For the past 10 years we have made a trek across the country in October to see the fall foliage in Maine. Our ideal weekend to visit is the second weekend in October, although our visit occasionally varies depending on our work/school schedules. Acadia National Park is one of the best places in the country to see the fall leaves change color so we spend some time near Bar Harbor and then visit a few other coastal towns. There is a Maine Foliage Report that we read religiously leading up to our trip every year — in the hopes of seeing peak foliage. Our annual visit to Maine is approximately 4-5 days (usually a Thursday to a Monday), although you could definitely extend your visit. Below I’ve included our usual itinerary. Of course, Maine has so much to offer we couldn’t possibly do everything. Also, we do a lot of eating on our Maine trip. Every year our itinerary changes slightly as our kids get older and there are more things we can do together.
Day #1: Travel Day (Salt Lake City, Utah to Freeport, Maine)
Because we fly from Utah, our first day is partially a travel day. We usually fly into Manchester, New Hampshire because we can find great flights on Southwest from Salt Lake City. Occasionally we will also fly into Portland, Maine on Delta. We land in Manchester and get a rental car at Enterprise and begin our scenic drive through New Hampshire to Maine. The views of the fall foliage as we land in Manchester are always so breathtaking!
Our first stop in Maine (after about a two hour drive) is Freeport, Maine. Freeport is a quaint little town that is also the home of the L.L.Bean flagship store. We stay at the Hilton Garden Inn, centrally located in Freeport so we can wander throughout the town. Every visit we try a different restaurant for dinner after we arrive. Some of our favorites have been Derosier’s Pizza, Tuscan Brick Oven Bistro (this place was a little fancier), and Antonia’s Pizzeria. Usually we pick somewhere we can get food quickly so that our kids (who have been traveling all day) don’t throw epic tantrums. After we get settled for the night in Freeport we sometimes wander the town (the L.L. Bean store is open 24 hours!) or go for a swim in the hotel pool.
Day #2: (Freeport, Maine to Bar Harbor, Maine)
The next day we wake up and usually I go out for a run while my husband takes the kids to find breakfast. Last year he took them to Frosty’s Donuts, which was really fun because they could make their own donuts. It was less fun for me because they were then hopped up on sugar all day!
After breakfast we explore Freeport. Our favorite stores to visit are Wicked Whoopies (so many great flavors of whoopie pies!), When Pigs Fly Bakery (their bread flavors are amazing), and the L.L. Bean campus. The L.L. Bean store features a lot of interactive activities for kids in addition to some shopping. We always take a picture in front of the big boot.
After we’ve shopped a little we check out of our hotel and then begin the coastal drive to Bar Harbor. When we had babies we drove the quickest route we could find to Bar Harbor, which is inland and not quite as scenic. Now that our kids are older we drive along the coast and stop in Wiscasset, Camden, Rockport, and any other towns that look pretty. We usually check Yelp for reviews of restaurants along the way to grab lunch. For example, in Wiscasset (known as the prettiest village in Maine) there is a famous place to stop for lobster rolls (Reds Eats is known as Maine’s #1 Lobster Roll).
We usually arrive in Bar Harbor right as the sun is setting and get settled into our hotel. We have stayed at almost every hotel chain in Bar Harbor (and not all were a positive experience!!) but the one we have found to be the most family-friendly and affordable in the last few years is the Hampton Inn Bar Harbor. The hotel has a cute kids area, they have treats every night, the higher rooms have great views of the water, and there is a great breakfast buffet included with your stay. We usually book a large room that has two queen beds and a pull out sofa.
After we arrive in Bar Harbor we usually eat dinner the first night at Stewman’s Lobster Pound. This restaurant is right on the water and has a great casual environment. My husband loves seafood so he usually gets “The Downeast Lobster Experience” that includes New England Clam Chowder, Steamed Lobster, Mussels, Sweet Corn, Potatoes, and Homemade Blueberry Pie. I’m less adventurous but they have options for every kind of palate. After dinner we wander around the souvenir shops in downtown Bar Harbor and stop for ice cream at Ben & Bills Chocolate Emporium — they even have lobster ice cream! Bar Harbor is such a idyllic New England town.
Day #3 (Bar Harbor, Maine)
The most important stop for us in Bar Harbor is Acadia National Park (named the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast” by the National Parks Service). We love this place so much that we even used the name “Acadia” for one of our daughter’s middle names. This national park offers activities for every type of person. If you are very adventurous there are hikes and bike rides that take you throughout the park along the carriage roads. There are also scenic overlooks to drive to and restaurants to visit. We rent bikes in downtown Bar Harbor at the Bar Harbor Bike Shop and then ride into Acadia National Park. The bike shop has trailers to pull kids, it has baby seats, and it also has attachments to make regular bikes into tandem bikes. Now that our kids are getting older we have been able to do even more bike riding in Acadia.
Our favorite easy bike ride in Acadia National Park is around Witch Hole Pond. There is an easy loop that our kids love and some scenic bridges and ponds. It is easy to get lost so you want to make sure to have a map and follow the signs. We also love to explore and throw rocks into Jordan Pond and hike around there. Now that our kids are older we are looking forward to incorporating some more hikes into our visits.
When in Acadia National Park you must stop by the Jordan Pond House for popovers and tea/hot chocolate. We love the popovers — they are legendary! You can even buy their popover mix. It is sometimes hard to get in for lunch, so we’d recommend making a reservation ahead of time or arrive on the early side. Parking can also be a nightmare! So take the shuttle bus if it is still running during your visit. If you can’t make it to the Jordan Pond House you can visit the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor where they also serve the legendary Jordan Pond popovers.
After a full day of hiking or biking we usually end up at Rosalie’s for dinner (the best pizza in Bar Harbor!) and then wander around town checking out the various shops. If there is a cruise ship in town we usually save our souvenir shopping for the evening to avoid the crowds. Occasionally on one of our visits the “Bar” of Bar Harbor (a sandbar) reveals itself and we wander along the sandbar looking for sand crabs and shells. Your hotel can usually tell you when low tide is, so you can see the sandbar, but be careful not get stuck when the tide comes in (we almost did this time!). We also recommend taking a walk along the Bar Harbor Shore Path where you can see some of the old homes of Bar Harbor and catch scenic views of the coast line.
Day #4 (Bar Harbor, Maine to Southeast Maine)
We usually can’t escape Bar Harbor without a stop at Two Cats Restaurant — we love their breakfast. If we don’t have time for breakfast we stop and get some homemade granola to go. Before we head out of town we usually drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain for one last view of Mount Desert Island and a family picture. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard. Be prepared — it can be windy and cold. On our drive back down the coast we usually take the inland highway to see the leaves on the way to Ellsworth (another quaint but larger town that has an airport, fast food restaurants, and a Walmart) and to get down the coast faster. We stop along the way and take pictures at covered bridges we find, old railroad tracks, and any gorgeous vistas. It is pretty much guaranteed that we always stop in Portland, Maine for a short visit while driving back down the state. The Old Port waterfront is fun to wander around and warehouses have been converted into shops and restaurants. If you haven’t noticed yet, our family likes pizza so we usually stop at the Portland Pie Company for one of their awesome pizzas — we love the Harbormaster and the Old Port. It is great family-friendly restaurant. Our kids usually convince us to stop for ice cream at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream or Beals Old Fashioned Ice Cream.
Our last night in Maine is when we usually try out new hotels and new cities. We have stayed in Downtown Portland a few times at the Residence Inn (although it was pretty pricey and cramped compared to other options) and we also stayed at the Atlantic Birches Inn (before we had kids). For the past several years we have stayed at The Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport and we love it. We aren’t staying there this year because their season ends before we arrive, but we love this hotel. The Colony Hotel has family-friendly rooms and various options for different size families. They do allow dogs (and sometimes the dogs and wedding party guests at the hotel behave worse than toddlers!!). We love getting an ocean view room that has an adjoining room for our kids. The pool at the hotel is heated and there is also a game room at the hotel and various restaurants to eat. A breakfast buffet comes included with the room. This hotel definitely has a New England charm to it. From the hotel is an easy walk to the beach or to the ocean pathway where you can see the beautiful mansions and beach houses along the shore. Even though we are sad to not be staying at The Colony Hotel this year, we tried out a wonderful new hotel called the The Dunes on the Waterfront in Ogunquit and we loved it. The Dunes has little cottages you can reserve that fit up to 6 people or so. The cottage we reserved had ocean views and it had two bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, living room with a fireplace, and a screened porch. The hotel also had a playground for kids, free rowboats, and it was within walking distance of town.
When we stay in Kennebunkport we love to wander around town and visit the shops. Last year we enjoyed a kid-friendly dinner at Alisson’s Restaurant, a local tavern that had New England-style seafood and pub food. Our kids enjoyed the kid’s menu options. Then we searched for ice cream and could only find Ben & Jerry’s and Rococo Ice Cream. The flavors were a little fancy for my girls at Rococo, but I enjoyed it!
This year when we stayed in Ogunquit we enjoyed dinner at a kid-friendly pizza restaurant called La Pizzeria and then went back to our cottage for hot chocolate and a game of cards. In the morning when we woke up we borrowed a hotel rowboat and went on an adventure across the estuary at high tide to get over to the Ogunquit beach. It was quite the adventure!!
Day #5 (Southeast Maine to Salt Lake City, Utah)
Every time we visit Maine we wish we had booked a longer trip!! We usually spend the last few hours before we fly out driving around and enjoying the fall colors on the Maine Coast and in New Hampshire. Of course, because we are so sad to leave Maine, the trip always seems much longer on the way home!! And, of course, we usually get delayed somewhere in the midwest (usually Chicago!).
We have done this fall foliage trip for the past 10 years starting with a four month old and then adding kids every two years (that one year when we had a 9 month old, a two-year-old, and a four-year-old was particularly brutal). There were some times when it was a struggle because flying cross-country with babies and toddlers was so hard, but whenever we arrived in Maine and saw the beautiful leaves and scenery we knew it was worth it.
If you decide to go on your own fall foliage trip to Maine, we hope you will have an amazing adventure. We’ve only scratched the surface here of what you can do in Maine and we can’t wait to keep finding new adventures every year.