Magical Maine: Exploring Bar Harbor
As days grow longer and the sun seemingly shines a bit brighter, RV owners across the country rejoice -- summer travel season is here! Warmer days bring the enviable task of choosing a dreamy destination or two for this year's travel adventures. The Pacific Northwest, Canadian Rockies, or simply your go-to lakeside campground all might be on the discussion board. And while summer weather offers plenty of beautiful places to point your rig, perhaps none are more magical than Maine's Bar Harbor.
Last summer, my wife Brittany and I decided to point our Winnebago View toward Maine and set sail for the northeastern-most state in the U.S. As it turned out, it was one of the best decisions we've ever made. Boasting nearly 3,500 miles of coastline (5,000 miles if you include the many island's coasts), it comes as no surprise that Maine is a popular state to visit in the summer months. With loads of outdoor activities, quaint towns, a plethora of campgrounds, the freshest seafood and temperate weather, it offers the perfect combination for the RVing soul.
Of the many incredible regions and towns to visit in Maine (enough to spend an entire summer), topping them all is the coastal town of Bar Harbor. Located on Mount Desert Island, this bustling little town offers a bit of everything. Charming streets, delicious cuisine, sandy beaches and rugged coastline highlight the region. And, it acts as the gateway to the incredible Acadia National Park. We spent a week exploring the town and the many nearby attractions -- below we offer a glimpse at all this area offers, including our must-do activities!
Pitstop in Portland
If you're headed to Maine, there's a good chance you'll be chugging into the state via I-95 North. From the New Hampshire border, you're looking at about 4+ hours of driving through Maine before reaching Bar Harbor. Rather than downing an afternoon coffee and rushing full steam ahead, might I suggest a pit stop in Portland?
About 60 minutes into the state, and directly off I-95, you'll arrive at the historic city of Portland. As the most populated city in Maine, this seaside spot is as charming as it is entertaining. The Old Port waterfront features present-day fishing wharfs and old warehouses that now house a buzzing restaurant scene. We recommend booking a stay at an RV park in the Old Orchard Beach area (we loved the Saco/Old Orchard KOA) and spend an afternoon wandering the streets of Portland.
The seaside town of Portland, Maine, has a buzzing restaurant scene and lovely waterfront views.
Grab a morning walk on Old Orchard Beach before continuing onto Bar Harbor. And instead of I-95, consider taking the more scenic Route 1, which runs along the coast and offers plenty of additional (quick) pitstops along the way.
Morning walks on Old Orchard Beach are not to be missed. Dogs are allowed early / late in the day.
Arriving at Bar Harbor: Where to stay
There are quite a few camping options near Bar Harbor, but be sure to plan ahead as they can fill-up quickly in the summer months. Two good options are Narrows Too Camping Resort and Mt. Desert Narrows Camping Resort, as both are 20 minutes from Bar Harbor, offer waterfront lots, and have lots of on-site activities. If you're looking for proximity to Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Campground is a mere minutes away (note: no sewer here).
Typical of our travels, we actually decided to forego the campgrounds and dry camp each night at the local Walmart! It's located about 30-minutes from the action and we weren't the only ones with the idea, as there were 10 to 15 other RVs parked here each night. If you're in town for just a few days, it's a great option. The sunsets aren't too shabby either.
Just 30 minutes from Bar Harbor, the local Walmart is also a popular spot to spend the night.
Exploring Bar Harbor
As I eluded to earlier, there are no shortage of activities in Bar Harbor. A summer visit (hopefully) means good weather, so outdoor adventures are preferred. There is also a seasonal free shuttle bus system that has stops in Bar Harbor, as well as nearby campgrounds and Acadia National Park.
1) Walk the Shore Path
The Shore Path is a very friendly walk along a smooth, flat path on the eastern shore of Mt. Desert Island. The path is flanked by beautiful historic homes on one side and the majestic sea on the other. Periodic markers along the way add to the fun, providing a bit of of Bar Harbor history.
Rather than beginning at the Town Pier, we suggest driving south on Main Street until you reach Park Street. You'll run directly into street-side RV parking (should you be in your RV) and spots for cars, too. From here, you can make the few block walk to the Shore Path. This easy walk up the coast is a great way to get acquainted with the beauty of the area and to snap a few memorable pictures.
Also, from this direction, the path will end at the Town Pier, where you can take a seat in adjacent Agamont Park and enjoy the view. Or, snag a table outside at the Bar Harbor Inn's Terrace Grille, where the only thing better than the view is the uber-fresh seafood.
Bar Harbor's Shore Path offers a very easy, scenic walk along the eastern coast in Bar Harbor.
2) Wander the charming downtown streets
After making the coastal walk, you'll be at the north end of Main Street where you can turn back south and wander your way from shop-to-shop. Bar Harbor has all kinds of different local business to window shop, or select the perfect item to remember the trip. Also, if you decide to forgo food at the Terrace Grille, Bar Harbor is loaded with many different dining options. The walk from the north end of Main Street down to the corner of Park St. (suggested for parking) is just over a mile, so easy walking for most!
3) Take part in America's best Independence Day celebration
If you're looking for the perfect time of year to visit Bar Harbor, look no further than July 4th. The town's Independence Day celebration is one of the best in the U.S., and offers a full day of fanfare. Pancake breakfast, craft fair, parade, seafood festival, live music, and of course, fireworks, are but a taste of what this year's day holds in store.
For smaller crowds, consider June or September (our trip was in early June and it was great), but if you're into lots of extra activities, consider July 4th week!
Tackling Acadia National Park
Bar Harbor is great, but Acadia is where the magic really happens. A stones-throw from Bar Harbor is the incredible Acadia National Park. Depending on your taste for the outdoors, you can spend an endless amount of time exploring, but for those looking for the very best activities, here are three favorites.
1) Drive the Park Loop Road
Begin your time at Acadia with a drive around the 27-mile, (mostly) one-way road named Park Loop Road. Along the drive, there are many parking areas and pull-offs where you can take short, easy hikes or simply admire the view. The loop takes you right down near the rugged coastlines and up high for panoramic mountain views.
Plenty of coastline walks are scattered around the Park Loop in Acadia. Most are pet friendly, too!
It can be done in as short as an hour, but what's the rush? We spent an entire day slowly making our way around the loop, stopping at most every spot to hike, enjoy lunch, and hang out with a beverage. Position yourself correctly near day's end, and you'll catch an incredible sunset, too.
Enjoy lunch or catch a nap at one of the many scenic pull-offs along the Park Loop.
2) Sunrise hike to the summit of Cadillac Mountain
Hands down, this is our favorite activity at Acadia and one of our top experiences anywhere. Cadillac Mountain is the tallest point on the East coast and offers an incredible opportunity to be one of the first people to watch the sunrise in the U.S. each day.
You can drive to the top of Cadillac via the Summit Road, but RVs are not allowed on this road. Traveling without a tow car left us with one option: make the hike! As it turned out, this 2.2 mile (one way), 1,500 foot climb in elevation was absolutely incredible. Not only do you get in a good workout (note: the hike is somewhat strenuous), but you see tremendous views the entire way up the mountain. Definitely a must on a trip to Acadia! Just be sure to pack snacks and plenty of water!
The Cadillac Mountain hike is no walk in the park, but views like this make it oh-so worth it.
3) Bike around Jordan Pond
Another beautiful spot located off the Park Road Loop is Jordan Pond, where you can enjoy kayaking and canoeing on the water. Brittany and I opted to hop on our bikes and leisurely ride the four-mile gravel trail around the lake. It's a great ride, but note that the East and West sides have some significant elevation. So while one way is smooth sailing, the other side requires a somewhat challenging ride.
Jordan Pond is prime real-estate for a scenic bike ride. Some changes in elevation make it a workout!
If you're not up for a workout, simply make a stop to check out the beauty while grabbing some food at the Jordan Pond House, the only full-service restaurant inside the park.
Before you leave ...
When in Maine, visiting a lobster pound for some fresh lobster is an absolute must. Though there are plenty of options in Bar Harbor, I strongly encourage you to make the 30 minute drive south to Thurston's Lobster Pound.
Thurston's Lobster Pound is a great spot to experience fresh lobster in a relaxed, harbor-side setting.
Thurston's is routinely ranked one of the best in the area, and aside from it's fresh lobster and perfect harbor-side setting, they've got some creative lobster dishes too. We opted for the traditional lobster roll, as well as a lobster BLT, which was out of this world good! Paying a visit on our final day, this was the perfect way to end our stay in Bar Harbor Maine.
If you're searching for a summer RV trip that's sure to deliver, turn to coastal Maine's magical Bar Harbor. The only issue to consider? Well, you won't want to leave.