I had been looking so forward to our first visit to Acadia National Park. Unfortunately, that visit came in peak season and the crowds were unbelievable. It didn't take long to determine that would be like it better in the less crowded "shoulder seasons" when we visit most other National Parks.
Mt. Desert Isle on the Maine coastline is the overall island that contains Bar Harbor, most of Acadia National Park, Northeast Harbor, Seal Harbor, Southwest Harbor, and more. It was named for the mountains that looked void of vegetation on their rounded peaks when viewing them from the sea. Now, with that said, many locals call it Mt. De-ZERT with the emphasis on the second syllable which is, apparently, the French pronunciation.
After getting settled in our campground outside the park, we had plenty of daylight left so we headed over to Acadia.
Wow. The Acadia National Park Visitor Center parking lot was packed. RVs lined the outer edge.
I was already feeling cramped. Inside the Visitors Center, there were lines of people to pay the $20 admission fee (per carload, good for 7 days), and more lines of people at the activities and ranger desk. We paid our fee and went into the theater for the movie which runs every half hour. Usually, we have our choice of seats for these introductory movies, but this theater was pretty full. The 15-minute movie was a great overview of the park.
But once that was over we got the heck out of there. It was too crowded to do any browsing. We like to get our bearings, and we thought the best way to do that would be to drive the 27-mile Park Loop Road. Acadia is huge, over 47,000 acres, so we figured that there was plenty of room for people to spread out. Wrong.
Now, there is a free (as long as you buy a park pass), environmentally-friendly, bus system that serves the park and Bar Harbor. It's probably the best way to go when visiting the park, but it takes a little bit of time to figure out which bus goes where and all the schedules. It's a little confusing unless you really study it.
Apparently, most folks aren't up for studying on vacation 'cause there were cars everywhere ... including ours. It wouldn't surprise me if they go to a "bus only" transportation model in the park - it was that bad.
Every pull off had a vehicle in it. Every highlighted stop had overflowing parking lots and cars parked on the side of the road for up to a mile away. We skipped just about everything except Cadillac Mountain, Jordan's Pond, and Thunder Hole, three of the "must sees". And we spent a lot of time at those places finding a parking spot.
We drove the 3.5 miles up to Cadillac Mountain, got very lucky on a parking space, and joined the hundreds of other folks up there.
Cadillac Mountain, at 1,530 feet, is the highest point along the eastern seaboard in the U.S. It has 360-degree views as you walk around its rocky summit.
This is looking northeast to Bar Harbor and the Porcupine Islands.
Looking out to the south ....
and southeast to the Atlantic.
We didn't check out all the possible views or the 1/3-mile trail on top.
From Cadillac Mountain, we went to Jordan Pond where the parking was even worse. The draws at Jordan Pond are a nature trail, access to the Carriage Roads (most of which intersect nearby and our highly used by bicyclists), and the Jordan Pond House which includes a restaurant and the traditional treat of tea and popovers.
The line to get on the waiting list for tea and popovers was very long. And the wait to get seated was over an hour, much longer if you wanted to be seated outside.
Passed on that one, too.
Now, we sort of did the Park Loop Road backwards. Half of it is one-way (the half that goes along the coast) and the other half has two-way traffic. We went down the two-way part of the loop that goes to Cadillac Mountain and Jordan Pond. But that's the wrong way to return up the other side of the loop along the coast.
We managed to find our way back to Bar Harbor and drove through the center of town. It was bustling with tourists and, as many had warned, it wasn't the quaint little village it once was. We might take the bus in one day and walk around, or we might avoid it altogether.
We finally got back on the Loop Road and followed the sign to Sandy Beach which is the one-way road south along the eastern coast of Mt. Desert Isle. Again, a little map study is required to figure that out.
Sandy Beach had cars parked everywhere, so we skipped it.
On down at Thunder Hole, ....
a rocky place where the waves crash and create a huge geyser of shooting water, there was some parking available. Apparently, that's because we were there at the wrong time to see it at its best.
One guide says it is best to be there 2 1/2 hours before high tide. We didn't really expect to be doing any touring today, so we didn't exactly plan the visit in that kind of detail.
The rocky coastline is pretty, ....
but finding a nice shot without any people in it was nearly impossible.
I'm thrilled that the National Parks are getting so much support and that people really do love getting out into nature. But we simply prefer our nature less crowded and quieter. Heck, Linda & I don't even talk to each other when we're out hiking and taking everything in so that we get the full essence of the experience and have better opportunities to view wildlife.
Beyond Thunder Hole, the crowds weren't quite as thick, and it was a nice drive along the coast until the loop turned away from the water. Since it was getting later, we hadn't eaten lunch, and we were going by Jordan Pond again, we decided to stop to see if we could get our tea and popovers and check that off the list.
We walked right up to get on the waiting list - an hour and fifteen minutes for outdoor seating or 20 - 25 minutes for first available. We preferred "outdoor" but we said "first available".
While waiting, we looked over the menu. It was rather pricey, which was not surprising since they had several pieces of paper posted on the walls explaining that their prices were comparable to restaurants outside the park.
When we were seated, we just wanted their afternoon tea special which is simply a beverage (no refills) and two popovers for $9.95. Okay, we'll pay $20 for the experience. Well we would have, except it took a long time to get waited on and our drink orders never came ... so we left.
Now, we're much, much more patient in this lifestyle. But after struggling to find parking twice, and waiting to get seated, and not finding the ambiance we had hoped for, and then to not get even decent service, I had had enough. I get irritated with over-priced park concessionaires that think you should just pay them because they are there. Oh well, that's a whole other rant I'll leave for another time.
While we were out, we drove out of the park and over to Northeast Harbor. We were looking for a small, waterfront, local place to kick back and have a casual meal. Unfortunately, nothing struck us there, either. Driving back a different route, we found a "lobster pound" restaurant.
Okay, so Maine is known for lobster and I keep hearing about how much lobster everyone eats when they are here .... because it is cheap - big supplies of lobster. Well, this "pound" apparently serves only the highest quality lobster and it should come with papers, a certificate of authenticity, and a diamond studded leash based on the prices.
It's embarrassing to leave after seeing the prices and knowing it's out of your range - $42 for a lobster roll and bowl of lobster stew. But they made it easy when, once again, no one came to serve us.
Off we went again. I remembered seeing a sign as we passed the Kebo Valley Golf Club: "Live lobster $4.50 and up". I knew Linda wasn't going to cook anything tonight, but I wanted to check it out. Sure enough, they had live Maine lobster for $5.50 a pound (the $4.50 was for lobsters with only one claw). Unfortunately, they didn't have any lobster salad or just lobster meat on hand, but we'll probably be stopping by there sometime this week.
As we approached the campground, we were still hungry and wondering what we were going to eat. Well there are two restaurants right outside the campground entrance, and both were advertising full 1 1/2 pound lobster dinners for $15 bucks. Now that seemed much more reasonable.
I was cautious after the last two places, but as I watched plate after plate of big red lobsters come out of the kitchen, I was convinced. Soon, we were splitting a lobster and rib dinner and had our lobster bibs in place.
Oh yeah. That lobster was much better than the ones we cooked ourselves the other night - those might've been a little overcooked. But we still have lots of time to practice.
Okay. So visiting Acadia in peak season and going to the most popular spots right away probably wasn't the best way to get a first impression. The fact that our two prior Maine stops were in beautiful, remote areas without the crowds certainly didn't help.
But now we have our bearings, and we know 1) it's going to be crowded, really crowded in the part of the park nearest Bar Harbor, 2) there are places that are really expensive, but we can find reasonable options if we try, 3) we're probably going to still spend more money here than other places, 4) during this visit, we will try to gravitate toward the western side of the park which gets less attention, and 5) our next visit to Acadia will most likely be in a shoulder season.
Whew, that was a pretty full day for a travel day. We certainly have never arrived at another campground that early nor tried to do that much exploring on a travel day. But, it opened our eyes, set some expectations, saved us a day, and hopefully will help us enjoy the next few days.