Mount Desert Island (or MDI) Maine is truly God’s Country. It is the sixth-largest island in the contiguous United States, and the third-largest on the Eastern Seaboard. Its main small towns are Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, and Bass Harbor.
Our ten favorite things to do in the area are:
#1: Chill Out
Chill out and soak in the atmosphere, a necessary first step of deceleration to ensure that you savor the charm of the island, its coast, harbors, and villages.
#2: Acacia National Park
The Acacia National Park Loop Road takes you all along the coast, with stops including Sand Beach, Blow Hole, and Otter Rocks.
#3: Hiking Trails
The Hiking Trails. Two of our favorites are:
Acadia Mountain. Although even this small mountain was fogged in on the day of our hike, it is still a pretty and relatively gentle hike, especially when you combine it into a loop with Mount Saint Saveur.
Cadillac Mountain (which, at 1,530 ft, is the highest point on the Atlantic Coast between Canada and Brazil). We ascended the very steep West Face trail (which was more of a non-technical climb than a hike) from Bubble Pond and descended the South Ridge Trail to the slightly less steep Canon Brook trail, and returned to the Pond on one of the carriage roads. Although we were prepared for fog, this was a beautiful day with superb.
#4: The Carriage Roads
The Carriage Roads and their graceful stone bridges were originally built for John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s horse-drawn carriages. Today they are today used primarily by bicycles, walkers, and joggers.
#5: The Inns
Although Bar Harbor is a pretty kitschy tourist town that is crammed with many mediocre tourist lobster restaurants, it does have its charms. These include walking across Frenchman’s Bay on gravel bar (during low tide) to Bar Island, listening to a summer evening concert at the town bandstand, exploring some of the town’s relatively few interesting restaurants (see our accompanying blog on Mount Desert restaurants) and especially the dozens of gracious and charming Inns. Three of which we have stayed and enjoyed our Mira Monte, Primrose and Moseley Cottage.
This having been said, those who choose to stay outside of Bar Harbor also have wonderful opportunities to stay in some amazing inns with even more history behind them. As discussed In Numbers Six and Seven, the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor and Claremont Hotel in Southwest Harbor, are both charming, have long histories, and are located in more scenic and serene (albeit also less diverse and active) towns than are the inns in Bar Harbor.
#6: Northeast Harbor
Then there is the incredibly gracious Asticou Inn, with its lovely rooms, incredible view of Northeast Harbor, accommodating staff and very nice dining room.
#7: Southwest Harbor
Southwest Harbor, with its business district and especially, its historic Claremont Hotel, the Southwest Harbor Matron with its gracious “Rusticator era” main building, three croquet courts and boathouse bar, and now, summer lecture (which examines everything from poetry to the Euro crisis) and concert (classical piano to Blue Grass) series.
#8: Taking to the Sea
Experiencing the coastline by sea. There are many opportunities for doing so. Although sailing cruises are widely available, the more adventuresome may take kayaking tours or rent their own sailboats or kayaks for their own explorations, perhaps followed by a picnic on a secluded shore or nearby island.
#9: Go Off-Island
Off-Island segments of Acadia National Park, such as the Schoodic Peninsula (the peninsula to the east of Mt. Desert) and Isle au Haut (off Deer Island to the west).
#10: Learning the Ways of the Lobster
Learning the ways of the lobster via a full-cycle tour, beginning at the Oceanarium (to see a lobster hatchery), taking a 2-hour cruise on the lobster boat “Lulu” (where you can watch or participate in setting and hauling of traps, the measuring of “keepers” and getting answers to questions you never knew you had), touring the lobster docks and finally, eating at one of the ubiquitous lobster pounds, particularly those that are right on the water (like Abel’s, on Route 3 just north of Sargent Drive) or on the docks (like Beals’ in Southwest Harbor).
And, while you are there, you can also get a view of how the “other half lives.” Mount Desert, which was effectively “discovered” and developed by the Rockefellers, became one of the most fashionable resorts of the Guided Age. And, as you can see from the mix of old-money, and new-money cottages, it still retains considerable allure.
But Where are the Restaurants?
Those readers who are particularly astute, or who know of our passion for food will recognize one big gaps in our Mount Desert Top Ten list. Other than brief mentions of lobster pounds and the Asticou and Claremont dining rooms, we did not specifically discuss restaurants.
While there are a few good restaurants, generally speaking, Maine’s best restaurants are further south and west on the coast. By the time you get up to Mount Desert, your options are a bit more limited. This, however, is certainly not to suggest that your trip should be one big fast.