Wrapping around the shoreline of Frenchman Bay on Maine’s Mt. Desert Island, Bar Harbor is not just the gateway to Acadia National Park but a center of food, culture, art and activity.

With more than 3.5 million yearly visitors to the park, Bar Harbor is always hopping. If you only have a few days to spend here, these sights and experiences should definitely be on your to-do list.

Take a trip to Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park covers most of Mt. Desert Island. Whether you drive the 27-mile loop road, climb hand-over-hand up iron-rung ladders on the Beehive, taste salty sea spray when the ocean slams into Thunder Hole or stop at Jordan Pond House for popovers and blueberry lemonade, a visit to Acadia National Park is an essential part of any trip to Bar Harbor.

Your time there can be as relaxed or adventurous as you want. Rock climb otter cliffs, hike or bike, splash in the ocean at Sand Beach or meander serene carriage roads. Whatever you’re up for, Acadia has it.

Friends sharing a seafood dinner outside
A lobster bake is a classic Bar Harbor experience © Kevin R. Morris / Getty Images

Book a lobster bake

If there’s one meal that’s a regional classic, it’s the Maine lobster bake. Book a traditional lobster bake where a chef prepares lobster, sweet corn, New England Clam Chowder, boiled potatoes, homemade biscuits, coleslaw and finishes it up with a homemade blueberry pie.

Bar Harbor’s delectable oceanside seafood restaurants offer their signature versions; some served on a pier, all with lobster fresh from the boat. Whether you choose Bar Harbor Inn’s Terrace Grille for ocean view dining or the local’s favorite, The Thirsty Whale, prepare to have an awesome experience that’s truly a taste of Maine.

Watch for whales

The best time to see whales swim and feed in the waters off Bar Harbor is mid-April to October. Book a seat on a Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. boat and you’ll motor into Frenchman Bay and the Gulf of Maine looking for minkes, humpbacks, pilots and finbacks. If you’re lucky, you may even spot sperm whales, sei whales or orcas.

Whatever massive sea creatures grace your viewing, they won’t be the only highlight. From the water, you’ll get a captain’s view of classic Maine lighthouses, an ocean vantage point on Acadia National Park, time to absorb Maine’s craggy shoreline and perhaps playful porpoise, seals or a puffin sighting.

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.
A row of people standing at the summit of Cadillac Mountain as the sun rises
One tradition in Acadia National Park is for visitors to make a pilgrimage to the top of Cadillac Mountain and watch the sun rise © Katie Dobies / Getty Images / iStockphoto

Watch the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain

Acadia’s highest Peak, Cadillac Mountain, is the first spot on the eastern seaboard of the United States to be kissed by the morning sun. Set your alarm and make the drive up to the 1530ft summit.

It’s a serene and spectacular experience. Pre-dawn parking can be competitive — reserve in advance from mid-May to mid-October. Hiking up the mountain before sunrise is also an option, but it means an even earlier start to the day.

Pitch a tent and enjoy the outdoors

Bar Harbor has a host of private oceanside campgrounds for tents, van travelers, rooftop tenters and RVers. Choose a shady wooded site at Bass Harbor Campground, a 10-minute walk from Bass Harbor Lighthouse or Hadley’s Point Campground, which has rental cabins, shuttle service and beach access.

Bar Harbor Campground is great for families. It has ocean view sites and sites on a pond with a private beach. There are five national park campgrounds on Mt. Desert Island, just outside of Bar Harbor, and they welcome visitors from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, or thereabouts.

Book a site in advance through the National Park Service website or app. And be advised that Wildwood Stables Campground is for travelers with stock animals, and the campground on Duck Harbor on Isle au Haut is only accessible by mailboat. There are at least 18 quaint and comfortable bed and breakfasts in Bar Harbor and endless private rentals.

A woman and man steer a kayak on a woodland lake in Maine
See the beauty of Maine from a kayak © Cavan Images RF / Getty Images

Kayak or paddle board in Bar Harbor

Get out on the water for a different perspective on Bar Harbor. The five-mile, out-and-back on Northeast Creek is ideal for birdwatching, spotting playful river otters or and observing whitetail deer as they graze.

A late afternoon paddle on Jordan Pond promises loon and falcon sightings. Or pack your kayak for an overnight in the Cranberry Isles, where after a day of exploring, you can camp on Crow Island, part of the Maine Island Trail, or stay at a bed and breakfast. Take a tour of the “quiet side” with National Park Sea Kayak Tours to get away from the crowds.

Fill your belly with seafood

While seafood, and more specifically, lobster, dominates the menus at many Bar Harbor restaurants, there’s something for everyone. Atlantic Brewing Company serves up tasty microbrews and equally good barbecue.

For fresh squeezed OJ, Canadian bacon, poached eggs and other creative, fresh, and homemade breakfasts, 2 Cats can’t be beaten.

A stop at Mountain Desert Island Ice Cream is the perfect ending to a perfect meal. The flavors are always changing – be prepared to be surprised and delighted with choices like fudge stout and blueberry basil.

Learn about the Wabanaki Nations

Learn about the Wabanaki Nations' history and culture through Bar Harbor’s Smithsonian Affiliate Abbe Museum, which has over 50,000 artifacts, including the best documented Maine Native American basketry collection.

Book a trip in July to experience the Bar Harbor Music Festival, a celebration of classical music, with free outdoor concerts and free programming for young adults too. The art deco Criterion Theater hosts movies and more – it's well worth a tour. Book one online or take a virtual tour without a reservation.

You might also like:
The best time to visit Maine
How to enjoy Maine for free
10 breathtaking hikes in Maine

Explore related stories

man in the Grand Canyon at sunrise. tourist in America; Shutterstock ID 395657515; GL: 65050; netsuite: Lonely Planet Online Editorial; full: Best things to do in the USA; name: Brian Healy
active, adult, adventure, america, american, arizona, arms, back, backpack, backpacker, backpacking, beautiful, canyon, cliff, desert, destination, geology, grand, hike, hiker, hiking, hold, landmark, landscape, man, monument, mountain, national, nature, orange, outdoors, park, rim, rucksack, scenic, stand, tourism, tourist, trail, travel, trekking, us, usa, valley, view, young


11 amazing experiences in the USA, from sea to shining sea

Mar 15, 2024 • 10 min read