Maine coast cruise: Bar Harbor & Acadia National Park

Thunder Hole is one of the landmarks-- that define Acadia National Park's rugged coastline
Thunder Hole is one of the landmarks– that define Acadia National Park’s rugged coastline

ONBOARD THE INDEPENDENCE — Clearing weather and the excitement of our first day ashore for tours brought out nearly all of the ship’s 90+ passengers to join a two-bus convoy in Bar Harbor for a morning spin around Acadia National Park.

Our driver/guide, Roger Keene, is a jovial, highly energized fifth-generation resident of Bar Harbor – or, as he phrases it in the local dialect, “Bah Hahba” – who has been leading tours of Acadia for 40 years. Roger was never at a loss for words, or jokes, as we made our way in fits and starts around the park’s 27-mile loop road.

We learned that Acadia was the first national “pahk” east of the Mississippi (established in 1919) and that it’s the only national park in the northeastern United States. It was created through the generosity of a number of wealthy summer residents of Bar Harbor – John D. Rockefeller Jr. among them – who bought up and donated most of the 46,000 acres that constitute the present-day preserve.

The park presents a majestic panorama of land and sea. With waves crashing over huge outcroppings of granite flanked by dense stands of virgin forest, the drama of its coastline is ever-present and inescapable. We gained a sense of its powerful attraction (the park receives more than two million visitors a year) during a stop at Thunder Hole, a natural inlet in the rocky shore where waves spout water as high as 40 feet.

Bar Harbor shops
Bar Harbor shops

Threading through spruce forests and lush meadows, past rushing streams and beaver ponds, the loop road leads up to Cadillac Mountain, the eastern seaboard’s tallest peak at 1,530 feet. The view out over the islands of coastal Maine is incredible – and particularly so, Roger tells us, at sunrise when the mountain is the first land in the United States touched by the rising sun.

A view of the harbor at Bar Harbor, ME
A view of the harbor at Bar Harbor, ME

Following the 2.5-hour tour (a $50 option), there was plenty of free time to wander about in Bar Harbor — a town that still smacks of its late 19th to early 20th century heyday as one of the East Coast’s fanciest summer watering holes. In those days, steam yachts and ferries arrived from points south bringing in a stream of rich and famous summer residents such as the DuPonts, Vanderbilts, Drexels and Rockefellers, who occupied elegant mansions (offhandedly dubbed “cottages”) around the harbor.

Although a devastating fire in 1947 destroyed many of the old mansions, you can still see a few survivors on a stroll of the mile-long, granite-edged Shore Path that begins next to the town pier. There are boutiques aplenty, ranging from ultra-upscale to downright kitschy, and eateries that run the gamut from Thai to Mexican. We noticed more than a few fellow passengers slipping into Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium on Main Street.

July 8, 2014

Photos by Dave  G. Houser

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