Sure it’s a touristy sort of town, but it’s such a quaint one with such friendly people. We loved exploring Bar Harbor in the off-hours, usually early morning or later in the evening, when people had either not yet arrived from the cruise boats. Besides all the sweet little shops, I loved that there were more community-driven, rather than tourist-driven, events such as a weekly farmer’s market and an art show in the park. Walk up and down Main Street, eat lobster, explore all the little side streets, and have a picnic in the lovely park by the water (also a good place to watch the sunset if you’re in town). Then, when you’ve had your fill of Bar Harbor, drive into Acadia National Park and visit all the sites along Park Loop Road.
I was as skeptical about Jordan Pond House as I was about popovers. Not that I didn’t think that either would be good, but in a tourist setting, things usually are a bit overhyped and end up not being the best version of what they could be. There are tons of places that serve popovers in Maine — it’s like Maine’s *thing* — but Jordan Pond House was a traditional historic Acadia place, not to mention the only place to eat w/in the park, that we just had to visit. And we were glad that we didn’t pass it up. Though a bit crowded, after about 3pm the place really cleared out. We really enjoyed eating a warm popover with melty jam, sipping on a cuppa tea, and relaxing with a lovely view. It’s also a great place to take a leisurely hike or bike ride after stuffing ones faces with warm buttery popover goodness.
Nothing says summer on the East Coast like a visit to one of the many lighthouses. I’m not sure what it is about lighthouses that I find so intriguing. Maybe they just look cool? Maybe it’s the idea of living a solitary life so close to sea cliff’s edge? Maybe I watched Moonrise Kingdom one too many times? We watched the sunset on the rocks at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse and passed by another lighthouse while taking the mailboat to Isle Au Haut — just two of many lighthouses that pepper the coast of Maine.
Something that really surprised me about Maine was how big they were into locally grown, oftentimes organic, produce. We stocked up at farmer’s markets and food co-ops and felt at times like we were back in California. Like Californians, people in Maine seemed to be pretty outdoorsy, and as such they tended to value things like local, organic, handmade, fair trade, etc. We’re pretty much hippies anyway so this sort of thing really appealed to us and was an unexpected but welcome find while in Maine. Keeping in line with this, we found one of the best ice cream shops ever in Bar Harbor with some of the best (and most interesting) flavors we have tried! Eating ice cream in Maine in the summer should be on everyone’s must-do list.
The main part of Acadia National Park is on Mt. Desert Island, which is easy enough to get to and travel around by car. But I think to really experience Acadia, and for that matter, Maine, you have to get out on the water. Whether by kayak, fishing boat, nature cruise, or a ferry to another island, get on the water and experience the coast from a different point of view. Plus, there are so many little islands to explore — Cranberry Isles, Isle Au Haut, Porcupine Islands, etc. Not only does it make a lovely afternoon, but being out on the water will give you an appreciation for why Maine’s lifestyle is so intertwined with the ocean.
Perhaps the number one thing that comes to mind when people think of Maine is lobster. Obviously lobster is a pretty big deal in Maine. You cannot pass by a town or even a rest stop without finding lobster or some lobster emblazoned souvenir. Some of the lobster pounds were a bit overpriced, some were just little shacks on the side the road, and some had magnificent views of the water. If the lobster is fresh it’s guaranteed to be good. We are normally not big meat eaters but we felt we couldn’t pass up lobster in Maine. And boy did we ever gorge ourselves. We ate it twice while in Acadia and then felt like we probably would never eat lobster again…or at least not until we were back in Maine.
Having grown up out West, I have searched for a place that has felt as ‘outdoorsy’ (official term) as it does back home. It’s just the type of ‘wild’ that I suppose I’m used to and crave: wide open spaces, mountains, and a sense of remoteness and being ‘one with nature.’ Acadia hit all cylinders for me. It’s beautiful, wild, and rugged, and what better way to experience it all than by sleeping out in nature. Since we were sorta scoping out the place we decided to camp in all the national park campgrounds — Blackwoods, Seawall, and Duck Harbor. However, while driving around we noticed so many other camping and cabin options, something we’ll definitely have to explore in future trips.
Disclaimer: I am not a morning person. Like at all. I would much rather stay up all night than get up early. The corollary to this is that if I need to get up early, I can, I just won’t be happy about it. When I found out that the sunrise in Acadia was at 4:25 in the morning I wondered what the heck I had gotten myself into. How is it possible for the sun to rise that early? Long story short: we went to bed later than we wanted, woke up at 3:30 am with a couple of hours of sleep, grumbled our way to the top of Cadillac Mountain, and were happy that we did. If you’re going to get up early, well, it might as well be to watch an exquisite sunrise.
Sometimes I question the sanity (and safety) of the people who create trails. I cannot tell you how many times I have been on a trail and thought, “wait, they want me to do what now? Is this even safe?” Those thoughts definitely ran briefly through my mind as we hiked up iron rungs nailed into the side of the mountain on our way to the top of the Beehive trail or slipping and sliding as we climbed up rock walls on the Duck Harbor Mountain Trail. And while I was just the tiniest bit panicked, hiking up and over rocks and boulders, and in some cases clinging on with fingertips to the side of the mountain, made for some of the funnest trails we have ever hiked.
This place was, without hesitation, our favorite of the trip. It’s funny/strange to me that people will travel to a place like Acadia and then only visit places like Thunder Hole (still don’t get this place) or Sand Beach and then skip over a gem like Duck Harbor. I get it though, this place was not the easiest to get to and honestly I enjoy convenience and doing touristy things too (gift shop aficionado, here). Duck Harbor is probably not for everyone (thankfully), but if you’re like us and want to feel completely surrounded by nature with as few people to share it with as possible, then you’ll love this place. To me, Duck Harbor was everything I envisioned when I thought of Acadia. Camping at Duck Harbor was one of our most favorite camping experiences ever, and I’m positive it will become a new summer tradition.
UPDATE | One of the most frequent questions I am asked is which is the best campground in Acadia National Park so I wrote a more detailed description on camping in Acadia National Park . For my take on Blackwoods, Seawall, and Duck Harbor campgrounds click here.