Mount Desert Island in 48 Hours
One of the most visited spots in Maine warrants a two-week long adventure, but here's where to hike, eat, and stay in a single luxurious, jam-packed weekend.
Luxury digs and dining
You may be headed to Maine’s largest island to explore its diverse ecology while conquering the craggy, sometimes heart-pounding trails of Acadia National Park, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also indulge in a bit of Maine luxury. Splurge for a stay at The Claremont Hotel, a circa-1884 hotel tucked into a quiet corner of Somes Sound, the east coast’s only fjord. This superbly stylish Rusticator-era rambler recently underwent a full renovation led by hotelier Tim Harrington, the partner and creative director of Kennebunkport Resort Collection. Expect the kind of treatment one gets at the grand dame hotels of Paris and Gstaad—champagne placed in hand upon check-in, en-suite fireplaces and private decks, and multiple nooks with Sister Parish wall coverings, sumptuous armchairs dressed in William Morris and Pierre Frey fabrics, and an endless supply of heavy art books. Once you’ve unpacked, head to Harry’s Bar, the hotel’s moody, nautical cocktail bar, and enjoy a predinner gimlet on the main house porch with a view of the moored and bobbing sailboats in the harbor and the mountains beyond.
For dinner, go no further than Little Fern, just a few steps down the hall. Make a reservation upon check-in, as you’re sure to be competing with MDI’s classy set for a table. Order the rich seafood pappardelle paired with a French pinot, and be sure to save room for sunset s’mores at the firepit down by the water’s edge.
Get going early to be sure to hit the most popular spots in Acadia National Park. Buttercup Bakery, the Claremont’s on-site coffee and sweet shop, opens at 7 a.m. and provides complimentary coffee for guests. It’s also a great place to grab a to-go pastry or breakfast bar. Planning to sea kayak, hike, and rock climb in one day—yes, you can do all three on MDI—and need more fuel? Head back to Little Fern, where you’ll find frittatas assembled in delicate layers of potato, egg, and crème fraîche, and chocolate chip pancakes served with a side of warm chocolate sauce and Maine maple syrup.
Stick your preprinted park pass on your dashboard and head to the first national park east of the Mississippi. Sand Beach, a rare sandy strand tucked into a cove between granite-studded shores, is a great place to start. Located at the beginning of the 27-mile Park Loop Road, from here you can drive down the road’s eastern, coastal section—slowly: you’ll want to take in the scenery—to get to Jordan Pond. Reservations can be made in person starting at 10:30 a.m., and service begins at 11. This historic stop has been famous for its popovers and tea since the late 1800s, and it provides an unbeatable view of the The Bubbles. Feel like getting to work? The 1.5-mile hike beginning at the Bubbles Divide parking lot is a quick way to access the iconic North Bubble, South Bubble, and Bubble Rock. More into the idea of a run? The trail circling Jordan Pond’s pristine waters is just a little over three miles and makes for a scenic, mostly flat sprint.
There are countless trails to check out each time you visit Acadia, but don’t miss the park’s famous Carriage Roads. The 45 miles of rustic, gravel-lined byways were a gift from John D. Rockefeller Jr., who, as a dedicated horseman, wanted to be able to travel motor-free through the mountains and valleys of the park. To cover as much ground as possible, rent mountain bikes from Acadia Bike or book a horse-drawn carriage from Carriages of Acadia.
Take a break from your sporting adventures and set off for some culinary ones. Abel’s Lobster on Route 3 is located on a tranquil wooded lot on the edge of Somes Sound and was a finalist in three categories of this month’s Food and Drink Reader’s Choice Awards (page 76), including best outdoor dining, best view, and best lobster roll—though the fried clams are also hard to beat. If there’s a bit of a chill beneath the fir trees, head inside, where wall-to-wall windows still offer prime views.
Started with oysters and clams and want to finish with some fowl? Peter Trout’s Tavern + Inn is a Southwest Harbor staple known for their spicy fried chicken sandwiches served with house-made slaw and thick slabs of salty fried potatoes. Order the Caesar salad, which comes with generous chunks of bacon, along with one of the many local Maine beers either on draft or in a can, and challenge your company to a bar game or puzzle while you wait for your meal (the skillet fried chicken takes 35 minutes, but it’s worth it).
Bar Harbor and boats
If you have a bucket list, wake up before dawn and drive (with your reservation) up Cadillac Mountain, the highest point in Acadia, to watch the sunrise. To time it right, keep in mind that it takes approximately 30 minutes to drive up Cadillac Summit Road, park, and walk to a viewing spot. The experience gives you bragging rights and is an awe-inspiring start to the day.
Next, it’s off to nearby Bar Harbor. Set along Frenchman Bay, the charming town is known as the gateway to Acadia, which means it is one of the most visited villages in Maine. It’s also one of the prettiest. Grab a coffee from The Independent Cafe on Main Street, and pop in to one of the many local shops lining your route to the ocean, where you’ll find the entrance to Shore Path at the Town Pier next to Agamont Park. Constructed in the 1880s, the walking path traces the eastern side of the island and offers prime views of the water—and into the inner courts of the many high-end hotels there.
To see Acadia from the sea, book a tour on one of the boats at Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company. For a shorter, more kid-friendly ride, go for the seal and lobster tour, where you can learn more about Maine lobstering industry while the crew hauls up traps—you’ll see some crabs, too. The boat will make a stop next to Eastern Egg Rock, where sleepy seals lounge and hobble across the stones beneath Egg Rock Lighthouse. If you’ve come in June or July, you may be lucky enough to spot some puffin families. Owned by the state and managed by the Puffin Project, Eastern Egg Rock is the world’s first reestablished seabird colony and is one of the most-visited puffin islands.
Back on land and before heading home, don’t miss one of the premium scoops from Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream, which you can enjoy beside the Bar Harbor town gazebo. If it’s a sunny afternoon in the summertime, you may just find the Big Moose Contra Dance Band jamming with their fiddles, guitars, and banjos beneath the rafters, a sweet sendoff to a lively weekend.
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