Mount Desert Island

The spectacular scenery of Mount Desert Island charms all who set foot upon its shores.

Mount Desert Island and Somes Sound
Expansive view across Somes Sound on MDI.

Even as far back as 12,000 years ago, Mount Desert Island has been a summer enclave for visitors seeking the calm and peace of this beloved island. From the Wabanaki who used the island as a summer gathering place to Samuel de Champlain who “discovered” and documented the unique beauty of the island in the 17th century MDI has always a been special place for anyone who visits. 

Hundreds of years later during the end of the 19th and into the start of the 20th century, MDI attracted the attention of well-to-do Americans looking to escape to the country during the summer months. These “rusticators” as they came to be called, were searching for a quieter, simpler way of life. Thus began the history of tourism as we now know it in Maine and the DownEast Acadia region.

Soon afterward, America’s elite class claimed the island and built their huge summer ‘cottages.” One of these, Industrialist John D. Rockefeller donated the land to be designated as Acadia National Park. Replete with unique features including the only North American Atlantic coast fjord and a barrier island linked by a sandbar to the Porcupines. 

Aerial view of Bar Harbor
The town of Bar Harbor in early Autumn.
Shops in Bar Harbor
Shops along Main Street, Bar Harbor.

history of bar harbor

Bar Harbor, situated on the northeastern shore of Mount Desert Island, includes the adjacent villages of Hulls Cove, Salisbury Cove, and Town Hill, about 28,000 acres in all. With a year-round population of about 5,000, it swells to several times that number during the busy summer months.

The island’s wealth of natural beauty began to attract artists from New York in the 1850s. Thomas Cole, William Hart, and Thomas Birch did much to popularize Mount Desert Island through their Acadia mountain and seascapes paintings. These attracted the attention of the wealthy residents of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, many of whom traveled by train and ferry to experience it for themselves.

As the number of visitors grew, so did the need for more elaborate lodging. Thus was born the era of the grand hotels on the island. By 1880, there were 30 hotels on the island, 17 in Bar Harbor alone. Along with the hotels, piers were built to accommodate increasing steamboat traffic.

Wealthy summer visitors—the likes of Pulitzer, Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Ford, Astor, and Mellon—built magnificent “cottages” with as many as 80 rooms. Golf, garden parties, carriage rides, and horseracing were hallmark activities of this Gilded Age of the island elite.

bar harbor today

Today walking is a great way to see the sights of Bar Harbor. Stroll the famous Shore Path along the waterfront from the Town Pier to Wayman Lane, with lovely views of the Porcupine Islands en route.

Explore a wide variety of specialty stores, antique shops, boutiques, outfitters, craft stores, and other retail shops. Take your time and browse the stores to your heart’s content. Enjoy the area’s many galleries. Discover paintings and prints of island landscapes, Native American art, Maine-made crafts, and much more. On the village green, the Abbe Museum tells the fascinating 12,000+ year story of the four tribes of the Wabanaki that still live here in Maine.

Bar Harbor features a fantastic range of dining experiences. Visitors will find something to satisfy, from lobster rolls to steak and ethnic cuisine and lots of local favorites. Enjoy fine dining, casual eating, pubs, cafes, and breweries—inside and out.

Town of Mount Desert

The Town of Mount Desert includes six villages: Otter Creek, Seal Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Somesville, Hall Quarry, and Pretty Marsh.

In Otter Creek, you’ll find Blackwoods Campground, an inn, convenience store, and hot showers for campers. Across from the campground’s entrance is Cadillac Mountain S Ridge trail, a popular hiking trail leading to Cadillac Mountain. Beyond Otter Creek on Otter Cliff Road are breathtaking views of the ocean and cliffs.

Seal Harbor is the home of many stars, royalty, politicians, and their beautiful old estates. It is also the home of the beloved Jordan Pond House—and their popovers. The Stanley Brook Entrance to the park is across from Seal Harbor Beach, a public sand beach. There is a town dock for local fishermen, lobstermen, yachters and charter boats, an inn, stores, and Congregational Church.

Acadia Park Carriage House near Jordan Pond
Acadia National Park Gatehouse
Somesville Library
The Somesville Bridge is one of the most photographed structures on MDI.

the quiet side

Northeast Harbor is quiet in the winter and bustles in the summer. Boasting many amenities, including a golf course, a marina, galleries, shops, restaurants, a grocery/liquor store, and a hardware store, Northeast Harbor is the ferry’s departure point to the Cranberry Islands. The most outstanding attraction is the harbor itself, filled with luxurious yachts and sailboats during summer months and a local fishing fleet in the winter.

Visitors will be charmed by Somesville’s white picket fences, mountains meeting the sea, antique shops, theater, church, and classic convenience store. Somesville has one of the most photographed bridges, which is also an identifying feature of the Somesville Museum & Gardens of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society.

As its name implies, Hall Quarry once had a booming stone quarry industry. The United States Mint in Philadelphia, the Brooklyn anchorage to the Manhattan Bridge, and the bridge over the Potomac at Washington are built of Hall Quarry granite. The village boasts a spectacular view of Somes Sound, the only natural fjord on the eastern coast of the continental United States.

The scenic hamlet of Pretty Marsh borders Blue Hill Bay on the western edge of Mount Desert Island. Set amid a shady forest of fragrant spruce trees, the Pretty Marsh Picnic Area, part of Acadia National Park, is an ideal spot to enjoy an outdoor lunch or snack with family and friends. Visitors looking for a little bit of solitude and understated coastal beauty will find it here.

Southwest Harbor

Southwest Harbor is often called “the jewel” of Mt. Desert Island. The largest municipality on the southwestern side of the island, often referred to as the “quiet side”. The town is filled with excellent shops, galleries, and eateries.

Many people choose to stay in Southwest Harbor for its more relaxed pace and excellent accommodation options. The picturesque working harbor is filled with some of the finest yachts and sailboats in the world made right here by renowned boat builders. The nearby offshore islands can be reached via rental or personal boat, or mail boat.

One of the more picturesque sections is Manset, where you have a distant view of Bear Island Lighthouse, Sutton Island, Little and Great Cranberry Islands, and the Gulf of Maine. 

Yachts in Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island
Yachts in Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island
Bass Harbor Light
Bass Harbor Head Light stands 56 feet above mean high water.

tremont

Located in the southwestern corner of Mount Desert Island sits the pretty little town of Tremont. The town includes the villages of Bass Harbor, West Tremont, Bernard, and Great Gott and Little Gott islands. Nearly one-third of the town lies within the boundary of Acadia National Park.

Tremont means “three mountains” in French for the peaks of Beech, Mansell, and Bernard mountains that rise prominently on either side of Long Pond.

Make the loop drive along Routes 102 and 102A through the west side of the island, from Somesville to Southwest Harbor to Bass Harbor to Tremont and back to Somesville for a scenic tour on par with Acadia’s Park Loop Road. En route, visit Seawall and Bass Harbor Head Light, which is the most recognized and photographed feature in Acadia.

Add on an outdoor adventure. Launch a sea kayak at Seal Cove, take a hike on Beech Mountain or Bernard Mountain, or tide pool with the kids at Seawall. Whatever you decide to do, savor your time in this exceptional corner of coastal Maine.

Planning Tools

To help you plan your trip we provide  information on drive time and distances to and around the region. Plus info on other commercial transportation options.

Once you arrive in DownEast Acadia, you will want to access local sources of visitor information, state laws, recreation rules, and road conditions.

To help you pack or plan your day, check out the current weather in the region or learn about year-round averages of temperature and precipitation.

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