48 Hours in Mount Desert Island
Maine’s largest island is a wonderland of diverse ecology where large green spruce and pine trees litter the rocky shores and stop just short of plunging into the sea. In the summer months MDI sees millions of tourists each year, many drawn here by Acadia National Park.
My friend, Registered Maine Guide Tom Belluscio, and I arrive at our home base for the weekend, Ullikana Inn. This stunning inn in downtown Bar Harbor overlooks Frenchman Bay. Owners Eddie and Judy Hemmingsen purchased the cottage in 2017 and have made extensive renovations in preparation for the 2018 season.
On Main Street we stop in at Maine’s oldest bookstore, Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop, where I find a book about MDI history, and Tom thumbs through a local bird guide. We head out in search of our dinner destination, Havana. Upon entering I recognize a face wreathed by a long white beard—it’s local bartending legend Mark “Duffy” Dyer. He mixes us a pair of caipirinhas, the national cocktail of Brazil. We order an incredible smoked provolone cheese, grilled with bread, pickled onions, and chimichurri, and follow it up with entrees of haddock and paella. Owner Michael Boland stops by our table and offers some insider tips for our weekend itinerary. We reluctantly pass up on Havana’s dessert offerings, opting instead to backtrack to Ben and Bill’s Chocolate Emporium for ice cream.
The sweet smells can be picked up from a block away. The interior is a kaleidoscope of mismatched stained- glass lamps and candy jars from floor to ceiling, and features an enormous ice cream cooler. With cones in hand we stumble upon a hole-in-the-wall bar called The Barnacle. Low yellow lights illuminate a copper bar and an extensive row of taps. We make conversation with a pair of hikers and our bartender, Trevor, reliving old stories of past camping trips and planning for tomorrow.
We’re up for an early breakfast of coffee, yogurt, and eggs at the Ullikana, then we head straight to Acadia National Park. We stop in at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to pick up a park pass and a map, then hop on the Park Loop Road. This 27-mile stretch of winding scenery takes visitors to many of Acadia’s most breathtaking spots. I’m amazed at the natural diversity of the island, as the ecology changes mile after mile, and each new bend in the road is more beautiful than the last. We pull off the loop at Jordan Pond, where we have planned a hike. The most striking feature here is the Bubbles, a pair of twin mountains that dominate the vista with their striking symmetry reflected in the crystal-clear waters of the pond. We hike over to the Jordan Pond Gate Lodge, an elaborately built carriage house. It was built in 1931 by John D. Rockefeller and later given to Acadia along with the 45- mile system of carriage roads he helped develop.
We leave the loop road to explore the long, busy waterfront of Northeast Harbor. On the main drag we stop for lunch at the Colonel’s Restaurant and Bakery. We embrace the spirit of this fishing village by ordering fish chowder, lobster rolls, and pints of local beer. We make our way back to the loop and follow it to our next stop: Sand Beach. This beach is something straight out of a dream. Tall rocky cliffs serve as dramatic bookends to a small, pristine patch of flat sand. Dead ahead and perfectly centered is an island that juts up out of the ocean. We spend some time hiking around the rocky cliffs and head off the beaten path a bit to explore a massive sea cave accessible only at low tide.
We have dinner plans at the Lompoc Cafe in Bar Harbor. We settle in at a table halfway between the indoor and outdoor dining areas, taking shelter under the shade an old timber-frame roof. The buds are just starting to blossom on several fruit trees and a large maple in the center of the space. Some guests are playing bocce while others make conversation with the bartender inside. We order a few pints of Marsh Island Brewing’s Pulp Truck IPA, a New England–style IPA. I decide on a savory banh mi sandwich, and Tom opts for the “Bang Bang” chicken sandwich. After another round of Pulp Trucks, we make our way back into Acadia, this time to the highest point on the North Atlantic coast.
Cadillac Mountain is a quintessential part of the MDI experience. Feeling pretty satisfied with our morning hike, and seeing that the sun is already hanging low in the sky, we decide the car will be the best way to reach this summit. We work our way up the endlessly winding road, rewarded by incredible vistas along the various rocky outcroppings. We spend an hour walking around the summit, gazing out at the vibrant blue Atlantic dotted with emerald green islands. Other parts of the panoramic view reveal the surrounding valleys with their various hilly pockets of ponds and lakes. For a good part of the year, Cadillac’s summit is the first place to view the sunrise in the United States, but tonight, we’re here for the sunset. We find a patch of rocks on the mountain’s western slopes to settle in and wait for the show. The sky rapidly erupts with fire as the sun fades away behind the horizon, leaving a lingering pink glow to take in as we descend.
We’re up early again, so we take a stroll through Bar Harbor to 2 Cats Restaurant for breakfast. At a table in the sunshine, we enjoy a hearty meal of blueberry pancakes, bacon, and eggs Benedict. We drive over to the western side of the island to explore Southwest Harbor. This town has a long stretch of operational fishing and lobstering boats. We eventually make our way to Bass Harbor Head Light. A parking lot leads to a steep set of wooden stairs that wind down the cliffside. I feel a bit like I’m in a treehouse with my bird’s-eye view of the rocky shores below. Once at the bottom, we scramble out over the rocks a bit to get the best view of the lighthouse, which is tucked into a pocket of large spruce trees. Its bright white paint is striking beneath the clear blue sky. We came for the lighthouse, but we stay for the coastline. The rocks here are unique to this section of MDI: bulbous, sprawling, and almost pink in color. We scramble around to find some high ground where we can rest and take in the view.
Our last stop on the way out of town is Mainely Meat BBQ at Atlantic Brewing Company’s tasting room. We find a sunny patio seat and enjoy a final round of beers with ribs, pulled pork, and live music. With nourished bellies and minds, we head back toward Portland feeling refreshed and looking forward to our next journey to Mount Desert Island.