As recent transplants to New England, Acadia National Park has been at the top of our to-do list since we moved here just over a year ago. Let’s face it, though: Doing anything with kids always seems more challenging. Our little ones are eight and four years old now, so even a Saturday trip to the grocery store can feel as daunting as another cross-country move! That being said, I’d like to think that over the years we’ve learned a few tricks to make camping more enjoyable as a young family, and perhaps this post will help you to do the same.
By the end of last winter, we were dreaming of summer vacation and zeroed in on Acadia as the spot for an upcoming trip. We’ve found that we really enjoy camping within the National Parks with our kids; it puts us closer to the desired hikes and activities, and it makes “home” (the campsite) accessible throughout the day as needed. It may cost a little more, but for us it is worth it.
The trick here, of course, is that you must book early! Like most National Parks, Acadia is heavily visited, and campground reservations fill up fast. The park opens reservations for campsites two months in advance, so I suggest setting a calendar reminder for the first day possible to jump on and reserve your site.
As first-timers to the park, we chose Blackwoods Campground because of its central location. We always study the campground maps a bit in advance to help strategically select the best site for our family. We want to be close to the restrooms for the inevitable 2 a.m. potty trip — but not too close! We also take into consideration road traffic, generator regulations, playgrounds, and campsite size (our tent is big) among other things. Try making a list of 5–10 sites that fit your criteria before it’s time to log on and book a site, so you have options if some are already taken. The extra time and effort are definitely worth it.
Once arriving at camp, the immediate task at hand is always to keep the kids entertained so we can focus on setting up camp for the week. (Easier said than done.) This year’s attempt involved a camp bocce ball set and new silicon frisbee. The results were only partially successful, but we managed to make it work.
Camp went up relatively quickly!
When setting up, the top priority is always the tent. In case it decides to rain — and it always does — it’s nice to have a spot to take cover and stay dry. New to our gear arsenal this year was NEMO’s Aurora Highrise™ 6P tent. We chose the 6P over the 4P to have a little extra room for all the “stuff” kids require. The extra capacity offers enough room to keep a tote or two in the tent and have things a little more organized.
Another insider tip here: We used a Victory™ Patio blanket at the front door, inside the vestibule. The blanket gives you a makeshift porch to step on, take your shoes off, and help keep the inside of your tent clean.
Second priority: the camp kitchen. While we always have snacks at the ready, our constantly “starving” kids somehow become even more ravenous when camping. Making sure the kitchen is up and running at a decent time is key, and another new item we brought this year was the Victory™ Screenhouse. No one enjoys being devoured by mosquitos while trying to enjoy dinner at camp, so we pitched the screenhouse directly over our campsite’s picnic table and were able to easily cook and eat within the protection of the screen netting. As parents of a child who gets pretty bad histamine reactions to mosquito bites, we will never go car camping without the Victory Screenhouse again! A couple of citronella candles and string lights really made the experience luxurious and, of course, the screenhouse provides some rain protection, too.
Last kitchen tip (and a camp hack we adopted from another NEMO family): Always precook any meats. This makes meal prep so much easier when you get back to camp later than expected and need to feed the aforementioned “starving” kiddos.
Chairs for the whole crew!
A final tip for family camping: plan but remain flexible. Our initial goal was to get up early and drive to the morning’s hike or activity. What I miscalculated, though, was the visitor-to-parking ratio. (I’m not sure how I made this mistake considering that Acadia is one of the top 10 most-visited National Parks, while also being the 14th smallest in terms of size.)
After a couple of quick failed attempts at finding a parking spot, we decided to drive back to camp, park the car, and jump on the park bus. Blackwoods campground is uniquely positioned near two different bus loops, one that runs the Park Loop Road (the quintessential Acadia drive), and the other that takes you into Bar Harbor (which came in handy for our fix of lobster, coffee, and ice cream later in the trip). By using the bus system, we were all able to enjoy the views, not worry about parking, and gain access to additional drop-off points where there is no parking available.
So, Acadia-specific pro tip: take the bus. Everywhere. It’s convenient, less stressful, and creates more opportunities for hiking adventures (consider doing a point-to-point hike instead of a loop!).
My daughter, Alice, hiking.
A few other things we loved from our trip:
Cadillac Mountain Sunrise. Again, plan ahead, because this requires a reservation if you plan on driving to the summit. 30% of tickets are made available 90 days in advance, and the final 70% are available two days in advance. We waited until two days before so we could nail down a clear day and were able to get our tickets, but they sold out just a few minutes after reservations opened. Getting the kids up early for this was 100% worth it.
Jordan Pond House Restaurant. Parking is limited, so another reminder to take the bus! You can make a reservation if you want, but we walked in and got a table rather quickly. Smoked salmon and popovers with their local jams was a winning combination.
Carriage Roads. With the kids, we chose to walk some of the carriage roads to less trafficked lakes and ponds. This got us away from the crowds and on trails that were fun for the kids to run around on. Again – broken record here – take the bus to get to the roads! This lets you hop on and off where they intersect with the Park Loop Road (and where parking is not available).
All in all, our first trip to Acadia was a success. We racked up several short day hikes and a lot of memories that we’ll cherish forever. Looking back on it, our timing was excellent; we planned a middle-of-the-week trip in late summer. It was still busy, but not too crazy, and there were plenty of opportunities to get off the beaten path and away from the crowds if that’s your speed.
We declared our first trip to Acadia a success!
NEMO Gear Kit:
The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures, and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it.
Josh Quigley is the Logistics Manager at NEMO. When not moving the world’s finest camping equipment around the globe, he enjoys spending time with his family outside, as well as hiking, backpacking, and fly fishing. A flatlander, USMC Veteran, and sucker for a Philly Cheesesteak, he’s always on a quest for the next adventure.