For mountains alongside the water, it’s hard to beat Bar Harbor…or Lake Placid. We compare these two Northeast outposts known for their natural spoils and picturesque downtowns.

 

Most Picturesque Hike

Bar Harbor: Jordan Pond Loop – 3 miles

This moderate route takes hikers along the water’s edge at Acadia National Park up to the South Bubble summit. A large boulder left from glacial erratic teeters here on the edge – a regular photo op for Atlas impersonators. The views here over Jordan Pond are unmatched.

Lake Placid: Mount Marcy – 15 miles

Can a seven-hour hike actually be worth it? Reaching the summit of New York’s tallest mountain (5,344 feet) is not necessarily the most challenging task, but it does give the best views of the Adirondacks and is best pursued in fall for a picture-perfect rainbow of red hues.

Best Wilderness Tour

Bar Harbor: Acadia Owls & Stars Tour

Atop the 1,528-foot-tall Cadillac Mountain, local twitcher Michael J. Good shares the secret to locating the nocturnal creatures of Acadia National Park. Learn which stars light the Maine sky and how to properly spotlight birds with flashlights for evening bird-watching.

Lake Placid: High Peaks Area Photography Tour

Alongside photographer Carl Heilman II, capturing the Adirondack’s misty peaks, babbling brooks, and highest vantage points comes with a lens lesson. For the last 45 years, Heilman has hiked these mountains and now takes amateur photographers on all-day adventures to capture the wild themselves.

Best Water Escape

Bar Harbor: Dive-In Theater

Leave the wet suit behind, because the crew of Diver Ed’s Dive-In Theater does all the heavy lifting. Once the anchor is dropped in Frenchman Bay, guests watch the crew on live video feeds as they explore the water’s depths. Get a chance to handle starfish, lobsters, and other sea life with on-boat touch tanks, too. While the Diver Ed show is aimed for children, adults can opt for the twice-a-week Park Ranger cruises that are more narrative than interactive.

Lake Placid: Private Hacker-Craft Cruise

Lake Placid Lodge’s 35-foot mahogany Hacker-Craft comes with a personal guide to learn which celebrities share the shoreline with the resort, how 12 streams drain in and out of the lake, and what exactly are the Adirondack Great Camps, which housed millionaires at the turn of the twentieth century.

Best Expert Advice

Bar Harbor: Lulu Lobster Boat Rides

Rugged, joke-tossing Mainer Captain John Nicolai does more than pull traps aboard Lulu Lobster Boat Rides during two-hour tours; he educates guests on the anatomy of lobsters and the sustainability of lobstering. Bonus for Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina guests: His boat leaves right from the resort’s dock.

Lake Placid: Lodge Wine Tastings

Only in the vaulted brick wine cellar of the Lake Placid Lodge can a wine tasting be transformed into a teleporting, international escape. With a carefully curated wine selection by master sommeliers, sip Chateau-neuf-du-Pape from France’s Rhone Valley and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons side by side.

Small Downtown Vibe

Bar Harbor: Seafaring Sightseeing

It’s not uncommon to see fishermen sailing in with the day’s catch or bump into chatty locals at a nearby lobster shack. But it’s not all nautical; Bar Harbor’s streets are lined with plenty of specialty shops and art galleries that house handmade Maine goods.

Lake Placid: Alpine Village

Its quaint little downtown is what you might expect to discover in the high mountains of the Alps: small shops where the owners man the counter, views of the peaks, and walkable sidewalks that lead to antique shops with one-of-a-kind finds.

Stay

Bar Harbor: West Street Hotel

Overlooking Bar Harbor’s waterfront, find this boutique-style escape with adult-only rooftop pools and panoramic views of Frenchman Bay and Acadia National Park.

Bar Harbor: Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina

Right on the water in downtown, a few minutes from Acadia National Park, this resort also has a spa that was first envisioned by American royalty nearly four generations ago.

Lake Placid: Lake Placid Lodge

The only hotel directly on the lake’s shores, this Relais & Châteaux retreat offers a secluded escape from the modern world, private on-site wine tastings, and unmatched views of the Adirondacks.