Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Travel: Bar Harbor - Gateway to Outdoor Adventure

Bar Harbor, Maine and the surrounding geography are too big of a subject for one post, so I will likely revisit this subject again in the future. For now, I'd like to focus on the town of Bar Harbor itself, and the many opportunities it presents for folks wanting to kayak the pristine waters of Frenchman Bay or other nearby waters, or to hike, bike, fish, rockclimb, ride on horseback...a near endless list of outdoor activities. 
Bar Harbor, Frenchman Bay, and the Porcupine Islands
Bar Harbor and Frenchman Bay 

Bar Harbor is the largest town (or village, as the case may be) on Mt. Desert (pron. DEsert or deSERT - either way is acceptable) Island. Mt. Desert Island is home to Acadia National Park, the oldest national park east of the Mississippi. There are several areas that permit boating within the park, which should include kayaking. However, these same areas do not necessarily permit paddle boarding, kite surfing, etc. - so double check with park officials before planning an in-park kayaking trip. You will probably want a wheeled kayak cart with all terrain tires to get your 'yak to the launch point, as parking lots are often not immediately adjacent to the water's edge. You may have to travel via a short trail to get to the water. I personally have not yet paddled within park boundaries, but my inclination is that places like Long Pond and Echo Lake would be prime candidates. Outside the park and surrounding Mt. Desert Island are ocean waters including Frenchman Bay, Eastern Bay, and Somes Sound (once considered a fjord, but now called a fjard). These areas offer a multitude of kayaking trip possibilities, from beginner to advanced - so plan your trip relative to your experience level (see my post Where Should I Paddle? - advice on planning your adventure), or consider joining one of the tours offered by the local kayaking tour businesses. 

The town of Bar Harbor, as the largest populated area on the island, is a hub for all island activities. It's a great place to start when planning a trip. Some of the island locals will lament the summertime influx of tourists that can cause traffic back-ups in town and a less than sedate atmosphere. However, they also bring a lot of commerce with them that supports local retail, restaurants, and recreation opportunities. If a touristy atmosphere drives you crazy, consider visiting in the spring, or better yet, the fall - when the town is a bit quieter than during the height of summer. Alternatively, you can stay outside of Bar Harbor and head in to town to join a kayaking tour, hop on a boat, rent bikes, etc. The Island Explorer bus line offers shuttle routes to many areas on the island. Accommodations range from campgrounds to cabins to hotels, and sometimes come with package deals that include recreational activities. Food offerings range from local markets and lobster pounds where you can find excellent products to cook yourself, to roadside casual spots, and all the way to upscale dining. 

The best aspect of Bar Harbor and Mt. Desert Island is the huge variety of things to do, especially in regards to recreation and the outdoors, within a fairly compact geographical area. You can drive across the island in 30-45 minutes, depending on which route you take. The worst part is how long it can take to get there. From my home in northeastern Massachusetts, it's a 6 hour drive if I stick to Rt.95 north to Augusta, then drive east on Rt.3 to Belfast, then coastal Rt.1 north to Ellsworth, then Rt.3 again - this time southeast onto the island. Alternatively, Rt.1 can be driven for a longer stretch with stops available in several of the mid-coast Maine towns like Rockland and Camden. There is an airport, the Hancock County - Bar Harbor Airport, that offers flights via Cape Air, Pen Air, and Jet Blue. I've never used these carriers, so make sure to research flight options thoroughly if this interests you. A location that requires a bit of a journey, even for New Englanders like myself, can be a good thing. It forces you to leave your day to day life behind and encourages you to optimize your visit once you get there. This can result in a memorable trip. Do your research, plan thoroughly, leave some space and time for spontaneous trip alterations, have back-ups in case of inclement weather, give yourself plenty of time to get there...then enjoy. If you haven't been there before, I guarantee you will want to go back. If you have, then you know what I mean. 

For kayak tours (which I recommend for the less experienced - one of my earliest paddles was on one of these) you can find Acadia Kayak ToursCoastal Kayaking Tours, and Aquaterra Adventures right in Bar Harbor. There are additional kayak touring companies located elsewhere on the island. If you want to paddle independently, you can rent a kayak which can be dropped at a launch point by the rental company. If you bring your own kayak, make sure you have it fully secured for the long drive, that you will be able to park your vehicle comfortably with your kayak(s) loaded, and that you have fully researched the local paddling conditions. Paddling independently in a strange area can be more risky than going on a tour, so talk to the local experts at the rental companies and ask as many questions as you can. Buy a map, if they have one, to compensate them for their advice. Remember, Maine waters are c-c-cold , so wear appropriate clothing (see my post 8 Tips for Dressing Right for Your Kayaking Adventure).

Sand Beach, Acadia National Park
Sand Beach, Acadia from a mountain top

Whether you plan on lazily relaxing in Bar Harbor, paddling the local waters, or climbing a mountain, you will enjoy your visit and marvel at the natural beauty of the place. Acadia National Park is diminutive by the standards of the vast parks of the West, but it is nonetheless remarkable. This area showcases coastal Maine in all its glory, and gives visitors the opportunity to explore its natural wonders, its fresh seafood, its history, and its hospitality - and I haven't yet mentioned the fresh local beer for aficionados (like myself 😋), with brewers like Atlantic Brewing, and Jack Russell's Steak House & Brewery  located right on the island. A cold local beer and some fresh shucked oysters are my little piece of heaven when I'm there.  

Do yourself a favor, if you haven't visited Bar Harbor and Mt. Desert Island, do so as soon as possible. If you have, go back for more. You'll thank me.  

- TB on the Water   





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