Look for lighthouses off the rocky coastline as you fly to Bar Harbor for an authentic “Downeast” Maine summer vacation. Sail on a magnificent schooner, paddle the harbor, hike Acadia National Park, and sleep in an elegant hotel or mansion. Don’t forget the “lobstah” rolls!
Tiny Bar Harbor is nestled below the hills on the northeast side of Mount Desert Island. Most of the island is inside Acadia National Park. As the town comes into view, it’s easy to understand why the Europeans who first settled this area in 1763 named it Eden. Renamed in 1918 for the sandbar that forms the back portion of the harbor and can be seen at low tide, today’s Bar Harbor is a magnet for tourists who shop its art galleries and clothing, antique, and souvenir shops. Hungry? Head to Galyn’s, just up from the pier, serving fresh seafood and hand-cut steaks since 1986.
It’s summer in Maine, so we must get out on the water—in this case, beautiful Frenchman Bay. For me, there’s nothing like the magnificent 151-foot, four-masted Schooner Margaret Todd. Launched new in 1998, she’s the first four-masted schooner to work New England waters in over half a century. Hop on for a cruise and help hoist the sails or just relax and feel the breeze. A couple of companies offer whale-watching tours and nature cruises, or try a naturalist-guided sea kayaking tour. Find out how to catch lobsters from Captain John on his two-hour Lulu Lobster Boat Ride. Aboard his traditional Downeast-style lobster boat, you’ll also check out the Egg Rock lighthouse and look for seals and other wildlife.
Accommodations abound in Bar Harbor. The West Street Hotel offers modern amenities, oceanfront views, an adults-only rooftop infinity pool, and a full-service spa—all within easy walking distance to shops and restaurants. Plus, you’ll have access to the private Bar Harbor Club’s spa, tennis courts, pool, and Jacuzzi. Timeless and iconic, the Bar Harbor Inn and Spa has 150 rooms on eight acres along the half-mile Shore Path that overlooks Frenchman Bay. Choose from rooms in the Main Inn, Oceanfront Lodge (each luxurious with ocean views), and the Newport Building (a more economical option). The Reading Room offers superb dining, fabulous views, and nightly grand piano entertainment. If you like bed-and-breakfasts, you’ll love the historic Primrose Inn, where antiques, luxurious touches, afternoon tea, and a bountiful breakfast set a happy scene.
Still, I recommend escaping all this civilization for at least part of your trip by exploring Acadia National Park, chock full of trails to suit every hiker. Drive or climb to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, at 1,530 feet the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic Coast and first to see the sunrise from Oct. 7 through March 6. When the waves are rocking, Thunder Hole, off Park Loop road, shoots a spout of water up to 40 feet in the air. Rent a bike, cruise the crushed surface carriage roads, and feel the fresh ocean breeze. Stop for tea and popovers on the lawn in front of Jordan Pond House; this is a Maine tradition. At low tide, you can walk to Bar Island and look back at Bar Harbor. While there are no lodges in the park, you can camp year-round.
Explore the cliffs and take photos of the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, 56 feet above the waves at the southern tip of Mount Desert Island. And then it will finally be time for that long-awaited lobster roll. Get it fresh off the boat at Thurston’s Lobster Pound, a casual shack right at Bass Harbor. Filled to overflowing with lobster so fresh it was in the ocean the same morning, this roll is as authentic as they come, and so is Bar Harbor!
Share your favorite destination in the AOPA Hangar: Places to fly, things to do, where to eat!