Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Destination: Bar Harbor, Maine


Stop four: Bar Harbor, Maine

After the lovely night in the woods (here) the drive to Bar Harbor from White Mountain National Forest could not have felt longer. If it weren’t for the GPS politely telling us we had 90 miles to go or would be there in 28 minutes, we might not have made it. In an earlier post, suggested bringing extra food in the car while on a road trip, I learned that lesson when forced to eat only fast food for a day on our drive. But once in Bar Harbor our attitudes immediately changed. The landscape and charming tourist town won us over. Not to mention it was 10 degrees cooler and not a bug to be found.

We stayed at the Atlantean Cottage. Upon arrival the owner (Gary) happily greeted us, took our luggage, gave us a tour, and offered us coffee, tea, water, and snacks. Our room had a lovely view of the garden and offered romance inducing amenities such as a working fireplace, claw foot bathtub, and comfy bed. The owner also took it upon himself to create binders of his favorite restaurants and attractions. These came in handy when foraging for dinner.

The next morning over our delicious vegetarian breakfast, Gary helped us plan our itinerary. He gladly mapped out our hikes, food, tours, and downtime. Luckily it was not necessary for us to plan ahead.

As with many now touristy towns, Bar Harbor started out as an industrious town of fishing and shipping. Soon after its settlement by Europeans, the Hudson River School of Artists (who I talk about here) started painting in Bar Harbor. They encouraged many New Yorkers to come and explore. Then the rich (including iconic American families such as the Rockefellers) built “cottages” (summer mansions) and a booming tourist industry followed. Today Mount Desert Island sees millions of tourists every summer. 

Lobster is still fished here commercially and locally. Residents live off of lobster like Floridians live off of grouper. I would give them a hard time for casually eating lobster everyday but they don’t leave in the winter. So for that it must be their consolation.

I'm enjoying myself at the Asticou Inn.

That being said, you must have lobster for every meal whilst here. The best lobster salad sandwich is at the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor. While you eat, you gaze out at a beautiful inlet sprinkled with sailboats and rolling fog (the fog in Mount Desert Island is insane! I've never seen such thick fog come and go).

One must-do is to take a whale watching boat tour. We were skeptical at first but Gary convinced us to give it a try. There are several companies giving tours and he recommended going on the Nature Cruise through the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. It is a shorter cruise than the traditional whale watching cruise and we saw far more wildlife (many species of birds, seals, and sometimes whales too) and scenery. We even spotted two Bald Eagles! The tour guide was very knowledgeable about the geological history of the area too which we found surprisingly interesting (history of rocks seems boring, no?).


Although there is a little downtown area with plenty of art galleries and shops filled with souvenirs, you should spend most of your time in Arcadia National Park. The park offers sweeping views of the ocean and surrounding mountainous landscape. The hiking trails range from simple to very difficult. There are beautiful carriage roads which were built by J.D. Rockefeller, Jr. You can rend bikes or horses and ride along these rustic trails. Many people recommended we have lunch at Jordan Pond and try the pop-overs. I recommend skipping this horrible tourist trap. The food was not a notch better than a cafeteria at a hospital and I’ve had better pop-overs in Manhattan. Bring a picnic if you feel you might get hungry while out on the trail.

 As a result of massive fires in 1947 the once dominant spruce-fir forest now shares its land with birch, aspen, and oak too. This variety attracts a lot of wildlife! There are many species of birds, reptiles, and animals to spot along your hikes. We saw a beaver and a few deer too! Although the forest is bustling with fellow tourists you can easily feel as if you are the only person there. I really enjoyed being surrounded by beautiful trees and wildlife without hearing other people, sweating like crazy or dealing with bugs and mosquitoes.

Overall, Bar Harbor is a destination I can see myself going to go over and over. The locals are super friendly and laid-back. You can find a great meal. And you can relax in breathtaking natural landscape.

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