Bar Harbor, Maine is so picturesque that it was actually named Eden from 1796 to 1918. The diversity of the tiny island off the coast of Maine is rarely seen in one small area. There are mountains, forests, cliffs, sandy and rocky beaches, peaceful coves, and a mighty ocean. Then there’s the wildlife: moose, whales, seals, puffin, and of course lobster.
Honestly, before I went I thought that I might be quickly bored with a perfect tiny island. The idea of a small island village in Maine conjured up images of Angela Lansbury mixed with some twisted Stephen King creation. So I was surprised when I ended up feeling overwhelmed with the beauty of the area and enjoying my brief stay there.
Bar Harbor is a small village on Mount Desert Island, about an hour from Bangor, just off the coast of Maine. The day I made my way from the mainland onto Mount Desert Island did feel like something out of a Stephen King movie: dreary with pea-soup fog and locals suspiciously looking me up and down. However, once settled into my motel on the island, it didn’t take long for the fog to lift along with my spirits. Many of the hotels and inns on the island are independently owned. I stayed at a small motel a few feet from the water on the rocky shores of Salisbury Cove. The owners were a nice married couple: he seemed to handle more of the behind-the-scenes business and she made the warm, delicious blueberry muffins that awaited me and the other couple of guests every morning.
Photo courtesy of Edgewater Motel
On my first day in town I took a walk down Main Street, a street that still looks like an old postcard. From the Village Green to the Town Pier, the street is lined on both sides with late 19th century to early 20th century buildings. You could spend a couple of hours on Main perusing the bookstores, pharmacy, souvenir shops, furniture stores, and other specialty shops.
Images courtesy of “Bygone Bar Harbor” & Raising Maine
One afternoon I stopped into Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium, an ice cream and fudge parlor on Main, and discovered something that must exist solely for the purpose of poking fun at tourists – lobster ice cream. Though the person behind the counter tried to convince me it was a local favorite, I couldn’t help but notice his smirk as he handed me a scoop. Now I have tried different foods, and liked a few of them, but lobster ice cream just might be one of the nastiest things I’ve ever put in my mouth. Think buttery, salty, fishy, vanilla ice cream. Perhaps its an acquired taste. Or a great joke.
A French explorer first discovered Mount Desert Island in 1604 when he saw the high peak of what is now called Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. Because of its great height, Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the United States to see the sunrise. And because it is relatively easy to ascend (thanks to gentle slope-carving glaciers thousands of years ago), many hikers and bicyclists watch the sun rise here. The sight from the summit is said to be spectacular, offering a view of the forests, Bar Harbor village, the sea, and the outlying islands.
Acadia isn’t the biggest national park, but it is still vast enough that it’s impossible to see everything in one day. There are several routes to take including the ocean path, the park loop road, and the famous carriage roads. Some routes provide better access to sites than others do, which is why its best to allow 2 – 3 days to explore the park. A few notable sites to see would be Otter Cliff, Jordan Pond, Sand Beach (keep an eye out for the stairs to climb down to the beach), Cadillac Mountain, Bubble Rock, Bass Harbor Head Light, and Thunder Hole, which is famous for its thunderous sounds as waves rush into and out of a cavern.
I practically had the park to myself when I went, but locals told me it gets crowded in the summer. Despite the fact that I was able to enjoy such a serene environment to myself, one drawback to visiting in the spring is that some attractions and restaurants aren’t open yet. I was disappointed to find that the Jordan Pond House, the only restaurant in Acadia, wasn’t open yet. Keep this in mind if visiting during the off season and remember to pack a lunch. Also keep in mind that Acadia is still natural landscape and is full of different, and sometimes dangerous, wildlife. While taking in Jordon Pond, I turned to spot a moose suddenly standing only a few yards from me. I am still kicking myself that I froze in fear, suddenly unable to work my camera, until it slowly moseyed off into the trees.
Mount Desert Island, the village of Bar Harbor, and Acadia National Park surprised me by their natural beauty, non-nauseating quaint charms (well, except for the lobster ice cream), and endless paths to explore. All of the local residents and shopkeepers I met were warm and inviting. I spent most of my time here walking along rocky coastlines, watching wildlife, hiking, and eating ungodly amounts of freshly caught seafood. This is a place where you can unwind and still seek adventure. I look forward to returning here in the future to catch a sunrise on Cadillac Mountain.
For more details about Bar Harbor, Maine including tips on when to go, where to eat, and what to do for fun check out my Bar Harbor Travel Tips article here.