Acadia spans much of the island, but most tourists gravitate to Bar Harbor on the east side. Here, the polished port, colorful streets and preppy attire epitomize seaside summer living. But the quaint charm isn’t without flaws. In a town frequented by cruise ships, lobster rolls and blueberry ice cream come at a premium, as do stays at boutique hotels and trinkets from artisan shops.
Bar Harbor is also the easiest access point for the park’s main visitor center, Hulls Cove, and its best-known attractions. At the top of their list, the uninitiated are likely to have the Park Loop Road — a 27-mile route that connects Cadillac Mountain’s 1,530-foot summit, the historic Jordan Pond House restaurant, picnic-perfect Sand Beach, the adrenaline-inducing Beehive cliff trail and the geological wonder that is Thunder Hole. But especially during the summer months, this loop is now synonymous with overcrowding, leading to traffic gridlock, limited parking and selfie sticks at every turn. To avoid lines and bottlenecks in the park, buy your pass online and visit during off-peak hours — before 8 a.m. or after 5 p.m., but not at sunrise or sunset on Cadillac. You can also get around via bike or the free Island Explorer bus.
Location: Bar Harbor, the main town on the east side of Mount Desert Island, is about 48 miles from Bangor, Maine.
The Quiet Side provides hiking, kayaking and lobster rolls — not crowds
The other side of the island is known by locals and savvy visitors as the Quiet Side, where fewer tourists venture but the scenery is just as rewarding. This side stays true to its maritime roots with working fishing fleets, no-frills lobster pounds, peaceful woods and rustic beaches.
Southwest Harbor is the primary town, where you can pick up provisions or souvenirs, but a good portion of the Quiet Side is protected parkland, encompassing trails that rival the most-trafficked on the east side. The idyllic Wonderland trail takes you through thickets of wild roses and pops out on the ocean. Several mountains — Acadia, Mansell, Bernard and Beech — provide a variety of trail options, including challenging climbs that lead to impressive panoramas. (You can grab a trail map at the Acadia Chamber of Commerce office on Main Street in Southwest Harbor.)
Take advantage of the plentiful coastline and inland water bodies by going swimming, kayaking or canoeing. Kayak tours head out onto the ocean from Southwest Harbor. Canoe, paddleboard and kayak rentals are available at Long Pond. Echo Lake is best for swimming.
Fishermen bring their catch to local lobster pounds like Thurston’s, where you can enjoy whole lobsters or piled-high rolls on a deck overlooking the water. Hodgdon Seafood will sell you fresh-cooked feasts to take away.
To fully embrace the unplugged vibe of the Quiet Side, stay at a secluded campsite such as Quietside Campground, which offers tent, RV or cabin accommodations. Owner Susan McIsaac encourages campers to explore the native flora and fauna at the campsite or birdwatch with Down East Nature Tours. The campsite stays open through Columbus Day, which is the approximate peak for vibrant fall foliage.
Location: Southwest Harbor, the main town on the west side of Mount Desert Island, is about 48 miles from Bangor.
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