|Bar Harbor, Maine Travel Guide|
|Maine's premier travel destination is the Victorian resort town of Bar Harbor, with Acadia National Park. In summer it's monstrously crowded, so plan carefully.|
When steamships and railroads were opening up America in the 1800s, they also opened up Downeast Maine, and by the end of the century they reached Bar Harbor, a small town 154 miles (248 km) northeast of Portland, Maine on rocky Mount Desert Island (map).
Today Bar Harbor is on the bucket lists of national parks visitors because it shares Mount Desert Island withAcadia National Park, the only true US national park east of the Mississippi. You'll see license plates from all over the USA, and some from Canada, searching Bar Harbor's narrow streets for parking space.
When to Visit
If you can, visit this interesting town off-season, from late October through May; failing that, June or September. At those times it's comfortable, cozy, slow-paced and welcoming. In summer....
In high summer—late June, July, August—travelers looking to add Acadia to their list of visited national parks come in droves. Also then, Bar Harbor is a port-of-call for huge cruise ships, which come into view at breakfast time and disgorge an average of three thousand voyagers onto Bar Harbor's narrow streets and into its T-shirt, souvenir, lobster roll and ice cream shops.
If you're looking to go on a Two-Nation Vacation by taking the car-and-passenger ferry from Bar Harbor to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, you'll have to come between June and October, because that's when the ferry operates.
In high summer, especially on weekends, Maine Route 3, the narrow two-lane road from Ellsworth to Bar Harbor (20 miles/32 km; map), is a solid line of slow traffic in both directions. Unless you come off-season (November through May), be prepared to wait.
What to See & Do
First of all comes Acadia National Park, which is certainly worth the visit for its dramatic scenic beauty, its hiking, biking and "carriage trails, its beaches and nature preserves.
Ascending Cadillac Mountain (by car, bike or on foot) on the outskirts of Bar Harbor is a must-do during any visit. The preferred time is dawn, when you can witness the sunrise before anyone elsewhere in the USA. You certainly won't be alone, but especially in June when sunrise is before 5:00 am, the summit may not be as crowded as it will be later in the day—especially at sunset.
You'll also enjoy the Victorian architecture of the town, including some of its fine old mansions, some of which are now fine old inns.
Bar Harbor has lots of lodgings of all kinds—B&Bs, hotels and motels, campgrounds—to cater to the millions of visitors who come every summer. The Great Fire of 1947 destroyed much of the town, leaving only a small number of mansions still standing, but some of these are now nice inns.
Restaurants and shops keep visitors fed and occupied when they're not enjoying the beauties of the island and the park, or taking a day cruise on a saling ship or motorboat.
What makes Bar Harbor more attracting than other, less crowded Maine coastal towns is of course Acadia National Park, New England's only true national park.
In 2019, the fast car-and-passenger ferry service between Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, was relocated from Portland to Bar Harbor. Bring your passport and you can embark on a fine Two-Nation Vacation. More...
—by Tom Brosnahan