When it comes to things to do in Bar Harbor, there’s a slew of hands-on learning highlights that transform places of study into places of play.
Imagine a typical museum visit, and envision walking through hushed halls full of European paintings, stifling a yawn or two while stiff security guards peer sternly at you. Not in Bar Harbor, where museums and activities often offer special hands-on learning experiences. Whether you’re touching starfish tentacles at Acadia National Park, discovering genomics at a renowned research institute, or watching playful porpoise off Baker Island, here are five spots that turn classroom education into recess-like fun.
M/V Miss Samantha
During the hour-and-a-half Lobstering and Seal Watching Tour aboard Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.’s M/V Miss Samantha, the sternman hauls lobster traps, then lets you hold anything he or she pulls up from the ocean floor – crabs, sea cucumbers, sea stars, urchins, and, of course, lobsters (once banded). The four-and-a-half-hour Baker Island Tour is a nine-mile journey that leads to a 130-acre green island gem in the Atlantic Ocean, where you dock to spend two hours exploring the preserve, the 200-year-old Gilley family farmstead, and the Baker Island Lighthouse.
This downtown Bar Harbor museum is dedicated exclusively to the heritage and 12,000-year-old culture of Maine’s first people: the Wabanaki. In addition to a gallery that shows a vast collection of objects, from kitchen utensils and crafts to bone tools and pottery, the spacious hands-on “Learning Lab” is the place where visitors can learn how to weave baskets or use stone tools. The current core exhibit, titled People of the First Light, is a digitally interactive exhibit in which to explore Mount Desert Island heritage.
MDI Biological Laboratory
Founded in 1898, the MDI Biological Laboratory has since become one of the country’s preeminent nonprofit facilities for improving human health through research and education. The regular summer Family Science Nights let families get inside their work by setting up more than a dozen hands-on science stations outside on the laboratory’s lower campus. Guided by scientists and summer interns, these stations tackle topics from genes and nanotechnology to fish physiology.
Junior Ranger Program at Acadia National Park
Young budding scientists can also explore Maine through the Junior Ranger Program, a National Park program that has a special seaside twist at Acadia. When kids arrive, they are tasked with completing a number of hands-on activities to earn a patch, like going on a glacial geology hunt (search for glacial erratics and U-shaped valleys), examining loon behavior and how it is affected by pollution, or playing “tidepool bingo” based on careful observations while tidepooling.
Based on the campus of the College of Atlantic and run by students, the Dorr Museum showcases a panoply of presentations on coastal Maine wildlife. Touch skunk fur, wings, and baleen, dip hands into tidal pools full of starfish, hermit crabs, and other creatures from Frenchman Bay, or gape at the surprisingly real dioramas full of taxidermy animals in active poses. You’ll know you’ve reach the right place when you see the 40-ton whale skull marking the entrance.