Located on Mount Desert Island in coastal Maine’s Hancock County, Bar Harbor is known as the gateway to Acadia National Park – one of the most visited attractions in all of New England.
The small town has a population of just 5,000, but its numbers swell significantly during the spring and summer months when the area is flooded with tourists.
Bar Harbor is home to The College of the Atlantic, a few notable biotech firms, and a rich array of historical, cultural, and natural attractions.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Bar Harbor that you won’t want to miss.
1. Hulls Cove Visitor Center
Especially if you’re new to the area, making your first stop the Hulls Cover Visitor Center would be a wise way to get an overview of all the things you’re likely to see and do on your trip to Bar Harbor.
The visitor center is part of the national park and includes a huge scale model showing its key points, roads, and most popular attractions.
There are rangers at the center who’ll be able to answer your questions, and there’s a short introductory movie that provides an in-depth overview of the park.
You can sign up for guided tours at the center as well.
2. Acadia National Park
Nestled among the islands, waterways, marshes, and dunes on Maine’s rugged coast, Acadia National Park is comprised of nearly 50,000 acres of almost pristine habitat that’s been inspiring artists, writers, and visitors for decades.
The park is home to Cadillac Mountain – the largest mountain on the United State’s Atlantic Coast – and offers a variety of recreation options too extensive to list in its entirety.
For lovers of Mother Nature and national parks, you could spend days here and never get bored.
The scenic town of Bar Harbor is full of quaint shops, eateries, bars, and cafes that are the perfect places to unwind after a long day on the coast.
3. Thunder Hole
Located along the Loop Road in Acadia National Park, Thunder Hole is one of the park’s most iconic stops. It is formed from a break in the rocky shore that funnels the water from incoming waves into a narrow channel, which creates a dramatic and photogenic scene that’s similar to a geyser.
The sound and might of the rushing water can be felt from quite a distance, and for those interested in getting close, it’s possible to do so.
The uneven surface of the wet rocks can be slick, so it’s probably best left to the sure-footed and adventurous.
4. Jordan’s Pond House
According to locals, Jordan’s Pond House Restaurant has been serving up quality food for over a century.
It’s the only full-service restaurant inside Acadia National Park, and the building in which it resides was once a farmhouse built in the early 1800s.
The charming and historic restaurant sits next to a picturesque pond and serves lunch and dinner.
It’s also a popular afternoon stop-off for weary explorers in need a bit of sustenance after a long day, so plan on a crowd, especially if you’ll be visiting during the peak tourist season – which lasts from May to September.
5. Gorham Mountain
Also in Acadia National Park, Gorham Mountain isn’t the park’s tallest peak, but for those who don’t mind expending a few calories, it offers some of the best vistas in the entire park.
The famous Loop Trail on Gorham Mountain is two miles long, and though much of it is relatively easy, there are a few tricky areas that can be slippery and treacherous, especially during inclement weather.
A few of the mountain’s less traveled trails are steeper and more strenuous and require short climbs up precarious ladders connected to the rock.
Be sure to pick up a trail map at the park’s visitor center before heading out.
6. Take a Boat Tour
Though Acadia National Park offers guests a wide variety of awe-inspiring viewing areas, there’s just something extra special about seeing it by boat.
The Maine coast is home to a hearty fishing culture, and the islands and bays are dotted with houses, villages, and boats that look like they’ve jumped right out of an 18th-century oil painting.
There are a variety of boat tour options that can be booked at the park’s visitor center or in town; most of them include a historical narration by a park employee or knowledgeable local, and they all touch on the area’s ages old lobster industry as well.
7. Timber Tina’s Maine Lumberjack Show
In years past, the forests of Maine were crawling with lumberjacks, whose job it was to fell massive trees with unwieldy two-person saws and axes in the days before chainsaws.
Their legacy still lives on, though the industry has been largely mechanized, and there’s no better place to get a glimpse into this unique bit of New England culture than at Timber Tina’s Maine Lumberjack Show.
The act consists of lumberjacks competing against one another and the clock in sawing, chopping, climbing, and even ax throwing events that are stunning to see.
Supervised activities for children are a big hit too. The show is located in Trenton, just a few minutes from Bar Harbor.
8. Whale Watching
The Gulf of Maine lies between Cape Cod to the south and Sable Island in Nova Scotia to the north and attracts a wide variety of whale species at different times of the year.
Luckily, many of the accommodating marine mammals make their appearances during the tourist season between June and September, and a variety of tour options are available.
Humpback and finback whales are a few of the most seen species, and other marine mammals like seals are often plentiful as well.
Dress in layers; even during the summer, the brisk sea wind can make it feel much cooler than it really is.
9. Mount Desert Oceanarium
The Mount Desert Oceanarium was recently renovated after a fire, and now includes more options for those interested in learning about the natural world and experiencing it up close and personally.
The Oceanarium includes a lobster hatchery which helps to maintain a healthy population of the large crustaceans that call the cold Atlantic waters off Maine’s coast home.
There’s an area to walk near the marsh and dune habitats, as well as a museum full of interesting, interactive exhibits that are big hits with children and adults alike. The Oceanarium’s indoor portion is a great place to spend an hour or two when the weather isn’t pleasant.
10. Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island Photo Tour
For amateur shutterbugs looking to capture all that Acadia Park has to offer, there are a variety of guided tour options given by professional photographers with many years of experience.
Acadia Photo Safari is one of the most popular tour providers and offers four distinct options, which include Jordan Pond, the night Sky, sunset by sea, and ocean drive.
Typical tours last three hours and are limited to six guests to ensure that everyone gets personal attention so that their pictures will be the best they can possibly be.
Tours are popular, and empty slots fill quickly, so consider booking well in advance.
11. Abbe Museum
With a rich history spanning thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers, Maine’s Native American cultures often take a backseat to other popular attractions like Acadia National Park.
Originally, Abbe Museum was part of the park, but has since expanded to include another section, which has been in downtown Bar Harbor since 2001.
The Abbe Museum is one of the state’s premier destinations for those interested in learning about the area’s Native American people and their history; both locations are open to the public.
Due to its significance and world-class collection, it’s now part of the Smithsonian Institute.
12. Shore Path
For those who don’t mind setting the alarm clock and heading out before the sun is even up, Bar Harbor’s shore path is the perfect place to start the day with a brisk walk along the Atlantic coast while waiting for the sun to rise over the ocean.
The shore path was built in the 1880s and starts at Agamond Park near Ellis Pier.
The path wraps around much of the island and includes stunning views of other notable attractions, like Porcupine Rock, the historic Bar Harbor Inn, and some amazing seaside cottages and boats either returning from or heading out to sea.
13. Frenchman Bay
Named after French explorer Samuel de Champlain who explored the area in the early 1600s, Frenchman Bay lies in Hancock County and includes large sections of land that have been set aside for habitat preservation.
The area is home to a variety of wading and shorebirds. Though it’s protected, there are accessible trails where it’s safe to take in the splendor without having any negative environmental impact.
The bay area covers thousands of acres and includes nearly 25 miles of trails that are always free to use; however, many visitors decide to make a donation.
14. College of the Atlantic Gardens
Comprised of several distinct gardens, the College of the Atlantic Gardens are one of the seaside campus’ most popular attractions, especially during the spring and summer months, when most of the species of plants, flowers, and trees are in bloom.
The grounds include a network of pathways leading to each section, and there are identification markers along the way that describe what it is you’re seeing.
The aims of those who manage the gardens are education and preservation. Many of the gardens are named after horticulturalists from the past who played especially significant roles in the garden’s maintenance and development.
15. George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History
Located on Eden Street in Bar Harbor, the George B. Dorr Museum of Natural History is full of interactive exhibits, displays, and artifacts relating to the area’s natural history.
The museum is now housed in what was once the Acadia National Park’s main offices, and one of their most impressive and popular exhibits is the life-size diorama of the environment between the land and sea.
There’s also a lifelike artificial tidal pool that’s full of interesting sea creatures, like snails, starfish, and a variety of crabs.
Many of the museum’s exhibits were designed with children in mind, and encourage them to get their hands wet and dirty.