Maine-iacs Part Two: A Pocket Guide to Bar Harbor, Maine

What to do in Bar Harbor, Maine #missfunctionalmoney #savemoney #money

How is it possible that I was in Maine last month? It feels like 3 years have passed since I was perched on a craggy cliff with my lover boy, looking out over the Atlantic. Life has come at us pretty fast since our trip in July, so it’s fun to take a moment to reminisce as I write this post.

If you haven’t yet, you can read all about how Portland pulled a fast one on us and knocked our socks off in the story of the Maine-iacs, Part One. When I left off, we’d finished a spectacular (though semi-awake) day in Portland, and were heading to bed with a belly full of ramen.

Next up on our trip was what we’d been building up in our heads for a loooongg time: Bar Harbor.

Bar Harbor is not exactly undiscovered; people come from all over the world to hike in Acadia National Park, which takes up a fair chunk of Mount Desert Island, where Bar Harbor is located. And yet, there are many parts of Bar Harbor that feel rugged and wild and yours for the taking.

Ahead, I’m walking you through what I consider to be a Bar Harbor Pocket Guide. (It’s not the ULTIMATE Guide… that may come one day. But when I see someone post an Ultimate Guide, I want details on accommodation options, exact directions, exhaustive trail guides — basically unless you’re at a Rick Steves status, don’t call your 500 word post an Ultimate Guide. OK, mini-rant over.)

MissFunctional Money’s Bar Harbor Pocket Guide

Getting There:

In Portland, we walked from our AIrBnB to the downtown Enterprise location (it’s almost as if I’d researched and planned ahead! 😉), where we’d booked a rental car for our drive up to Bar Harbor. The nice employee tried to put us in a Toyota Camry, and while a Camry is a perfectly respectable car, my husband is 6’5 and we had a lot of car time in our future. So I pulled up my big girl britches and politely asked if there were any other options in our pricing tier — a task which may sound like a no-brainer ask for you, but is QUITE a big deal for me. I was proud of myself for speaking up without shrinking into the “well, if it’s no trouble, I don’t know, whatever is fine with you! I don’t want to be a bother! I don’t know!” thing I have tended to do for the last few decades. Sure enough, a Nissan truck was available and the same price. Small victories.

Anyway, we grabbed coffee and a split an egg pita across the street at a Hobbit House-like cafe called Tiqa — SO CUTE! Then, we popped into the nearby Trader Joe’s and loaded up on groceries for the week. We love doing this because of the convenience factor of having food on hand, as well as the money-saving factor of eliminating the need to eat out 3 meals per day. This post is already getting out of control and I haven’t even talked about anything of substance yet, so I’ll just move on and save the pre-trip grocery suggestion thing for another day.

We hit the road, raging against a very demanding robot (Siri) who kept insisting that we were not taking the right route.

Instead of taking the more direct, more eye-glazing route through 485, we opted for the scenic route up and along the coast on Highway 1. I’d read from many bloggers about how the traffic from all the little coastal towns can aggressively back up the roads, laughed in their faces, and then proceeded to wait in traffic for a long, long time. Oh well, it was intentional — we hadn’t come all this way to see the interstate!

We drove through Rockport and Camden, which are as cute as they sound. My husband and I have decided to stay in Camden if we ever get back up there — it was just so stinkin’ cute. We’d originally planned on staying there on the way back down to Portland, but the plans changed.

We did, however, stop in the little town of Wiscasset to stretch our legs and indulge in our first lobstah roll of the trip.

Red’s boasts the world’s best lobster roll — and while I don’t know where they got the data on that, they definitely had the world’s longest line. It’s an old lobster shack that serves up big baskets of lobster rolls, fried seafood, hot dogs and the like, and has been for more than 80 years. It’s been visited by everyone from Katie Couric to Robert Redford, and lemme tell ya: word has SPREAD. The line was nuts even in the off-hours, but once we’d gotten in line, my husband and I were too obnoxiously stubborn to give up and go elsewhere. As a native to a town full of tourist traps, it’s not in my nature to go where the line is — not at all. Buttttt….

We were there, the weather was nice, the employees brought us fried shrimp and water in line, and this was our prize:

What to do in Bar Harbor, Maine #missfunctionalmoney #savemoney #money

And so we savored every last crumb of our first Maine lobster roll, and then made our way back to the truck to plow ahead toward Bar Harbor.

A cute front porch in Wiscassett, Maine.

A cute front porch in Wiscassett, Maine.

The next few hours are a blur of trees, Taylor Swift playing on Spotify, and scenic water views.

Finally, we crossed the Mount Desert Narrows and arrived on the island! One of the first sights to greet us was this cute lobster shack.

I think they’re all set in case it floods.

What to do in Bar Harbor, Maine #missfunctionalmoney #savemoney #money

Where We Stayed:

When we’d first decided to go to Bar Harbor, we were interested in staying in one of the small cabins that are so popular there. And after much, much deliberation and weighing of pros and cons, we picked the Edgewater Motel & Cottages. We stayed in the motel part because to be honest, I really wanted the waterfront view, and it was guaranteed from the motel room. The cabins are also along the water, but I could see which ones were available and liked my odds for an excellent view at the main hotel part more. I just couldn’t stop picturing sitting on the porch off the room and watching the sunset.

And with good reason:

The view from our motel room in Bar Harbor :)

The view from our motel room in Bar Harbor :)

These accommodations, like most in Bar Harbor, are RUSTIC. Despite the exceptional view, this is not a fancy place. But after extensive research (like, I don’t even want to admit how long I spent poring over TripAdvisor reviews), I decided this place was the perfect combination of location, privacy, private shoreline access, peace and quiet, views, price point, value and availability in the peak of Maine summer.

My favorite thing about Edgewater wasn’t the view and private shore access, it was the fact that I called them (on the phone! And I talked to a human!) to ask about availability and reservations, then I mailed them a check, and then they mailed me a receipt. In the mail.

I LOVE that they are sticking it to online travel sites and saying, so what if it’s 2019, we know our spot is special enough for people to buy a stamp.

Frolicking along the private shore access at our motel in Bar Harbor — and about to lose to high tide!

Frolicking along the private shore access at our motel in Bar Harbor — and about to lose to high tide!

After arriving and checking in with the wonderful owners, we plopped our bags down, poured a glass of wine and immediately set off down the front to poke around the shoreline.

The beaches here are not sandy (usually) — they’re covered with shell after shell and rock after rock! Cue “A Whole New World” to play as the soundtrack for these Charleston homies.

What to do in Bar Harbor, Maine #missfunctionalmoney #savemoney #travel

After we sat and watched the tide come in for what felt like forever, our stomachs finally demanded attention.

We were pretty wiped out from the travel day, and I couldn’t stop obsessing over our view, so we decided to order a pizza and eat it on the floor of the hotel room. Cause we fancy like that.

PRO TIP: Don’t overcomplicate dinner. We ordered from the nearest spot, called Peppers, and it was delish! Nothing groundbreaking, just good, solid pizza that tasted even better because my husband picked it up and I didn’t have to lift a pinky ;) Our room had a full kitchen — yes you read that right — and so we were able to save some leftover pizza for the next day. That came in handy after a morning of hiking!

We hit the hay at a decent hour, ready to face the trails the next day … only things didn’t go quite as planned.

Bar Harbor offered us the absolute warmest welcome by waking us up at 3 a.m. with the urgent cry of a carbon monoxide detector coming from the room next door. I know I will depart from this earth one day, but it will not be by fire. I will sprout wings and fly away from it before I burn. Thems the facts. Therefore, anything resembling a fire alarm gets my booty up and out of bed pretty fast.

So we put on our shoes, walked over to the main house/office, awkwardly stood there for about two minutes debating whether or not to wake the owners, decide someone could be inside the room (we’d knocked, but no answer) and that we should alert the staff. A very blurry-eyed owner came down the stairs and immediately seemed to be familiar with this problem — I think it had happened before. He walked us back over, unlocked the neighboring door to our room, and fixed it. The sliding balcony door had actually been left open, with just the screen door left closed. But with that kind of thing, it’s just better to play it on the safe side!

Since we were awake at 4 a.m., we went back and forth deciding if we should just make coffee and go drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain — Acadia’s most popular spot (by a long shot).

PRO TIP: To experience Cadillac Mountain in a more natural, less tourist-saturated environment, book it up there for a sunrise. EXTRA PRO TIP: Skip the early wake-up and just go for a quick, easy coffee date on your way out of town. More on that later.

In the end, the weather was supposed to be horrible and we decided to not put in all that effort for a rainy sunrise.

Though the warm sheets and snooze button won that battle, it all worked out — because where we did end up going was truly unforgettable.

Where to hike/explore in Acadia National Park:

(in order of appearance on our trip!)

#1 : Great Head Trail

Experience Maine’s craggy shoreline in all its glory by walking this treasured trail.

I think the weather conditions played a pretty big role in why this was one of my favorite parts of the trip, but I say you MUST do this one. It was relatively dreary — think Seattle weather full of misting rain, dark clouds, sunshine for a few minutes, then a deluge for a quick five minutes out of the blue. AKA, my husband’s ideal hiking conditions. ;) He’s super fair-skinned, and is somewhat convinced he belongs in an Irish/Scottish/Seattle-ish atmosphere where he can’t fry.

While the rain DOES pose a very real risk of slipping and falling on rocks, it also clears out the crowds. In my experience, this trail was absolutely doable in the rain, but you’d want some hiking shoes with a grip. There is some minor scrambling* involved in parts, but nothing I would consider strenuous. You just have to go a little slow. We kinda hate people (not really, but, also really … at least when it comes to other tourists. Bleh.) so rainy hiking was just the ticket for a day when we’d 1.) slept in a bit, therefore putting us on the trail during “peak” hours and 2.) hiked one of the park’s more popular trails. We did not see a soul until we reached the summit, and they passed the other way. As the day went on and the weather slackened, we saw a few more fellow crazy rain-day hikers, but largely had it ALL to ourselves. Magic!

Great Head Trail at a glance:

  • Absolutely stunning ocean views. The trail is a combination of forest trekking and walking along the granite shoreline situation along the ocean.

  • Light scrambling; short, steep-ish rock sections

  • Trailhead is located off Park Loop Road — you just walk across Sand Beach to the far side from the beach access. (Park there, too, if you aren’t there during peak season/hours. We weren’t.)

  • Go either super early for sunrise or during non-ideal conditions, if you’re there during summer

  • This is a must-do for my list!

*”scrambling” is apparently hiker code for when you kind of hop from rock to rock without an actual trail carved out for you. Yeah, apparently I hike now. IDK.

What to do in Bar Harbor, Maine #missfunctionalmoney #savemoney #travel

#2 : Beech Cliff Ladder Trail

This trail was the shortest, scariest climb we did on this trip — scratch that, that we’ve EVER done. Though it’s not very long, the Beech Cliff Ladder trail offers a feeling of unmatched exhilaration. It’s a steep climb, and it’s exposed* in some parts, which adds an element of excitement/terror. The views are cool, but the trail itself is what’s fun on this one. See, in some parts, the trail is just giant rocks with the occasional blue spray paint line that signifies you’re still on track. As you’re springing from rock to rock, it feels like you just may be lost, but in a good way … and then at the last second you’ll see the blue paint that guides you onward. AND, AND! It’s one of the park’s “iron rung” trails, meaning it has these steel ladders drilled into the side of the mountain that you have to climb.

I don’t consider myself a risk-taker or adrenaline junkie by any means, but I scrambled like a monkey up those ladders and just didn’t look down. I surprised myself, actually. I’d mentally prepared beforehand how I’d break the news to my husband that I had, in fact, soiled myself. No need! I loved the climb — there were only about four or five of the ladders and they’r’e over before you know it. It’s definitely not for everyone though — no dogs, no people that are incredibly fearful of heights, and I’d say average-to-above-average physical fitness is a prerequisite.

I’m being a hair dramatic (so out of character for me?!??!?!?!) — it isn’t the most strenuous/scary trail on the park. (I believe people consider the Precipice Trail to be much scarier and that was closed.) People on (my fave research tool and metric for how hard a trail is) will probably freak you out of going, but it’s very doable.

We didn’t get many pictures from this trail because we were, quite frankly, a little busy holding on for dear life. So, all of the below snaps are from our phones.

*”exposed” is hiker code for "ain’t no barrier between you and the edge of that mountain, pal.”

I’m not going to lie: We felt a little bit superior after we completed this short jaunt up the ladders. But, because it’s a much more difficult hike, there weren’t any people around to brag to! Again, we had it entirely to ourselves. It wasn’t until we reached this tippy top summit point that we saw another live human (a mere peasant who’d taken the baby route up AKA the Canadian Cliff Trail. Bow down, and bring me Chex Mix.)

Beech Cliff Ladder Trail At a Glance:

  • Don’t confuse it with the Beech Cliff Trail! That’s nice too, but no ladders.

  • Park at Echo Lake parking lot. You can walk down the stairs and see the lake because it’s pretty, but you’ll get really confused about where the trailhead is and have to walk all over the place with your tail between your legs and look like an idiot for about 15 mins. (Just us?)

  • Trailhead: Echo Lake parking lot; walk North straight across the lot to the very end on the side that is perpendicular to the lake. It’s a hair hidden, but you’ll see it. There’s a house of some sort (park ranger? idk) that’s right there toward the front of the trail.

  • It’s a short, steep climb. Won’t take long at all. Unless you soil yourself midway.

  • You should descend on the much longer, wind-ier Canadian Cliffs Trail. Once you reach the summit, it’s easy to find this. You don’t want to back down those ladders.

#3: Schoodic Peninsula

One of the cooler things we did on our trip was take a ferry from Bar Harbor and go across the Mt. Desert Narrows to the Schoodic Peninsula. It was super easy to get roundtrip tickets with Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines, and not too pricey either. I think each way per person was about $14, so the whole shabang cost us about $59 after taxes and all that.

The actual ferry ride over there was a weeeee bit rocky at first, but just epic in scenery. That picture below isn’t the actual ferry we went on, but the bay where we departed.

What to do in Bar Harbor, Maine #missfunctionalmoney #savemoney #travel

After about a 45-minute ride, we made it to the peninsula. They make it super easy to understand — you get off the ferry and there’s a bus that takes you in a big loop around the peninsula. I probably wouldn’t recommend attempting to spend the whole day here — it’s pretty, and it has some trails, but Schoodic Point is DEFINITELY the main attraction.

Here’s why:

The bus drops you off right near these cliffs, and you can wander along the rock for a good long ways. There’s not anything to do here; you’re just in it for the experience. The salty spray, the crashing waves — it all sets the scene for a very Maine-y dream.

PRO TIP: Pack snacks and find a sunny spot to have a picnic with a helluva view. I also highly recommend continuing to walk along the rocks to the left once you get there, and curving around where it’s much more private.

After about an hour of poking around, taking pictures and inhaling protein bars, we eyeballed the dark, dark cloud on the horizon and bolted back to the bus stop.

Schoodic Peninsula At a Glance:

  • Listen carefully to the ferry operators; they’ll give you instructions on where to get picked up by the bus, and more importantly, when the last ferry back of the day is!

  • Pack snacks. There’s not a lot here. There are a few restaurants, but it seemed in general that they had limited hours of operation.

  • Rocks are slippery! Don’t get cocky.

  • PACK A RAIN COAT. Even if your husband makes the executive call that the forecast is fully sunny and you won’t need a raincoat, bring it anyway. Otherwise, you might get caught in a torrential downpour out of the blue and have to dash down to the ferry from the bus stop wearing your best white jeans. On the plus side, you can lord it over him by passive aggressively mentioning it on your blog a few times.

It was just the two of us plus a mother/daughter duo on the ferry back. We all huddled inside and wrapped up in warm red blankets that smelled like they hadn’t left the ferry since 1972.

Finally — FINALLY — the sunshine came back out and we enjoyed a gorgeous ride back into Bar Harbor. On the downside, we were soaking wet. On the bright side, we looked v v American.

Besides, that’s what hot showers are for, anyhow.

What to do in Bar Harbor, Maine #missfunctionalmoney #savemoney #travel

#4 Southwest Harbor, Wonderland Trail, Bass Harbor Lighthouse & Beyond

On the same day that we hiked the intense Beech Cliff Ladder Trail, we wanted to explore the Southwest Harbor side of the island. However, our legs were jelly. The solution? Find an easy peasy afternoon adventure. In my research, I’d come across a few tips on scenic spots near Bass Harbor, Seal Cove and Tremont.

—First, we parked at a municipal boat launch near Seal Cove (now that I’m looking on Google, where we went is called the Seal Cove picnic area. It’s just more water, more shells, more boats, but none of that ever got old! We entered the address 651 Cape Road to find it. Thurston’s, a lobster pound that some claim to be the best, most authentic option in the area, is right nearby. We didn’t time our meal right so we weren’t hungry, but that may be a good stop if you’re hungry.

—Next, we drove to the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. We had packed sandwiches and anticipated a glorious lighthouse to serve as our lunch backdrop. LIES. ALL LIES. We parked (it was crowded!), and wound our way down a very short path to … a little white house with a light in it. Guys, this place had come up on every single “best sunset spot” I searched. It was SO built up in my head. To put it another way, when we walked down the path and saw the “lighthouse,” I started LAUGHING and I couldn’t stop. Apparently there’s a trail on the other side of the parking lot, and I guess from the end of trail, below the lighthouse, it may be a good angle and cool sunset spot. But my heavens, I couldn’t get over how hysterically unimpressive it was.

—After recharging with a gas station Diet Coke and our packed sammies, we drove to the Wonderland Trail. I had few expectations from this since it’d been declared “family friendly” and “easy.” And I was delightfully surprised! It was a completely flat walk through the woods with several breakout trails to shoreline. We took our time slowly wandering along the water, even briefly falling asleep on a sunny rock. It’s definitely a family trail, with a clear path carved out every step of the way. And after our morning of scrambling, I was happy to follow a short, flat, 1.5-mile gravel path. Unfortunately, I can’t show you because I’ve no idea where those pictures are and at this point, don’t you think you’ve seen enough? This is the world’s longest post.

—Next up, we drove up a bit toward Northeast Harbor to Asticou Azalea Gardens. Again, this had been hyped up as a GORGEOUS, can’t-miss place if you’re in the area. We found it with no problem and there was plenty of parking. Though… it had been a long day, so we cracked the windows and leaned the car seats back for a quick 20 minute power snooze because WE AREN’T MACHINES YOU GUYS. Anyway, once rejuvenated, we summoned alllllll of our energy to walk through the gardens, which turned out to take about 7 minutes total. Ha. Perfectly picturesque, but … not a whole lot to it. If I lived nearby full time, I could see myself making it a favorite place to read a book during my lunch break. The pictures honestly make it look bigger than it is. It was quite pretty, though.

What to do in Bar Harbor, Maine #missfunctionalmoney #savemoney #travel
What to do in Bar Harbor, Maine #missfunctionalmoney #savemoney #travel

Once I was niiiiiice and grumpy from the long day and disappointing azalea gardens, we decided we had one more stop: Atlantic Brewing Company. Mood boosted! You can sample their current lineup on tap, then go order your favorite from the patio bar outside. We opted out of the brewery tour, but thoroughly enjoyed dog watching. A nice cap off to our long day!

  • None of these stops are life-changing on their own, but together they made a lovely day spent on this quieter side of the island.

  • SKIP the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. Instead, drive to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, where you can see a real-life sized lighthouse.

  • Don’t skip the beer :D

Where to eat in Bar Harbor:

As I mentioned before, finding top foodie spots wasn’t the top priority for this trip. Some trips it is, but this one, not so much. And while we were, we did a lot of sandwiches, charcuterie boards, and lower key meals. And trail mix. So much trail mix.

All that said, here are some of the restaurant/bar highlights:

  • in downtown Bar Harbor, there are so many cute bars and little waterfront restaurants. Our favorite surprise find was Ivy Manor Inn. We literally passed by a fire pit from the sidewalk and saw a small sign saying wine and beer was available inside. It was a teeny tiny hotel bar, but so cute! We took our drinks out by the fire and had a CLUTCH people-watching spot.

  • McKay’s Public House — This was our more “upscale” date night spot, compared to the rest of our very casual dining experiences on this trip. It wasn’t fancy, but it was a step above pub food. My husband and I split some local oysters as an app, and let the record show that I actually ate them! They were a little different than the ones from Charleston. Less … muddy somehow. (Don’t get me wrong: Charleston oysters are great, if you’re in the mood for a mouthful of Atlantic Ocean. I digress.) I ordered the fish and chips (some local fish, don’t ask me, idk) and it was delish; my husband got some sort of seafood hot pot situation that was SO good. I had to restrain myself from sticking a straw in that broth. And this, coming from the girl who used to not eat seafood!

  • On one of our last nights, we were craving burgers after a day of adventuring. We wandered into an Irish Pub called Leary’s Landing, and boy, the burger did not disappoint.

  • My notes for our fave little bar says: “Drinks at that one place” — great, SC, very helpful. It was small, local feeling (rare in a tourist town!) and the drinks were unique. They made all the mixers and stuff themselves. Sorry gang, will have to learn to take notes before the pints.

  • One night, we got golden hour cocktails at the Bar Harbor Inn & Spa’s Terrace Grill outdoor fire pit area. Absolutely stunning, and a great hack to enjoying the more upscale hotel views without paying to stay there!

The one meal that completely stole the show, though, was this one:

We found the charcuterie goodies, including the world’s CREAMIEST brie, at a local shop a little outside of town and just a few minutes away from our motel. Y’all. The brie sliced smoother than butter and I was in heaven. If you know me at all in real life, you know that a night with cheese, a waterfront view, a porch and a good book is just about as perfect as it gets.

We also found a book store right nearby the local cheese place. Because obviously I found a book store even on an island, and was greeted by this friendly chap.

Mystery Cove Book Shop in Bar Harbor, Maine #MissFunctionalMoney #travel #barharbor

I traded the book I’d finished on the trip ( a Jodi Picoult. Love her, but this one wasn’t my fave by far) for a re-sell. I went in determined to buy a mystery book from a local Maine author, so naturally I got a 1960s print of The Last Tycoon, the unfinished novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Whoops.

The cherry on top of our stay was finishing off our final morning in Bar Harbor with a very memorable coffee date.

Cadillac Mountain is one of the few peaks in Acadia that’s accessible by car, so even non-hikers can enjoy the view. Read: it’s crowded. Always. Instead of fighting it, we just committed to having a short glimpse so that we could say we’d seen it. There’s a short half-mile loop around the summit that offers dynamite panoramic views.

I gotta say, the view was good, but the company was better. (And the view was pretty dang spectacular.)

Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Forest #MissFunctionalMoney #Money #travel

That mountaintop turned out to be the perfect place to bid adieu to Mt. Desert. From there we piled back into our little truck and began the journey to Kennebunkport. Stay tuned for that post soon!

So … what questions do you have? Any interest in conquering some of these trails? If you want any more detailed info, comment below and I’ll holler — I know this was a pretty broad overview. (But wow, still managed to take like 3 zillion years to write.)

Til the next adventure.

SC MissFunctional Money
What to do in Bar Harbor, Maine #missfunctionalmoney #savemoney #money