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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.