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Go to Bar Harbor For Outdoorsy Fun
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Go to Bar Harbor For Outdoorsy Fun

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Getaway Staff

Closer to Montreal than New York, this coastal resort town in Maine is understandably situated next to Frenchman Bay. A mid-19th-century summer escape for the mind-blowingly wealthy, including the Carnegies, Rockefellers, and Vanderbilts, Bar Harbor on Mt. Desert Island is a longtime favorite with New England tourists, and rightly so. It's a charming and bustling East Coast gem where the streets are colorful, and nature shows off. You'll want to return over and over again.

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01 Hike to your heart's content

View from North Bubble, in Acadia National Park, Maine. AppalachianViews / Getty Images

Acadia National Park is one of the country's top 10 most-visited national parks. And the Beehive cliff trail is a short but rewarding hike that will have you climbing metal ladders up a steep incline. If you go in winter, take crampons for better grip. You can also venture to The quiet side of the island, where the trails are gorgeous, but there's much less foot traffic. The Wonderland trail is awash with wild roses, and you can do some classic New England leaf-peeping in the fall.

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02 Drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain

Evening cloud cover is lit dramatically after a summer rain shower on Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park.

Take the 27-mile Park Loop Road—it combines multiple attractions in one drive. You can have popovers and jam at Jordan Pond House restaurant, check out the roaring Thunder Hole, and have a picnic at Sand Beach. Avoid bottlenecks by buying an online pass and hitting the road during off-peak hours before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Bear in mind that sunrise can be busy, too — Cadillac Mountain is the first piece of land to see the rising sun in all of the U.S., and sunrise treks are a particular novelty here.

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03 Row, row, row your boat

A kayaker on Northeast Creek on Mount Desert Island. Bar Harbor, Maine. Jerry Monkman / Aurora Photos / Getty Images

But don't let Enya and the call of the ocean take you too far away from the shoreline. You can birdwatch and explore inland water bodies like Northeast Creek. Get your heart pumping with a five-mile kayak or canoe trip, and you may spot river otters and whitetail deer.

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04 Feast on the local bounty

You'll likely put on some pounds in Bar Harbor, which will be oh-so-worth-it. The town has maritime roots, and the fruits of the sea end up on plates and in bellies. Prepare for a sustainably-sourced seafood extravaganza complete with oysters, lobster rolls, clam chowder, paella, and more. But if you have a shellfish allergy, don't fret. There are vegan and veggie eateries, and you can grab takeout for a visit to Agamont Park. Blueberries are Bar Harbor's other specialty, so expect lots of ice cream, pancakes, and pies.

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05 Sail away on a marine safari

Listen, not everybody's outdoorsy and active—some folks want to go on holiday and lift as few fingers as possible. If hell would freeze over before you'd test your core strength on a paddleboard, then you might want to book a little cruise. You can float on a boat, binoculars in one hand and a camera in the other. Lucky visitors will see whales between April and October; if it's not the whale-watching season, you can check out the historic lighthouses and a skipper's perspective of the area. Other animals you're likely to spot are porpoises, seals, sea lions, bald eagles, and puffins. Don't forget your motion sickness meds.

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06 Take a dip

View of Sand Beach from Great Head at Acadia National Park dkm725 / Getty Images

There's a lot of water in Bar Harbor, but it's not all swimmable. Town Beach is great to dip your toes and test the waters. But Echo Lake Beach, Little Hunters Beach, and Sand Beach are primo swim spots. Don your swimsuit and hop on the free Island Explorer shuttle bus for cove views and refreshing plunges.

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07 Camp beneath the stars

Pitch your tent and play some music. There are spots for RVs and van travelers, and Bar Harbor Campground is family-friendly. You can book a campsite through the NPS app or website. And dark skies enthusiasts will want to head to Bar Harbor in September when the Acadia Night Sky Festival welcomes stargazers for a cosmos-focused event filled with poetry, art, music, and science.

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08 Cycle the Schoodic Peninsula

Hire a bike and take in the sights and sounds. There are about 8 miles of gravel bike paths in the Schoodic section of Acadia National Park. The routes weave through the forest—some are easy-breezy while others are a bit more challenging. You can cycle through fishing villages and past salt marshes and while away many a pleasant hour.

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09 Immerse yourself in local history and culture

Bar Harbor's postcard-perfect looks make it a popular cruise-ship stop, and local prices reflect the demand. When you tire of shopping for trinkets and souvenirs, check out Abbe Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate. The museum educates visitors about the indigenous Wabanaki Nations that lived in the region for millennia. The Great Maine Lumberjack Show in nearby Trent is another cultural highlight.

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10 Just relax

Rear view of family holding hands looking away at view of sea, Bar Harbor, Maine Seth K. Hughes / Getty Images

Vacations are a hard-earned privilege, so soak it all in. There's a good chance you're living the American dream right here in a tiny town with 6,000 permanent residents. Read books, go fishing, collect seashells, and breathe the fresh air in this special corner of the earth with its woodlands and peaks. Make memories for yourself or with loved ones—Bar Harbor is the ideal backdrop for family quality time and a treasure trove of photographs.

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