If you’re like me and enjoy pitching a tent in the woods or cooking ramen noodles over a campfire, finding a beautiful place to do this is likely on the top of your list. As someone who has been lucky enough to go backpacking in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Banff National Park, Canada, it’s hard to find ‘comparable’ beauty to these western forests on the East Coast, especially when you’re short on time and cash.
Where do places comparable to that beauty exist, out here? My answer: Acadia National Park in Maine.
Acadia National Park is breathtakingly beautiful and fairly ‘remote’ when compared to other campgrounds and parks that I’ve seen locally. Basically, you have to really want to be there, to be there. Located on Mount Desert Island, the park is home to a variety of attractions and campsites. Although there are far more remote areas of Maine with exceptionally beautiful views of nature, due to budgeting and not being ready to completely abandon civilization as we trek into the woods, we were able to narrow down our decision to Acadia National Park.
The fee to enter the park by car is $25, but provides access to all of the attractions such as Thunderhole, Otter Cliff and Cadillac Mountain.
For our trip, we visited Acadia National Park for 3 days on a budget of about $300.
First off, I haven’t been to Maine since I was a kid and did not realize the huge driving task I had so easily taken on- from start to finish, I drove about 9 1/2 hours straight to get to our campsite. Below is a rough estimate of our drive:
The drive itself was fairly unexciting highway for the most part, and since Jade does not have an American drivers license, I was the sole driver this time around! Between the cold I contracted the night before our trip and lack of sleep as we left early that morning, it was quite an experience- but we made it in one piece! I made sure to stop in Freeport, Maine to visit the giant L.L. Bean Boot at the Flagship store- how could you pass up an opportunity like that!
Our budget as mentioned earlier was around $300 USD for the entire roundtrip. The biggest cost factor was fuel, the others being the campsite and additional food charges. For the entire trip, we had to fill up my car about 5 times. My car takes about 16 miles to the gallon, so she’s a bit of a gas hog in all fairness. If you have a Prius or some hybrid car, gas costs will be much less! The rest of our charges went towards the campsite, which cost us $90 USD for three nights. As per usual, I brought along oatmeal, bread, snacks, and ramen noodles so we had most of the necessary supplies, because you save a lot of money by bringing your own snacks and skipping out on expensive dining options at local restaurants.
We camped at Blackwoods Campground and had a slot right near a trail that leads to the main road around the park and scenic cliffs beside the ocean. At night, you could even hear the waves crashing in the distance which was really peaceful. There are toilets, dumpsters, a water pump, and an area for free firewood if you want to have a campfire. The wood they give out for free doesn’t burn the best, and since you are technically not allowed to bring wood in from your home state, I would suggest purchasing some firewood bundles from places around the campsite. Driving up, there were dozens of signs for firewood stacks beside driveways! The campground itself was clean and small with dozens of lots for camping, but the biggest con is that you are virtually sleeping on top of your neighbors!
If you’re used to sleeping up in the mountains with no signs of civilization for miles, Blackwoods is not the campground for you. I was pretty disappointed at the lack of privacy, as you could clearly see all the campsites next to you (there were maybe two extremely skinny trees in-between us and our neighbors- I was expecting slots being hidden from one another by walls of trees and distance). I’d say we were maybe 20 feet away from one another, and we had a large camping area in comparison to others. I expected something similar to camping in Smuggler’s Notch (Stowe, Vermont) privacy wise, because although you were around other people, you were in the woods, had to take a trail from the road to your site, and there were decent chunks of forest barricading your spot from your neighbors. It wasn’t anything like that, despite being in the woods, but otherwise, it was a nice place to set up camp!
My tip: If you’re okay with camping ontop of others or are more comfortable being around others, totally book this campsite. You have a water pump, public toilets/outlets and free firewood. If you’re new to camping, this is a great place to start, and generally, the people around you are friendly. You also pay for the park entrance fee when you first arrive. For us, it was a somewhat decent mix of being around civilization, but also being surrounded by nature.
If you prefer more space but want to be within driving distance of the park’s attractions, I’d suggest looking into the Seawall Campsite-it is a bit further from the main attractions, but probably provides more privacy, especially during peak season. If I ever go back, which I would love to, I would consider checking this campsite out.
At the time of the year that we visited, it was technically off season. Bar Harbor came off as a bit of a ghost town, and although there were people, it was still pretty vacant! Personally, we really preferred it this way- it’s nice not being surrounded by dozens of other tourists! Although a part of me wonders if things would have been more exciting had we gone during the ‘peak’ season, I think it all worked out. If you prefer the peace and quiet of a small town, definitely go before the end of May- if you like being surrounded by people and involved in the excitement of it all (and possibly a larger variety of activities and places to eat) the summer will definitely have more to offer.
From our experience though, it’s a sweet little town to walk around. They had some cool souvenir stores, a hippie shop full of crystals and incense, and some really good ice cream parlors! Even though it was quiet and there wasn’t much going on, it was really nice to walk around for a bit and get away from the campsite for the evening. The main strip isn’t very long, but it was fun to window shop and sit on park benches to relax. If you’re looking for a party town, I really don’t think Bar Harbor is the place you want to go- it’s pretty down to earth and calm. Food wise, there are plenty of seafood places scattered around the area, along with some grocery stores if you happen to need supplies for camping or want to make something different beyond the everyday Ramen!
I found mostly everyone who worked in the shops we visited extremely friendly- for example, one night an ice cream parlor was closing up shop just as we had gotten back from our walk down the strip, hoping we had made it back in time. I had finally persuaded Jade to let me buy her a damn ice cream cone, but upon seeing the store was closing, we started to turn away. The guy closing up noticed and offered to let us in for a final scoop- we felt bad and said we’d come back tomorrow, but he insisted it was no problem! There was a friendly dog walking around the shop floor and the guy behind the counter let Jade browse the flavors as he talked to us and walked about fixing things around the store- we left with Jade loving the ice cream she got and appreciating his kindness. The place was CJ’s Big Dipper and I really recommend it- tons of great flavors available, and the people were super friendly!
We also decided to ‘go all out’ and have something nice to eat for dinner. There was a cool looking ‘chain-esque’ restaurant towards the harbor called Geddy’s, that looked fun and like it had great food. Now, hear me out-I’m not sitting here bashing the place, but our experience was pretty awful. I used to be a waitress for many years, so when I say this, I’m not some asshole who enjoys complaining- I know what it’s like working in the food service industry, and understand there can be off days- so odds are it was just a bad night for the place.
The main reason it was so awful, was the food- Jade ordered a pizza and I had a hamburger. There were large chunks of garlic on her pizza and the pie was virtually cheese melted on bread sans sauce, so most of the pie remained uneaten. The hamburger wasn’t as bad as the pizza, but it was burnt and dry. The service was pretty awful too, but that’s down to the waitress we had. She was unapologetically rude to all her tables and it was beyond obvious she could care less about the job- I’ll never forget her because she’s the second worst server I’ve ever had. To this day I don’t understand why I bothered tipping her, which really says a lot because I never think twice about tipping- after all, its the only way you make money as a waitress! Although we’ll never go back to this restaurant, it was a learning experience.
The Natural Attractions
The main reason I loved the park so much, apart from the fact that it is so beautiful, is because although there are many tourists at each of the major attractions, it is still possible to get your own space and do your own thing! The trails were not too packed walking around, and walking on the roadside was completely fine since there aren’t many cars on the road and traffic is one way (and heading towards the attractions means you see oncoming traffic). Relaxing at the Thunder Hole is also easy, because there are many rocks that you can climb out onto (away from the crowds at the blowhole) to lie down and relax.
The map below shows how far we walked to get to the attractions, rather than driving. During off season times, I can safely say finding parking is pretty easy- there are still a lot of people, but probably nothing compared to peak season. Walking does take time, but it is nothing you can’t do if you are moderately fit- personally, it was a work out for us! But I’m glad we walked because we were able to appreciate the scenery so much more than if we had driven. There are many trails along the cliffs and the air is fresh. I can’t remember exactly how many miles it was, but something tells me 5? Anyway, my point of mentioning this is so if you go during peak season and don’t want to get stuck finding a place to park the car, it is possible to get to these places if you don’t mind doing some work to get there!
*During the summer, there are shuttles that bring you to the attractions (and I believe Bar Harbor) for free from the campsite! This is another great alternative to walking or driving.
The following day we did drive to the parking area near the Thunder Hole so we could spend more time enjoying ourselves there- although walking was fine, it was annoying having to leave an hour or two before dark just so we could make it back to the campsite with some daylight to spare. Having the car also meant being able to bring food and extra clothes (since the day we walked back we were freezing). We visited the rest of the attractions by driving around in the car, such as Jordan Pond and Cadillac Mountain.
There are many many different trails to check out while you are here if you enjoy hiking, each with their own difficulty ratings (so based on your experience or who you are with, everyone can have a good time). I believe there are trails that lead up to Cadillac Mountain and around Jordan Pond- due to time limits, we decided to drive, so I can’t personally talk about them here. We did enjoy waling along the trail from Otter Cove to Otter Cliff! It was fairly easy and the views were beautiful.
My personal favorite spot in the park was Thunder Hole (seen above). The sounds of the blowhole, along with the ocean bashing against the rocks, were so serene. The views of the cliffs and trees in the distance were breathtaking, and when the sky was blue, it was incredible. We could also see some beaches in the distance. The blowhole itself wasn’t very exciting if you’re staring at it for an extended period of time- it’s virtually just water being pushed through a hole in a rock that sometimes makes the clapping sound of thunder. It’s cool to listen to, but I still don’t understand the hype of walking out onto the ledge (where there is railing) to get soaked! If it makes you happy, go for it, but it was pretty cold while we were there and so many people got drenched (and must’ve been frozen).
As you can see from my photo, you can certainly get space away from the crowds (who are further to the right out of view). Our biggest incentive to go, apart from the natural beauty, was because we believe a music video to a song we like was filmed there, and figured why not! It was a cool experience, even if it wasn’t filmed there.