit, with many charming shops and eateries.

We enjoyed picking up a coffee or treat and enjoying some of the green spaces in town. Both Agamont Park with its harbor views and the Village Green with its bustling town center atmosphere were great places to take a break and just enjoy the setting. For lunch on day three, we had to try the lobster-topped macaroni and cheese at Side Street Cafe, and it was absolutely delicious!

Great Head, Acadia National Park, Maine (Michelle Van Deusen)

After lunch, we headed back into the national park to hike the family friendly adventure trail around Great Head. At only 1.6 miles, it is a simple hike to take, but it offers some mild rock scrambles and outstanding views, and it feels like an adventure.

We very much enjoyed the trail and recommend it to anyone visiting the area. To hike the trail, you park at Sand Beach, so named because non-rocky beaches are rare in the area. It is a great place to play in the sand and wade. There is a fun creek crossing at the end of the beach and a beautiful view of Great Head.

From the trail, it’s one gorgeous view after the next, including one that looks down on Sand Beach. Acadia’s trail system is amongst the best in the national park system; it is well maintained and well marked with great signs.

Carriage road bridge crossing the park road, Acadia National Park, Maine (Michelle Van Deusen)

The national park service publishes a carriage road user’s map that includes the location of all the carriage road bridges. We used this map to see as many as possible and decided to park at Jordan Pond and walk to see a few.

The stables weren’t yet open for the season, but it is also possible during peak season to book a carriage ride through the park. Words and pictures do not do these bridges justice, as each is a masterpiece of craftsmanship and planning. No two look alike, and on this walk we even saw one that looked like a castle wall!

The carriage roads are well marked with beautiful wooden signs and are easy to navigate. They make for a pleasant walking or biking surface. The carriage roads are often lined with rocks that are called “Rockefeller’s teeth” in honor of the man whose vision brought them to life.

I can’t mention Jordan Pond without discussing the famous tea service on the lawn with popovers and jam at the nearby Jordan Pond House. They weren’t open for the season when we visited, so we purchased a popover pan to take home, as well as some local wild Maine blueberry jam. Making them at home with the included recipe proved to be the exact right souvenir from our trip.

Another Acadia tradition, sunset from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, is how we ended our day. It was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.

Carriage road bridges, Acadia National Park, Maine (Michelle Van Deusen)

Our fourth and final day in Acadia started off with an amazing breakfast in Bar Harbor at Cafe This Way. We had blue skies long enough to be able to chase down some more carriage road bridges by driving, parking and taking some short walks.

We also made another stop at the visitor center to turn in our Junior Ranger booklets. The completion and “swearing in” ceremony, performed by a park ranger, is something our children really enjoy — plus the program helps them learn more about the parks.

Acadia National Park, Maine (Michelle Van Deusen)

By the time rain and fog moved in, we had an alternate plan in place. We decided to wash clothes in Bar Harbor and then take off for a drive to the Schoodic Peninsula, also part of the national park.

Before leaving town, we grabbed some coffee and treats at the Mount Dessert Bakery, which we really enjoyed! It’s always a good idea to research and be familiar enough with an area before visiting so changing plans and making new ones is easy when circumstances require it.

This turned out to be a fantastic alternate plan. We had seen the Winter Harbor Lighthouse from our boat tour, so it was a new perspective to travel there by land. We drove the loop road and got out to explore often. We especially enjoyed the rocks and crashing waves at Schoodic Point.

We finished the evening with a meal at the Pickled Wrinkle in Birch Harbor, where we were able to try long neck clams and sauteed fiddleheads, both of which we loved!

Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine (Michelle Van Deusen)

On the following day, we left Acadia, headed for New Hampshire and Vermont, with maple lattes in hand — thanks to one last stop at our favorite local coffee bar, Coffee Hound Coffee Company.

Acadia National Park is an outstanding park to visit and has so much more to offer than we experienced in a four-day trip. We look forward to returning and seeing even more of this amazing place!

Somesville, Maine (Michelle Van Deusen)

Some Maine literature suggestions for traveling with children:
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey
Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Note: We pay our own travel expenses and do not receive any free or discounted perks or benefits. Our opinions are our own.

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