After years of being poor high school and college students, my husband Matthew and I had our first “real” vacation together to the Pine Tree State in 2009. I mean, our honeymoon cruise was great and all, but we kind of chose it out of convenience. We just hopped on the boat after the chaos of wedding prep and didn’t have to think about it. Planning, choosing activities, and finding a place to stay were all up to us for our trip to Acadia National Park. Yay! We’re big kids now!
Drive to Bar Harbor
Let’s start with the road trip there. From where we live, our destination of Bar Harbor was 8 hours away. It took us 11. Why? By numerous sources, we were advised to ride the coast and take Route 1. While I’m sure it certainly is a more beautiful route, the traffic lights, commuter traffic, and extra hours in the car were a rough start to our trip.
Just starting our careers, we looked for a place to stay that didn’t break the bank and stayed outside of the main town of Bar Harbor. A clean, cozy place to rest your head after a long day in Acadia National Park, Isleview Motel & Cottages in Trenton suited our needs perfectly.
Due to traffic delays, we didn’t arrive until 9:30pm…right before they closed for the night. The amazing owners were waiting up for us and were about to call to make sure we were still coming. What a way to start a vacation. Oi vey.
Since it was so late, there weren’t many food options for our starving stomachs. Nearby we found a lobster shack lit up by a few spotlights and gave it a go. It was here we learned Matthew has a slight little shellfish allergy. Perfect way to end a long day. *insert eye roll*
Day 1 – Sargent Mountain
Given our surname, how can we not hike to the top of Sargent Mountain? We started the day bright and early. Dressed in hiking gear and Camelbaks full of water, we were ready to get started and see Acadia National Park. Well wouldn’t you know, we picked one of the hottest days Maine had seen that year to go for a hike? (In case you don’t know me, I’m not one for warm temperatures. Like, hate the heat. Loathe.) Clearly, my concern/complaints about this went unnoticed because Matthew parked us at the trailhead off of Route 3 and we were on our way.
Now I was under the impression the plan was to park, hike up to the top of Sargent Mountain, then come back. Wrong. To get to our goal, we climbed up Parkman Mountain (941 feet), down through the valley, back up to Gilmore Peak (1036 feet), back down, then finally up to the top of Sargent Mountain (1373 feet). Don’t get me wrong. It was breathtaking to see the view and definitely worth the tired feet, sweaty back and hours of complaining. On the way back down we hopped on the Carriage Road and dragged ourselves back to the car. The rest of the day was spent at our cottage, massaging aching feet. I was most likely still complaining if my memory serves me right. Matthew was probably thankful I didn’t leave his body somewhere on the mountain.
Day 2 – Park Loop to Cadillac Mountain
To save our new marriage, the plan for Day 2 was to relax by exploring the town of Bar Harbor and drive the Park Loop to Cadillac Mountain. In the morning we took a leisurely stroll around Bar Harbor, stopping in a few of the shops and walking down to see views of the bay. Before ‘getting back to nature’ in the national park, we tried out Atlantic Brewing Company and their flavorful beers. Definitely stop by if you have the chance. The only requirement is you need to bring me back some of the root beer. I’ve never had anything like it before. Absolutely delicious!
Later in the afternoon, we started making our way back to Acadia. Our first stop on the park loop was the inlet of Thunder Hole. We watched the sea wash against the rocky shoreline but missed out on hearing the famous thunderous sound. It was still easy to stay for hours, walking along the shore, watching the ocean spray in the air and listening to the gurgling waters.
Our next pit stop was a lookout at Jordon Pond. The water was cool to the touch and clear enough to see the smoothed rocks at the bottom. Across the pond were two perfectly curved hills, appropriately named the Bubble Rocks. It was a good place to stretch our legs and read up on some of the park’s history.
The goal of the day was to make it to the top of Cadillac Mountain (driving, not hiking this time). It is the highest point on the North Atlantic coast and, seasonally, the first view of the sunrise for the U.S. If you are planning to venture to Cadillac Mountain, you’ve probably been advised to be at the top during sunrise or sunset. Boy, is this the truth. It is easily one of the most awe-inspiring sunsets I’ve witnessed. No matter which direction you looked in, the view was amazing.
Day 3 – Whale Watching and Kayaking
It’s not often we do tourist-y activities, but when they’re the ideal vacation activities for where you are, might as well take part. The Bar Harbor Whale Watching Co. took us out into the Gulf of Maine in the hopes of seeing…well, anything (but hopefully whales). Not far away from the coast, we saw seals, peregrine falcon, and plenty of lobster traps. I had never seen puffin nesting grounds or in their natural environment, which was an unexpected treat. Out in the open water, the boat slowed down to where whales were commonly spotted. Suddenly, smooth gray shapes were gliding over the surface of the water, leaving behind large circular “footprints”. It was relaxing to watch these majestic creatures come to the surface and leave us with their tails waving goodbye.
Matthew and I continued our water adventures for the day by trying out kayaking. Life vests on, paddles in hand, and assisted in the water by the guides (thankfully), we were ready to go. Kayaking definitely takes teamwork, so it’s a good thing we have no problem telling each other when they’re doing something wrong. We were able to see the Porcupine Islands up close, juvenile bald eagles, and take in the sights of Bar Harbor from the calm Maine waters.
Day 5 – Last Day in Maine
Having had enough fun with our previous hiking adventures, Matthew and I split up for the morning. He made his way up to the Beehive Trail complete with iron rungs, steep climbs, and handrails. Don’t worry – I had no problem relaxing on Sand Beach waiting for him. Together we made our way down to the tide pools to get closer to the water and check out the creatures that make their home there.
This still remains one of my favorite road trips thanks to the captivating and exciting Acadia National Park. The avenues that led to the adventures in Maine weren’t always laid out perfectly, but it certainly left a lasting impression.
- Where to Stay – There are many remarkable hotels to stay at right in the town of Bar Harbor. Save a little money by staying outside of the main town area. We chose Isleview Motel & Cottages in Trenton, Maine. It doesn’t add much driving time to get into the park and will give you more money to spend on lobster rolls!
- Where to Eat
- Poor Boy’s Gourmet – Away from the main retail area, Poor Boy’s has crab cakes, pasta entrees, and lobster bisque with the added benefit of wide windows to “people watch”. Make reservations if you plan on eating here.
- Mainely Meat BBQ – Conveniently located next to the Atlantic Brewing Co., this is a great spot to grab some grub after the tour. Pulled pork, ribs, or chicken smothered in delicious sauce is a nice change from the typical seafood menu found around town. Grab one of your favorite Atlantic Brew beers or sodas and enjoy your meal in the courtyard or tavern.
- Make sure to have at least one blueberry-related item since they’re local to the area!
- What to Do
- In the Town of Bar Harbor
- Enjoy a walk around town. There are plenty of shopping and retail stores to explore.
- Relax in the grass of Agamont Park and watch the ships.
- Whale watching tours offer the chance to see local wildlife.
- Kayaking/Paddleboarding offer views of Acadia and Bar Harbor from a different perspective.
- In Acadia National Park
- Hike! There are numerous trails that take you through different parts of the park. There are also plenty of biking opportunities along the carriage roads if you’re into that kind of thing.
- Drive the Park Loop up to Cadillac Mountain. Take your time. Make sure to stop by Thunder Hole and Jordan Pond.
- Visit Sand Beach to dip your toes in the water or relax in the sun.
- Atlantic Brewing Company – Even if you’re not a fan of beer, it’s still worth it to take the ride out to try out their delicious blueberry and root beer sodas.
- Walk around the town of Trenton. Just off Mount Desert Island where Acadia is, follow Route 3 north for antiques, shopping, and unique gifts. This is where I got my beautiful glass fruit bowl that still sits on my kitchen counter!
- L.L. Bean Flagship Store – Located in Freeport (a bit away from Acadia), we scoped out some hiking gear, and travel/trail books on our way back home.
- In the Town of Bar Harbor
Most “50 Staters” remember their experiences through photos, journals, or collecting items from each state. Matthew and I have a wooden sign from each state we’ve been to that we hang on the wall with a few of our favorite pictures from our trip. Here is our sign from Maine:
Recommendations for other places to hit up in Bar Harbor or Acadia? Other places in Maine worth the (hopefully less than 11 hour) ride? Let me know in the comments below! Thanks for reading!