If you and your inner circle of friends are looking to escape the cacophony of city life for a collective retreat beside Mother Nature, there’s no better place than Bar Harbor.
Bar Harbor began as a place to escape from city. Beginning in the late 1800s, well-heeled families from Boston, New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and beyond first started coming here as a place to retreat from the “urban jungle.” But unlike other once-quiet towns that have become built-up over time, this little seaside hamlet, set on the 108-square-mile Mount Desert Island – 50 miles from the closest international airport in Bangor – remains very much in touch with its natural side. It is, after all, the neighbor to one of the nation’s finest displays of nature: Acadia National Park. So if yours is a group of friends or family looking for a true nature retreat, this guide has got you covered for things to do in Bar Harbor, from whale watch charters to group photo safaris.
Where to Stay
A Maine nature retreat doesn’t mean you have to rough it in damp tents and sleeping bags. Located in downtown Bar Harbor, overlooking Frenchman Bay, both West Street Hotel and Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina are just minutes from Acadia’s best wild sites. If looking to set up basecamp at West Street for your group, the resort’s two-bedroom suites offer plush king-size beds, a guest pantry, and private balconies overlooking the water. At the historic Harborside Hotel, the Oceanfront Suites offer flexible floor plans to accommodate all group sizes and include a full bath, living, kitchen, and dining areas. Located in the marina, the four Boathouse Suites each have two bedrooms off a full kitchen and living area, as well as balconies and a rooftop patio, complete with a Jacuzzi.
Nature through Your Lens
If you have some photography enthusiasts in your group or your own digital camera has been gathering dust, consider taking a nature photography workshop with Acadia Photo Safari. Led by local photographer Howie Motenko, three different three-hour tours – the Jordon Pond Safari, Sunset Cruise Safari, and Ocean Drive Safari – let your group (limited to six participants) pick your preferred scenery to focus on and include the tricks recommended to capture it. For example, at Acadia’s Jordon Pond, you’ll learn how to use slow shutter speeds to capture the motion of water, while the sunset cruise takes you out on a classic Downeast “lobster yacht” to study light, exposure, and reflection.
The best table in town is always one surrounded by nature. Pack a picnic lunch from either West Street Hotel’s Paddy’s Irish Pub or Harborside’s La Bella Vita, and head to Compass Harbor, an old farm property once owned by George Dorr, one of Acadia’s founders. Located less than a mile south of downtown Bar Harbor, the location includes a short, easy walk through the wooded estate and ends at Dorr Point, a granite outcropping that is the perfect place to spread your blanket and bounty while taking in the views of Compass Harbor and the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay.
Hanging Out in Acadia
For a different way to see Acadia, sign your group up for a half- (four hours) or full-day (eight hours) rock climbing tour with Atlantic Climbing School. Limited to 12 participants (and overseen by three certified guides), these tours take groups to remote parts of the park to scale beautiful pink granite walls overlooking the ocean. And no, you don’t have to have any previous climbing experience – the park is home to plenty of beginner climbs, especially on an expansive section known as Otter Cliff (a quick three-minute hike from the Park Loop Road). After a 30- to 40-minute tutorial, you’ll be scrambling up, granite handhold after handhold, to the sound of the swirling Atlantic.
Acadia’s Secret Gardens
One of the most amazing displays of nature unfolds before you at The Wild Gardens of Acadia. With more than 400 labeled flower and plant species spread across 12 different habitats commonly found on Mount Desert Island, this special part of the park offers ample wide-set walking paths ideal for larger groups. The Wild Gardens also act as a trailhead for other hiking trails that lead down to the ponds or streams or up into the mountains – the most popular being the Jessup Trail, which takes visitors through a boggy birch stand.
Your Own Boat Cruise
For groups of 20 or more guests, the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co. offers group discounts during regularly scheduled catamaran tours. (In addition to whale watch tours, they also offer lighthouse tours, seabird tours, seal watching tours, and more) Or, you can rent one of their boats for a private tour of your choosing. Might we suggest the summer-time Lobster Bake and Tour, where you’ll learn about the lobstering industry while watching the team haul traps aboard Miss Samantha, the company’s 56-foot boat, then enjoy a lobster bake at Stewman’s Downtown Lobster Pound.