I well knew Acadia National Park’s core resided on Mount Desert Island through several travel articles and nature documentaries. I discovered the Schoodic Penninsula district only after reading several local guides. It took a lengthy conversation with a Park Ranger to learn about the smaller islands. Some were close by like Bar Island from Bar Harbor and Little Moose Island from Schoodic. Islands such as Isle Au Haut and Baker Island needed ferries to reach. Regardless of distance, all seemed to beckon my curiosity and desire for exploration.
Within the waters of Frenchman Bay and less than a half a mile North of tourist town Bar Harbor, Bar Island sits visibility across the Mount Desert Narrows. Early residents named the island after the long shallow bar that runs through the water between the island itself and the town. At low tide, the bar becomes a land bridge, allowing the unique opportunity to walk to Bar Island.
Acadia National Park included Bar Island to its jurisdiction when Congress passed a public law in 1986. The legislation also included Bear Island, Isle Au Haut, and several other islands within Hancock and Knox Counties.
Bar Island Trail starts on Bridge Street and leads northward and straight to Bar Island. When you’ve reached the island, just follow the NPS signs through the forest east. The easy hike leads to the highest point and to pleasing views of Bar Harbor set against the mountain peaks of the park itself. If you get a chance to visit during early summer, you’ll pass by a field of wild lupines in full bloom that will fill your eyes with a spray of color.
Keeping track of the tide is a vital key to visiting Bar Island. I suggest getting an app and make sure that you’ve got Bar Harbor, ME, set as the location for your tide times. Bring a cell phone and a pair of water-resistant hiking boots. You’ll only have about 2 to 3 hours to hike in total, more than that and you might have to hustle and wade. If you start walking about 1.5 hours before the low tide time and remember to head back 1.5 hours after, I guarantee you’ll have a fun trip. If you’re stuck after the tide comes in, you’ll have to call the Acadia NP Dispatch or the Bar Harbor PD. The stern lecture they’ll give you during the boat ride back is free.
Isle Au Haut
In 1604, explorer Samuel Champlain found an island with beaches covered by heaps of Oyster shells, left there by the Penobscot Abenaki peoples. He called it “High Island” and in the years to come it would see a small population of farmers and fishermen. In 1986, about half the island was given to the NPS by a local family, while the remaining half belongs to full-time island residents.
For those seeking solitude, Isle Au Haut is the place for you. For the past few years, the island’s residential population continues to stay steady at 65 souls but explodes to hundreds of tourists during high summer. Those who wish to visit must travel first to Stonington, Maine, which is about 60 miles from Bar Harbor by car. Isle Au Haut Boat Services operates a mailboat that will take you from Stonington to Town Landing. The cost is $20 one-way and $40 round-trip with all trips first-come-first-served.
When you arrive, you’ll find the Maine Lobster Lady’s food trailer, the Island Store, the Union Congregational Church, and Revere Hall (a kind of library and social center). If you plan on camping or staying on the island for more than a day, you can bring your bike or rent one. There are only two public restrooms on the island, one at the Ranger station just outside of town and at Duck Harbor campground, both of which are operated by Acadia NPS.
Those who reserved to stay at one of five Duck Harbor Campground sites will have to hike 4 miles in or kayak to the landing from town. If you come during the summer months, a twice-a-day boat service will take you from Stonington directly to Acadia Park Duck Harbor for the same price as the mailboat trip.
At the park half of the island, you’ll find over 20 miles of groomed trails traversing along scenic coves, forested ridges, rocky beaches, and photogenic cliffs. The southern tip of the island offers extraordinary sceneries that soothe the modern soul with natural wonder. And at night, you’ll be treated with some of the darkest skies on the eastern coast, enough to see the Milky Way and nearly all of the Pleiades.
If you want to see what island life was like during the 19th century, then book a tour to Baker Island. Many of the structures on the island once to belonged to the Gilley Family, who lived there for several generations. The island is home to two private residences, with the third and most significant portion belonging to the National Park Service. Baker Island Light is the most notable feature on the island. She sits in the center since 1828, warning sailors away from the shoals around the Cranberry Isles and the sandbar running between Baker Island and Little Cranberry Island.
To visit this 130-acre mostly park owned island, I suggest that you take the ranger-guided boat tour. The way out to Baker Island from Frenchmans Bay will be direct, and they’ll discuss the local wildlife and point out harbor porpoise, seals, and many seabirds along the way. On the island itself, the ranger will lead you on a short walk to Baker Lighthouse. The ride back to the bay will be a geology lecture, as they’ll follow Mount Desert Island’s coastline. This boat tour is a great way to see the Otter Cliffs, Egg Island Light, and other features in Frenchmens Bay. The tour costs about $50 per person and lasts for five hours, so bring a sack lunch along with weather-appropriate gear.
I’ll admit visiting these smaller islands seems going the extra mile, but with a bit of planning, you’ll get to see a side of Acadia National Park that most visitors don’t even know about. That alone is worth it in my book.
And I almost forgot! Here are some useful links on how to visit these islands: