There are too many awesomes on Mount Desert Island to collect them all in one weekend. Sorry, it’s true. As someone who lived and played on the island for a summer, here’s where I’d take you (if you were nice to me). Mind you, MDI is for the active: hikers, bikers, swimmers. If you want a quiet weekend by the sea, try Camden or Cape Elizabeth instead.
The other thing to know — and you probably already do — is that MDI is just too touristy. Like, suffocating and elbow-bumping in Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium -touristy. So, try to go in off-times (May, September … March? No, not March. And never ever on a holiday weekend).
MDI is divided into two sections — Bar Harbor and The Quiet Side. Before you go to either, you need to gas up in Ellsworth (ewww, Ellsworth).
The Quiet Side has the two best swimming spots on MDI. One (locals might kill me for telling you) is Somes Pond. Take Oak Hill Road to get to the side of the pond, jump in. It’s small and warm and has an island or two you can swim to. The other great spot is Echo Lake — but not where the tourists go. Don’t follow the signs. You’ll just end up watching babies flail in the roped-in area. It’s sanitized and sandy and busy (but good for young families — you don’t want to bring babies where I’ll telling you to go, too dangerous). Instead, pull over when you see the Acadia Mountain trail sign. There is a small parking lot right on 102. Park there. Stay on the parking-lot-side of the street and walk down that beaten path to a rocky ledge, where you can jump into cool Echo Lake, out of sight of lifeguards and red-and-white umbrellas. Be careful; the rock gets slippery. It’s nice and deep and clean. Free.
While you’re right there, dry off, eat some trail mix and cross the road to go up the Acadia Mountain trail (or start on the trail, then take a dip.). Somes Sound is a big ocean inlet that splits MDI into its heart shape. When you get to the top of this trail, you’ll have a crazy-mazing view of the sound and of the mountainous island. It’s a 2.5-mile hike that starts in the forest, but has you walking on rock most of the time. Unless you’re an avid hiker, this will probably satisfy your hiking needs for the day. Free. If you’re a serious hiker, you don’t need me to outline Beehive and Precipice for you, but here is the park’s quick guide.
After a strenuous hike, all I want is a burger from Geddy’s. That’s in Bar Harbor on Main Street. There are better places. Nicer (more expensive) places. Places with fancier lobsters or whatever. But if you want a post-hike burger and beer in a chill place that’s not usually too busy, Geddy’s. For breakfast, you should check out Cafe This Way on quiet Mt. Desert Street. Their brunch is killer and relaxed and fairly priced, but once tables turn for dinner, the place fancies up and gets pricey. The last one worth mentioning is Mainely Meat. It’s one of the few things I like about Ellsworth, Maine. It might be the best barbecue in the state. Main Street, Ellsworth. My coworkers tell me that Side Street Cafe is also a great place to grab a bite, maybe a plate of mussels.
There are a ton of antique stores in this area, but the Chicken Barn is where it’s at. Quirky. A mix of great deals and “HOW MUCH?! $325 for a scottish terrier door stop?!?!” As you may have guessed, the store is in an old chicken barn. I think it’s 4 miles long? Seriously though, it’s massive and if you love junk shopping, you could lose yourself all day. The second floor is all books and the variety and price makes it one of the best bookstores in Maine. It sometimes has free coffee (be warned: I didn’t say good coffee) and plush, dusty chairs where you and Nancy Drew can catch up. Country Store Antiques is a little less kooky, but is on your way to/from Acadia.
Time for some salt water? Take the Park Loop Road to Sand Beach. Park fees are $20, but if you’re spending the weekend on MDI, it’s a must. If you know you’ll be back, you may as well buy the annual park pass at $40. The water is freezing. Guaranteed. Also along the Park Loop Road is Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs, Jordan Pond and Cadillac Mountain — everything your tourist grandma wants to see. (One note from MDI local and Press Herald photographer Gabe Souza: “I would warn everyone to NOT get the popovers at Jordan Pond. Cuz its a tourist trap. And useless.”)
Lompoc Cafe is the best little hole in the wall. It has fun drinks, a bocce court and hosts great bands (including upbeat dancey bands sometimes). It’s in a quiet, cold nook on Rodick Street. No ocean view (fewer tourists). Don’t whine. If it’s packed, try Havana for something fun like a blueberry gimlet.
There are a billion places in town to get ice cream and fudge. Pick any of them. One recommendation is Mount Desert Ice Cream, in Bar Harbor, which makes blueberry-basil sorbet.
What are your favorites that I missed? Add them in the comments.