Pronounced “Ba Habah” by Mainers, Bar Harbor is a little Maine coastal town of 5,200 people that sits on Mt. Desert Island and has long been a popular tourist destination. The town borders the cold blue waters of Frenchmen Bay and hides in the shadows of the stark granite mountains of Acadia National Park which makes for an idyllic setting. The town swells in the summer as it caters to outdoor enthusiasts who want to immerse themselves in the splendid natural beauty that is classic coastal Maine.
Originally named “Eden,” the town was settled in 1763 and has been home to lobstermen, shipbuilders, outdoor enthusiasts, farmers, artists, and wealthy summer visitors. The early 1800’s saw the arrival of people with famous names like Vanderbuilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, and Astor who built large summer “cottages” with lavish amenities and great views so they could enjoy the cool summer weather and natural wonders. No longer a small sleepy fishing village, Bar Harbor quickly transformed into a playground for the rich and forever into a tourist destination.
Downtown Bar Harbor is the hub of galleries, boutiques, restaurants, activities, and excursions. You will soon realize that fitting in all the hiking, biking, kayaking, whale watching, island hoping, and shopping is not going to happen if you are only staying for a couple of days. Camping in and around Bar Harbor runs the gamut from primitive campgrounds set in the deep woods of Acadia National Park to full-hookup RV Resorts and everything in between accommodating all types and sizes of RV's. Our choice was Narrows Too Campground located conveniently in the town of Trenton just eleven miles from downtown Bar Harbor and offered superb water front sites.
If shopping is your thing, Bar Harbor is just what you are looking for. Boutiques along West and Main Streets offer nautical and coastal gifts while art galleries are just a few blocks away on Mt. Desert Street. The Island Artisans shop is filled with a variety of goods made by locals. The downtown is very pedestrian and dog-friendly with ample sidewalks and parks. One of our favorite places to enjoy the scenery and people watch is in Agamont Park which overlooks the busy harbor and downtown streets. Another popular activity is to walk across “the bar” – a stretch of rocks that link downtown Bar Harbor with Bar Island. At low tide the bar is exposed and one can easily walk over to the island, but be careful the tide comes in fast and if you wait too long you will have to wait hours for the tide to go back out.
Bar Harbor offers a wide selection of museums. The Smithsonian-affiliated Abbe Museum shares the history and culture of Maine’s native people. If it is natural history you are interested in, check out the George B. Dorr Museum that interprets and displays Maine's diverse and rich natural world. Curious about the ocean? The Mount Desert Oceanarium and Lobster Hatchery provides an up-close experience with marine life and highlights Maine’s most famous sea creature – the lobster. Here you can see a working lobster hatchery and witness the interesting process of fertilization, hatching, and rearing of lobsters.
Downtown restaurants are sure to please discerning gourmets, hungry hikers, and famished families. More than 70 restaurants will dazzle the taste buds and satiate hungry appetites whether you are looking for five-star dinning or an outdoor picnic table with a lobster dinner. One of our favorites is Paddy's – an Irish pub that serves wonderfully creative food with some Maine culinary influence. The Mount Desert Island Ice Cream shop was named as one of Food and Wine Magazine's top ice cream parlors but if it is an adult beverage you are interested in, pop into the Atlantic Brewing Company for a taste of Bar Harbor's beers that include blueberry and coal porter. And, of course there is lobsta!
Bar Harbor is the gateway to Acadia National Park, one of the country's Top Ten Most Visited National Parks and designated as “America's Favorite Place” by Good Morning America Viewers in 2014. The park encompasses over 47,000 acres and provides an outdoor mecca for those looking to immerse themselves in Maine's natural beauty. The park can be quite crowded during the summer months but a free shuttle offers visitors a ride to many of the trail heads, museums, attractions, and historic buildings in the park. The shuttle also runs to many of the campgrounds surrounding the park making this the perfect option for avoiding crowded parking areas.
Downtown Bar Harbor is the hub for sight-seeing activities. Here you can book a whale watching trip, take a nature cruise, rent a kayak or paddle board to explore the harbor, rent a bike to venture onto the park's Carriage Roads, or explore the island and its history in a narrated trolley ride. Save time to walk along the famous Shore Path which begins at the Town Pier next to Agamont Park and winds among historic homes and the rocky shoreline. The historic path was created around 1880 and has dazzled visitors with its sweeping coastal views of the harbor, the Porcupine Islands, and Egg Rock Light.
If you're considering a vacation in Maine or planning to travel in New England, Bar Harbor is a good choice. There is something for everyone here. The charming downtown, dramatic harbor, and close proximity to Acadia National Park make this a wonderful place to visit and is sure to keep visitors of all ages engaged. Here the small town charm of a fishing village comes to life with activities, abundant wildlife, and some of the most picturesque scenery on the east coast.