Family adventure, exploration in Down East

Bubble Rock is a glacial erratic (a rock displaced in the ice age) perched near the summit of South Bubble mountain.
Bubble Rock is a glacial erratic (a rock displaced in the ice age) perched near the summit of South Bubble mountain.

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND, Maine — Situated off the state’s jagged coast this has been a vacation spot for aristocrats such as the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts for more than 100 years. Home to Acadia National Park, the island offers outdoor recreation opportunities for adventurers of all ages. It’s truly a place where memories are made.

Otter Cliff pokes out of the sea on Mount Desert’s east coast. Lobster boats chug around its base. With rock-climbing routes of all difficulty levels, it’s the perfect place to test your mettle with the safety of a rope fixed above you. Towering seastacks challenge the experienced while the adjacent “wonderwall” provides the perfect place to learn. If you need someone to show you the ropes, literally, call Atlantic Climbing School ( They can also take you to the classic, more difficult routes on the South Wall of the Precipice, where clean granite corners tempt anyone with an eye for the vertical world.

Sea kayaking is popular on the island, and Somes Sound is one of the most idyllic venues for this. Rent a boat in Bar Harbor and paddle the sound, looking for osprey, seal, and eels. Or, explore the Porcupine Islands with Aquaterra Adventures (207-288-0007) in a tandem kayak suitable for wee ones and their parent. You can explore this chain of islands during a sunset tour, an unforgettable experience even for seasoned paddlers. If you’re advanced at the sport, a circumnavigation of the Cranberry Islands is a challenging, open-water trip that is reasonable if weather is fair and you mind the tides.


Acadia has wonderful hiking trails. Even 3- and 4-year-olds can tackle the one-mile round-trip hike to Bubble Rock (pictured at left) where a glacial erratic teeters on the summit’s edge. If your brood is older, navigate the old iron rungs that lead to the top of Champlain Mountain from Precipice trailhead. You’ll be treated to ocean exposure and swirling falcons that nest on the cliffs. For a grand view, approach Cadillac Mountain via Dorr Mountain. Guidebooks and maps are available at the Acadia headquarters.

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The park has an extensive system of gravel carriage roads perfect for biking. Gentle and rolling, they are well suited to recreational and mountain bikes and are excellent for riders of all ages. A web of shorter loops from 1.2 miles and up launches from the storied Jordan Pond House. For a longer trip, the 6.5-mile loop around Eagle Lake is largely open, moderate, and has nice views. There are 45 miles of paths in the park, enough to keep you busy for your entire visit.

If rain thwarts your plans, consider a lobster boat ride, or a puffin or whale watch with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. (207-288-2386). The Mount Desert Oceanarium ( is a perennial foul-weather backup, and is an exciting, yet educational facility where you can see a lobster hatchery in operation. If you’re lucky you’ll see the rare blue lobster held in captivity. They also offer tours of the salt marshes, which can provide a rare opportunity to see a smattering of shorebirds.

Brian Irwin can be reached at irwin08