Acadia National Park is better than Disney World (I can’t believe I just typed that)

It killed me to write that title. KILLED me. I mean Disney is like my absolute favorite place on earth. At least that’s how I felt three weeks ago. This summer my hubby and I each planned a family trip to celebrate our ten-year anniversary– mine was to Disney World and his was to Acadia National Park in Maine– and when both trips were over we asked Zoey which one she liked better, and guess what she said?

ZOEY: Acadia!!

ME: Nooooooo!!!!! But what about Space Mountain?! What about the Peter Pan ride?! What about that magical moment we were watching the fireworks explode over Cinderella’s castle and there were literally tears in my eyes?!! How could Maine be better than that?

ZOEY: Nature.

Deep down inside I know that Zoey might be (see, I still can’t admit it completely), she might be right. I mean our vacation to Acadia was magical. It’s like this rare little spot on the planet that is still untouched by humans and is absolutely magnificent.

And it made me realize something. We should all take our kids to our National Parks. I always hear parents say, “We still haven’t taken our kids to Disney World,” but I never hear them say, “We still haven’t taken our kids to a national park.”

I can’t really explain to you the feeling you get when you stand on the top of a mountain with 360-degree views of the ocean, or the feeling you get when you turn over a rock and find two sea stars clinging to the bottom of it, or the feeling you get when your kids are completely silent because they don’t want to scare away a baby loon and his mommy, but I can tell you what we did while we were there so you can bring your own family to Acadia and feel those amazing feelings for yourself.

So I’m not an actual travel agent, but if I were this is what I would tell you to do there: 

Diver Ed

When my hubby booked something called Diver Ed a week in advance, I was like yeah, okayyy,  something educational. I just assumed Ed stood for education. I was wrong. Ed is like the most High-larious human being ever. So Ed goes scuba diving on the bottom of the freezing cold ocean and you get to see what he sees down there while he narrates and you nearly pee your pants because he’s so funny and he talks about butts and pooping a lot so the kids are dying of laughter. And then he brings all of the stuff he found up to the boat (sea stars, lobsters, and sea cucumbers, oh my!). 

Diver Ed

Hiking

So my hubby and I have been putting off a trip to Maine for years because we were worried our kids wouldn’t be able to do the hikes. But here’s the awesome thing. If you go to the Acadia Visitors Center, they will sell you a $5 map and you can see how difficult the different hikes are. Believe it or not, Zoey (9-years-old) and Holden (almost 7-years-old) actually completed one of the strenuous hikes. Mt. Penobscot, a 1200-foot mountain with 360-degree views of the ocean at the top. It was gorrrrrgeousssss. Wanna know the most beautiful part about it? Not a single complaint or fight the entire trip!

P.S. Our family has a little tradition where at the beginning of the hike you pick one very lucky rock who gets to go on an adventure and you take “him” up the mountain with you and leave him up there. The kids loved it!! Although Zoey had to be unique and choose a baby pinecone instead.

P.P.S. We also did the Great Head Trail which is shorter and easier and gorgeous on a clear day!!

Becoming a Junior Ranger

If your kiddo wants to take an oath and become a Junior Ranger, alls you gotta do is stop by the Visitors Center and pick up one of the Junior Ranger booklets. Your kiddo can complete the booklet over your vacation and become a REAL Junior Ranger with an actual ceremony!! Zoey was beyyyyond excited about this. Holden, on the other hand, was like I don’t give a crap about that. Bah humbug, Holden!

When you’re at the visitors center, also ask about any special classes for the kids. We took ours to one called “Sand Sleuths” and Park Ranger James taught them all about what sand is made of and it was super cool.

P.S. If your kid wants a vest like Zoey’s, here’s where you can get it. Her friend picked it out for her for her birthday, and Zoey has been wearing it for years.

Walking to Bar Island

Nope, that’s not a typo. You can actually walk to an island. But wait, Baby Sideburns, I’m not Jesus, I can’t walk on water!! Uhhh, you can when the tide is really low. At low tide in Bar Harbor (look it up online because the time changes every day), you can literally walk on the ocean floor, and there are sooooo many cool things to discover there. Crabs, sea stars, snails, sea glass, other stuff I can’t remember right now, etc etc etc.

So there you go. Now you can go to Acadia and you don’t even need a travel agent or anything. Don’t forget to pack raincoats (Maine weather is all over the place) and don’t forget to stop at the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound for the BEST LOBSTER ON EARTH. Seriously, they cook it in sea water. Plus they have PB&J for the kids with a marshmallow on top in case your kids are super picky eaters like someone I know.

And don’t forget to eat ice cream after every meal. Note, I did NOT say after DINNER. I said after EVERY meal. Breakfast, ice cream, lunch, ice cream, dinner, ice cream. Our two favorite ice cream places were Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium (don’t worry, the lonnng line goes fast!) and Mount Desert Island Ice Cream (for more unusual flavors).

Skip Disney one year, skip your annual trip to the beach, skip skiing, skip Mexico, skip Atlantis. And go to a National Park instead. You will NOT regret it. In fact, you may even decide not to come back. I did. But my hubby said we couldn’t do that. Bah humbug. 

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There are 36 comments for this article
  1. Julie A Andracek at 10:00 am

    WOW! Look amazing. I’m putting it on our vacation list! We just did Disney and it was magical and awesome. But, it’s good to see other places too! Your kiddos seem at a good age for this adventure. We have a 2.5 year old so maybe in a few years?!?!? Great post!!!!!!!

    • BabySideburns at 10:16 am

      Totally Julie! I’m torn because you could go now and do the easier stuff, but a lot of this stuff is awesome for kids who are a little older.

  2. Candy at 10:17 am

    Awesome! Putting this on my list! I recommend a trip west also. We did Colorado one summer and Black Hills (Custer State Park and Mt. Rushmore) and Yellowstone last summer. I LOVE Disney (we did that this summer), but there’s something to be said for seeing some spectacular natural sights (especially when you live in BORING Illinois–every time we see mountains I ask myself WHY we live here!)

    • BabySideburns at 10:41 am

      OMG, yessssss. My husband and I are such hikers and I’m like why did we move to the flattest place in the country. But now we have roots and awesome friends and I don’t want to start over.

    • Jim Peale at 7:21 am

      If you’re going to do Yellowstone (which is great!) plan to spend at least a couple of days at Grand Teton just down the road. There’s plenty of kid stuff there, too, and less of crowds.

  3. FromWI at 10:17 am

    I second this! Go to the National Parks! And if you have a 4th grader the whole family gets in free!!! This summer we visited Glacier National Park, it was beyond amazing!

      • Cassie Muckenhirn Bosley at 11:05 pm

        Look up every 4th grader in a park, I think sep 1 you can sign up. My oldest just started 4th, we are excited to get the free national park pass for the year! And again next year with my next kiddo ; ) unfortunately we couldn’t sign up till the month after we were in Acadia (and wright brothers memorial). We have done 3 junior ranger programs this year, I think they are great!

  4. Bill Gould at 10:26 am

    Zoey is correct. I’ve been to Space Mountain once but perhaps 100 times to Cadillac Mountain. The Alpert’s Camp was better than Disney.

  5. Jen at 10:30 am

    We have been going to Maine for our vacation for about 12 years and we almost always visit Acadia when we are in that area! My kids are almost 17 and almost 13 and we’ve NEVER taken them to Disney–but they LOVE Maine <3 So glad you got to experience my favorite place! If you go again, one of our favorite things to do is search for sea glass along the beach just below the Bar Harbor Hotel (at the bottom of Agamont Park in Bar Harbor). So fun. Hope you made lots of amazing memories!

  6. brookekubath at 10:35 am

    I think you are in Chicagoland… so I highly recommend a trip to central indiana to Turkey Run state park. The hiking is ridiculous. We took our 3 year old on a Very Strenuous trail and he was a champ. The 8 year old burned off all his energy climbing 8 million rocks and I didn’t have to yell, “stop climbing” like I do at Disney or Shedd Aquarium. Absolutely worth the drive. Parks are our favorite!!!

  7. MominMN at 10:38 am

    I LOVED our trip to Maine. We went in the fall. The colors are amazing! Also, definitely get the 4th grade park pass: https://www.everykidinapark.gov/ when your kids are in 4th grade. They can print out the pass, and when you present it to a National Park, they’ll trade it for a special plastic pass that is good for their whole 4th grade year! (And the family they bring along.)

  8. tracy patton at 11:57 am

    My hubby and i had our first child-free vacation this year and spent a week in Boston. One day we rented a car and drove up to Maine for crazy cheap seafood… we fell in love with everything we saw and only got half way to Acadia! We came back saying “next year we make that the vacation with the kids” it’s just so stunning! There are SO MANY amazing national parks… I’m a scout mom, so I’ve been to a bunch when my eldest was little (now 21) I strongly encourage everyone to visit a national park – go to the gift shop and get one of the passport books. Then, every tie you go to a national park you fill up the passport with stamps and pics of your trip… my 11 year old says he wants to make sure he FILLS every page so he can start over again when HE has kids. They learn so much, make so many fun memories – WITHOUT electronics, marketing gimmicks, and lines! There are parks EVERYWHERE and almost all of them are FREE!!! Thanks for posting about this! oh and in Maine there is also a famous Chocolate/Candy shop that has a LIFE SIZED CHOCOLATE MOOSE! (and amazing ice cream) worth a side trip to see! https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/4364

  9. karen at 1:28 pm

    My husband has been saying this for years and I was worried my 7 and 9 yr olds were too little. Thanks for the info. Did you look into some program that gives 4th graders “membership” to the National Parks for the year? Not sure if it’s been phased out by current administration but sounds like an awesome way to open a lot of families eyes to the beauty of our national parks!

  10. Jessica at 2:48 pm

    We went to Acadia this year too!! The views are breathtaking… And please tell me you tried the lobster ice cream at Ben & bills? Great trip! ❤️

    • BabySideburns at 8:30 am

      Hahahaha, I was warned NOT to! I had coffee with heath bar crunch. Yummmm. But the grapefruit sorbet at Mt Desert Island Ice Cream was my favorite.

  11. Carrie Bennett at 3:33 pm

    Yeah!! I couldn’t agree more and I’m so glad you all had a great time. If you’re looking for an amazing but totally different experience, Zion National Park in Utah is AMAZING, especially before it’s super hot. Spring break is a great time to go, before the heat and crowds. Happy trails!

  12. Bella Luna Toys (@BellaLunaToys) at 3:40 pm

    OMG, my favorite mommy blogger was here visiting my home state of Maine! Be still my heart! So glad you loved Acadia. I moved to Maine from L.A. 19 years ago so that my children could grow up in nature and experience the seasons. They have never been to Disney World. Now they’re grow up and moved (guess where) … back to L.A., but they love coming home to Maine and always express gratitude for their childhoods here. Full disclaimer: Now that they live in L.A. they have been to Disneyland. I’ll have to ask them which they like better. ~Sarah

  13. Dana at 4:29 pm

    I went to Rocky Mountsjn National Park this summer and I’m obsessed! So next year is mine and my hubbys 10 year anniversary. I think we will try this trip. Where did you fly into? I’m so excited about this? My goal is to get myself and my 2 kids to all 50 states!

    • BabySideburns at 8:27 am

      Amazing!! I would love to take my kids there too. We flew into Portland, got a rental car and drove. They wanted to know where the screen was in the car ride. I told them to look out the window 🙂

  14. Amanda Piacentino at 5:47 pm

    This is the type of vacation I want to take my kids on when they’re a teeny bit older. We’re at Niagara Falls right now and I can’t handle the crowds and arcades and tourist junk. I need mountain air. Glad to see the parks have stuff to make it more interesting and engaging for kiddos.

    • Jim Peale at 7:27 am

      Niagara Falls is worth seeing but not really a kid place. Any of the coastal or Mountain National Parks would be great for kids.

  15. Debbie Lewis at 6:01 pm

    One thousand percent agree! We are in Maine right now celebrating our 25th anniversary, and visited Acadia just YESTERDAY! We walked until we couldn’t walk anymore, met lovely people from everywhere and saw some of the most breathtaking views imaginable. And we are already planning to come back next year-Acadia can’t possibly be seen in one day! We have been to Disney four times with good memories but don’t feel the need to go back any time soon. I agree with your daughter-real magic is found in nature.

  16. Brad at 6:51 pm

    This article came up in my google feed and thought I would give it a read since we were recently there. Then I scroll to the first picture and see my son (glasses with blue and white jacket) and our friends daughter in the purple fleece. We were on the boat with you for diver ed! Diver Ed was awesome!!!!! We loved Bar Harbor and Acadia. Looks like we did a lot of the same things! Highly recommend this area! Our group had kids 2,5, and 8 and they loved it (especially the ice cream!)

  17. Na ok at 8:39 pm

    This was quite possible one of the most depressing articles I’ve ever read. Have you really never been to a national park? The realization that “Maybe we should all bring our kids to a national park.” Is one of the saddest comments I’ve ever read. There must be a lot of T.V. and frozen dinners going on…

  18. Rachel at 8:44 pm

    I live in Maine and love Bar Harbor/Acadia. It is the most beautiful place. We took our kids last year and have a lot of these same pictures. Diver Ed….love that guy!!!!!!!

  19. Lyn at 10:17 am

    Glad to hear you enjoyed your trip to Acadia National Park, we leave in a few weeks to go there too, can’t wait to see it!

  20. Jen at 12:45 pm

    In my former life, I did an internship as a ranger at Acadia…truly one of my favorite places on Earth. This post made me realize that next summer may be the perfect time to take my kids (11 and 8)!
    Thank you for sharing and let me live vicariously through you! Did you explore the tide pools too? SO COOL for a midwestern girl like me.

  21. Ashlee at 1:11 pm

    We did Disney in June and Nova Scotia in August. My kids are 7 and 9 too. Nature and National Parks (even Canadian ones) totally kicks Disney’s b**t.

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