Lively Little Campers: 5 Awesome Hikes for the Whole Family, Acadia National Park
Lively Little Campers: 5 Awesome Hikes for the Whole Family, Acadia National Park avatar

Jayco

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With over 120 miles of hiking trails on Mount Desert Island, you could visit Acadia National Park many times over and never walk the same path twice. After three visits to Acadia (two of them with young kids in tow) we have discovered some amazing family-friendly hikes that will thrill both children and adults. All of these hikes encompass the best that Acadia has to offer, with sweeping ocean views, dramatic granite cliffs, and landscapes filled with cedar, birch, and spruce.

1. Ocean Trail 

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This easy four-mile round trip hike (also known as Ocean Path or Ocean Drive Trail) is the classic introductory hike to Acadia. Starting off at Sand Beach, the path brings you to Thunder Hole and Otter Cliffs, passing by one beautiful vista after another. There are many small turnoffs that can lead to dramatic views, and also dramatic drop offs. If you wander off the main trail, keep a close eye on your kids. There are also stretches where the path is right next to the road. Traffic can be fast and close, so hand-holding might be in order. Even though we enjoyed the scenery, this hike was crowded and usually is during the peak visiting season.

Reward yourselves after the hike with a swim at Sand Beach…just be prepared to squeal as you dive into the cold water.

2. Gorham Mountain Trail 

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One of the more famous family-friendly hikes within the Park Loop, this trail also rewards its hikers with stunning views of Sand Beach, Otter Cliffs, and Cadillac Mountain. We enjoyed this trail with another family and all of the kids had a blast navigating the rocky terrain. The summit offered incredible ocean panoramas as well as a safe space for snacking and enjoying the view. If you are feeling more adventurous, take the Cadillac Cliffs trail spur. We avoided this on account of young Wesley.

One local mom we met on the trail recommended parking at the Gorham Mountain Trail head, hiking to Sand Beach, and taking the Island Explorer Bus back to your car at the trail head. The promise of a fun bus ride back to the car might do wonders to motivate little hikers.

3. Wonderland/ Ship Harbor Trails
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If you want to get away from the crowds clustered around the Park Loop, drive past Southwest Harbor to the Wonderland and Ship Harbor Trails. Both of these trails can be done independently, or you can do what we did: hike out to the water on the Wonderland Trail,  then head west along the rocky beach to the Ship Harbor Trail and complete a loop back to the parking lot.

Time for just one of these two trails? We think Ship Harbor is your best bet, offering lots of paths down to the tide pools and, of course, great water views. We hiked these trails on a weekend during peak season and saw only a handful of people. This is truly the quieter side of  Acadia.

4. Flying Mountain 

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We get much of our travel intel from the recommendations of other campers. A friendly hiking dad named Chris told us that the Flying Mountain Trail would be perfect for our family. He was right. This 1.5 mile loop was great fun for the boys, giving them a good challenge at the beginning with a steep ascent ending with beautiful views of the Somes Sound. The tricky descent kept them entertained, and there is a rock beach where the kids can play at the bottom. The hike ends with an easy walk via a fire road right back to the parking lot. Awesome hike. Thanks, Chris.

5. Great Head Trail 

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We wrote about the Great Head Trail as one of our favorite family hikes in a previous article on the Jayco Journal. This is another Acadian Classic that we have enjoyed both before kids and If you have a favorite hike in Acadia National Park, kid-friendly or not, let us know in the comments below. We plan on going back when the boys are older and tackling some greater challenges!

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We used the following 3 books to plan our hiking in Acadia.

We strongly recommend them. Tom St. Germain’s A Walk in the Park is the best-selling trail guide for Acadia National Park for good reason. It fits in the back of your pocket and includes maps and concise descriptions of over fifty hikes.

The AMC’s Discover Acadia National Park by Jerry and Marcy Monkman also describes the park’s best biking and paddling. It includes a pull-out discovery map, far more detailed than the free one available at the visitor center.

We also recommend Best Hikes with Kids: Vermont, New Hampshire, & Maine, published by The Mountaineers Books. We have used this book in all three states, so keep a copy in your camper when traveling in New England!

Jeremy and Stephanie Puglisi blog about camping and traveling with their three young children at livelylittlecampers.com.

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The Lively Little Campers: The Perfect Day in Belfast, Maine
The Lively Little Campers: The Perfect Day in Belfast, Maine avatar

Jayco

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Over the last four years, we have had many wonderful days of camping, and a handful of perfect ones. Our first full day of vacation in Belfast, Maine was stunning from beginning to end. A perfect summer day if we’ve ever had one.

So here is our set of instructions for enjoying your own amazing day in Belfast, Maine.

1. Wake up early at the oceanfront Moorings RV Resort, drink in the view, and do your morning stretches.

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2. Head down to the rocky beach and do some exploring.

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3. Launch your kayak from the beach and enjoy the quiet, picturesque scenery of the Penobscot Bay. If you give your kids the camera, this will keep them entertained spotting loons, lobster traps, sailboats, and fish. Some of their pictures might even be pretty cool. Can you figure out which photo Theo took?

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4. Clean up and head into town to check out the beautiful playground at Belfast City Park. With water views and a design that ties into the landscape, this place will be appreciated by the whole family. Chat with the very friendly local parents and you will know exactly what to do with the rest of your stay in Belfast.

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5. Eat lunch at the Belfast Co-op Cafe to experience great food and local culture. The soups, sandwiches, and quesadillas were phenomenal. With everything from pizza to hotdogs to vegan burritos, there is something on the menu for everyone.

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6. Walk off lunch by strolling along the Harbor Walk. This path takes you through working shipyards and across the bay on a wonderful footbridge.

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7. Shop Downtown Belfast where you can visit an olive oil tasting room, a gourmet cheese shop, the oldest shoe store in the country, or one of the well-curated book stores.

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8. Return to the campground, where just a short stroll up the hill will land you at one of the best restaurants in this area. Papa J’s has all of the standard fare you might be looking for on your trip to the Maine Coast—whole lobster, lobster rolls, and a long list of seafood options. However, this place also offers so much more. The steaks are perfectly seasoned and cooked, and we could eat the scallops appetizer every day for the rest of our lives. Our waitress told us that the lobster pizza is a runaway favorite. We will have to return to try it. An added bonus is that all campers get a 5% discount. Thank you very much.

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9. Take an evening walk on the beach and watch the moon rise over the bay.

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10. Pile on the layers for stories around the campfire. S’mores will work just fine, too.

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Jeremy and Stephanie Puglisi blog about camping and traveling with their three young children at livelylittlecampers.com.

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Lively Little Campers: A Jayco Family’s Adventure Guide to the White Mountains, New Hampshire
Lively Little Campers: A Jayco Family’s Adventure Guide to the White Mountains, New Hampshire avatar

Jayco

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We were so excited to visit the White Mountains of New Hampshire for the first time this summer. This is truly a perfect RVing destination, offering gorgeous landscapes with an abundance of hiking, biking, fishing, and kayaking opportunities. Top it off with a wide variety of popular theme parks and attractions, and you have all the ingredients for serious family fun.

Where to Stay

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The Lincoln/Woodstock KOA was the perfect place to stay while exploring Franconia Notch. Close to many area attractions, the campground itself also offered plenty of activities and amenities. The pool, jump pad, huge playground, and miniature golf course kept the kids busy along with face painting, tractor rides, and candy bingo. Rob and Darlene are gracious hosts, sharing helpful local knowledge and great conversation.

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If you are looking for a quiet, secluded camping experience, the Twin Mountain KOA will deliver. This campground is located near Crawford Notch State Park and is also less than an hour from the Mount Washington Auto Road. We recommend the row of full hook up, back-in sites at the rear of the campground. They are the perfect setting for peaceful campfires under a star-filled sky. 

What to Do

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There are amazing hikes for all skill levels in the White Mountains, but we were impressed by how many kid-friendly hikes offered fun rock scrambles, water features, and stunning views. Get to the Flume Gorge in Franconia State Park when it opens at 9 am, and you will have the place mostly to yourself. The Flume Gorge Loop Trail is a great 2-mile hike taking you up one side of the Flume and down the other. Be prepared to get a little wet while walking under the falls.

Park in the Echo Lake parking lot for a great hike up to Artist’s Bluff. This 1.5 mile loop trail is just perfect for a family hike. It has all of the changing landscape, kid-friendly challenges, and stunning views that we look for in a trail.

From the same Echo Lake trailhead, you can also head up to Bald Mountain, which offers the best views of Franconia Notch. Bring a picnic lunch so you can hang out at the top and enjoy the scenery.

Elephant Head Trail has just enough mud and small streams to keep things interesting. The rugged hike is fun but short (less than a mile) and leads to a sweeping view of Crawford Notch.

After the hike, head over to the AMC Highland Center where you can eat a delicious lunch and play on the most unique playground we have ever seen.

Arethusa Falls is the most challenging hike we did in New Hampshire. We recommend taking the Bemis Brook Trail on your way out to the falls, which offers lots of great spots to splash and play. The rocks and roots demand concentration, but arriving at the highest waterfall in New Hampshire is worth the effort. Bring a change of clothes for the kids.

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Alpine Adventures in Lincoln offers a great zip lining course for beginners and families with younger children. They also have the Thrillsville Aerial Adventure Park with rope courses and climbing challenges.

Cannon Mountain Tramway is an aerial cable car that rides to the summit of Cannon Mountain in under 10 minutes. The short Rim Trail at the top will take you to the summit observation tower, or you can just relax and have lunch in the visitor’s lodge.

The sandy beach and crystal clear water of Echo Lake make it a wonderful spot for a summer swim. Eat lunch at the picnic tables or rent paddle boats right on site. There is also an easily accessible launch if you have your own kayak or canoe.

The sparkling and secluded Pemigawassatt River offers numerous kayaking options for the more adventurous family. The “Pemi” is swift in some places and quiet in others. The length of river that runs behind the Lincoln/Woodstock KOA is particularly beautiful. Ask Darlene for directions.

The eight-mile drive to the top of Mount Washington on the Mount Washington Auto Road is white knuckle driving at its best. There are awe-inspiring views of the Presidential Range along the way and the view from the top is nothing short of spectacular. We visited on a beautiful summer day. It was 55 degrees with 30 mph wind gusts at the summit. Wear your layers.

Take a couple of hours to drive the Kancamagus Highway and it may end up being your favorite part of the trip. The secluded beauty of this National Forest is breathtaking and should not be missed.

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When you want to reward your kids for being troopers on the trail, take them to Santa’s Village in Jefferson. This pristinely clean theme park has great rides for younger children and also a large water park area with big, fun slides. We went after 3 pm on one day, which gave us a pass for reentry on another day. That means we got two days of rewards for the price of one!

Clark’s Trading Post in Lincoln has all the campy fun you could hope for in a family theme park. We were introduced to a wild wolf man on the train ride, watched a bear show, rode Segways, had water fights on blaster boats, and scaled a climbing wall. Bring your sense of  humor and you just might reconnect with the child inside. If you want something better than the typical theme park fare, eat lunch a block away at the Sunny Day Diner.

The White Mountains of New Hampshire is the type of destination that you could return to again and again, discovering new treasures every time. We know that we will return with our boys when they are older and ready to take on more challenging adventures.

Has your family visited the White Mountains? What would you add to our adventure guide?

Jeremy and Stephanie Puglisi blog about camping and traveling with their three young children at livelylittlecampers.com.

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