A Summer Sojourn in Bar Harbor, Maine

 

Agamont Park view

Lately, I’ve been on a rampage, chronicling our crippled democracy by profiling a book I read. I figure maybe we could all use a break.

During the week of July 4, my wife and I visited Bar Harbor, Maine, and we had a wonderful time. So, for this post I’m shifting to a sunnier clime (no politics, no presidential lies) and documenting our trip.

lobster

Bar Harbor is a town on Mount Desert Island off the rocky coast of Maine, U.S.A. (Some New Englanders do strange things pronouncing the letter ‘R’, so locals pronounce this town’s name “Bah Hah-bah.”) There are many attractions in Bar Harbor, but the most popular are lobster (“lob-stah”); blueberries; ice cream; cooler temperatures; friendly people; whale watching; sea kayaking, hiking in Acadia National Park, and seeing the sun rise from Cadillac Mountain.

Champlain Mountain

View from atop Champlain Mountain, Acadia National Park

Lynn and I stayed at a bed-and-breakfast called The Yellow House, owned by a retired couple, Pat and Chris. The house has been around since the 19th century. Pat and Chris were warm hosts, as was Cecilia, a retired expat Brit who popped in occasionally to check in guests, and who was a wealth of information, especially concerning hiking.

The Yellow House

The Yellow House B&B

Bar Harbor is touristy, but I would not call it a tourist “trap.” It is a year-round home for a lot of folks, so it’s a clean, tasteful burg, with no fast food chains (I saw one modest Subway sign), no go-cart tracks, no dinosaur parks, etc. However, it does have lots of knick-knack stores and ice cream parlors, and the lines to get in the latter can get long.

Downtown Bar Harbor 2

Downtown Bar Harbor

I brought my Vasque boots and managed to squeeze in one full-day and one half-day of hiking in nearby Acadia National Park, America’s easternmost park. The Precipice Trail and Beehive Trail are the steepest and most treacherous trails here (people have died falling from the heights), and I briefly mulled over hiking one or the other. But Precipice was closed due to peregrine falcon nesting, and my acrophobia convinced me to steer clear of Beehive.

Parkman Mountain 2

The author on Parkman Mountain. Do I look 60? Does a lobster have claws?

I eventually bagged six of Acadia’s 26 peaks, my favorite of which was Champlain Mountain, which offered gorgeous views of the Atlantic Ocean and numerous coastal islands. I debated hiking Cadillac, the tallest peak in Acadia, but was told there would be lots of people, pavement, and exhaust smoke. So I said “Forget it.”

The Fourth of July—America’s “Independence Day”—is also my birthday, and I turned a whopping 60 years! While the vacation was my birthday present, Lynn surprised me with a few smaller gifts: an Aussie-style hiking hat, some Sketcher shoes, and a cool pastel-green shirt. We spent the day enjoying the holiday parade downtown, where we shared a bench and watched the floats with a friendly local couple; then visited the Seafood Festival and observed a lobster race.

Fourth of July Parade

Holiday parade float. This year’s theme was “Peace, Love, and the Fourth of July”

Fourth of July evening we took in the fireworks display at the harbor. It’s supposedly one of the best in the country, and it didn’t disappoint. There were also two very good bands that warmed things up, one a sort of bluegrassy Americana band called the Blake Rosso Band, the other a rockabilly act.

Blake something concert

Blake Rosso Band before the fireworks

Along with music, eating is one of my favorite things, and although I’m no gourmand, Bar Harbor has to have one of the best concentrations of quality restaurants in the country. Side Street Café is lauded for its lobster rolls, so we ate there one night. Whoah. Gi-normous chunks of fresh lobster meat! (Did I just say “gi-normous”? I apologize.) The craft beer here was good, too.

Lobster race

Seafood Festival lobster race. Lobster #3 took top honors

I also ate a whole lobster at West Street Café (great food and service, but sterile atmosphere); another lobster roll at Terrace Grille, on the water (less hefty and more highbrow than Side Street, but very tasty); and Lynn and I both had some scrumptious sustainable local fare at Peekytoe Provisions, where I sampled an IPA from local Atlantic Brewing Company (it was ok, but I should’ve ordered Samuel Adams, especially considering it was July 4). On our last night we ate at Galyn’s and it might have been our best meal, accompanied by a view of Agamont Park and the harbor beyond from our second-floor window seat. I had seafood linguini, and Lynn had… well, I forget. Probably crabcakes.

Seafood Festival

Lobster #3’s prize was to get boiled alive

We only had one overcast day, a good opportunity to “go mobile.” So we drove down to the fishing hamlet of Northeast Harbor and visited Great Harbor Maritime Museum. Not much here, mainly a lot of sketches done by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s nephew, who lived here at one time. But the proprietor was very nice and promised to check out my book Bluejackets in the Blubber Room. (Sorry, shameless plug.)

Town brass band

The Bar Harbor Town Band entertained at the gazebo one night

Before heading home, we visited Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. Since it was sprinkling, Lynn was a poopy-pants and stayed in the car. But I got out to visit, and learned that lighthouses have distinct colors and manners of blinking, so that mariners know exactly where they are at night (Bass Harbor uses an “occulting” red light). Also, Coast Guard families live year-round in these lighthouses. I would think this would be a bit stifling, and weird, especially with tourists milling around outside. I guess these families do a lot of book reading and Scrabble playing.

Bass Harbor Lighthouse

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. Somewhere inside a family is playing Scrabble

Anyway, it was a memorable vacation and 60th birthday. If you visit Bar Harbor (and you’ll assuredly visit in spring, summer, or fall), here are some tips:

  • Be prepared for varying weather. We had two evenings that were chilly enough for jackets, but daytime was extremely hot
  • Bring good walking shoes, because you’ll be tramping everywhere, on both pavement and trail
  • Bring lots of greenbacks, since prices here are, not surprisingly, very high
  • Bring your smile. Tourists arrive from all over, including other countries (many French-Canadians). Everyone here is friendly, even the harried shuttle and bus drivers.
  • Lastly, abstain from eating seafood for at least a month prior. You’ll want to stuff yourself in Bar Harbor.

I’ll close with the observation that Bah Hah-bah is “wicked” cool, and if you can avoid TV, radio, newspapers, and internet during your stay (like we did) it’s even cooler!

Sand Beach from Champlain Mtn

Distant Sand Beach and Atlantic Ocean from Champlain South Ridge Trail, Acadia National Park

18 thoughts on “A Summer Sojourn in Bar Harbor, Maine

  1. Glad you had a great time as we went a very long time ago to celebrate our nephews wedding at Colby University. I remember the are was beautiful and the food was great. We did one of the sight seeing boats for lobster and crab catching. A wonderful time and like you if anyone gets the chance they should go see this part of the USA.

    • Hi MK. Cecilia’s grandson is only 20 and has his own lobster boat. He’s evidently made enough to already buy his own house! I think that would be a great way to make a living. Maybe Tim and Nick can partner up and do something like that (they could call their boat the “Mary Lynn”!).

  2. This is odd but you are the third person I know of this summer that went to Bar Harbor. My son and his girlfriend went camping in Acadia right around the same time another blogger, the JerseyDream Aussie guy went. Oddly we live a 5-hour drive away and have been there maybe once a long time ago. If we go to Maine at all, we’ll go to the somewhat more humble Old Orchard Beach. As to being 60, you look pretty fit. I need to shed a few pounds myself. I always get a kick out of how people come to New England and eat 800 lobsters like it’s their last meal. 🤣

  3. Yay Pedro! Another rousing good-time read. And OMG I am so happy to know such a young looking, young thinking, well…young, 60 year old WHAAA??!! Happy belated – It was apparently a great one! I am just certain that the year ahead will be equally as lively and gay. Thanks again for the fabulous blogging. (you had me at the lobster #3’s ultimate reward) Cheers!

    • Lobster #3 was awesome. That critter flew across that chute like A.J. Foyt (“young thinking”). He deserved better than what he got. Anyway, glad you liked it, Rock, and thx for the birthday wish!

  4. A belated happy 60th Peter! It looks like a wicked good vacation. I think you are ready to read “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson. Recently made into a movie with Nick Nolte and Robert Redford. You will enjoy it!

    • Thanks for the b’day wish, Phil. I did read Bryson’s book, about 5 years ago, before my first Appalachian Trail section hike (I read mixed reviews about the movie, so I didn’t see it). Great book, and I plan to read more Bryson. If you like hiking literature, I’ve got my own book coming out soon. Guess who contributed an advance praise quote? The real-life “Stephen Katz” (portrayed by Nick Nolte). I’ll be advertising “Evergreen Dreaming” soon, on Longitudes.

      Happy trails!

      • It was an interesting, A-league pairing, and I’m sure Nolte chewed it up as “Katz”! I’ve only seen one Nolte movie (“The Deep”). I don’t care for Redford’s acting (I think it’s stiff and one-dimensional), but his résumé is impeccable. “Jeremiah Johnson” is in my top 10.

  5. Pete,
    Thank you for driving past Camden… .:-)
    Marshall Dodge when once asked, and I will misquote, “how do get to Camden”, said – “You can’t get there from here.”
    My family has a 150 year residency in Maine.
    Unfortunately modern commerce has changed the texture of the Dirago state.
    Tee shirt and ice cream shops now occupy the local shoe store, clothing store, movie theatre and 5 and dime. Blind fold a person, leave them in any coastal town – Boothbay, Wiscasset, Kennebunkport, Castine and the only differences are the name on your ball cap / tee shirt.

    That said, and I know that I appear to be a Curmudgeon, I am happy you were able to explore one of the most beautiful areas of New England.
    For what its worth, this National Park was established by the donations of 5,000 acres by Mrs. Eliza Homans of Boston in 1908,
    If you ever decide to road trip and B and B the interior check out Elmers Barn in Coopers Mill, the Spiritualist town of Victorian cottages in Northport, Castine with the Indian mounds ,Vinalhaven Island (home of Robert Indiana (LOVE), walk the field where Andrew Wyeth painted Christina Olsen in Cushing, Maine.and while on that road stop by Blackie Langais house, his massive sculptures,.and do not miss Moodys Diner in Waldoboro..

    We have a beautiful state that is not just about Tall Ships, Coastal Mountains and Lobsters.
    You and yiour wife have just dipped your toes into a wondrous state..
    That Angus King represents us tells you about our state.
    Paul LePage…meh 🙂

    rob

    • I didn’t know you’re a Maine native, Rob. It’s one of my favorite states. I’m a curmudgeon, too, and despise how so many beautiful and historic places in the U.S. are developed and commercialized until all aesthetics are extinct. But I think Maine, fortunately, still has a lot of wildness. Despite the touristy atmosphere of the coastal towns (Camden, Rockport, Belfast, Bar Harbor), most that I saw were clean and tasteful. Brunswick is another nice town, probably helped by Bowdoin money.

      Just finished reading “The Stranger in the Woods” about the North Pond Hermit. Takes place in central Maine. I’m already planning a primitive backpack trip.

  6. Pete,
    Bar Harbor remembrance….
    Summer romance…Met a young women from Australia who crewed on a Tall ship out of Rockland and crashed with me on the weekend… 🙂
    We hopped onto my BSA 650 one Saturday and I introduced her and myself to Acadia sand Cadillac Mt..
    That said, the view from the embattlement atop Camden Hills State Park, Mt. Battie, is breathtaking – Penobscot Bay to almost Deer Isle.

    Not to be missed, a hike to Maidens Cliff while at the park.
    Link here – http://www.mainelybelfast.com/html/maidscliff.html

    I gave you some good attractions that most people will miss in my state.
    Pursue them at your caution. 😉

    rob
    ps – my “curmudgesness ” ( a word ?)
    We owned the first house in downtown Camden proper (still do) and cannot begin to tell you how many times I walked out onto our front stoop during the tourist season and there would be people sitting there eating an ice cream cone… lol

    • Man, you’re a DownEaster through and through, Rob! First house in downtown Camden? (We merely whizzed through it, but loved it.) I will definitely keep the places you mentioned in mind. This summer was our 2nd Maine trip, and I have a good feeling we’ll be returning.

      You may be interested in my book, “Bluejackets in the Blubber Room,” which is a biography of a square-rigger built in Kittery, Maine (click “My Writing”). In the book is my mariner ancestor (from Rhode Island), who hobnobbed with some other mariners from Brunswick…the Pennell family was a large shipbuilding family from there, if you’re into that stuff.

      (You’d like “Stranger in the Woods”… a haunting book, takes place around Rome and Albion, Maine).

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