Winter in Acadia with a three-year-old is gorgeous and challenging in all the right ways

Hello from North Haven!

Bill, Penrose and I just returned from a short family vacation to gorgeous Acadia National Park! It was our first vacation post-baby without other family members involved – since many of them live in cool places like New York, Boston and San Diego we tend to go there on breaks, or travel with them to other nice destinations so everyone can bask in Penrose’s glorious presence, or whatever. But this time we decided to head out on our own and check out the scene Downeast.

We envisioned a snowy trek, and packed snowshoes, cross country skis, gaiters, a toboggan, and snow pants, none of which we needed. The weather was mild and the ground snowless when we were there, and even without the main park loop road being open, Acadia offers plenty of walking and hiking opportunities. Here’s a day by day breakdown of the trip.

Day 1: Arrival, lunch, and the Ocean Path

We left North Haven on the 7:30 ferry Wednesday morning, and arrived in Bar Harbor at 11 just as the sun burst out of the clouds and the temperature jumped from 40 to 55 degrees. Park information can be found in the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce office on Cottage Street in the off season, and an extremely helpful ranger highlighted a map for us, marking open roads and easy walks. We got lunch at Side Street Cafe, which was bustling and delicious, and then headed into the park. We were easily able to follow the ranger’s directions to Sand Beach, where we parked. We walked down the steps to the beach and into a totally different climate. Where the town had been sunny and mild, the beach was foggy and extremely windy. We still took the time to walk its length and climb a few rocks before heading back up to the top.

Sand Beach was VERY windy! All photos in this post are by William Trevaskis

One of Bill’s beautiful captures, despite the wind

We headed down the Ocean Path, a gravel walkway between the road and the shore. As Penrose gathered fallen scrub pine needles (“To make tea with, or eat as a snack!”) we slowly made our way to Thunder Hole. The dramatic rock and wave interactions of Thunder Hole weren’t on full display that day, but it was still beautiful and exciting, and offered some great photo opportunities for Bill and some rocks to climb on for Penrose. After Thunderhole, we turned around and walked back to Sand Beach.

Thunderhole, still full of drama even without the full thunder action

Portrait of the artist on a precipice

By the time we got in the car, it was nearly time to check in at the Atlantic Oceanside, and check out the pool. The pool, predictably, was a highlight for both Penrose and I, and even after the long walk she paddled around for an hour before dinner at the Siam Orchid and an early bed time.

Day 2: Gorham Mountain and Paddington 2

Bill woke up early and ninja-ed his way out of the hotel room to go take pictures of the sunrise at the Bass Harbor lighthouse, without waking Penrose or I up. When he returned, I mentioned that I’d noticed the Gorham Mountain trailhead on our Ocean Path walk, and when I saw it was only a 525 foot summit, I thought it might be an easy hike for us all to try. The weather, 35 degrees, sunny and windless, was encouraging as we set out. We quickly realized that Gorham wasn’t going to be the easy walk we had pictured, but as Penrose fearlessly navigated granite scrambles and icy obstacles, we decided to keep going.

Pen’s favorite thing on this hike was letting me know her plan for proceeding

After an hour and fifteen minutes of climbing, strategizing, and slow, safe progress, we reached the summit. The panoramic view of Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliff and the outer islands was rewarding for all three of us, and we were as proud of Penrose as she was of herself.

A very worthwhile and rewarding challenge!

The hike back down was quicker and easier, of course, and we were very ready for veggie burgers at the Dog and Pony Tavern for lunch. Penrose followed her 1.8 mile hike with an hour and a half of swimming, befriending some other kids who were staying at the hotel and giving me some much-needed hot tub time as well as some swimming.

She SOBBED when we had to get out of the pool. Me too, kid.

For a treat, we planned to see Paddington 2 at Reel Pizza. We ordered a few black olive slices for Penrose, with a side of popcorn, lemonade, and Sour Patch Kids, and a Zorba the Greek for ourselves. The theater was wonderful, with comfortable seats and counters for the food and drinks, and couches in the front, and the pizza was tasty. The movie itself wasn’t such a big hit with its intended audience (Darth Vader? Not scary. Paddington riding a dog chasing Hugh Grant? Terrifying,) but we stuck it out and she seems to have warmed up to it upon reflection.

Day 3: Epi’s, Bass Harbor, Jordan Pond (sort of), and leaving

We started our last day in Acadia with an hour of swimming and a fervent desire to have access to a pool on North Haven. Alas! We had a very hearty breakfast at Epi’s, and then drove down to Bass Harbor to check out the light house. It seemed much colder than the previous day, and the short walk to the rocks and then up and around to the side of the light house was a little uncomfortable, but still gorgeous. We then drove to Jordan Pond, again taking advantage of the excellent directions provided by the park ranger, and attempted to walk on the Carriage Roads.

An inviting sign to an icy path

We made it as far as Jordan Stream, often by walking in the culverts on the side of the road, as the roads themselves were mostly iced in. We gave up and turned around before too long as they really were unnavigable, but hope to return in a less icy season and fully explore. We headed out for the two hour drive back to Rockland, enjoying the trip through MDI’s villages and back to the mainland.

A beautiful capture, despite the ice

Acadia and Bar Harbor in winter are peaceful, beautiful, and have plenty to keep an outdoorsy young kid entertained and appropriately challenged. Next time – and there will definitely be a next time – we want to check out the Abbe Museum and the Dorr Museum, do a little souvenir shopping, explore more of the Jordan Pond area, walk to Otter Cliff, and try some of the short trails near the Bass Harbor light. Maybe someday we’ll even brave the crowds to come in the high season and hike Cadillac Mountain for the sunrise. No matter when we return, I know all three of us will be excited, and not just for the swimming pool.

Courtney Naliboff

About Courtney Naliboff

In addition to this blog, I'm a contributing writer to, a Jewish parenting site, a blogger and book reviewer for, and the author of Salt Water Cure, a column in Working Waterfront. I report news from North Haven for Working Waterfront and Island Journal, and was a speaker at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life in 2015. Follow Frozen Chosen on facebook or visit my Web site for more writing and free music to download!