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Maine Lighthouse Road Trip: Bar Harbor & Acadia National Park | Bass Harbor Light

I recently went on a road trip up and down the coast of Maine. If you'd like to take a peek at some other posts from this trip, you can follow these links to see some more beautiful scenery and lighthouses:



After two days in beautiful Boothbay Harbor, I was off to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. This was my third time in Acadia, and honestly, it never loses any of its appeal. If anything, it makes me appreciate it even more. Whenever we're here, we only ever stop for a day or two, and this trip, I was only here for two days. It's never enough time, and one day, Josh and I want to camp in the park for a whole week and really see as much of the it as we can. The coastline is seriously breathtaking, and even the town it calls home, Bar Harbor, is such a fun place to visit. I love this part of the state more with every visit, and had a wonderful two days here.



WHERE TO STAY

For this trip, I chose to stay right in Bar Harbor, which was a first for me. The past two times we've been here, we've camped at Blackwoods Campgrounds inside the park. We love camping in Acadia, but because I was on my own, and was traveling the state for two weeks, I didn't feel like packing all the stuff that goes with camping. So, I decided to stay in town and mix it up a bit.

I chose to stay at the Bar Harbor Villager Motel and honestly, I don't know if I would ever want to stay anywhere else now. I actually only picked this place because I wanted a location that allowed me to walk to all the shops and restaurants in town, and I wanted something, well ... inexpensive. But when I arrived, the staff was so friendly, the rooms were huge, modern, updated and super clean, and there was a free breakfast included in the rate. Oh, and free parking. For a little motel, it blew me away. There are places to stay in town that are a bit fancier, but if you'll be out all day exploring Acadia, and you're on a budget (but don't want to camp), this is the perfect place to come back to every night.

WHAT TO DO IN ACADIA

I mean, Acadia is pretty much the star of the show in Bar Harbor, so let's just jump right in. One of my favorite things about this park is that for very minimal effort (as in, driving your car to a parking lot and walking across the street), you can see some insanely gorgeous views. And of course, there's also no shortage of hiking trails for all levels, and even a restaurant that boasts one of the most iconic views of the entire park. 

The main reason I stopped in Acadia this particular trip (besides the fact that I just love it so much) was to see Bass Harbor Lighthouse. This is a popular sunset destination, but it worked out better with my schedule to go here for sunrise-ish one morning. I'm really glad I did it this way because I was only one of two people there about an hour after sun up, and it felt like I had the place to myself. Bass Harbor Lighthouse is located in Southwest Harbor, which is about a half hour away from Bar Harbor. So, it's a bit of a drive to get there, but I think it's totally worth it. Keep in mind that sunset here has gotten so popular, people say it's packed, and there's very limited parking here, which can create long wait times to get in. I read online that the road leading to the parking lot doesn't allow U-turns, either, so if you get here, and the lot is full, you're forced to wait however long it takes to get a spot.



I also highly recommend researching tide times before stopping here. The only way you'll get the best views of the lighthouse is taking the staircase on your left (after parking) down to the rocks, and climbing out onto them. I've read online that if you come during high tide, you may not be able to since the rocks will be under water - or, least, getting hit hard by waves. I timed my visit for low tide so I could get out onto the rocks, and while they were still pretty slippery, they were totally manageable in hiking boots.





For very little effort, you can't beat the Ocean Path. This is a completely flat path along Park Loop Road inside the park that starts at either Sand Beach or Otter Cliff Overlook (both those areas have their own parking lots, although, Sand Beach's is much bigger), and it's a 2-mile walk one-way along the ocean. This path gives you some of the most iconic views in all of the park of that dramatic, rocky, tree-lined coastline. And you don't even have to climb a mountain to see it. You can do as much of the path as you want to make it as easy as you want, but I recommend whole-heartedly that you walk the whole thing down and back. Otter Cliff View Point is spectacular, and there are tons of places to walk out onto the cliffs and just sit for a bit and listen to the ocean. 

Really need to embrace wearing bold colors so you can actually spot me in photos. I probably never will, though :)
This is Otter Cliff Overlook, and you can start Ocean Path from here.

Ocean Path is right behind me in this photo, but you have every opportunity to walk out onto the cliffs from the wooded pathway and enjoy the ocean breezes and the sound of the waves.

Overlook right off Ocean Path, close to Sand Beach.


Closer to Otter Cliffs is Boulder Beach, and you'll see it as you're walking by on Ocean Path. If you walk off-trail a few paces toward the water, you'll get to take in nice views from above, or scramble your way down to the actual beach. If you want to see this little spot, you can actually punch it into Google Maps, and it will come right up. I believe it's only about 3/4 of a mile from Otter Cliff Overlook. 

Boulder Beach along Ocean Path in Acadia.




About halfway between Otter Cliffs and Sand Beach is Thunder Hole, which is a popular stop. This was my second time stopping here, and honestly, unless you catch it at just the right time, it's not all that exciting. During high tide, if the waves crash just right, you're supposed to hear a sound that's similar to cracking thunder. We've never heard it, and even though I tried to get here around high tide, the waves just weren't big enough this trip to have that dramatic moment. I think on a more moody day at high tide, you'll have a much better chance.

Sand Beach is the only sandy beach in the park, and it's gorgeous. The bright blue water is so spectacular to see, especially from above (see below on how to do that), and taking in the views of the cliffs in the background is also amazing. This is probably one of the most popular things to do in the park, and even in mid-May, the large parking lot was almost full when I arrived on a weekday in early morning. And, plenty of people were camped out at the beach swimming in the freezing cold water. So plan accordingly. 

View of Sand Beach from the Great Head Trail.


One trail I did this visit that was new to me was Great Head. It starts at the far side of Sand Beach, and it's rated as moderate because there is a bit of rock scrambling you'll have to do in the beginning. After that, it's pretty easy, and the views are amazing from this trail. When you start and end, you'll get some pretty great views of Sand Beach, specifically.

The beginning of Great Head once you scramble up some rocks. 

Views you can expect from Great Head.

More views from Great Head.


The two most popular trails in the park are Beehive and Precipice. These are both considered difficult, and being that people have died from them, and that I was alone, I didn't want to tackle them. But I would love to do these with Josh some day. They look absolutely thrilling with some of the best views in the park. Just use tons of caution and be safe when tackling them. And maybe do some of your own research before deciding to do them.

Bubble Rock Trail is also a pretty easy trail that offers amazing views, as well as a perfect photo opp. Bubble Rock is, well, a rock that hangs off the side of the mountain, and it's really cool to see in person. Plus, the views from the top are really beautiful. I didn't do this one during this trip, but Josh and I have done it together in the past.

Not the best ever photo, but this is the top of the Bubble Rock Trail from a trip a few years back.


North and South Bubble peaks are an Acadia staple, and also one of the most famous landscapes in the park. And the good news is, if you're not into hiking them, Jordan Pond House, a restaurant within the park grounds, offers perfect views of both the pond and these mountains. And, you can eat delicious food while you take in all the scenery. They're well-known for their popovers, but they have traditional New England lunch offerings on their menu. Josh and I dined here for lunch during our first-ever Acadia visit, and we had a table outside with North and South Bubble in our eye line. It was so memorable. 

You can also walk the Jordan Pond Trail by parking in the Jordan Pond lot (right in front of the restaurant) and walking down past the restaurant building a bit. I've never done the whole loop because, honestly, the best views are right at the start of the trail. You'll get that perfect shot of the pond with the mountains in the background right off the bat, so no walking is even necessary. 

One of the most popular views in the park, and it's so easy to see at the very start of the Jordan Pond Loop.


The lesser-known part of Acadia was one I visited for the first time during this trip, and it was one hundred percent worth it. Schoodic Peninsula is the only part of Acadia that's attached to the mainland (the rest is on Mount Desert Island), and it's about an hour's drive away. I actually stopped here on my way down from Lubec to break up my drive to Camden, and spent a few hours exploring. It's a small little area, but honestly, it was stunning and way less crowded than the popular sites on Mount Desert Island. Would I suggest you skip Mount Desert Island and come here instead? Absolutely not, but in conjunction with one another, it'll make the perfect Acadia trip.



One area I knew I wanted to see was Raven's Nest. It was once a marked trail on the park map, but it's since been removed because it's actually a pretty dangerous section of the coastline. That said, I found some areas along the coastline of Maine, including inside Acadia, that I felt were equally as dangerous, so I wouldn't let that deter you. When I say dangerous, I mean if you're not using any caution at all when you're close to the cliffs, yes, you could fall and die. Just practice normal hiking safety and you'll be fine. To find Raven's Nest, use these coordinates in your GPS: 44.352005, -68.074934. They will bring you to a small little pull-over on your left where you can park. You'll cross the road and see an unmarked trail head, and then it's a very short walk to Raven's Nest, which is a beautiful piece of dramatic coastline. This is known as a sunset spot, but of course, I was there around 11a on a bright, sunny day with no clouds. So, I didn't get a ton of pictures because I was dealing with some insanely harsh shadows, but in person, it was amazing.




Schoodic Peninsula doesn't have a ton of specific attractions like the Mount Desert Island part has, it's rather more of a one-way loop road that takes about 15 minutes to drive, and every little pull off has breathtaking views of the water. I wanted to pull off the road every minute or so, and I suggest you do if you see something that looks pretty because once you pass it, you have to make the whole loop again before you can get back. Schoodic Point is a popular area with a big parking lot, and reminded me a lot of Otter Cliffs on Mount Deserts Island. You can walk over big sea rocks and watch the ocean waves crash against them, and I could have sat there all day. The park also has tons of hiking trails, and while I didn't do them because honestly, just pulling over to walk around took up way more time than I thought, I would have loved to explore the trails a bit.

Schoodic Point.







And, finally, going back to Mount Desert Island, there is, of course, Cadillac Mountain. It's the highest peak along the North Atlantic coast, and it's famous for being a sunrise spot. Lots of people drive or hike up there in the very early mornings to see it. We've done sunrise here, and honestly, it's worth it. It really is absolutely amazing to see in person, especially if you have a clear morning. But, it's also very crowded. The park has even started a reservation system during peak season, which now requires you to pick a date and time for the parking area before your visit, so keep that in mind. If you don't have a parking reservation during peak season, you'll be denied entrance. See the park's website for more information.

The main entrance area of the Cadillac Mountain Summit.

Views from the top of Cadillac Mountain.


This year, I decided to go for sunset. You don't get the dramatic light illuminating the water below you like sunrise offers, but the sky still glows while the sun sets behind the mountain, and I really loved it. There were far fewer people, I had whole sections of the mountain to myself, and spent about an hour and a half just enjoying all the colors in the sky, as well as the bird's eye views.








EXPLORE BAR HARBOR

The actual town of Bar Harbor is a really fun little New England coastal town that's filled with shops and restaurants, and is usually bustling with people while also somehow staying rather peaceful. We've only ever gone in May or September, though, so I can't speak to how peak season would affect that vibe. But I always love spending time in Bar Harbor, and since this was the first time I actually stayed overnight in-town, I was able to explore it a bit more.

I didn't take too many pictures, but expect colorful store fronts on the Main street through town, so many restaurants to choose from it'll be overwhelming, ice cream shops, a beautiful waterfront area, and a nice little walking pathway that gets you away from the crowds.

This was actually the first time I'd even heard of Shore Path in town and decided to walk most of it during this visit. It's a pedestrian path along the water and it was so relaxing, and also offered really nice views of the fishing boats in the water and the mountains in the background. I definitely recommend it.

Shore Path in Bar Harbor.

Views along Shore Path in Bar Harbor.


For restaurants, I absolutely love Jeanine's Great Maine Breakfast for, well ... breakfast. Josh and I came here during our last two visits, and I couldn't not stop in again this time. I'm not sure if it's just how hungry I am with all that mountain air and hiking so much, but this breakfast always just seems to be so satisfying. The breakfast menu has everything and anything, and the food is just really basic and perfect. 

When I was here for this trip, quite a few places were still closed for the season, so I found myself eating at Side Street Cafe twice for dinner, and I'm so not sorry about it. It's a great little restaurant that serves up traditional pub-style comfort food with a New England flare and everything I've ever gotten here has been awesome (Josh and I have been here during previous visits). This trip in particular, I got the fish tacos and the lobster grilled cheese, and both were awesome.

I can't even begin to explain how good this lobster grilled cheese from Side Street Cafe was after a long day of hiking.


And ice cream, right? Gotta get ice cream while here. Mount Desert Ice Cream is a popular choice, and it's excellent quality. There always seems to be a line out the door, even during off season, so you have to know it's good. And I know that I'm an adult, and I should be into flavors like Coriander Lemon Curd and Cinnamon Cardamom (both of which are on the menu at MDI Ice Cream), but I'm just ... not. You can get some more traditional flavors here as well, but I actually personally prefer Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium. It's a cute little old fashioned ice cream and candy shop with tons of choices for both, and while the lines can get long, it always moves pretty fast. I really love their ice cream and the portions are generous.

And that wraps up my two days in Bar Harbor and Acadia. Next up, I can't wait to share my time in the quaint little fishing village of Lubec. 











I traveled to this destination in May 2021, just after the CDC announced its recommendation that face masks were no longer suggested for indoor and outdoor activities for those who were fully vaccinated. I was fully vaccinated for this trip, and followed all local Maine guidelines, which still mandated wearing a mask indoors. That is why you won't see me wearing any face masks outdoors, though. If you're not fully vaccinated and plan to travel, please follow CDC and local state/country guidelines, and protect yourself and others by wearing your face mask in public settings when social distancing is not an option, especially indoors. 

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