Like many other Maine coastal towns, summer is Bar Harbor’s busiest season – with most of the eastern seaboard looking for cool ocean breezes and lush green hikes. Don’t let the crowds discourage you, because we have the tips and tricks that will let you experience Mount Desert Island like a local, as well as some of the must-see events, from free orchestral performances and fashion shows to fresh seafood and the country’s most famous Fourth of July.
Activities & Attractions
Time Your Park Loop Drive Just Right
The months of July and August are the peak season for Acadia National Park, which means a congested Park Loop Road – the 27-mile main artery that runs through park – and its equally busy pull-off observation points. And since doing a circuit of this two-lane loop road is a must during any visit to take in granite ledges melting into the steel-blue sea, we suggest heading out as early as 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m. (as the crowds descend at 10 a.m. and don’t start to let up until 4 p.m.).
Savor Some Classic Maine Seafood
No trip to Coastal Maine is complete without a smorgasbord of seafood. To get the most out of your meal, avoid the long lines at tourist traps like Geddy’s and head further south to spots like the Tan Turtle in Northeast Harbor. This funky and colorful eatery has a great view of the bay and a great local vibe, not to mention dishes designed around scallops, lobster, and fish that came off the boat that morning. Don’t want to leave the confines of Bar Harbor? Stewman’s Lobster Pound is an icon overlooking Frenchman Bay and famous for a meal called The Downeast Lobster Experience: clam chowder, a 20-ounce steamed Maine lobster, mussels, buttered sweet corn and potatoes, and finally, homemade blueberry pie for dessert. To avoid the crowds, make the trip either for a late lunch or early dinner between the times of 2:30 to 5 p.m.
Take an Evening Hike up Cadillac
It’s unlikely that you would start a hike after dinner. But since Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain on the eastern coast of the US, rising 1,530 feet above sea level, it’s still light at the summit until 9 p.m. at the height of summer, making 5 p.m. an acceptable time to start your 2.2-mile trek up (especially as most hikers have finished their longer routes for the day, leaving the trails empty). From the Park Loop Road, you’ll take the North Ridge Trail, which travels along the mountain’s north ridge with a few steep sections broken up by level sections, before hitting the summit, which affords views of the Porcupine Islands and Bar Harbor.
Sightsee through the Quiet Side of Acadia
Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park are obviously two of the most beautiful – and, therefore most popular – locations in Maine. But there are plenty of other scenic hidden gems worth checking out, including what’s known as the “Quiet Side of Acadia,” which comprises the areas of Mount Desert, Tremont, and Southwest Harbor, and their respective villages just west of Somes Sound. Unlike the eastern side’s Bar Harbor and Northeast Harbor, there are no major downtowns here, but rather a high concentration of what true Down East Maine is about: tiny fishing villages where the daily return of lobster boats is like a celebratory parade, main streets devoid of chain stores, and weathered cottages seemingly preserved in time from the salty air.
See a Free Seaside Show
Every Wednesday through July and August, the town of Bar Harbor hosts an outdoor movie series in Agamont Park, right on the edge of the water. The movies start at dusk (approximately 8:15 p.m.), but you should plan to spread out your blanket early to save your spot (we suggest around 4 p.m.). Grab a to-go dinner from West Street Hotel’s Paddy’s or Harborside Hotel’s La Bella Vita to enjoy while the sun sets, followed by complimentary popcorn when the 16-foot silver screen lights up.
Watch the Fourth of July Fireworks from the Sea
With the entire country clamoring for the best fireworks location, you have to get creative no matter where you celebrate the Fourth. Luckily, Mount Desert Island gives you some beautiful and clever options to skip the crowds, including a special fireworks cruise hosted by Acadia Nature Cruises. Not only do you miss the hassle of trying to navigate the downtown crowds, but the Acadian, which features a second deck for optimal viewing, is one of the best seats from which to watch the display (you feel as if you’re sitting beneath the fireworks).
Festivals & Events
Abbe Museum Indian Market, 5/18–20
Some 75 native artists representing 40 different tribes converge on Bar Harbor for a three-day celebration of indigenous excellence with a film festival, fashion show, and live music, as well as a market full of artisan goods.
Taste of Bar Harbor (final date still to be determined)
Usually in late May or early June, this multiday food festival has locals and visitors alike crisscrossing town, sampling the best Bar Harbor has to offer with themed events, like last year’s dessert night, where participating restaurants served bite-sized versions of their signature sweets.
Acadia Birding Festival, 5/31–6/3
This annual festival features guided kayaking trips to see puffins, visits to active peregrine breeding sites to watch them make their famous 180 mile-per-hour dives, and more bird-oriented activities across Mt. Desert Island.
Bar Harbor Music Festival, 7/1–7/29
Over the past 51 years, this music festival has kick-started the careers of hundreds of young classical musicians, vocalists, and composers. For the month of July, Bar Harbor becomes a haven for music lovers, with events ranging from jazz Sundays to full opera productions to recitals by the world piano competition winner, Alexandra Beliakovich.
Fourth of July, 7/4
It has been said that Bar Harbor has the best Independence Day celebration in the country. It’s no wonder, considering the day starts off with a community-wide blueberry pancake breakfast followed by races (for both humans and lobsters), a craft fair, a seafood festival, a parade, live music all day, and a giant fireworks display.
Bar Harbor Fine Arts Festival, 8/3–5
This invitational fine arts festival includes some of the country’s best jewelry makers, painters, potters, and photographers in a juried exhibition right in downtown Bar Harbor.
Ellsworth Antiques Show, 8/16–18
Just 20 miles from Bar Harbor, America’s longest running antiques show takes over the Woodlawn Museum for three days of American and British furniture, arts, rare books, and more, kicked off by a cocktail party and dinner on the 16th.