Acadia National Park -- one of the smallest National Parks in the country -- is the biggest draw in Bar Harbor, Maine. The 41,000-acre park is also one of the most heavily visited, drawing more than two million travelers per year.
The park offers stunning mountain, sea and lake vistas and craggy cliffs that plunge to the surf, as well as an estimated 125 miles of trails for hiking and biking. Additional highlights include the 1,532-foot-high Cadillac Mountain and the Thunder Hole waterspout. Beyond the park, Bar Harbor (or as locals say: "Bah Hahbuh") has the charm of a quaint New England fishing village with all the attractions of a major port, and its touristy downtown area is hard to resist. Watch the lobstermen work, browse the souvenir shops, explore a museum and, of course, enjoy a Maine lobster bake.
The town is nestled on the eastern side of Mount Desert Island, sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean by Frenchman Bay and surrounded on three sides by the mountains of Acadia National Park. Bar Harbor welcomes more than 100 ships annually, with close to 175,000 passengers going ashore. The cruise season spans from May well into October, when the fall foliage is at its brilliant peak.
Long before Bar Harbor was a popular port on Canada/New England cruise itineraries, it enjoyed a reputation as a playground for the rich and famous. In the late 1800s, frequent visitors -- such as the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Vanderbilts and Fords -- grew tired of hotel living and built summer "cottages" (in reality, opulent estates). Many also bought and donated additional land on the island to protect it from development, leading to the creation of Acadia National Park. In 1947, a fire burned nearly half of the eastern side of Mount Desert Island and destroyed many posh estates, permanent homes and more than 10,000 acres of Acadia National Park. The surviving homes have been converted to inns, guesthouses and B&Bs. Today, Bar Harbor has a population of approximately 5,000 Downeasters (a term that refers to residents of coastal Maine who live north of Penobscot Bay). That number swells drastically in the summer, as the town continues its centuries-old tradition of attracting vacationers to its charming shores.