Exploring Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park

What do Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park have to offer? Shops, dining, and outdoor activities that make this a Maine destination that’s worth the trip.

By Debbie Despres

Feb 05 2017

Throughout the 300+ mile drive from our New Hampshire home to the Bar Harbor area of Maine, my husband and I are not just anticipating the outdoor activities that await, but also the late lunch we’re planning at our point of entry to Mount Desert Island: The Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound. It’s the little white building right on Route 3 with the wood-fired cookers puffing smoke out front. Consuming crustaceans is messy business, and as a bystander who’s been spattered with flying seawater and lobster bits, I’ve learned to sit beside, not across, from anyone that’s exuberantly breaking apart the shell. No matter where you sit, such fare is always best at a true lobster pound like this, with a hand-washing station in the dining area, and tables shaped like trays to contain any spills. Cross over the Trenton Bridge, and all of Mount Desert Island awaits. Downtown Bar Harbor is our first stop.  It’s a busy downtown with enough fun shops and galleries to occupy the entire day. You’ve got Cool as a Moose for an assortment of t-shirts and logo sweats, Bark Harborfor gifts for your four-legged pals, and Sherman’s Bookstorefor local titles and more, just to name a few. Plus, there’s the historic West End Drug Co., a pharmacy established in 1917, now in its third generation of family ownership, that’s still offering daily soda fountain specials.  It can be tough to choose a restaurant among all the choices, but Rupununi’s is a favorite for casual fare, and best followed up by a visit to Mount Desert Island Ice Cream. Sample unique flavors like Five Spice and Bay of Figs.  To get out on the water, you can choose to board a whale watch or nature cruise, or take a relaxing excursion on the Schooner Margaret Todd.
Downeast Windjammer's Schooner Margaret Todd
Fog lifts from the harbor, revealing the Schooner Margaret Todd.
Of course, taking in the view while enjoying a crabmeat quesadilla and specialty cocktail at the Terrace Grill (the outdoor dining venue at the iconic Bar Harbor Inn) is always a good option.
bar harbor inn viewed from the water
The iconic Bar Harbor Inn offers excellent dining options.
And finally, we can’t leave town without following the easy one-mile walking path that’s been in existence for over 100 years, the Shore Path, that begins alongside the Inn. It offers tranquil seaside views, but also a peek at a few of the finer inns and residences in town.
The Shore Path runs alongside the Bar Harbor Inn
Follow the Shore Path which begins alongside the Bar Harbor Inn.
Just up the road lies Acadia National Park. A fantastic mix of water and mountains, capped off with the carriage trails designed and in large part financed by good ol’ Mr. Rockefeller, a major player in the park’s history. It seems John D. Rockefeller, Jr. did not embrace the automobile; he preferred to travel by horse and carriage.  His affection for the island, and his love for road building resulted in a nearly 30-year project (1913-1940), culminating in state-of-the-art, wide, well-groomed, broken stone roads that wind for 45 miles throughout the park. All roads lead to stellar scenery. Today, you can walk, bicycle, or take a horse-drawn carriage ride along these trails, forever free of motorized vehicles. On this particular day, we cover nearly half the trails on bike, and still we have the place all to ourselves at several points along the route. As we come around a bend, a deer continues munching away at the grass, unfazed by our intrusion. We’re pedaling at an easy pace but make a number of stops for the sole purpose of sitting back and admiring the natural beauty all around us.
The Bubbles in Acadia National Park as seen from the Jordan Pond House
The view across Jordan Pond to small mountains known as The Bubbles.
Yup, it’s a park like no other. In fact, “A Park Like No Other” is the cover line Yankee used to describe Wayne Curtis’s story on Acadia, “The Art of the Trail” in the May/June 2011 issue. It’s wonderful to have blue skies for the outdoor adventures through Acadia, but the fog and the clouds can play upon the scenery in unexpected ways, too.  Initially, we fretted that our hike up Cadillac Mountain would leave us disappointed for our efforts because the morning air was thick with misty haze.  Part way up we turned to look back.  We were above the clouds, and below floated an enormous cruise ship.  It was moving along through the ocean, but in that swirl of fog and clouds, and from the distance, it looked like a child’s bath toy, suspended in air.
View from Cadillac Mountain in Maine
A cruise ship floats on fog.
With so many trails, Acadia offers a number of easy walks, or shorter hikes that provide excellent views for just a little effort.
Long Pond seen from Beech Mountain Trail
Long Pond as seen from an overlook on the Beech Mountain Trail.
So much about this area is simple entertainment. Go for a walk, ride a bike, stroll through shops, roll up your sleeves and dig into a lobster.  Or just park yourself on a rock along the shoreline, and fritter away a couple of hours doing nothing at all…
Off the Ocean Path in Acadia National Park
These folks have the right idea, enjoying one of the many vantage points along the 2 mile Ocean Path.
Have you ever been to Bar Harbor, Maine and Acadia National Park? This post was first published in 2012 and has been updated. 

SEE MORE: Acadia National Park | Things to Do & SeeBest of Maine | 2017 Editors’ Choice Awards Favorite Acadia National Park Cabins You Can Rent Favorite Bar Harbor Hotels & Inns