From Summit to Sea to Lobster by the Bay: Something for Everyone on Mount Desert Island, ME
Each morning, as the sun rises over America, its golden rays first gleam across the pink-silver granite top of Mount Desert Island’s Cadillac Mountain. The sight is almost mystical; yet this gorgeous, daily claim-to-fame is only the most visible example of the Island’s wealth of natural wonders, many of which are contained within Acadia National Park. The island and park are brimming with world-class trails, peaks and vistas, beaches and blue ponds—not to mention a wide array of seafood-centered dining options and seaside activities.
When you are planning your trip to MDI/Acadia, it’s easy to be discouraged by its remoteness. More than half-a-day’s drive from Boston, the island is one of the further-flung destinations the northeast has to offer. But this can also be a boost to your family getaway; make a day out of the trip, with stops along some of Maine’s coastal gems—both famous and overlooked. Broken up enough, the drive is quite manageable, and the distance makes the trip feel far more exotic and exciting.
Where to stay?
The focal point of social life on Mt Desert Island is the small port city of Bar Harbor. IF you’re looking for a spicier, more urban-ish stay, try the Acadia Hotel in the “Haht of Bah Habah.” Balancing reasonable rates with top notch amenities and an ideal location, Acadia Hotel will give you a comfortable base camp from which to explore both the wooded and sandy wilds of the island, and the vibrant beach town vibes of Bar Harbor.
At the other end of the spectrum, for folks looking to escape any sort of hustle or bustle, there is a whole variety of excellent campgrounds. Somes Sound View campground offers a unique perspective of New England’s largest fjord, from the peace and quiet of the less-travelled Western side of the island. Mount Desert Campground, a few miles to the north, is almost perfectly centered on the island, and offers a wooded retreat from the rest of the island’s excitements, while keeping you close to all the action.
Somewhere between the formal hotel and the rugged campground are the many cottage rentals available to MDI visitors. While there are plenty of outfits that will meet all you and your family’s cottage needs, Harbor Oasis, just outside of Bar Harbor, stands out as a luxurious-yet-simple way to stay right on the sea, and just minutes from the entrance to Acadia’s adventures. Eat outside under their tasteful gazebos, as harbor porpoises and seals catch their dinner just down the hill from you.
What to do?
So long as you find a comfortable bed or air mat to sleep on, the lodgings play second fiddle to the activities on this one-of-a-kind island. Hikers will find no end of intricately built, granite-filled trails full of fun scrambles, that lead to breathtakingly grand heights and bald peaks. Cadillac Mountain is the big whopper, the bucket-list hike of the Island—which also means the summit is often clogged with hikers and drivers looking to check it off their lists.
For a less travelled route with equally expansive views, try Beech Mountain, on the Western side of the park. There, a fire tower lets hikers ascend far above the trees, offering views of the distant islands to the west and Mount Desert’s own bald tops, lakes, sounds and valleys.
Round out your morning hike with a picturesque late afternoon kayak. There are plenty of outfitters and kayak guide services scattered across the island, all of which can provide you and your crew with a memorable trip along some of the most stunning coastlines anywhere. Or, if you’re looking for a slightly different perspective, consider renting a stand-up paddleboard and honing your SUP technique on the forest-ringed Long Pond.
What to eat?
If you know anything about the Maine coast, then you know that lobster is king. Bar Harbor’s streets are lined with shops offering lobster rolls, lobster bisque, lobster bakes, lobster candy, lobster ice cream, lobster cookies and cakes, lobster stuffed animals—you get the idea. To indulge your Lobster craving in the Bar Harbor area, try a lobster roll at the acclaimed Travelin Lobster. Or, if you’re looking for a more traditional lobster meal in a less tourist-filled environment, head over to the little town of Mansett on the far side of the island, where Thurston’s Lobster Pound serves up whole-hog lobster feasts, complete with mussels, steamers and crab cakes, to guests seated right along the mouth of Bass Harbor.
If you’re a beer lover in Bar Harbor, be sure to work your way down cottage street to either Atlantic Brewing Co. (with the awesome slogan “save the ales”) on one side of the road, and the Bar Harbor location of Ellsworth’s Fogtown Brewing on the other. Both provide a full, diverse line-up of brews that highlight Maine ingredients and New England craft brewing techniques in their own innovative ways.
For dessert, head on over to Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, where the flavors really get funky. To give you some idea, one of the shop’s early hits was a chocolate wasabi ice cream; and since then, I’ve tried root bear, tomato basil, cantaloupe, and captain crunch flavors—all of which were wonderfully, surprisingly, delicious.
There is so much comfort and adventure packed into Mount Desert Island, it is hard to do justice in a few quick bullet points; likewise, it is sure to surprise visitors and hold excitement and interest for all sorts of folks. Even if you’re not a summer, seaside sort of person at all, come back in the winter months for some of Maine’s finest cross country skiing. Whatever your vacation preferences, this longtime gem of American getaways simply does not get old.