I was ten years old when I first went to Northeast Harbor. We had taken a trip to Bar Harbor and were exploring Acadia National Park when we got lost. It is difficult to truly get lost in the area, as Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park are on an island. But we were lost, and ended up wandering around a secluded corner of the island. Eventually we stumbled into a small village that looked like a Hollywood movie set for a New England coastal town. This was Northeast Harbor.
Since no one was in a particularly good mood, we quickly left town and found our way back to Acadia and Bar Harbor. Later, after we had returned back to Boston, my parents mentioned how nice that secluded little picture-perfect village was, and that maybe we should stay there sometime.
More than twenty-five years later, I am still making annual trips to Northeast Harbor. It has become a tradition to go up there on Memorial Day, sometimes with family, sometimes with friends, and sometimes both.
The first thing that one notices about Northeast Harbor is its laid-back, charming downtown area. It consists of one street, with shops and head-in parking on one side. The other side is a mixture of woods and scattered homes and shops. The shops are all small mom-and-pop businesses, with not a McDonald’s or Barnes and Noble to be found. Northeast Harbor is on a peninsula, so once you leave town, there’s really nowhere to go. The town is a destination, not a place to pass through on the way to another place. This makes it much quieter than most places on Mount Desert Island.
Aside from the main street, there are side streets with old Victorian houses and cottages. Some of the streets also go through thick spruce forests. When the fog rolls in (which is often), walking around these streets is an experience that isn’t easily forgotten.
One of these streets leads to a special place called Clifton Dock. At night, we often go out onto these docks and look at the stars, while distant buoys ring and a lighthouse flashes every few seconds. There are usually a few boats moored at Clifton Dock, but it never seems like any people are down there.
Between the center of town and Clifton Dock is the Kimball Terrace Inn. This is where I have stayed time I have visited Northeast Harbor. Nearly every room has a back window looking out at the harbor and the mountains. I have probably taken 20 pictures of that view, as I never get tired of it. The inn itself is clean and comfortable, and is within walking distance of everything.
The mountains that are seen behind the harbor are part of Acadia National Park, which is only a few miles away. Acadia is a very small national park, but one of the most scenic. It is one of the few places on the east coast where mountains and sea co-exist. It is also one of the most crowded parks in the country, so it is best to go off-season. The harbor itself is just about the most perfect harbor in the northeast. It is protected from wind and weather, and is large enough for yachts to be moored there. Fog always seems to be stuck in the harbor, sometimes until late morning. As with all of Northeast Harbor, this is a spot where a camera comes in handy.
A mailboat leaves the harbor for the Cranberry Islands every day. These islands are a few miles out, and are rather small and flat. The view of Acadia National Park from the boat ride and the islands is nothing short of incredible. One of the islands has a small town on it, but for the most part, these islands are more for residents and workers than for tourists. Aside from the main road into Northeast Harbor, there is a second road that connects the village to the rest of the world. This side road winds along the west side of the peninsula, and gives great views of one of the only fjords in the Unites States. It is a good road to take when leaving Northeast Harbor, as it gives you one more great memory of this serene little part of New England.
Copyright 2005, Travel Guide of America, a division of Boston's Hidden Restaurants. All Rights Reserved.
Marc is a Boston-based writer who has helped create Travel Guide of America , a travel guide that focuses on interesting places to see in the United States. Included on the Travel Guide of America are informative pages on cities and towns, photo features that show main streets of American towns as well as beautiful American landscapes, and some of the best scenic drives in the United States.