Planning a trip to coastal Washington County, Maine with kids this year? Or maybe you live in the area, but have never ‘played tourist’ with your kids? The Bold Coast region of Maine is known as the place where one goes to escape throngs of tourists. You won’t find go-carts and mini-golf every mile. Instead, you’ll be able to unplug and reconnect with nature. Especially now, when kids are hooked on technology (face it, we all are), it is a good opportunity for families to get outside and just…well… to be cliche… commune with nature. Always check an event calendar for the area — almost every month there is some festival or celebration weekend in some part of the county.
Here is a list of 16 things to do with kiddos — some/most are seasonal, with the season opening for most places sometime in May, so always check ahead if you’re visit is during a shoulder or off-season.
1) Head to Machiasport’s Jasper Beach for the ultimate in beach combing. Jasper Beach is one of the most unique beaches in the world — instead of sand dunes, you will need to climb dunes made of ocean-smoothed rocks. Listen to the singing of the waves as they gently crash, tumbling the rocks. It’s a great place for every age for beach combing. Learn more about Jasper Beach HERE
2) Learn how they get salt from the ocean to the jar at a fascinating free tour of the Maine Sea Salt Company. Have you ever thought about how salt gets from the sea to your salt shaker? Learn the answer here in a free tour of the factory where salt is made. It’s sourced locally, from Bucks Harbor in Machiasport and then evaporated in greenhouses. Free tours are offered May through December.
3) Hop aboard the Kandi Leigh and take a sightseeing trip to see the cutest little animals on the planet. One of the highlights of any trip to Down East Maine is a boat trip to see the puffins. The three hour boat tour is available May through August to Petit Manan Island to see Puffin and other shorebirds. These tours often fill up months in advance so plan early. Robertsons Sea Tours also offer whale watch and other scenic tours as well.
4) Take a picnic lunch to any of the charming little pocket parks in the area. This corner of Maine is beautiful and there are so many little parks tucked here and there, most will views and lawns — great places for picnics and romping. Here are just a few in the area:
Middle River Park, Machias
5) Spend the day strolling and dipping your toes in the mighty Atlantic ocean at Roque Bluffs State Park. At the end of one of the fingers that reaches into the Atlantic ocean is one of Maine’s most beautiful state parks. There is a wide stretch of sandy beach — one of the very few sand beaches in this part of the world. Across the lane, there is a fresh water pond. The park also has restroom facilities and 182 miles of walking trails.
6) Tour a historic stone mill and see where mustard is made at Rayes Mustard Factory in Eastport. Visit a shop and mill that has been around for four generations. Sample different flavors of mustard and pick up some of the tasty condiments at their general store.
7) Pack up a lawn chair and enjoy one of Machias’ free outdoor movies for children at the Boxcar. Every other Friday in July and August, the Machias Bay Chamber of Commerce offers free movies at their visitor center/boxcar. Bring a blanket, chairs, bug spray and popcorn.
8) Take a day trip to Wild Acadia Fun Park in Bar Harbor. Enjoy the afternoon at this family fun park which includes an aerial park, zip lines, a water park, go carts, mini golf and more. The Wild Acadia Fun Park is located on the road to Bar Harbor, just south of Ellsworth. It’s open from June until Labor Day.
If you are visiting the area a little earlier or later in the season, Pirate’s Cove Mini Golf in Bar Harbor is open from mid-April through October.
9) Learn about sea life at the Mount Desert Oceanarium in Bar Harbor. Open from mid-May until late October, the Oceanarium is a lobster museum and hatchery. While you are there, take the Marsh Walk to learn basic and important ecological principles.
10) Visit a local farm and learn to farm. Pet a goat. Many farms in the area welcome visitors to learn about the farm. Some through Open Farm Day, usually held in July. Others with advance reservations. Two nearby farms are Tide Mill Organic Farm in Edmunds and Hatch Knoll Farm and Garden Side Dairy in Jonesboro. (As a side note, both sell products that are unbelievably delicious — head to their websites to see where you can purchase some yummy organic food).
11) See a show with Ray Murphy, the Chainsaw artist in Hancock, Maine. Chainsaw Ray performs his show in the world’s first Sawyer Art Theater building. The audience can not hear the noise from the chainsaws. Instead, they only hear music. Chainsaw Ray performs one of the most unique shows in the world and has been performing for over 50 years. Shows start at 7pm nightly from Late June until the end of September.
12) Splash around in the indoor pool at the University of Maine Machias. I remember when my kids were small — we lived surrounded by the ocean but all they wanted to do was go to the pool. Daily passes to the pool at UMM can be purchased for $5. Currently the pool is open for kid visitors on weekends from 10-2 on Saturdays and 10-3 on Sundays. During the week, the open pool is shared with lap swimmers.
13) Really enjoy learning about nature. I have two vacation rental homes in Machiasport and I have both scavenger hunts and bird and wildlife identification books in both homes. The scavenger hunts were easily printed from online hunts and I stapled the lists to brown paper lunch bags. I have two different hunts for two age groups – kids can hunt from everything from “dispose of a piece of trash” to “listen to the sound of wind through the trees”. Besides looking right in your own yard or neighborhood, there are so, so many good places to hike in the area. The Bold Coast Trail in Cutler is breathtaking for older kids. For younger kids, there are fantastic walking trails that surround the campus of the University (UMM). Other great places to walk are can be found at mainetrailfinder.com/trails – an invaluable resource for looking for outdoor adventures – where you can input location, degree of difficulty, etc.
14) Bike on the Downeast Sunrise Trail. The Downeast Sunrise Trail connects Pembroke, Maine (almost to the border of Canada) to Ellsworth (and the Appalachian Trail beyond). The trail is multi-use, so you might see walkers, horses, ATV’s, snowmobiles and dogsleds on the path, but no automobiles. The trail is usually closed during ‘mud’ season in the spring but reopens sometime in May. Check their website for maps and updated news.
15) Head to Milbridge every Friday evening. The Milbridge Theater has a ton of great, family friendly entertainment every Friday in summer. These performances range from puppet shows to live music to game show nights (interspersed with kid-friendly outdoor movies). The evenings kick off at 5:30 and rain dates are on Sundays.
16) Back to that scavenger hunt theme, what about geocaching? Geocaching is something that can be done no matter where you are (my kids were interested in it and I was amazed that there were several hidden within a block from my house in Massachusetts). Go to the website and sign up for a free account. From there you can enter whatever destination that you want and it will give you a list of all of the locations in the area. Find a geocache box, sign in and record your finding. By this summer, there may be a few additional locations in the downeast area…wink, wink.
Feel free to email me or make a comment with other fun things to do with kids!