Thursday, August 23, 2012

Vanagon Road Trip: Bradbury Mountain State Park and Midcoast Maine

Campsite playpen/prison
We travel to Maine as often as we can. It’s our go-to destination for short road trips and coastal New England adventures. We recently loaded up the Vanagon and headed north for our longest trip of the summer, and our 8-month old son's very first Vanagon camping adventure.

We started the trip with two nights at Bradbury Mountain State Park, joined by our siblings from New York, Amherst, and Boston. The campsites were reasonably well-spaced and the empty site next door offered additional privacy. The campground had vault toilets (no running water or sinks) but there was running water and hot showers in a separate facility, free of charge for campers.

We enjoyed a feast of steak tips, grilled veggies, and local Maine beers on Friday night. Jacob was an excellent camping companion throughout the day and evening. His time was spent happily entertaining himself in the Pack ‘N Play, exploring the new and fascinating world of tents, and bouncing from one loving auntie and uncle to the next.

Jacob enjoyed his fresh avocado dinner
Our sleeping arrangements were the biggest question of the weekend, and ultimately we decided that Amanda and I would sleep in the upper bunk under the Westfalia pop-top, and Jacob would slumber below. The Pack ‘N Play fit perfectly in the Vanagon between the jumpseat (in upright position) and bench, with room to spare for Parker on either the floor or the bench seat. Miraculously, Jacob had one of his best nights ever, waking only once, briefly at 3am. I was terrified that his normal habit of frequent wakings and accompanying wails would disturb the whole campground, but the little guy proved us wrong. He had a great first night, and we all emerged from the Vanagon confident that camping with baby was going to be much easier than we imagined. Were our initial fears unfounded?

Our cottage at Glenmoor By the Sea
The next day we packed into the van—six adults, one dog, and one baby—and cruised over to Portland for the day. We enjoyed a dog-friendly outdoor lunch of plump lobster rolls on the docks of Portland Lobster Co., and spent the afternoon walking the charming streets of the Old Port before returning to the campsite for dinner and some R&R. Our second campsite meal included heaping portions of farfalle with chicken sausage, zesty tomato sauce, and loads of fresh mozzarella.

Night #2 with Jacob? Not good. We were up and down so many times that I lost track. At home, we let Jacob stir and cry for a few minutes until he settled himself back down to sleep. But at an open campsite, we had no choice but to quickly descend from our bunk to hush him back to sleep—again and again and again.

We found $1 oysters in Rockland and took a dozen back
to the Vanagon on ice. Jacob wanted a taste.
After a hearty but bleary-eyed breakfast of eggs, grilled ham, and NYC bagels, our siblings headed back home while Amanda, Jacob, Parker, and I traveled north for three nights of seaside cottage comfort at Glenmoor By the Sea in Lincolnville, ME. Here, with a bed, roof, and four walls surrounding us, Jacob returned to somewhat better sleeping habits and we rested soundly without the fear of waking an entire campground.

Outdoor jazz concert in Camden.  Parker was not a fan.
We spent this leg of the vacation exploring mid-coast Maine. In Camden we found fresh fish tacos from a harborside shack and explored the village’s many dog-friendly shops and bookstores. On our second day Parker lounged in the air conditioned cottage and we drove to the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland to enjoy the artwork of Andrew Wyeth and the impressionist paintings and etchings of Frank W. Benson.

On our last day in mid-coast Maine, we traveled a few miles inland for a hike in Camden Hills State Park, followed by freshwater relief in lovely Megunticook Lake. Dogs aren't allowed at the swim beach, so we instead opted for the public boat ramp on Route 52. Jacob took a dip too.

Recompense Shore Campground, site #159
The next day we rolled south on Route 1 for a final night on the Maine coast. We camped just outside of Wolfe’s Neck Farm at the beautiful Recompense Shore Campground, a short drive from the bustling shopping hub of Freeport, home to the L.L. Bean flagship store. On our way into the campground, we all cooled off in the saltwater tidal river before setting up the campsite.

With that fitful night of Vanagon camping still fresh in our minds, we decided to try our luck with Jacob in the tent. Parker had to entire Vanagon to himself that night, but I don’t think he was too pleased with the arrangement. He would have much preferred to join the three of us in the two-person tent, but our hands were full with a wild, rolling, crawling, squealing Jacob. He LOVED being in the tent and was immediately energized by that exciting new environment with its crinkly walls, soft mesh, and fluffy down sleeping bags. So much stimuli! When he finally settled down, he slept much better, spoiled by the rare, cozy night snuggled between mom and dad.

Swimming near Wolfe's Neck Farm
Camping with an 8-month old wasn’t without its challenges, but overall, I’d call our first effort a success. I look forward to many future adventures with a slightly older, better-sleeping little boy.


  1. Thanks for your post. I need to re-read your three point seatbelt install post. I'm going to need to set those up soon. Thanks!

  2. Passenger side wasn't bad at all. I still haven't gotten around to installing the driver's side belt, which will involve some additional cabinet-related complications. The reason I've hesitated is that our child seat actually secures better with the lap belt than the new three point belt. I'll find the time eventually...

    Good luck!

  3. Glad to see another VW family exploring southern Maine. Looks like great fun. Our family travels by vanagon as well,and had the same struggles with "where does the baby sleep?" Our best night was US in the tent - baby safely locked inside the van beside us in the pack n play! We're thinking about a sling over the front seats when he's a little older, before I trust him to be in the attic. What about you?

    1. We also considered putting him in the far rear of the van on the lower mattress with the bench seat in the upright position (as a barrier), but he might be able to climb up and over at this point. Our '90 vanagon is not rigged for the sling as the older vans/buses are. We'd need to add anchor points. But I like the idea of using that space. Thanks for writing, and happy travels!