A short visit to Bah Hahbah
(it’s a #Mainething)
Are you the kind of traveller who loves taking scenic drives, experiencing gorgeous vistas, visiting quaint seaside towns and villages, walking on lovely beaches, and enjoying the beauty of nature? Then, Maine is a perfect place to head for your next vacation destination. Maine is a nature lover’s paradise. This state has it all. Mountains, lakes, beautiful Atlantic Ocean coastline, scenic views at every turn, beautiful parks, and lush forests, making it one of the most picturesque states in the US.
Every couple of years or so, we take a road trip to Nova Scotia. While we enjoy travelling through Canada, we prefer driving along the coast from Boston to New Brunswick. This drive along the I-95 (and the more coastal routes) provides us with much more ocean time, seafood, and the coastal communities we love – such as Salem, Rockport, Portsmouth, Portland, and the beach town of Old Orchard Beach.
One such coastal town that we love to visit, and we make sure always to add a short stay to our road trip itinerary, is Bar Harbor, Maine. These are some of the best things to do in Bar Harbor, Maine that keep us coming back time and again.
Where is Bar Harbor
The Town of Bar Harbor, Maine, is a coastal resort town located along Frenchman Bay (just off the Atlantic Ocean) on Mount Desert Island. It is approximately a 1-hour drive southeast of the city of Bangor.
You can take the CAT Ferry from Yarmouth if you are in Nova Scotia. The Ferry only recently began sailing to BarHarbor again after a nearly 4-year hiatus due to repairs and renovations at the Bar Harbor terminal and then the Covid-19 Pandemic travel restrictions. It is a 3.5-hour ride by ferry.
Bar Harbor as a vacation destination
Bar Harbor has long been the summer playground for the rich and famous. This was once the summer haven for many prominent American families like the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Fords, Astors, and Carnegies. Today, many celebrities have vacation homes in the area. This coastal town has also been a big draw for decades for tourists from all over to experience the sweeping seascapes, the salty air, and the beauty of nature surrounding them.
Why visit Bar Harbor
For many travellers- a ‘quaint resort town’ is enough to capture their attention. The more adventurous traveller might be looking for a few vigorous activities to enjoy. The casual road tripper might be looking for a nice place to kick back and relax. Nature lovers and photographers will want to capture all the gorgeous scenery and wildlife that Mount Desert Island offers. There is so much to see and do in Bar Harbor that every traveller type will be satisfied.
Where to Stay in Bar Harbor
As Bar Harbor was a 19th-century resort for the well-to-do, the town has several mansions, old majestic hotels, and other remnants of its heyday. Many homes in town and the surrounding area have been converted into Bed & breakfasts, lodges, boutique hotels, and AirBnBs. There are also several ‘budget’ motels, cottages, and camping & RV options available as well.
I won’t sugar-coat this – Bar Harbor is NOT a cheap place to stay.
Even ‘budget’ or “low-end” motels can cost much more than you might expect. With this in mind…. Go forth and book your stay as your personal finances allow. I don’t have any specific recommendations – because we have only stayed in low-end accommodations, and I wouldn’t want to have that be the “bah” by which you measure things.
For our short stay purposes on our east coast road trip, we just found staying at the fancier hotels and Inns was not a high priority – we wanted to experience as much of Bar Harbor in the short time we had without breaking our vacation budget too much.
So— whatever your style and where you choose to stay – you will love being in Bar Harbor. Here are a few suggestions on the best things to do when you visit Bar Harbor for a short stay.
Bar Harbor is a historic tourist town offering an abundance of activities for the outdoor enthusiast. There are hiking/walking trails, kayaking & canoeing, bird & wildlife watching, water sports, biking, and much more. A trip to Bar Harbor will satisfy your desires if you like getting out in nature and being active. While we haven’t done all the outdoor activities, we love exploring nature, and Bar Harbour’s beauty is always a joy.
Like most tourist destinations and resort towns, there is a thriving downtown business community full of many unique shops. Here you can find beautiful housewares, gifts, crafts, handmade items, clothing, outdoor adventurer outfitting, and souvenirs. You will have no shortage of places to spend your money, and you will easily be able to spend hours exploring the shops in town.
One of the best things about the Bar Harbour culinary scene is its diversity. Seafood restaurants dominate the area, as they should, but there are also great bistros, diners, take-out spots, burger joints, BBQ, Indian, Thai, and more. We have dined at many of the restaurants in Bar Harbor – some that no longer exist and others that have stood the test of time & pandemic.
We believe strongly in eating as much seafood as possible when near the ocean – it just makes perfect sense to get our fill when we can. Fresh ocean seafood isn’t the same in Southern Ontario. Our favourite spot for seafood is also the most obvious and popular choice – Stewman’s Lobster Pound. This lobster and seafood restaurant has everything you will want on your coastal vacation: a very convenient location, patio for al fresco dining, amazing water views, fantastic seafood, and all that nautical ambience you expect from a Lobster Pound.
While most tourists will stick to the high-traffic areas of Main & West streets, I highly recommend you check out the side streets for additional dining options. We found some great eats there – with no problem getting tables & excellent service.
• Whale Watching
We love going on whale-watching tours. Any excuse to get out into the ocean and see whales and other sea life in their natural habitat will make it into our 48-hour itineraries. Booking a whale-watching tour is very easy in Bar Harbor – there is a central hub right at the town pier that you can’t miss. The only challenge in booking a whale-watching tour during a short stay is the weather. If the conditions are not ideal, they will cancel sailings, leaving you out.
• Boat Tours
Taking a boat tour around the Island is a lot of fun, and there are plenty of options in Bar Harbor. Ultimately, the choice is up to you and what is available during your stay. As with the Whale watching tours, weather plays the biggest role in what you can do.
Our boat tour took a 2-hour ride around the Island, showing us sites you can only see by water. We saw many mansions dot the coastline, Puffins, seals, EggRock lighthouse, and other islands. And yes, we saw whales, too.
• Sweet Treats
There is something about enjoying ice cream on vacation. It seems to taste a little bit sweeter. Stopping a local sweet shop is a must for many people on holidays. Our favourite reason to get ice cream on vacation is to try some more regional flavours and brands we cannot get back home. There is no shortage of sweet shops in Bar Harbor, but one stands out above the crowd; Ben & Bills’ Chocolate Emporium. You will know them by the long line out the door and the giant lobster holding an ice cream cone out front. In addition to a vast assortment of sweets, candies, fudge, etc., they also have a plethora of ice cream flavours to choose from, including butter popcorn, Wild Maine Blueberry, and so many others.
The first time we visited Ben & Bill’s, we sampled their most unusual flavour option – a flavour that I must admit will not be everyone’s favourite. However, I implore you to at least try a sample. Nick is always up for anything, and he loves lobster. That’s right – buttered Lobster ice cream. If you have never had it – try it. He enjoyed it so much that every time we return we hope they have it on the go when we are there.
• Acadia National Park
Bar Harbor is a gateway to the mountains and cliffs of neighbouring Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. Visit Hulls Cove Visitor Centre to stock up on information about Acadia National Park to plan your visit. If you are only here for a short time, driving to the top of Cadillac Mountain is a must. It will provide you with some spectacular vistas, where you will enjoy 360 views of Frenchman Bay, Cranberry Islands, the town of Bar Harbor, the beaches, and the park.
A visit to Acadia National Park will undoubtedly be your trip’s highlight. The scenery and views alone will be breathtaking. For the more adventurous and outdoorsy types, if hiking is your thing, there are excellent trails, lakes, and ponds to explore for more amazing views if your trip schedule allows. The wildlife is plentiful here (the deer always seem to make an appearance), making it a nature observer’s paradise.
The Shore Path begins at the town pier and winds along the bay overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the Porcupine Islands. This walking path is an easy walk with beautiful views. You will spot balance rock, a small local attraction along the trail.
This small park in the town is a popular spot for people to visit. It has elevated views of the harbour. Here you will spot many boats, yachts, and cruise ships coming in and out of the harbour. This park is perfect for enjoying lobster ice cream, having a picnic lunch, or just chilling with the dogs.
Other Activities to Consider
When your visit is short, you won’t have time to do all the activities you want or that are available. Some things to consider slipping into your 48-hour itinerary in Bar Harbor if time permits would be:
- Mini putt golfing
- Take a drive along the loop road and visit the rest of the Island. Explore locations like Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, and South West Cove.
- Take a walk on the Bar Island land bridge during low tide to visit Bar Island
* Just remember to return before the tide comes in
- Rent a kayak and explore the waters surrounding Bar Harbor
- For a unique adventure, try a boat excursion with Diver Ed. You can watch Ed diving 50 feet below on the deck monitor and then learn about the various sea creatures.
- Lulu Lobster Boat excursions are a popular activity for tourists. The only traditional down-east style lobster boat tour offering unique and personal excursions.
- Take a Bar Harbor ghost tour
- Check out these unusual things to do in Bar Harbor
Whether it is for your next family vacation, girls’ trip, a weekend away, or just a quick stop on the road to somewhere else…. Bar Harbor, Maine, has something for everyone to enjoy.
Check out Roguetrippers’ other 48-hour itineraries.