When we booked our trip over the pond we had not realised that we would be visiting one of the most popular national parks in the United States on Labor Day weekend, an important national holiday. As we made our way towards the beautiful coast of Maine, we inevitably hit some holiday traffic. Oh dear, we thought, perhaps we ought to have planned a little better for our fly-drive adventure and not planned on reaching one of the most popular vacation spots on our trip at exactly this moment. At least, we thought, we had booked our campground ahead of time. Labor Day weekend, for Americans, marks the unofficial end of summer and so many people head out into nature to make the most of it before the weather turns.
As it turned out, most of the traffic had dispersed by the time we reached our destination, Bass Harbour Campground on the ‘Quiet Side’ of Mount Desert (pronounced Dessert) Island. Most of the tourists, it seemed, had made for the heart of Acadia National Park and the settlement of Bar Harbor. As it turned out, our smallish, bumpy, but quiet and tranquil pitch where we would be spending a couple of nights was not at all overlooked by other campers. It was still rather hot and still very much summer and we had been in the car all day making our way over from New Hampshire so we decided to relax on the campsite for the evening and head out to explore the following day. As with most campgrounds in the US, there was the ubiquitous picnic table and fire pit, so we made a fire and enjoyed our evening, listening to the wild buzz of the cicadas in the trees all around us, which had been the music of our New England adventure thus far.
The following day we set off to explore the ‘Quiet Side’ and then made our way round to Bar Harbor, which, we were glad to note, was bustling but by no means unpleasantly over-crowded. We were even able to park the hire car for free really close to the town centre – something that would be rather unlikely to be possible at such a honey-pot in the UK! We purchased tickets and received a map for the National Park and decided to take the Loop road to get an overview in the brief time we had available to us. Had we been staying for longer and had the weather been a lot cooler, we would definitely have loved to go for a hike to see more of the unspoiled sections of this beautiful park.
Before we left Bar Harbor we took a stroll to see the waterfront and in fine Maine tradition we enjoyed a lobster roll. The lobsters here are rightly famed and so much cheaper than any lobster you could buy in the UK. The roll was delicious and even came with a free packet of crisps and, I might add, very relaxed and pleasant customer service. The whole experience really sold us on Maine and its helpful, friendly people.
Leaving Bar Harbor behind we set off again in the car to explore the heart of Acadia National Park. Here again there was a stark contrast between how things are done in Maine and what we have come to expect in the UK. The loop road was incredibly crowded, bumper to bumper in places and the car parks were full. But here, the sensible set up meant that they could deal with this level of human and motorised traffic. The loop is largely one way and yet has two lanes and – this is the sensible bit – you can park in many sections of the right hand lane. This meant that when the carparks were full or someone just wanted to stop for a moment to look at something then everything still kept moving and there were no snarl ups. So though it was incredibly busy, we were still relaxed and happy as we made our way through the park.
The park was, as I had been lead to believe before our visit, absolutely, stunningly beautiful. We looked out from a few coastal viewpoints and stopped at Otter Cove to take a stroll, have a paddle and enjoy the peaceful surroundings, where a few people were sunbathing or sleeping on the shingles. The water glistened in the sunlight and the sky was a vivid blue. Summer showed no signs of being on the wane.
Further road the loop, we reached the high point of our visit to the park in more than one sense of the word. We took the road up Cadillac Mountain to enjoy the majestic and awe-inspiring views of the dense woodland, lake and the sea beyond. From up there, it was extremely easy to see why so many people are drawn here for their vacations year after year.
Sadly, however, an information board on the mountain told us that this beautiful place is under threat. Pollution from large cities elsewhere drifts in this direction, causing all sorts of problems for the people and wildlife that call this area home, as well as for the flora of the park. It was yet one more reminder of the negative effects of our modern way of life and the sustainable, green and ethical changes that are so desperately needed.
Still, nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for this beautiful part of the world and as we made our way back down the mountain we told ourselves that we would be back one day to properly explore the beautiful wildness that we saw before us.
The rest of Maine beckoned and our trip in New England was half way through, but we will never forget our experiences in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park and I hope that time will afford us another chance to visit and explore and that these natural treasures are not lost to us forever.
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