Weekend in Bar Harbor
October 2, 2013

For many families, including mine, Columbus Day weekend can be a little like the calm before the storm, one last chance for a relaxing three-day weekend before the shorter days, demands of school, and holiday craziness kicks in (which seems to happen earlier and earlier every year).

October is a fantastic time to head up to Bar Harbor, Maine: there are plenty of outdoor activities—from whale-watching trips to hiking in Acadia National Park—to entertain whole family. Though things slow down when September rolls around, most everything is open through Columbus Day.

One thing I especially love about Bar Harbor is that once we make the drive there, we can just park the car and ignore it until it’s time to go home. The downtown area is imminently walkable, the park is easily accessed via a free shuttle bus (the Island Explorer), and getting on the water is a breeze, with lots of options, including light house, nature, and sightseeing tours. Here are a few suggestions for what to do.

Acadia National Park
Established in 1916, the park is basically a giant playground for nature lovers. People come to hike, bike, swim, and take in the amazing scenery. Acadia was the first national park to be established east of the Mississippi, and more amazingly, the first to be formed completely from donated land from private citizens. Highlights include Cadillac Mountain, which at 1,530 feet is the tallest mountain along the eastern coast of the United States. Many visitors love to drive the Park Loop Road, a 27-mile system that offers incredible views of the park’s shoreline, coastal forests and the mountain (you can purchase an audio tour for your car or take a guided tour). It’s a lot of fun to stop at the Jordan Pond House, the only dining facility in the park, which is famous for its delicious popovers (and stunning views), as well as its long history of serving visitors since the late 1800s.

On the Water
The Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company offers tours that run the gamut from a simple two-hour nature cruise to a four-hour-plus cruise to Baker Island, run jointly with Acadia National Park. Marine life in the Gulf of Maine includes Finback, Humpback and Minke whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals, as well as a wide variety of birds like seagulls, hawks and puffins. You may even see bald eagles and peregrine falcons, which are known to nest in the region. The knowledgeable guides stay on the lookout and give informative talks during the tours.

Downtown
Charming is a word that can be overused, but nothing else really describes downtown Bar Harbor better. Dozens of boutique shops, restaurants, and more ice cream parlors than you can visit in a weekend, are fun to explore. Make sure that you get a tide chart (from the visitor’s center or your hotel) and visit Bar Island. At low tide, you can walk across the sand bar from Bridge Street to the island. Kids can pick up shells and you’ll enjoy the views. Just keep an eye on time; the tide waits for no one!

There are so many places to stay in Bar Harbor, it can be hard to decide where to go, but a great family-friendly option that is as convenient as it gets is the West Street Hotel, located downtown right on the waterfront. The hotel has privileges with the Bar Harbor Club (which has a heated pool, always a bonus with kids) and offers tickets and/or discounts for the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.

Though the Acadia National Park is currently closed due to the federal shutdown, there are also many outdoor spaces on the coast still open to the public. Consider stopping by Lamoine State Park in Ellsworth, the Furth Wildlife Sanctuary and Talalay Nature Sanctuary in Surry, or the Holbrook Island Sanctuary in Brooksville. Bar Harbor Whale Watch tours are still running.

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