Best Things To Do in Bar Harbor
Nature lovers are truly spoiled for choice in Bar Harbor. Acadia National Park is just a mile away, and all kinds of boat tours are offered. Additionally, one of the most popular things to do here is to walk across the water, specifically a sandbar connected to Bar Island. In between adventuring, take time to savor the local grub, including seafood and blueberries, in Downtown Bar Harbor and learn about the residents that make up the region, whether that's indigenous people at the Abbe Museum or the animal population on land (George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History) or below sea (whale watching tours).
Updated October 1, 2020
- #1View all Photos#1 in Bar HarborBeaches, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, RecreationTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Natural Wonders, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, RecreationTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Just a stone's throw from Bar Harbor lies Acadia National Park. A big reason visitors come to Bar Harbor in the first place is that the town is the gateway to this national park. Acadia encompasses more than 47,000 acres of land, including beautiful coastline, enchanting forests and the tallest mountain on the North Atlantic seaboard, Cadillac Mountain. If you ascend to the top of the mountain from October to early March, you'll be the first in the country to see the sun rise. This is just one of the many sights that make Acadia truly magical. Other mesmerizing must-visit spots include Schoodic Point, best known for its crashing surf, Sand Beach, one of the few beaches in the greater Bar Harbor region, and the Wild Gardens of Acadia, to name a few.
Recent visitors were in awe of Acadia National Park. Many were happy with the varied scenery and many hiking trails available, with a handful of travelers recommending a visit to Cadillac Mountain during sunrise or sunset. Biking on the park's Carriage Roads was also considered a must-do activity as well as the serene Jordan Pond. However, past travelers did share one common complaint: Parking can be a challenge, so keep that in mind and plan your visit for off-peak times to avoid the heaviest crowds.
- #2View all PhotosfreeShore Path#2 in Bar HarborFree, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
The best introduction to Bar Harbor and its beautiful scenery is the town's 1 1/2-mile Shore Path. The Shore Path isn't necessarily a hiking trail, but more a leisurely pathway that wraps along Frenchman Bay. Start your journey at the beautiful Agamont Park, located right next to the town pier, where whale watching tours typically depart. Meander down and you'll bump into the Town Beach, a small shoreline perfect for those who want to quickly dip their toes in Maine's rich blue waters. Continue farther along and you'll be treated to beautiful views of Bar Island, Sheep Porcupine Island and Bald Porcupine Island, as well as the craggy coastline and forested landscapes that make up the region. Walk just one block up and you'll hit the town's Main Street.
Recent travelers loved the Shore Path and highly recommended everyone who visits Bar Harbor enjoy it, even more than once. A couple visitors went in the morning with the purpose of avoiding crowds, while others said that the waters are so calm you can hop over the path, onto the rocks and enjoy the view of the bay from there. Post up at one of the many benches, ogle at the waterfront resorts and estates, read the scattered signs that educate visitors on the history of the path (it's more than a century old) and simply enjoy the incredible scenery.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Bar HarborTours, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDTours, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
One of the best ways to take in the region is on the water. Bar Harbor offers a bevy of boat tour options that will cater to all kinds of interests. If you're a seafood lover, consider a trip with Lulu Lobster Boat. This unique tour invites visitors to hop aboard and learn all about Maine lobsters and how they are sourced from the sea before arriving on your plate. Those with a penchant for photography will be thrilled with Acadia Photo Safari. This tour operator offers sunset cruises that take travelers to visit particularly photogenic spots in the region and offers tips for best capturing the scenery. Meanwhile, wildlife lovers will enjoy Diver Ed's Dive-in Theater. During this unique tour, the guide dives into the ocean, equipped with an underwater camera and microphone, while attendees aboard watch the underwater life that dwells below them in real time. Not only that, but the guide brings up critters from the ocean's floor for visitors to observe in the onboard touch tanks.
If water sports are more your speed, consider a kayaking tour with National Park Sea Kayak Tours or Coastal Kayaking Tours, both of which explore the Acadia coastline. You can also rent a paddleboard or take part in a variety of guided paddleboarding experiences via Acadia Stand Up Paddle Boarding, including a tour along the lakes of Acadia National Park as well as paddleboard yoga. If you simply want to sightsee, you can take a cruise with Acadian Boat Tours or hop on a trip with Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines, which offers a variety of sailing excursions aboard impressive schooners.
- #4View all PhotosfreeBar Island#4 in Bar HarborNatural Wonders, Free, HikingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDNatural Wonders, Free, HikingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
This small island within eyeshot of the Shore Path is celebrated by travelers and locals alike for its unique accessibility. At low tide, the water recedes far enough to expose the bay's floor, creating a temporary walkable pathway from Bar Harbor to Bar Island. It's a pretty spectacular sight when it occurs, and being able to walk directly across the bay is an experience that doesn't come around often. If you happen to be around when this phenomenon occurs, know that time is limited. According to Bar Harbor local government, you've got up to two hours before low tide and two hours after low tide to access the sandbar. Keep in mind that the terrain will be different depending on the time you go. Once you reach Bar Island, you'll find a trail that leads to the top of the island's summit, which affords lovely views of Bar Harbor and the mountains that back it, including Acadia National Park's Cadillac Mountain.
Recent visitors who traversed the sandbar found the land bridge to be an incredible experience and highly recommended all future travelers take part in this natural phenomenon. Many loved the views, though they did note that the terrain is very rocky, muddy and wet, so consider bringing waterproof shoes. Visitors also warned to be mindful of the time, because if you don't, you could get stranded on the island and have to call a water taxi to pick you up. Low tide varies by day, so check NOAA before visiting Bar Island's land bridge. There is no fee to enter Bar Island. For more information, visit the Bar Harbor government's website.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Bar HarborFree, Cafes, Parks and Gardens, Neighborhood/Area, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Cafes, Parks and Gardens, Neighborhood/Area, Recreation, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Considering Bar Harbor's small size, chances are you'll be hanging out in downtown Bar Harbor pretty often. And that certainly isn't a bad thing. Main Street and the thoroughfares surrounding it are downright charming thanks to the bevy of colorful, clapboard storefronts that house local restaurants and shops. Unique outlets combined with the Bar Harbor's proximity to the water and the darling city parks that dot the area make for a romantic atmosphere.
Start your tour of Bar Harbor at Agamont Park, where you can kick back and enjoy the views of Bar Island and Frenchman Bay. Then stroll down Main Street, where you'll find a variety of restaurants that serve local lobster (Galyn's and Stewman's Lobster Pound are two favorites) and plenty of blueberry-infused dishes (blueberries are the state's official fruit). One of the most popular stops is Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, which is favored by locals and visitors alike for its fresh ingredients and inventive flavors like fresh basil and chocolate pretzel toffee.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Bar HarborToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
In addition to a stunning setting, visitors to Bar Harbor also get a chance to behold the region's spectacular wildlife. Whales of all kinds can be found in the Gulf of Maine and are easily spotted on a whale watching cruise. Whale watching season runs from mid-April through September, when the whales come to the gulf to feast on plankton, fish, sand eels and more. During this time, expect to see a variety of whale species, including humpback whales, orcas, sperm whales, sei whales and pilot whales. In addition to these gentle giants, this part of the East Coast also sees plenty of seals and dolphins.
The most popular tour operator is Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company. Located downtown, Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company offers whale watching tours from July until mid-October and boasts a 90% to 95% accuracy in spotting marine life on any given day. Plus, the company's high-speed catamarans make it easy for the boat to catch up to whales that are spotted from a distance. Tours, which are approximately three to five hours long, typically head 20 to 40 miles offshore into the gulf where whales are known to congregate. According to the company, the best time to spot whales is from June to August when ocean conditions are calm and the weather is clear and sunny.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Bar HarborMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
History lovers will enjoy a trip to the Abbe Museum, the only Smithsonian-affiliated organization in Maine. The Abbe Museum earns this distinction for its focus on the Wabanaki Nations, Maine's indigenous population. The museum was a direct result of Dr. Robert Abbe, a seasonal resident who the museum is named after. Over the course of his summer visits to Bar Harbor, Abbe amassed a collection of Wabanaki artifacts that he found around the bay.He encouraged others with similar collections to come together to create a museum about Maine's Native Americans to help educate the public. Over time, more artifacts were excavated. The museum eventually grew to include ethnographic materials from the 17th to 20th centuries, contemporary works from the Wabanaki people and the country's largest Maine Indian basketry collection.
The museum has one core exhibit, as well as temporary exhibits, some of which have showcased native artists. The core exhibit, "People of the First Light," takes visitors through 12,000 years of history of the Wabanaki people, introducing visitors to their language, traditions, cultural garb, personal stories and much more. Although the museum provides extensive knowledge on these native peoples, some recent visitors were disappointed with the content or the age of the artifacts shown (some reviewers found the items on display to be too modern). Other visitors were pleased with the information presented and said they learned a lot while touring the museum.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Bar HarborMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
If you're interested in learning more about Maine wildlife, pencil in a visit to the George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History. Run by the College of the Atlantic, this little museum is dedicated to educating visitors about the creatures above and below Maine's waters. The museum is filled with dioramas that depict taxidermized local wildlife in their natural habitats. You'll see Atlantic puffins, North American beavers constructing their environment, as well as foxes and great horned owls eyeing prey. The museum also houses touch tanks where visitors can get up close and personal with marine life, such as sea stars, snails and hermit crabs, to name a few. For a more in-depth lesson, consider participating in one of the museum's education programs, which offer hands-on learning, including viewing the skeleton of a minke whale.
Recent visitors said this is an excellent place to take the kids. Those with little ones in tow said children were fascinated with the exhibits and loved interacting with the critters in the touch tanks. Adults were also impressed with the offerings, especially since it is a student-led museum. Travelers do remark that the museum is pretty small, so you don't need to reserve more than an hour or two to tour it.
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