A Guide To Bar Harbor In Autumn

The summer crowds are gone on Mount Desert Island, and Bar Harbor with its six six distinctive villages, is gearing up for the just-around-the-corner leaf peeping season.
09/07/2012 07:27am ET | Updated November 7, 2012
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The summer crowds are gone on Mount Desert Island, and Bar Harbor with its six six distinctive villages, is gearing up for the just-around-the-corner leaf peeping season.

Settled in 1763, Bar Harbor is elevated slightly above Frenchman Bay and nestled between the 47-acre Acadia National Park, and Atlantic Ocean. Most famous for a myriad of outdoor adventures and a variety of wildlife, Bar Harbor attracts nature lovers seeking a weekend or week-long getaway. Here is my quick guide to one of my favorite places in the USA.

Check-in Options
The Harborside Hotel & Marina is located on the walkable, 3/4-mile shore path. Bordered by roses in the summer and a rich palette of autumnal colors during leaf-peeping season, the Tudor-inspired luxury hotel offers postcard-perfect views of moored lobster boats dotting Frenchman Bay. Guests enjoy a heated pool on cool days and a jacuzzi on the ocean's edge. Next store is the Rockefeller Bar Harbor Club & Spa, which provides indulgent treatments and a stunning oceanfront pool for laps. For more intimate and elegant digs, the seasonal Bass Cottage Inn, formerly the Bass family home, is a classically beautiful clapboard house built in 1885; for decades it was the family's "summer cottage." Rooms with high ceilings, bygone era molding and stained glass windows make this inn distinct and welcoming.

Adventure in Acadia National Park
As one of the top ten-rated parks in the country, Acadia covers more than 40,000 acres. Philanthropic, wealthy private citizens--such as Charles W. Eliot, George B. Dorr, and John D. Rockefeller--made this park possible. Encompassing nearly half of Mount Desert Island, Cadillac Mountain attracts early risers who drive, hike and bike the 3.5-mile road to witness the nation's first sunrise. At 1,530 feet, it's called a mountain, but Cadillac is technically a hill; it happens to be the highest point on the east coast.

Dining Out
With over 70 restaurants in Bar Harbor, you'll find lobster galore and fresh catches, such as scallops, shrimp, crab and haddock. While you're at it, sample the sweet and salty lobster ice cream at Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium. Dine on the deck with seafood classics; watch lobstermen haul in lobster pots at the Quarterdeck Restaurant. For an intimate bistro setting with eclectic wines and a menu with fresh, local products, head to Mache Bistro. Fine dining with a Latin-inspired twist on entrees and decor can be found at Havana Restaurant. After dinner, walk across the street to Mount Desert Island Ice Cream, which is the editor's choice at Yankee Magazine. A high butterfat content makes this ice cream extra yummy. Brewed in Bar Harbor, Wild Blueberry Ale can be found at chef-owned Maine Coast brewing Company.

Bar Harbor Walks
Take a short, in-town walk and see 25 historic structures dating from 1860. Start in the center at the Village Green, where the gazebo is located on the corner of Main and Mt. Desert Street. The walk includes elegant mansions and clapboard churches. To walk the whole shore distance, start at the town pier and stroll along Frenchman Bay. The narrow path follows the seawall, with striking views of the Atlantic Ocean, the picturesque Porcupine Islands and sprawling homes. Finish with an ice cream cone or a toasted lobster roll at Agamont Park. For something a little different, walk the mile-long Bar Island Trail during low tide only. Start at the northern end of Bridge Street and walk a 1/2-mile to the sand bar.

In the 1880s, wealthy Americans were attracted to Bar Harbor's remote location. Notables--such as Joseph Pulitzer, William Proctor, the Vanderbilts--arrived in town to have fabulous "cottages" built. During this time, George B. Dorr, a native Bostonian, worked tirelessly with Charles W. Elliot and later with John D. Rockefeller Jr. to bring about the National Park. In 1947, due to an extreme drought and strong winds, a fire in the park ended the wealthy landowner era; most of the mansions burned to a crisp. Over 17,000 acres burned for over two weeks crippling the island. Today new wealth is present with the likes of Martha Stewart and Dick Wolf.