The picturesque town of Bar Harbor, Maine has earned a reputation as one of the best summer vacation destinations in the U.S. In addition to being the gateway to the spectacular Acadia National Park, it’s also a charming seafront town filled with one-of-a-kind seafood restaurants, artisan shops, and world-class watersports found just beyond the city limits.
As you’d imagine, there are plenty of things to do in Bar Harbor, Maine during a summer visit. Aside from visiting the not-to-be-missed Acadia National Park, there are plenty of other recreational activities to consider during your trip. Read on for ideas on the best ways to spend your days in this classic New England resort destination and start getting excited for your trip to this jaw-dropping destination.
Hike Up Cadillac Mountain
Acadia National Park may be the fifth-smallest park in the United States national park system, but it’s also one of the most visited in the country. One of the most famous hikes in New England is the summit of Cadillac Mountain, and it’s easy to see why.
At 1,530 feet above sea level, Cadillac Mountain offers sweeping views of the rugged Atlantic coastline and the park’s lush scenery. To get there, drive along the 27-mile long Park Loop Road, which runs directly past some of the best vistas in the park. If you want to avoid the crowds huffing and puffing their way up the four-mile trail, you can also drive directly to the summit, as well.
Whale Watch on the Atlantic
Whale watching is one of the best things to do in Bar Harbor during the summer. While you may find the deep, cold waters of the northern Atlantic Ocean too cold for a leisurely swim, whales consider it the perfect environment, at least, from April to October, which is when species like humpbacks, finbacks, and minke whales usually call this area home.
Sign up for a whale-watching cruise, and head out to the water with a naturalist, who can help spot whales (and sharks and dolphins, too) while dispensing helpful information on their migration patterns and biology. You’ll learn how to keep your ears open for the sound of a blowhole, which happens just before a whale is about to breach the water. Remember to have your camera on hand and ready to shoot as soon as you hear it.
Stroll Through Northeast Harbor Village
Make your way around the upscale seaside village of Northeast Harbor, a historic summer enclave for America’s richest families. Make your way around this quaint town and admire its tree-lined streets, ocean-facing mansions, and glamorous yachts lining the harbor.
This exclusive neighborhood is extremely walkable, full of delicious restaurants and chic boutiques to explore. Foodies will want to stop by Fiore Artisan Olive Oils and Vinegar, a Bar Harbor staple, while Shaw Jewelry is a great place to pick up locally-made gifts for friends back home.
Learn How to Lobster
While commercial fishing is a large part of the Bar Harbor’s economy, many independent fishers are still operating in the area. While in town, learn how to lobster during an exciting tour aboard a traditional lobster boat. Head out to the water with fishermen and women as they check the day’s traps, and learn the ins and outs of lobstering from the anglers and an on-board marine biologist.
When you’re done for the day, sail back down the coast before heading to a waterfront restaurant for a traditional lobster bake. There, you’ll be able to try local food staples like steamed lobster, clam chowder, mussels, and classic blueberry pie.
Photograph the Thunder Hole
One of the best things to do in Bar Harbor is photographing Acadia National Park’s striking “Thunder Hole,” one of the most scenic natural attractions on the entire coastline. Try and capture the moment when the ocean swells crash against the steep granite rock walls, and water jets out upward, creating an unbeatable photo opportunity that captures the area’s natural ferocity.
Thunder Hole is easily reached by car or on foot via one of Acadia National Park’s many hiking trails. If you decide to drive there, it’s best to visit as part of a tour or to take the park shuttle bus out there to not have to worry about parking. To walk to Thunder Hole, take the Oceanview Path from Sand Beach, one of the best beaches in New England. The hike is less than two miles each way with little inclination gain and offers stunning ocean views the entire way.
Visit Asticou Azalea Garden
If a trip to Acadia National Park leaves you with an inclination to spend more time in nature, head to the Asticou Azalea Garden, a 2.5-acre botanical paradise that is part of the much larger Bar Harbor Land & Garden Preserve.
If you love the peaceful look and feel of Japanese gardens, visiting the Asticou Azalea Garden is one of the best things to do in Bar Harbor. Aside from its zen environs and meditative lawns, the Asticou Azalea Garden’s main draw is its many exotic and native azaleas species.
Aside from the namesake florals, there are also bright pink cherry trees and huge purple rhododendron bushes. It’s an excellent place for a leisurely walk outdoors, and you can even check the blooming schedule online to see which flowers will be the most brilliant during your visit.
Learn About Bar Harbor’s Historic Lighthouses
One of the main reasons travelers come back to Bar Harbor year after year is for the dramatic and jagged coastlines that surround the town on Mount Desert Island. But 100 years ago, the coastline posed serious problems for maritime navigation, especially without the aid of well-lit coastal hotels and restaurants dotting the beaches.
To make navigation easier and safer, the U.S. Bureau of Lighthouses and the State of Maine built lighthouses all along the coastline, many of which are still standing today. Embark on a lighthouse cruise, and explore the many small islands off the coast of Bar Harbor, where you’ll learn all about the history of New England’s lighthouses and the fascinating stories of the men and women who operated them. Along the way, you’ll also have a chance to get a peek at some of the most exclusive historic homes on the island.
Take a Horse-Drawn Carriage Through Acadia National Park
The lush greenery and sweeping vistas of Acadia National Park are romantic enough all on their own, especially during fall in Maine, but if you’re looking to plan an extra special day for two, consider taking a private carriage ride around the park, that departs from Wildwood Stables. Be sure to book this special tour in advance as they’re quite popular and tend to sell out.
If you’re more interested in learning about the park’s history from a comfortable seat, you can also take a public carriage ride instead. Many of the structures inside the park were built in the 1920s and 30s, under the direction of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. Choose from several tours and routes that take you around the park’s major landmarks, including historical bridges and buildings found throughout the area.
Paddle Through Frenchman Bay
If you’re traveling with family, one of the best things to do in Maine with kids is to take a kayak tour around the coastline to see dolphins, ocean birds, and harbor seals. Paddling your way around this stunning coast is not only one of the best things to do in Bar Harbor, it’s also one of the most scenic ways to see famous sites in Acadia National Park, including Cadillac Mountain and the Porcupine Islands.
These types of tours are usually offered in tandem kayaks, which are longer, more stable, and generally more fun single kayaks, where you’re usually paddling by yourself. If you’re with a guide, he or she can also help identify the sights and provide useful information on the area’s history and ecology.
Explore Bar Harbor on Foot
If you love history—or just want to stretch your legs for a morning—a walking tour of the town is one of the best things to do in Bar Harbor. While you can always explore on your own, a guided tour led by a costumed historical reenactor, who takes you around Bar Harbor’s iconic landmarks and impressive buildings, adds an extra special touch.
Go back in time to the 1800s, when the town used to be a summer playground for America’s elite. Visit the historic fishing village’s stately mansions and picturesque lighthouses. Most tours last around 90 minutes and cover just under a mile of walking. They’re an excellent way to get an introduction to the town, as well as a way of squeezing in some exercise during your trip.
Walk Along the Shore Path
If you’re visiting Bar Harbor via cruise ship, you’re in luck since the cruise port is just steps away from the Shore Path, one of the most beautiful walks in the country. The trail is 1.5 miles long and runs along the coast throughout its entirety.
While walking, you’ll have views of Bar Island, the Porcupine Islands, and Maine’s Winter Harbor in the distance. Once you embark on a scenic stroll, you’ll understand why it’s one of the most popular areas in Bar Harbor.
Walk along the path with a coffee in the morning, or hit the trail around sunset, even though it can get crowded at that time of the day. Shore Path is also stroller- and wheelchair-friendly, making it an accessible option for travelers looking for an easy way to spend a few hours outdoors. You can also rent bikes in town and pedal around the roads that lie along the shore path.
Spend the Day at Jordan Pond
For a classic New England day on the water, head to Jordan Pond. Located inside Acadia National Park, the large pond is a motorboat-free zone, which makes it perfect for leisurely water activities. Rent kayaks and canoes or head out on one of the area’s hiking paths that encircle the lake.
Of course, the main draw at Jordan Pond is the Jordan Pond House, a restaurant that has graced this location for more than 120 years. It still maintains its daily tradition of afternoon tea on the lawn that overlooks the pond, where you can lounge on the grass under the sun while enjoying a fresh cup and a couple of pastries.
Take a Ghost Tour
If you’re interested in the spookier side of Bar Harbor’s centuries-long history, sign up for an eerie ghost tour. Typically starting around 8 p.m. on summer evenings, a ghost tour will take you through downtown Bar Harbor, stopping by the town’s supposedly haunted buildings, including the Criterion Theatre and the Harborside Marina, a complex that a few former patrons have reported as haunted.
Try not to get too spooked as you listen to a historical interpreter share scary tales of the town’s lesser-known history under the light of the moon.
The town of Bar Harbor is one of New England’s most beautiful destinations. Discover this inviting coastal city and explore some of the country’s most spectacular wilderness areas and picturesque shorelines on a cruise to Bar Harbor.
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