3 Iconic Experiences in Maine for Families

Portland Head Light. Photo by Ken Lund
Portland Head Light. Photo by Ken Lund

Whether your family is the road trip type, the outdoor adventure type or the luxury resort type, Maine has experiences for everyone. This rugged state is more than just lobster rolls, L.L. Bean and sailboats — be ready to let Maine surprise you with unexpected culture, picturesque charm and vast, untamed wilderness that will remind you of this state’s proximity to our neighbor to the north.

Things to Do in Maine with Kids
Acadia National Park. Photo from iStock/Harry Collins

Best Things to Do in Maine with Kids

For Soft Adventure: Acadia National Park

If you have young kids or want to enjoy a kid-free getaway, head to Acadia National Park in Down East Maine (the far northern coast). Its expansive network of roads offers biking galore, and the town of Bar Harbor invites families with casual dining, cozy B&Bs and kid-friendly attractions.

Acadia is known for its carriage trails (in addition to lobster rolls and blueberries, of course), and these trails are perhaps the best way to see the park with young kids. We like to ride around Eagle Lake, a route recommended by the helpful crew at Acadia Bike. (Rentals are available there; if you’re visiting during peak seasons — summer and fall — they recommend reserving bikes in advance, especially if you plan to rent specialized equipment like a child’s trailer or tagalong.)

After riding, visit the Mount Desert Oceanarium, located on the north side of Mount Desert Island and then spend at least a full afternoon at Sand Beach on Park Loop Road, a beautiful beach with great spots for checking out tidepools.

Where to stay: With kids, we recommend Acadia Inn for its kid-friendly movie nights and complimentary breakfast. Without the kids, opt for the lovely Holbrook House to enjoy a more intimate stay.

Best Things to Do in Maine with Kids
The knife edge trail on Mt. Katahdin. “Knife’s Edge on Mt. Katahdin, Maine” by Patrick Spinney is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

For Roughing It: Mt. Katahdin and Baxter State Park

Baxter State Park is Maine’s largest expanse of untamed public wilderness. With almost 210,000 acres to explore, families can combine front-country car camping with backcountry adventure around Mt. Katahdin, the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. Baxter’s scope and size is on a national park scale, but unlike national parks, almost every lake, pond, waterfall and stream is accessible only by trail. In very few places in Baxter can you drive up to see anything, and even then, you must drive miles upon miles on dirt roads. 

I suggest car camping at one of Baxter’s campgrounds as a home base. If you don’t want to camp at all, you can opt to stay in Millinocket, though you’ll be commuting each day into the park. If summiting Mt. Katahdin is on your to-do list, do it early in your trip while you’re still fresh. It’s 5 1/2 miles (pretty much straight up) from the Roaring Brook Campground, and it took our family of seasoned hikers 12 hours to complete the round trip. The trail is extremely strenuous, and the final mile of the summit hike is along a knife edge with some scary-looking drops. If you go, bring tons of water and a means of filtering more on the trail (you’ll need it). Also, bring headlamps in case you’re caught hiking after dark. If you want an easier hike, try the 3 miles to Chimney Pond for great views of the peak.

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When we’d recovered from Katahdin, we headed into the backcountry via the Russell/Sandy Stream trail. Our destination: either Russell Pond Campground with lean-tos (7.2 miles away), or  Wassataquoik Stream, which offers several more lean-tos with great swimming (5 miles away). If you’re ambitious, you could aim for Wassataquoik Lake, 9 miles distant, which doesn’t have a campground but does have several more lean-tos. Russell Lake has a staffed ranger office and lean-tos, a bear line and pit toilets. 

At Russell Pond, you can use the provided canoes at the dock for a small fee (I believe it was $1/hour, on the honor system) and you can swim, though we don’t recommend it (there are many leeches here). It is, however, a good place to spot moose. The Wassataquoik Stream lean-tos are better for swimming, and the Wassataquoik Lake lean-tos offer a bigger lake (better for swimming) and more canoes.

Where to stay: Roaring Brook Campground, to enjoy its wonderful stream, lean-to shelters and fire pits. Be sure to reserve far in advance.

Best Things to Do in Maine with Kids
Portland Head Light. “Portland Head Light, Near Portland, Maine” by Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

For Culture: Portland

Portland, Maine, is small but mighty! In recent years, it’s become a showcase for artists and farm-to-fork dining. From a base in Portland, you can go lighthouse hunting (the Portland Head Light is iconic), sample the wood-fired goodness at Fore Street restaurants, and shop at the Old Port, comprised of bayfront warehouses. If you have a fire truck-loving kid, book Portland’s most up-and-coming city tour via Portland Fire Engine Co., narrated by locals.

Older kids may enjoy touring the many historic homes in Portland, especially if you have a budding architect in your midst. And you’ll definitely want to book a food tour so you can enjoy Portland’s food truck and lobster scene. 

Where to stay: Black Point Inn is a great pick for families wanting oceanfront luxury. If you’d rather stay in the heart of downtown, the Hyatt Place Portland at Old Port is a good bet.

Relevant Links:

Browse all family-friendly accommodations and activities in Maine with kids

10 places in North America that feel like an exotic escape

10 favorite East Coast family beach vacation destinations

Families slow down and reconnect at Migis Lodge in Maine

A Maine family holiday at Nonantum Resort

Beachfront luxury at Maine’s Inn by the Sea

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