About Bar Harbor
There’s something magical about Bar Harbor. A celebrated vacation destination on Mount Desert Island that is the gateway to Acadia National Park, it possesses a rich history and culture unlike any other.
The natural beauty that surrounds Bar Harbor is punctuated with ocean cliffs and rocky beaches, glacier‐formed lakes and valleys, unobstructed mountain vistas, and boreal forest. This beauty has been captured in the works of Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, Fitz Henry Lane, and many other great artists.
Bar Harbor, Mount Desert Island’s largest community, is a five‐hour drive from Boston and 50 miles from Bangor International Airport. It is the shopping, dining and nightlife headquarters of the island, the second largest on the eastern seaboard behind Long Island. Though it is spelled Mount “Desert” Island, Desert is actually pronounced “dessert,” the French pronunciation, in homage to Samuel de Champlain, the celebrated French voyager who explored and named the island in 1604.
Mount Desert Island’s picturesque coastal communities and colorful people are as varied as the island’s scenery. Because of this variety, there is something for everyone to connect to. Bar Harbor is the largest community and offers a great variety of amenities and tourism experiences to visitors. On the quieter side of the island, coastal villages with enchanting names like Bass Harbor, Otter Creek, and Seal Harbor are home to working waterfronts, family‐run lobster pounds, cafes, galleries, and artisan shops.
Acadia National Park can be accessed right from downtown Bar Harbor. The park, an area preserved in perpetuity thanks to the generosity of American business magnate John D. Rockefeller Jr. and other wealthy landowners, is one of the most visited national parks in the U.S. It features 45 miles of motor vehicle‐free carriage roads and 16 stone‐faced bridges, each unique in design, built by Rockefeller so visitors could easily explore the park. Another one of the park’s numerous distinctive features is Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place in the U.S. to see the sunrise during fall and winter.
The Bar Harbor region offers four seasons of adventure, from hiking and biking to snowshoeing and cross‐country skiing in winter. In the fall, leaf peepers come from all over to experience the explosion of color. Because of its diverse habitats, the region is home to many species of bird and is a popular birding destination. Off the coast, a variety of sea life including whales, dolphin, seals, and the elusive Atlantic puffin, can be spotted.
While the Bar Harbor region is best known for its outdoor activities, its small museums, cultural landmarks, and historically significant structures highlight a varied past and present. When it comes to accommodations, visitors will find lodging to suit every travel style and budget, from neatly kept motor lodges to historic inns to luxurious hotels.
An Illustrious Past
Bar Harbor has been a haven for summer vacationers for more than two centuries.
Wabanaki people and their ancestors lived on the land for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans in their homeland, and continue to have an important presence in this place today. Archaeologists have evidence that indicates Native Americans first arrived on Mount Desert Island around 5,000 years ago.
They were followed by the French and then the English. By the 1800s, the area where Bar Harbor now stands was a thriving settlement. During the late 1800s, the artists began to arrive. It was because of their striking landscapes that people began to take notice of the region’s rustic beauty, and the first summer visitors began arriving.
During the 19th century, the Golden Age of Bar Harbor, powerful American families, including the Pulitzers, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, Morgans, Astors, and Fords, built grand summer “cottages” around the island.
Then, in October 1947, a massive fire swept the island, with Bar Harbor bearing the brunt of the destruction it left in its wake. In the end, 67 summer estates and five historic hotels were burned to the ground. With the Great Depression and the newly‐introduced income tax having already taken a toll on the opulent lifestyles of the rich, most of these properties were not rebuilt.
Today, the historic homes and buildings that survived the fire have been finely preserved. Architecture that dates back to the Golden Age can be seen throughout downtown Bar Harbor. The remaining summer estates have been restored and converted to inns or remain private homes.
Bar Harbor is still a summer mecca for business moguls, celebrities, and socialites, but it now draws visitors from all walks of life and from across the globe.
More Than a Vacation Destination
With a thriving year‐round population and business community, Bar Harbor is more than a vacation destination. It serves as the center of economic activity for Mount Desert Island and supports a wide range of professions, from multi‐generation lobstermen, boat builders and artists to scientists, entrepreneurs and academics. The region’s supportive, business‐friendly climate continues to further diversify the local economy.
Lobstering is a centuries‐old industry that continues to thrive today in the Bar Harbor region. It goes beyond fishing for lobster to also include processing and shipping whole lobster and lobster meat to retail establishments and restaurants throughout the U.S. Boat building is another traditional industry that is an important part of the economy here. The region’s most renowned boat builder is Hinckley Yachts, a manufacturer of luxury sailing yachts and jet‐powered picnic boats located in Southwest Harbor.
Bar Harbor is also home to two leading research‐ and technology‐focused organizations. The Jackson Laboratory, a top biomedical research institution, is the island’s largest employer. Its staff of 1,300 includes more than 200 Ph.D.s, physicians and veterinarians who investigate the genetic basis of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and many other human diseases and disorders. The MDI Biological Laboratory, a biomedical research institution and world‐class science education center, was recently recognized by the National Institutes of Health as a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE).
Founded in 1887 originally to manage the wealth and investments of Bar Harbor’s tony summer set, Bar Harbor Bank and Trust is the cornerstone of the region’s banking and financial services industry. Serving families, business and nonprofits throughout Maine, it is consistently named among American Banker Magazine's Top 200 Publicly Traded Community Banks.
The significant pool of wealthy seasonal residents has also helped establish a strong base of nonprofits through their ongoing philanthropy. The area is home to an impressive 130‐plus nonprofits and foundations.
Bar Harbor is also home to one of the top 100 liberal arts colleges in the U.S. The College of the Atlantic, exclusively dedicated to the field of human ecology, has attracted students from 50 states and 34 countries. It employs more than 100 academics, administrators, and support staff.
Among Bar Harbor’s hundreds of tourism‐related businesses is hotel, retail and restaurant management firm The Acadia Corporation. Ocean Properties, one of the largest privately held hotel operating and development groups in North America, also maintains a presence here.
A high demand for residential and commercial new construction and renovation supports numerous construction and design companies, contractors, tradespeople, and other professions related to the business trade.
The region has also become a hotbed for those with an entrepreneurial spirit. Bar Harbor is home to dozens of small businesses. Reliable, high‐speed Internet is an attractor to those who wish to work remotely or from a home office.
People from around the world are drawn to Bar Harbor. Many return year after year as vacationers to enjoy its peaceful beauty and welcoming atmosphere. Others establish permanent roots, purchasing a second home or relocating to pursue a career, raise a family and embrace a quieter pace of life. It all starts with that first visit.