Acadia and Beyond: Planning a “Downeast” Vacation With Your Toddler


There’s nothing like the great outdoors of Maine to expose your toddler to trails, rocky cliffs, and ocean air. Still, taking a trip “Downeast” has its challenges: a long car ride, the potential of iffy weather, and those necessary toddler naps.

Belfast City Park
View from Belfast City Park

I was nervous when we broached the idea of taking the four-hour trip from New Hampshire up to Acadia National Park with our almost three-year-old for a week.

How would he manage the long car ride? What if it rained the whole time? How the heck would we spend five nights cloistered in the same hotel room? That’s when I began drawing up a no-fail plan for success that you can follow this fall.

Make a vacation itinerary.

Walking out to the Rockland Breakwater
Walking out to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse.

Break up the trip.
Maine is a wondrous state, peppered with an awesome shoreline, eateries, and quirky side trips. We made our first stop in Midcoast Maine at the Samoset Resort. We stayed for one night and enjoyed the pool, “Ultimate Backyard,” playground, and walk out to the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. Since there is a restaurant on site and poolside service, we did not need to worry about dinner plans. A bonus: we mentioned that we had vacationed here before and received a suite upgrade. On the way back, we spent our last night at the Fireside Inn in Belfast, Maine where we ventured on a side trip to Belfast City Park. Bordered by a rocky shore and stunning views of the ocean, this park had excellent equipment that my son was able to navigate before dinnertime.

Travel during naptime.
After breakfast on our second day, we visited one of my husband’s relatives and offered our toddler a quick lunch before we continued north. Planning your driving time during your child’s nap ensures some peace and quiet for you and refreshes your child for the next adventure. 

Create a plan that works with your toddler’s schedule, but leaves room for flexibility.
We broke up our vacation activities into three or four-hour chunks. This meant that we did not plan long hikes, excursions, and meals. We also opted for take-out options so we could eat outside rather than wait at crowded restaurants.

Fall activities we enjoyed with a toddler in tow:

Hiking Jordan Pond
Hiking Jordan Pond


Playing at Sand Beach in Acadia Park.
Playing at Sand Beach in Acadia National Park.

Pack your stroller, child carrier, or other means of child transport.
Little legs tire much easier than ours do. We made the mistake of leaving our stroller at home while we took a short one-mile hike in the park. Luckily, my husband has strong shoulders. Taking a stroller would have made for a slightly more enjoyable walk to Sand Beach.

Pack snacks before you leave.
I was psyched to have granola bars, pouches, crackers, and packages of raisins on hand when we found ourselves nowhere near a grocery store. 

Give your child a new experience.
On this vacation, Everett set foot in a boat for the first time. We set sail on the Schooner Margaret Todd and he was amazed to see the crew raise the red sail as we circled Frenchman’s Bay. It was thrilling to witness the wonder on his face upon setting foot in a boat for the first time.

Understand that every moment is not going to go as planned.
One day we spent almost four hours in our hotel room. We spent those four hours trying to get our son down for a nap and then getting him up from that nap. I was frustrated. The sun was shining and the pool was sparkling. While we had planned to go into the park that day, we ended up enjoying the resort and chilling out. In the end, it was okay! I look back at our vacation photos and know that we spent our time wisely and happily – even if we didn’t see every site or cycle the carriage trails.

Side trip on the way home: visiting the Boothbay Railway Village
Side trip on the way home: visiting the Boothbay Railway Village