7 Family Friendly Things to Do on Mount Desert Island

By Lilly Longshore

The Maine AttractionThis summer my family converged on Maine’s scenic rugged coast from five far-away states to celebrate our biannual family reunion, this time on Mount Desert Island. The majority of the island is occupied by Acadia National Park, America’s oldest national park east of the Mississippi. The park will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year and thanks to preservation efforts, today’s tourists can enjoy many of the same sights and experiences as they did in 1916. In our large diverse family, interests and activity levels vary, and ages run the gamut from 4 to “senior.” Yet all of us, including myself, a quadriplegic who yearns for the great outdoors, found that the island had plenty to offer. Here are a few highlights:

1. Biking, strolling and rolling by wheelchair along the 53 miles of gently sloping, hard-packed dirt and gravel carriage roads topped my list. Arched, stone bridges scattered throughout the park reminded me of the influence the Rockefellers had on the area by building these roads.

I admired the picturesque view of Eagle Lake with Cadillac Mountain in the distance, and was thrilled watching ducks veiled by the rushes growing at the waters’ edge.

2. Cadillac Mountain offered scenic views of the Atlantic Ocean from its 1,529-foot summit and provided gently sloping, serpentine paved trails for ambling and wheeling. Multiple platforms gave different vantage points along the trails to admire small emerald islands in the sapphire sea.

3. Jordan Pond House hosted an afternoon tea featuring popovers, traditional hollow muffin-like pastries. After perusing the accessible gift shop, we followed a sloped, hard-packed trail that led from behind the house to Jordan Pond. Walkers and bikers could continue the trail right and left around the pond to the Carriage Roads, but it was too rocky to go beyond the east edge by wheelchair. The view of the North and South Bubble Mountains was lovely from the pond’s edge where I sat.

4. My favorite climbing area, Thunder Hole, presented mesmerizing views of powerful waves crashing against stacks of rock, transforming into spray that fell harmlessly back to the sea. Many trails ran along rocky ledges, providing hours of fun for the younger members of our family. I had the perfect view of the whole scene from atop the viewing platform.

Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

Photo Courtesy of the National Park Service

5. We hit the streets of Bar Harbor to find shopping opportunities. I carefully navigated the rough portions of sidewalk. Although few stores were accessible, the outing was delightful. My niece assisted me at inaccessible stores by fetching Jordan Pond ice cream (excellent stuff!) and souvenir T-shirts.

6. Low tide revealed the half-mile packed dirt and gravel land bridge to Bar Island. A rare opportunity to walk or wheel across from the mainland to an island rose from the ocean. I sat on the level dirt road surrounded by sea, the smell of salty ocean in the air and the call of galls over head, embracing the calm of this unique setting.

7. In the quiet town of Southwest Harbor, a lively steel drum concert entertained the whole family on a Monday evening. Performing under the open-sided canopy in a paved, flat, open space, the band resounded with exciting Caribbean island-style music, encouraging the crowd surrounding the shelter to dance. It thrilled us all.

After each day of adventure, we enjoyed our stay at the Cannery’s Marina-Side Condo Stern Unit (available via VRBO). Although not perfectly accessible, the owner went out of her way to retro-fit what she could to provide functional accommodations. I was pleased with the outcome, knowing I could relax, carefree, at the ocean’s edge each evening.

At the end of our week, like blowing fluff from a dandelion, our family dispersed. We headed to our respective homes, carrying fond memories and mementos, spectacular photos and an earnest appreciation for the hospitality Mount Desert Island had shown us.