We spent most of our time in Acadia National Park but we did go into Bar Harbor a couple times. Bar Harbor was originally incorporated in 1763 and named Eden after Sir Richard Eden, an English statesman. It was renamed Bar Harbor in 1918 because of a sand bar that is visible at low tide. In the 1800’s tourists were attracted to Bar Harbor by the writings of Henry David Thoreau and paintings showing the Maine landscapes by famous painters. The area attracted families such as the Astors, Fords, Morgans, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. The Great Fire of 1947 destroyed nearly half of the eastern side of Mount Desert Island. Sixty-seven of the 222 palatial summer homes and five grand hotels were destroyed in addition to 170 year round homes. The town’s business district survived the fire. More than 10,000 acres of Acadia National Park was destroyed.
Parking in Bar Harbor is scarce so a free shuttle bus called the “Island Explorer” is available to residents and tourists. The shuttle stops at several campgrounds near Bar Harbor, including ours. There are also shuttle buses that travel throughout Acadia National Park to encourage people not to drive. The shuttle buses are all free and funded by local, state and federal tax dollars, including a sizable donation from L. L. Bean whose flagship store is located in Freeport, Maine.
We usually don’t do many activities geared to tourists because they tend to be expensive, but two activities caught our eye. The first was a horse drawn carriage ride along one of the carriage roads in the park. John D Rockefeller Jr was one of the main contributors of Acadia National Park, donating about a third of the park’s land. In his efforts to preserve the park he had over 45 miles of crushed stone roads built between 1913 and 1940. The roads are sixteen feet wide with crowns that provide drainage. The roads are considered the best example of broken stone roads in the United States. Local workers quarried granite from the island to build the roads and seventeen stone bridges. No motor vehicle traffic is allowed on the carriage roads throughout the park, allowing for a safe and peaceful roadway for hikers, bikers and horses.
We decided to take a one hour carriage ride on a carriage road and made a reservation with Wildwood Stables located in the park. The morning of our ride we arrived early enough to see some of the horses having a morning bath. I must say I have been opposed to horses being used in places like Central Park where they spend hours each day pulling people around in carriages in all kinds of weather. I was very glad to hear that there are 26 horses and only three tours conducted each day. The horses work no more than four hours a day, twice a week. They also only work five months of the year. We were assured they really have an easy life and are very well cared for. There were three families on the tour with us with children ranging in age from twelve years to thirteen months. They were all very well behaved. We really enjoyed our ride along the tree lined shaded road with occasional views of the ocean shimmering in the morning sun.
Our second activity was a two hour excursion on a sailboat. Bill had mentioned he would really like to go on a sailboat while in Bar Harbor, so we were excited to find the 151 foot Margaret Todd, the first four masted schooner to sail the New England waters in over half a century. We knew parking in the afternoon would be hard to find so we took the shuttle bus from the campground into Bar Harbor and then back home after our cruise. So convenient! Our voyage took us around Frenchman’s Bay with beautiful views of Acadia National Park. We saw lobster boats, many many lobster pots, a porpoise and several seals. They are so quick it is impossible to get a picture. We loved our time on the boat!
Our last day in Bar Harbor we decided to drive around the “quiet” side of the island. This part of the island is less visited by tourists and is more like what the island was like before Bar Harbor became so touristy. We enjoyed riding through the small villages finding geocaches and taking a picture of the most photographed bridge in Maine. We took our last hike of the visit on the Wonderland Trail. It was an easy trail and we were rewarded with a beautiful ocean view at the end. On the way home we stopped at a restaurant where Bill had a lobster dinner. We left the camera in the car so I missed getting a picture of him with the lobster bib!
Bar Harbor Facts:
- Bar Harbor and two other Mount Desert towns have light ordinances to protect the quality of the night skies.
- Bar Harbor was the birthplace of vice president Nelson Rockefeller.
- The Bar Harbor area was used for naval practices during World War II when nearby Bald Porcupine Island was fired upon by live torpedoes from the submarine USS Piper.
- President William Howard Taft enjoyed playing golf in Bar Harbor.
- Current residents include Martha Stewart and Roxanne Quincy, the co-founder and CEO of Burt’s Bees.