As a kid I remember my mom saying on more than one occasion that she wanted to get to the Northeast, especially in the fall to see the colors change. In 2010 we took a trip to Maine. It was the summer not the fall. But my wife’s a teacher and the summer was the only time of year we could take any lengthy vacation. It was the first trip I’d taken with my parents and my newly expanded immediate family. It would be me, my parents, my wife and our daughter who was roughly a year old. This was our first vacation with her and her first plane trip. It was the first trip we’d taken with my parents. First after first after first.
My wife’s peer at school was a couple years away from retirement. They’d purchased a home on Lower Patton Pond about 45 minutes away from Acadia National Park. They were renting it out for a few years until they were ready to permanently make the move. At the time, I don’t know if I’d ever heard of Acadia before. As we started planning I got really excited. A relatively unknown national park that looked like it had some beautiful views and hiking. That’s everything I want on a vacation.
The flights to Bangor went well considering that we had a one year old. We were able to keep her calm nearly the entire time. This was a feat we’d yet to accomplish at home. We met my parents at the airport and finished the last leg of our trip with a 45 minute drive to our vacation rental.
It was perfect. The house was big and clean. There was a clear view of the lake from the back windows. Woods separated us from any neighbors so there was the feeling of isolation that I think we were all hoping for. There was a small private dock on the lake and we had access to the owner’s kayaks which I planned to take advantage of. It was time to enjoy ourselves.
On our first full day we drove into Bar Harbor. Bar Harbor is the tourist center of Acadia National Park. There’s a pretty town square surrounded by restaurants and stores and one main street leading from that square down to the docks where you can book passage on whale watching cruises. Parking can be a challenge but we found a spot somewhere. We ate lunch where the big question for everyone was whether to have the Clam Chowder or the Lobster Bisque. After lunch we walked the town but had to make it quick. We were always on a relatively tight timeline. We had a kid with us that needed two naps a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. So there was just a brief window mid-day to do something if we all planned on doing it together. With only one car everyone’s schedule would be greatly dictated by the kid.
Bar Harbor held most of what you’d expect to find in a tourism center anywhere in America. Multiple stores selling random memorabilia. T-shirts and sweatshirts, book stores and art stores all allowed you to take home prints or random trinkets to remember your trip. I would call Bar Harbor a tourist trap but the façade is so pretty that it doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. We made multiple visits during the week.
While hiking is always an activity I look forward to on vacation, having an infant with you really limits what’s possible. We had a backpack which transformed the kid into a permanent piggyback rider but wow did that thing kill my back. After ¾ of a mile I needed a break just because of the pain running up and down my spine. We walked along some well manicured trails around the visitor center before travelling further into Acadia.
Our first real stop was of course Sand Beach. This is one of the few actual beaches along the Atlantic within the park. The majority of the coastline is a series of huge and jagged rocks that plunge into the sea which is much more visually dramatic than a typical beach. But when you’re at the ocean, you’ve got to visit the beach. We walked through the sand as ice cold water drifted in and out of the inlet.
After the beach we continued along the one way path that hugs the coastline as it winds through Acadia. We stopped a little further up the road to walk out onto the boulders lining the ocean. We kept a close eye on her but it still felt a little dangerous letting the kid scamper around on all fours with the ocean crashing just a couple yards away.
This trip was over a decade ago now so actual history is just a fabricated blur of haphazard memories. We travelled to the top of Cadillac Mountain via switchbacks. Mountain may be too generous a descriptor but from the peak you had an incredible view in all directions. The Atlantic seemed to surround you and Bar Harbor looked small in the distance.
Megan and I took my parents up on the gift of a day to ourselves. We hiked a trail way too adventurous to bring a child on. It turned out it was way too adventurous for us as well. It was a loop trail with the highest elevation in the middle. We chose the right way up but couldn’t make it past the crest. Iron rungs took hikers over the edge of a cliff and our collective fear of heights got the better of us.
We had a wonderful week exploring the park, the greater island and some of the surrounding coastline. Every day ended with relaxed conversation back at the house.
Along the lakeshore we could pick blueberries. My wife and mother searched through the scrub brush as I took the kayak out on the water.
The sunsets were beautiful, lighting up the lake.
It was a great trip and we’ve made the trek back to Maine two more times since this inaugural visit. There is one big change since our first trip. Acadia is much busier than it used to be. According to National Park Services statistics in 2009 there were roughly 2.2 million visitors to the park. In 2019 it was 3.4 million. That’s a 54% increase in one decade and I’m conflicted about this for Acadia and for all of our national parks. On one hand the parks are beautiful areas that should be experienced by everyone. On the other hand the beauty is greatly diminished when it’s crawling with people.
I’m glad for every trip I’ve taken to Maine and Acadia national park but I’m especially glad for this first one. While there’s a lot more of America I need to see, I do think I’ll find myself back in Maine at Acadia national park someday.