Long Weekend in Bar Harbor
Perhaps best known and most often visited because of its proximity to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor is a charming New England fishing village in the Down East region of Maine. Initially popularized by the Rockefellers, who vacationed here and were instrumental in the formation and upkeep of Acadia (and still are today), the town has a reputation as a laidback, inconspicuous summer retreat for the ultra-wealthy. Fortunately, the town is equally accessible to vacationers with shallower pockets and while the influx of tourism has somewhat deluded the area of its authenticity, Bar Harbor still makes for a lovely weekend getaway for travelers looking to explore the beautiful landscape of Acadia National Park and peruse the small village.
Particularly during the busier summer months, you'll want to get an early start to beat the crowds heading into Acadia. Grab coffee and a bagel at Coffee Hound for a quick bite to go, or settle down to a full breakfast at local-favorite Café This Way.
To get to Acadia, you can either drive ($20 per vehicle, valid for seven days) or take the Island Explorer shuttle, which leaves regularly from Bar Harbor. Once inside, you'll have endless means of exploring the 47,000 acres of protected parkland. If you've rented a car and are feeling leisurely, drive the 27-mile Park Loop Road to get a good sense of Acadia and see some of the park's main highlights—Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, and Cadillac Mountain—along the way.
Hikers are spoiled for choice when it comes to trail options, and you'll be able to hike anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours. Begin at the Jordan Pond House parking lot (which will fill up quickly as the day goes on) and look for trails leading to Penobscot and Sargent Mountains. The steep, rocky trail follows the pond before ascending to the 1,194-foot peak of Penobscot Mountain, affording you 360-degree views of the surrounding park and islands in the Atlantic in the distance. Enjoy a picnic on the summit (you can pick up sandwiches before leaving town at Downeast Deli) before looping back around to Jordan Pond or continuing on to Sargent Mountain.
For more fearless hikers, The Beehive trail is about two miles, but not for the faint of heart. Iron rungs and ladders line the near-vertical rock trail at points and while the climb is not technical, you'll need to be surefooted and not have a fear of heights, but the view of Frenchman Bay and Sand Beach from the top will be worth it. Descend the trail to The Bowl, a crystal-clear pond available for swimmers, and continue on to Champlain Mountain, or you can retrace your steps and enjoy a leisurely afternoon on the nearby Sand Beach, one of the few stretches of oceanfront sand on the island.
After a long day of hiking, dine out at the casual-chic Mache Bistro, a five-minute walk from the center of downtown Bar Harbor. The rotating menu features simple, but delicious French-Mediterranean fare and a surprisingly well-stocked and tended bar, all in a quaint house-cum-dining room. The portions tend toward manageable rather than enormous (something of a rarity in Bar Harbor), and though no place in town requires more than jeans, this is one nicer restaurants in the area.
A quick stroll through Bar Harbor will reveal that the town has somewhat been taken over by the tourism industry, as t-shirt shops and ice cream parlors clutter the main drag (best to embrace the kitsch as much as possible), so head out of town for a tour of the region's authentic, untainted fishing villages. About 15 minutes by car from Bar Harbor, you'll find Somesville and a little further south, Southwest Harbor, two refreshingly tourist-free areas perfect for leisurely strolling, with galleries and coffee shops perfectly positioned for stops along the way. Southwest Harbor is home to the Hinckley Company, known for their beautifully made boats, and on a nice day, you can stroll through the shipyard and watch the craftsmen at work. On your way to lunch, stop by the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, the iconic Acadia landmark on the southwest edge of Mount Desert Island.
Shockingly, there is a general consensus that there is no outstanding lobster restaurant in Bar Harbor and while this is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration (there is plenty of good lobster to be had all over town), you'll want to venture further afoot for the authentic New England lobster pound experience at Thurston's. The no-frills restaurant is the perfect spot for enjoying Maine's finest seafood, affording diners wraparound views of the nearby harbor as they dig into the freshest catch.
If you're looking to burn off your lunch, head north back through Southwest Harbor to the Acadia Mountain Trail. The 2.5-mile trail is a bit challenging, but free of crowds, leaving you to enjoy unspoiled views of Somes Sound, the only fjard (a less dramatic version of Norway's fjords) on the East Coast.
Drive back to Bar Harbor via Seal Cove, the island's ultra-exclusive neighborhood filled with discreet, but enormous private homes, and end your day with a meal at the Reading Room Restaurant at the Bar Harbor Inn. The vibe is classic and refined (perhaps too much so for some), but the food and the views are excellent.
Quirky-cute 2 Cats Café with its expansive patio surrounding the colorful, shingled house is the perfect place to breakfast on your final morning. Fuel up for your final day in Acadia with the café's homemade granola, or dig into one of the heartier meat or seafood dishes.
Acadia is well known for its extensive carriage path network (built by John D. Rockefeller) and the trails are perfect for exploring by bike. Rent your wheels Acadia Bike and head over to the park (you can either take the shuttle or ride from town—it's a short, but steep climb on a dedicated bike path most of the way). There are more than 45 miles of trails to explore, but follow signs directing you to Jordan Pond. With few hills and stunning views of the pond, this route is a great way to see the best of the park. Enjoy lunch outside at the Jordan Pond House, famous for its popovers, before continuing on a loop back to town or hopping on the shuttle bound for Bar Harbor.
If you're looking to relax on your final day, the neighborhoods off Main Street and along the water make are perfect for leisurely strolling. There are an overwhelming number of souvenir shops in Bar Harbor, but if you dig a little deeper, you can find some excellent local stores. Katahdin Gallery features stunning photographs of the area and the nearby In The Woods (160 Main Street) is packed with everything from handmade toys to kitchen utensils, all made in Maine using local lumber. You'll find quaint home décor and local food products at Window Panes, the perfect place to pick up a few souvenirs.
Where to Stay: The Balance Rock Inn is the quintessence of a charming Victorian B&B in a secluded location a few minutes' walk from downtown. The Bar Harbor Inn & Spa occupies a gorgeous seaside Victorian house, while the West Street Hotel and the Harborside Hotel offer more modern accommodations in town (the latter is particularly family-friendly).
When to Go: The summer months are the most pleasant (with temperatures rarely outside the mid 70's), so while this is the most beautiful time of year, it is also the most crowded. Those with a little more flexibility in their schedules should head to Maine shortly after Labor Day, when the crowds have died down significantly, but the weather should still be pleasant and the town will not have shuttered for the winter.
How to Get There: Delta offers nonstop flights daily from LaGuardia to Bangor (the nearest airport to Bar Harbor), about an hour flight from New York. You'll need to rent a car in Bangor to make the 50-mile drive to town.
Photo Credit: © Paul Lemke | Dreamstime.com (Bass Head Harbor Lighthouse); Jerry Whaley/Shutterstock (Somes Sound); © Zhukovsky | Dreamstime.com (Bar Harbor Inn); all other photos by Abbey Chase
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