Acadia National Park Part I – Getting Situated
We made it to Acadia and I can’t quite believe it!
Not only had we reached this iconic place that we’d heard and read about for years, but it was a milestone that we’d been tracking since the beginning of the year. You see Acadia National Park marked the end of something very significant. It was the last place we’d spend with our traveling family unit before we parted ways.
After almost two months of amazing time together (both here and in Europe) this was it. Within days my dad would fly back to Europe and within a week Paul’s dad and stepmom would start the long RV drive back to Miami. It was a potent and emotional thought.
Acadia would also be the last major place we explored in Maine before we switched gears*. After this, summer would officially be over and we’d likely head south. Just the two of us and the paws, once again traveling alone on this big road trip life of ours.
How did it all go by so fast?
*NOTE1/ We’ve actually ended up extending our travels in Maine, but I’ll tell you about that later
RV Planning & The Passage Of Time
It’s a strange thing when you plan RV travel. Sometimes you spend weeks or even months doing it, researching travel routes, figuring out which towns will be interesting to visit, reviewing RV parks and choosing sites. It’s a helluva process especially when you’re a Type A, somewhat OCD person like I am (Paul’s better at it, admittedly).
And then there’s the booking headache! We don’t always book our sites in advance, but for Maine we wanted specific sites at very specific times during the (very) short high season, so we knew it was going to be a necessity. We booked ALL of our sites from Aug through Oct more than 6 months ago, back when summer seemed such a long, long ways away.
Then we waited….and we traveled slowly north….and we saw new places….and spring passed into summer….and we had adventures…and life happened…and we cried, and laughed…and more time went by…and then suddenly we were here!
I know part of all this is age. Time seems to go faster as we age (everyone says it, everyone experiences it), but I’m still amazed when it happens to me. This was IT, our big summer goal, our month exploring an amazing, spectacular island. Then we’d all part ways, fall would be here and before you could snap your fingers we’d be heading back south. Egads, it’s hard to wrap your head around.
But we didn’t need to think about all that yet…
We had JUST pulled into our site and we had PLANS. We were going to brew some beer (yes, we really did….and it was such a blast I think I may have to do an entirely separate blog post on it), we were going to explore miles of dog-friendly hikes, we were going to sail and cruise, see some lighthouses, meet some blog friends, enjoy some lounging and basically just immerse ourselves into EVERYthing this place had to offer.
Oh and yeah, we ended up LOVING it!
Staying In The Area
The biggest thing we did before we came here was book our prime waterfront site at Narrows Too Campground.
Now there are many places to stay around Acadia National Park, both on and off the Island itself, and there are a WIDE range of budgets too from pretty darn cheap (down to $15/night with 50% senior pass, if your rig is small enough to fit into one of the National Park Campgrounds), to hugely expensive ($120/night for premium waterfront sites. Unfortunately camping at private parks in Maine is generally NOT a cheap endeavor).
But there are some interesting ways to save too.
For example there are two Encore/Thousand Trails campgrounds next to Acadia NP (specifically Mt Desert Narrows and Narrows Too). You won’t be able to book a waterfront site with your membership, but you can get a nice discount on one of their regular sites. Also these same two parks take Passport America in the slower months (not valid July/Aug or holidays) which will give you 50% off the daily rate (5 nights max, standard sites only) if you stay during that time. Lastly pretty much every private park in the area will offer a hefty monthly (and an even heftier seasonal) discount. So the longer you stay, the more you save over the nightly rate**
In our case we decided to do a mix.
This was our last stop with family and we wanted it to be both extra special and extra memorable. So we made the conscious decision to splurge for a premium waterfront site for the month. We got a fabulous site and since we booked for a month we benefited from the monthly discount (big difference!), but it was still the most expensive month of “rent” we’ve paid in our 8 years of RVing! Eeeek!
Before we arrived we were nervous about whether it was going to be worth it, but in retrospect we were very happy we did it. We enjoyed every single day at our site, logged endless happy hours with our gorgeous view, and reveled in the ever-changing moods of the tides and the water. Our family enjoyed it, we enjoyed it and we even had friends over who enjoyed it. It was well worth the one-time splurge in this special place!
**NOTE2/ The camping season in Acadia usually runs from around mid-May to around mid-October (Narrows Too, where we stayed is open a little longer -> it opens May 1 and closes Oct 22). Priciest months are typically July & Aug with discounted prices possible before and after that.
One of the other reasons we chose the campground we did was because it’s on the free Island Explorer bus route that goes into Acadia National Park.
We’d been duly warned warned about the crowds and the (often) over-full parking lots all around the park, so being able to access free shuttles was a real bonus. The #9 bus route stops literally inside Narrows Too campground (right opposite the check-in office) so it’s super easy to catch it. It’s a really sweet system and runs often enough (both into Bar Harbor and then around the various sightseeing loops of the Island) that it’s quite convenient. Plus you can bring your bikes and even (if you wish) your dog!
We ended up taking the shuttle several times into Bar Harbor (great service!), but we ALSO found that we could avoid the crowds simply by going into the park early. As long as we were at whatever trail we wanted to hike by 9AM (at the latest, earlier is even better) we had no problem finding parking spots. By 10AM the crowds were starting to amass and by 11AM it was time to get out of Dodge! Once we figured that out we did all our hiking early and really had no issues at all.
Oh, and for those that prefer a guided tour there are ALSO plenty of interesting options for that in Acadia. There are guided tour buses (Oli’s Trolly rates well), horse carriage tours (Carriages of Acadia), guided ranger-led walks, as well as kayak tours, sea cruises and sightseeing planes. See a nice list of options HERE).
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ The Island Explorer bus is FREE and operates from June 23 through Columbus Day. The buses are dog-friendly, kid-friendly and bike-friendly. See routes and schedules HERE.
The Popular and The Quiet Side Of MDI
The other thing to know about Acadia National Park is that it has several different parts to it.
The majority of the park (30,300 acres) is located on Mount Desert Island (also called MDI and pronounced dessert, thanks to the French who originally named it) with two smaller bits located separately on Isle au Haut (2,728 acre Island, SW of MDI) and the Schoodic Penninsula (2,366 acre peninsula, across the water due east of MDI). Mount Desert Island is where most people go and it’s where all our explorations this month were centered***.
And it’s BIG, much bigger than you’d think just from looking at a map. MDI is a horse-shoe shaped island covering 108 square miles (280 km sq.) making it the 6th largest island in the contiguous United States. In addition the two different sides or “fingers” of the Island have very different feels.
On the right-hand “finger” you’ll find the main city (Bar Harbor) as well as the main 27-mile Acadia sight-seeing loop (= The Park Loop Road, which runs one-way clockwise around the coastal section, but is two-way on the inland section). It’s where all the famous sights are and where almost all of the best-known photography spots are, and if you only had a single day to see Acadia NP it’s where I’d advise you to go too.
The sightseeing loop is gorgeous with mountains, overlooks, stunning cliffs, beaches you-name-it (it’s a “must do”), while Bar Harbor is your typical Maine tourist town (somewhat too touristy for my tastes actually), plus it’s where the cruise ships anchor when they’re in town. You most definitely want to see this side of the Island, but you also need to be prepared for the crowds. It’s known as the “popular” side of MDI and it’s earned that reputation!
The left-hand “finger” is very different. There’s no “official” sightseeing loop here (plenty of roads, just no specific loop) and there are no big tourist towns (only smaller towns), so it’s generally far less crowded. For this reason it’s literally known as the “quiet” side of MDI, and it really is!
We did all the regular tourist stuff on the popular side, but we spent most of our time (and did most of our hikes) on the quiet side of the Island. We definitely preferred the more relaxed feel on that side.
***NOTE3/ We DID also go and explore the Schoodic Peninsula. In fact it’s where we’re parked right now (this week)! But that blog post will come later. For the month we were by MDI, we kept all our outings on the Island.
Dogs & Dog-Friendly Stuff
One of the other reasons we decided to settle for a month here was the fact that it’s so darn dog-friendly.
Our campground (Narrows Too) had a HUGE (seriously the biggest I’ve ever seen) off-leash dog area, as well as a lovely beach area (walkable at low tide). Polly loved it there!
In addition Acadia National Park is one of the very few National Parks in the USA that allows dogs on their trails. Most National Parks allow dogs in parking areas, overlooks and campgrounds, but very rarely allow them on hiking trails. For that reason we just haven’t spent much time in National Parks on our RV travels. We don’t like to leave Polly at home alone, so we prefer to travel to places we can bring her rather than places we cannot. It’s a small sacrifice that we’re more than happy to make for our furry family.
But when an opportunity like Acadia presents itself we’re on it like bees on sugar!
Not only can your bring your dog along to hike on ~145 miles of trails in the park (only a select few are prohibited because of difficult access, like climbing ladders), but you can bring doggie onto the Island Explorer shuttle bus and take pooch to just about any restaurant or brewery that has an outdoor sitting area. Polly went almost everywhere with us here and it made the entire experience SO much better!
The Month We Spent Here
A month in Acadia is a long time and I could easily write an entire book on our stay here (in fact many have already been written by others), but for the sake of your sanity I’ll endeavor to keep my ramblings a tad shorter.
So over the next few posts I’ll focus on highlighting the best of the best of what we enjoyed here. I’ll cover our favorite 5 easy hikes, our favorite “other” outings (we did quite a few) and the couple of fav eateries we found in the area. Plus of course I’ll be doing my usual campground review. Hopefully it’ll give you a feel for what this place is all about.
I expect it’ll up taking around 2-3 blog posts all in all (more or less). Stay tuned for the adventure….
Useful External Links
- Acadia National Park -> Official website HERE
- Acadia Island Explorer Bus -> Official website HERE
- Joe’s Guide To Acadia National Park -> Great, in-depth website & guide HERE
- Acadia Magic -> Another great, in-depth website & guide HERE
- The Photographers Guide to Acadia National Park -> Super useful page HERE