We spent the first half of our trip to Maine exploring Mount Desert Island. There’s so much that’s lovely to see on the island that you hardly need a guide, but we made it back a few favorite spots we’d visited before and discovered a few new ones that I thought would be nice to share in this place. Special shoutout to my favorite internet friend and neighbor, Emily, for her amazing insider tips.
As I mentioned before, we drove up to Maine for this trip. Having a car with us was really convenient for being able to visit some of the more remote spots on the island and after a few minor carseat-related meltdowns on the way up, Faye found her groove and settled in.
For this trip, I partnered with Silvercar for what was the most seamless and utterly luxurious car rental experience of my life. While it was a little funny to cruise around in a fancypants car while camping, I wouldn’t have changed the experience for anything. The rental process itself was super easy—no long lines, no last-minute car swaps, no paperwork, no arriving to a lot to be told that all of the cars are gone. The silver Audi sedan (the only kind of car the company rents) came equipped with wi-fi which proved terrific for keeping all of you guys bombarded by instagrams and satellite radio meant that we had good tunes even when we were in more remote parts of Maine and out of range for cell service. My only fear is that we’ve finally spoiled Faye for good.
We kept a picnic basket in the trunk of the car and used it as homebase while we were out and about. Many a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was made out of the trunk.
For folks who prefer a more athletic approach to sightseeing, the island is definitely bikeable (if quite hilly in spots) and there are bike rental places in almost every small village on the island, complete with trailers and baby seats so that the whole family can join in on the fun. If you head to the National Park, you can also hop on shuttle buses for a guided tour.
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
You don’t have to visit the national park to get a sense of the natural beauty of Mount Desert Island, but it will certainly enrich the experience. A park pass is $25/pass for a private vehicle and good for a week. You can buy them at a bunch of different places on the island (if you’re camping in the park, you need to buy this weekly pass in addition to paying your nightly $22 camping fee). Here are a few of our favorite spots in the park:
Wonderland – Head here at sunset. There’s lots to be said for enjoying the sunset from a westerly facing point like the Bass Harbor sunsets in Maine, but in this spot between Southwest Harbor and Bass Harbor, the sky turns pink. If you make it there at low tide the tide pools are gorgeous. Bonus if it’s low tide at sunset and the whole place is glowing.
Bass Harbor Lighthouse – Mount Desert’s only lighthouse is worth taking a peek at. The short hiking trails around the lighthouse are lovely with lots of pink granite outcroppings for watching boats pass. The trails are especially beautiful in the early morning. And if I could bottle up a smell to keep forever, it’d be the scent of these woods.
Echo Lake – A fresh water lake in the middle of the island and a perfect spot for a lazy afternoon. We took it easy on our day there this time around, but I have vivid memories of hiking on the trails around the lake as a child and looking down on the water from above. It’s a nice spot to cool down without freezing to death in the ocean.
Sand Beach – Maybe the coldest ocean water I’ve experienced. This aptly named beach is one of the only sandy beaches along an otherwise very rocky coastline. Faye could not get enough of the icy water (or the seaweed).
Seawall Picnic Area – I might have this name wrong, but on the drive to Seawall Campground where we stayed, there’s a gorgeous natural seawall with drop-dead views at dusk. We loved this place, especially because it was easy to get to in the sliver of time we had between cleaning up camp dinners and sundown.
Park Loop Road – A meandering 27-mile road goes through the park and along breathtaking vistas with scenic overlooks a plenty. If you head to Acadia in the summertime you will not be alone on the road, but I don’t think that diminishes the beauty too much. Don’t be dismayed if parking near some of the most touristy spots are full. You can park along the road and the walk along the cliffs is not something to be grumbly about. If you’re carless—or would rather not drive—you can also take park shuttles along this route.
OTHER PLACES TO VISIT
We tooled around Bar Harbor a bit and ducked in and out of the other villages, but here are a few of our favorite stops that were slightly more off the beaten path:
Beech Hill Farm – The most beautiful farm stand operated by students at the College of the Atlantic. A terrific spot to get veggies for making dinner or for finding wonderful Maine-made products to bring back to the folks at home.
Long Pond – Half in the park, half out, you can visit Long Pond without a park pass if you want to. If we hadn’t had a tiny one with us, we would have rented a canoe to cruise around the lake. The pond is glorious and you didn’t hear it here, but there’s a rock jumping cliff there, too.
Blueberry Picking – On the way to Long Pond, there’s a pick-your-own wild blueberry spot. $3 for a quart we didn’t have the time to fill was worth every penny and made us feel better about the few berries we ate straight off the bush.
Sargent Drive – Last time James and I were in Acadia we hiked along the hills that flank Somes Sound, but this time we took a slightly less intense approach and took a drive down the beautiful Sargent Drive one foggy morning.
Thuya Gardens – An easy stop off of Sargent Drive, these gardens are gorgeous. We headed there the day after our third wedding anniversary and met people celebrating 52, 48, and 49 years of marriage. A good omen if ever there was one. It was overcast and lovely during our visit. $5 recommended donation.
Cooksey Drive Overlook – This short hike was a fantastic out-of-the-park spot to take in terrific views away from the Park Loop crowds. Locate Cooksey Drive on the map in Seal Harbor and wind your way through streets lined with incredible “cottages” until you see a few parking spots and a sign marking the spot. The trails here are maintained by Maine Coast Heritage Trust and just stunning.
PLACES TO EAT
We ate most of our meals at the campsite (or out of our cooler), but we enjoyed a few treats out and about, too. These are some favorites:
Claremont Inn Dock – The dock at this historic hotel is out of the way in a best way and a wonderful treat. We enjoyed delicious blueberry margaritas while Faye enjoyed death-defying acrobatics on the dock. Baby hazards aside, it is worth your while to wend your way down to the old hotel and down to the dock to drink up the view (and the cocktails). Southwest Harbor.
Maine-ly Delights – Classic, not-at-all fancy New England seafood joint with a very kind waitstaff. The fried haddock sandwiches were the best thing here. Would be a great spot to hit for lunch, but we cruised there after getting rained out at dinnertime at camp. The sun was setting right across the street as we ate and a stroll down to the floating dock was the perfect finish to the night. Bass Harbor.
Gott’s Store – Extremely typique in the best way. The ice cream here is terrific. Overlook the styrofoam bowls (or bring your own!) and get a hot fudge sundae with peanut butter or a blueberry float. This felt like my childhood summers come back to life. Route 102 en route to Bass Harbor.
Little Notch Bakery – A nice little spot to stock up on blueberry scones and sandwich bread (and iced coffee). Southwest Harbor.
If you need to pick up provisions while you’re on the island, we had luck at these places:
A&B Naturals: A tiny natural foods store in Bar Harbor and a good spot to pick up milk or yogurt or other perishables. It’s also across the street from a larger conventional grocery store if you need more variety. Bar Harbor.
Sawyer’s Market – This market and accompanying wine shop are nice places to duck into if you’re camping at Seawall. Be prepared for a bit of sticker shock, but know there’s a place to buy everything from local produce to fancy prepared sauces and cheese just down the road from camp. Southwest Harbor.
PLACES ON THE WAY IN AND OUT
The drive up to Acadia is a bit of a haul from New York—and most other places. We had grand plans to make the journey in one day (hahahaha), but at the last minute we broke up the trip with a stopover at my parents’ house in Connecticut and another one at a beautiful campground in Phippsburg on the way up. In case you need fortification or distraction on the journey, here are some good spots to stretch (and snack):
Chase’s Daily – This restaurant/farm market in Belfast is amazing, beautiful, and delicious. We got insanely yummy tofu bahn mi sandwiches on our way back down the coast from Acadia. Belfast.
Belfast Co-op – We stocked up on a few essentials before making our way to Acadia. Terrific and big natural food coop. My kind of place and then some. Belfast.
Atlantic Baking Co. – If you’re traveling up with a tiny person who needs to make frequent stops (or even if you’re not), stop at the Atlantic Baking Company in Rockland for fresh breads, frothy cappucinos and great soups and sandwiches to stay or go. Rockland.
Farnsworth Art Museum – A really lovely art museum in downtown Rockland is worth a visit if you’re sick of the car or killing time before catching a ferry in Rockland. Faye particularly enjoyed hearing her echo on our tour but no one seemed to mind her enthusiasm. Rockland; $12/person
Baby-related Note: It probably goes without saying that vacationing with a baby is different than vacationing without a baby. I’ve never been a traveler who really enjoys checking sites off a list like I’m engaging in some kind of competative sport, but I do really enjoy exploring. The pace of vacation with a baby was definitely more…relaxed…than we anticpated. We didn’t cover less ground, necessarily, but we definitely covered it differently. There were fewer cliffside hikes and more scenic drives. Fewer candlelit dinners and more bedtime stories. I was peed on twice in the same day. If I’m being honest, there were moments when our trip felt like a string of scenic overlook stops punctuated by epic diaper changes. But blueberry-scented blowouts aside (did I just cross a line there?), we still managed to see tons, to give ourselves the chance to recharge, and still feel like the effort of vacationing was totally, one-hundred percent worth it.
To read more about our camping experience, head HERE.
Disclosure: Silvercar offered us a generous discount on our car rental for this trip. Enthusiastic review and opinions my own.