Known for it’s stunning rockbound coastline, virtually unlimited number of hiking trails, exciting nightlife, and warm coastal charm, Bar Harbor has built a reputation as one of the premier summer vacation hotspots in the country.
Located about 2 1/2 hours up the coast from Portland, ME. Bar Harbor is one of several towns on Mount Desert Island which is connected to the mainland via bridge from the gateway town of Trenton. When an individual refers to vacationing in Bar Harbor, he is generally referring to the entire island itself including Acadia National Park.
What To Do
Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park have some of the most beautiful and well maintained hiking trails anywhere. You will find trails for any ability or skill level, from the famous Carriage Trails to challenging near vertical ascents. One highly recommended trail is the “Precipice” which winds up Champlain Mountain and offers amazing views of Bar Harbor, Cadillac Mountain, and Frenchman’s Bay. My personal favorite is the Bubble Rock Trail which takes you to the top Bubble Mountain to the famous gravity defying “Bubble Rock” which sits precariously on a steep ledge overlooking the valley below. The rock offers a great photo opportunity; one of my cousins actually broke his leg trying to push the rock off the ledge when he was younger.
The Carriage Trails, originally built for John D. Rockefeller, Jr in the early 1930’s, offer nearly 50 miles of hard packed gravel roads that wind throughout the island. Not only do the trails offer some of the most spectacular vantage points on the island, they are an amazing landmark in their own rite with 16 hand-laid granite stone bridges spanning streams and gorges throughout the park. There are a number of bike rental companies around the island (The Bar Harbor Bike Shop, Acadia Bike)that can outfit you and your family with everything you need for a day or by the week.
Bar Harbor is home to one of the most active whale watching areas in the world. A number of well respected whale watch companies are based here making several trips throughout the morning, afternoon, and evening. Check out Bar Harbor Whale Watching Tours, and Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company; the later has the Friendship V which is billed as the newest, most luxurious, and fastest whale watch vessel in the USA. Most companies will guarantee that you will see whales and will offer you another trip if you don’t. On any given day you may see Humpback, Finback, or Mink whales. You will also have the chance to see puffins, seals, and dolphins. While you’re on the water you also might be amazed at some of the stately waterfront mansions that line the coast, or the historic lighthouses that have been guiding mariners to safe harbor for over a hundred years.
The island towns Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor, and Southwest Harbor each offer their own eclectic mix of shops, and galleries. Over a hundred professional artists make their home in the area and proudly display their works in art galleries around the island.
Zoos and Aquariums
There are several aquariums and a large zoo in the area. Spend a day in Trenton visiting the Trenton Zoo, where you’ll find a variety of animals including buffalo, monkeys, lions, reptiles, as well as other species. From there you can head back on to the island and get hands on with marine life at the Mount Desert Oceanarium in Bar Harbor, and Southwest Harbor.
There are 3 populuar golf course to choose from in the Bar Harbor Region, each offering it’s own unique advantages.
In case you haven’t heard, Maine has some of the best mircobreweries in the country. If you enjoy a good beer from time to time you may wish consider visiting one of Bar Harbors breweries. My favorites are The Bar Harbor Brewing Company, and the Atlantic Brewing Company. Before you leave you have to try Atlantic Brewing Company’s Blueberry Ale, it is one of my favorite beers of all time! Both breweries cater to the entire family with tours and tastings (yummy homemade rootbeer and soda for the kids!). Atlantic Brewing Company also offers tasty BBQ lunches as well!
Maine is famous for it’s rockbound coastline, you may be suprised to know that there are a number of fine sand beaches in the area as well incuding Fine Sand Beach within Acadia. There is also excellent freshwater swiming in Echo Lake which is right before the town of Southwest Harbor.
Boating and Kayaking
The coastline along the Bar Harbor Region is ideal for sea kayaking with many companies in the area offering group tours or kayak rentals. National Park Sea Kayak, and National Park Canoe Rental for great adventures on both salt and fresh water.
Historic Schooner/Windjammer Cruises
Take a step back in time on board a historic coastal schooner departing daily from the island for day and over night trips. Pitch in with the crew and get your hands wet, or just kick back and relax to gentle breeze and distant chatter of sea birds. There are several schooner operations in the area presenting vessels of different character. Check out Downeast Windjammer Cruises for information sailing and power vessel trips including sunset cruises, and shuttles to the remote outer islands in Frenchman’s and Penobscot Bays.
Where to Stay
There is a wide variety of hotels available in the area from ones providing a basic “bed and a bath”, to luxurious ocean side resorts that cater to your every need. Be sure to book well in advance since rooms have a tendency to fill up quickly in the summertime. If money were not a limiting factor, I would stay at either the Harborside Hotel, or Blue Nose Inn every day of the year. Both offer uncompromising attention to detail with fabulous vistas of Frenchman’s Bay and the Bar Harbor Waterfront. The Blue Nose Inn also is home the internationally recognized Rose Garden Restaurant which is annually receives the coveted 4-Diamond Award for excellence (It’s one of those places where they sprinkle rose pedals in the commodes!). For less expensive options consider booking rooms in Ellsworth, or Trenton which are off island location but within a short drive of all the action the area has to offer. For more information on the area’s hotels, check out actual customer reviews HERE.
One of the best ways to experience life in the region is to rent you own cottage for a week or two. Read our review of the best rental property companies in the area HERE.
A variety of different campgrounds in the Bar Harbor Region offer an inexpensive alternative to some of the pricier lodging options around the island. Most offer shower facilities and community rec areas, and many have electrical/water hookups for those traveling in RV’s.
Bed and Breakfasts
Perhaps the most intimate form of lodging in the area is a stay at one of the local Bed and Breakfast Inns. Typically, these Inns are former private summer residences that have had their bedrooms converted into guest rooms (most have in-suite bathrooms as well). Guest are treated as family members of the inn keepers and many create long lasting friendships that keep them returning year after year. Each inn offers it’s own unique charm from being located directly on the water, centered inside a working farm, or catering specifically to families traveling with animals. For information on Inns in the Area and for reservations check out the Maine Innkeepers Association Website. Highly rated inns include Castlemaine Inn in the heart of downtown Bar Harbor, or relax in the quiet village of Northeast Harbor at the Maison Suisse Inn designed by legendary architect Fred Savage.
Where to Eat
OK, Where’s the Lobster?
With so much to do in the area your bound to get hungry. Fortunately for you, there are literally hundreds of places in the area to get some fresh Maine seafood including lobster, mussels, clams (steamers), fish, and the famous clam “chowdah”. Because the recipe for lobster is so simple (lobster + boiling salt water) you’ll find great lobster anyplace you go. One of my favorite places is the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound located on Rt.3 (”Bar Harbor Road”) right before you get on the island, look for it when your driving to the island on the right. Nothing fancy here, just good old fashion Maine Lobster with all the fixings, done the same way for the last 50 years. If you don’t believe me, you can actually order the lobster from them online and try it out for yourself before you get here!
Other Dining Options
If your looking for something a little less fishy, one of my favorite non seafood places is Miguel’s Mexican Restaurant on Rodick St. in Bar Harbor. Living in the area year round as a child, you would hear people talking about the seasonal opening of Miguel’s months before. When I finally became of age I realized why, not only is the food outstanding, but the margaritas are amazing and you can order them by the pitcher!
The Jordan Pond House is truly a unique place and a must for any visitor to the area. Located in the heart of the island, and easily accessible by main roads and the elaborate carriage trail network, the Jordan Pond house is perfect place for lunch or afternoon tea. Enjoy their world famous popovers and fresh squeezed lemonade on the patio while over 100 species of flowers from the well landscaped premises brighten the view of the surrounding mountains, forests, ponds, and streams. My high school class had our prom here back in 1995
The “village” of Bar Harbor is definitely the areas “place to be” on any given night in the summer time. There is always something going on at one of the many bars in town. For a true taste of a local Maine pub check out the locals’ favorite water hole The Thirsty Whale on Cottage St, there’s nothing fancy about this place, just friendly people having a good time. Other favorite bars are Geddy’s on Main St. which also has a great lunch and dinner menu. Geddy’s features great local acoustic acts most nights in the summer.
If you’re really looking for a place to party check out the Carmen Verandah on Main St. adjacent to the village green. This place really gets going after ten on warm summer nights. No mater where you go, always be sure to have a designated driver, or call a cab. Maine’s DWI laws are tough, and besides I want you driving through my parent’s yard in the middle of the night (It’s happened!).
Send Us Your Suggestions!
If you have an suggestions for interesting places around Bar Harbor not covered here, I’d love to hear from you!