Mighty Zac and I have been lucky in our travels. Aside from a few mishaps, like leaving my shoes outside our tent on a rainy Pennsylvania night, or missing a day in New Orleans due to a cancelled flight, I’d rate our vacations from very good to spectacular. Until now.
Fond Memories and Questionable Decisions
I’d been to Acadia National Park in Maine about 20 years ago and have fond memories of idyllic scenery, small crowds, and relaxing strolls through the town of Bar Harbor. So when friends from Washington DC proposed spending several days there in August, we eagerly agreed to join them.
I knew Acadia was now the fourth most visited national park, but I somehow thought the free shuttle and most visitors’ penchant for short jaunts on the ocean side meant we could avoid the crowds. I also conveniently overlooked other important factors, such as:
- We were bringing along our newly-adopted dog
- Our visit occurred at the height of summer tourism
- I’m directionally challenged
- Zac has no patience for traffic or the directionally-challenged
Wrong Turns for the Worse
The long drive from Massachusetts went smoothly until the last twenty minutes. We’d been driving for miles on hilly back roads when Zac pulled a fast u-turn. Emmett the Dog proceeded to vomit in the back seat. I was feeling a little carsick myself, so I wasn’t surprised.
We arrived at our pet-friendly Route 3 lodging to discover that road construction had just started outside our cabin. The road was now a one-way and part of it was a rutted mess. A detour added 15 minutes to every trip into town, and upon arriving in town, driving became an exercise in tedium. Catching the pet-friendly bus required waving it down amid construction vehicles. We didn’t even attempt it.
The next day started out just fine. Thankfully, Emmett settled in nicely and showed no signs of the separation anxiety that had plagued him off and on for weeks. Being early risers, the beeping of reversing trucks didn’t bother us.
We picked up our park pass and headed to the Ocean Path for a meet-up with our friends. I misread the map, so we ended up at a different parking lot from our friends, and the one-way park road meant we couldn’t turn around. We were tense and angry, and it was only 8:30 in the morning.
While the weather and the Ocean Path were lovely, the crowds thickened as we approached Thunder Hole. Zac struggled to control Emmett, who wanted to personally greet every single person. We ran into our friends as we returned to our car. They had just missed a bus and were commenting on the crowds. Car after car pulled into the lot looking for a space.
You Can’t Get There from Here
We made plans to treat our friends and their kids to a dinner and later texted them the location. They got on a bus headed for downtown Bar Harbor before realizing the restaurant was in the opposite direction. No matter. The restaurant couldn’t seat us anyway. Our friends ate downtown and we ordered a pizza.
The next morning we had plans to see our niece present her summer intern project at Jackson Labs in Bar Harbor. It took 40 minutes to get there, 10 minutes to find a parking spot, and 5 minutes to realize we were in the wrong building. Somehow, we made it to her speech with time to spare.
We returned to the cabin to pick up the dog and hiking clothes, then spent the next hour and a half trying to find a particular parking lot on the “quiet side” of the park. By now, the mid-day crowds were out in force. The lot was full and several other cars were waiting for spaces. We cut our losses and didn’t even attempt to stop for lunch.
Finally, A Right Turn
Back at the cabin, I started coming down with a cold. Zac fell on a nearby rocky beach and sustained a painful elbow injury. Realizing we needed emergency assistance, I called Sweet Pea’s Cafe. Not only were they a short drive from the cabin, they could seat us for dinner at the bar.
That wonderful, leisurely dinner saved our vacation. We had amazing oysters and wine that made Zac’s injuries a little less painful and my cold a little less annoying. Our luck had turned.
We spent our last day in the park on a beautiful (early) morning hike followed by an (early) lunch at Jordan Pond House. That afternoon, we returned to Sweet Pea’s for (early) appetizers with our friends. Our server from the night before greeted us with a smile.
“Hey, guys, you came back!”, he said.
I didn’t want to be weird about how the restaurant saved our vacation, so I simply replied, “Yes, and we brought friends!”
If you’re thinking about visiting Acadia or another popular national park, avoid the summer months. The numbers of national park visitors is at an all-time high, and it’s ruining vacations. As for Acadia, I recommend visiting during the cool months of spring or fall. And definitely go before the new cruise ship dock is built.