Mt. Desert Island, Maine, is an idyllic paradise where craggy coastlines meet soft-sand beaches, world-class cuisine intertwines with timeless traditions, and outdoor adventures call your name from sunrise to sunset. Planning a day trip to this magical island? You’re in for an unforgettable experience! Let’s dive into how to make the most of your trip, from delicious Mt. Desert Island restaurants to scenic sights and where to find the creamiest Mt. Desert Island ice cream.
One of our other guides to the Downeast region of Maine may also be helpful!
- General Bar Harbor Guide
- General Downeast Guide
Mt Desert Island Beaches: Sun, Sand, and Surf
If you’re searching for a perfect day at the beach, look no further than Mt Desert Island, Maine. This island gem offers a range of beach experiences, from the adrenaline rush of icy Atlantic waves to the calm of freshwater retreats. So let’s break it down, beach by beach, so you can plan your perfect day in the sun.
Sand Beach: The Quintessential Oceanfront Experience
One of the first names you’ll spot on any map of Mt. Desert Island, Maine, is Sand Beach. Located in the heart of Acadia National Park, this beach is just a short drive from Bar Harbor, one of the island’s main towns.
- Why You’ll Love It: Nestled between craggy cliffs and the sprawling woods, Sand Beach offers an almost surreal beauty. The beach spans over 290 yards, providing ample space for sunbathing, beach volleyball, or building sandcastles with the little ones.
- Activities: Swimming in the icy Atlantic waters here isn’t for the faint-hearted but offers an invigorating experience. Water temperatures usually range from 50-60°F. For those who prefer to stay dry, the adjacent Great Head Trail offers a moderately challenging hike with breathtaking views.
- Amenities: You’ll find clean restrooms, lifeguards on duty (from Memorial Day to Labor Day), and even a small snack stand selling refreshments during the peak summer months.
- Parking Suggestions: Given its popularity, parking at Sand Beach can be a challenge. An early morning arrival is recommended, or consider using the Island Explorer Shuttle service, which has a stop nearby.
Echo Lake Beach: Your Freshwater Haven
While the salty sea surrounds Mt. Desert Island, it has freshwater bodies of water in its interior that offer variety and warmer water temperatures most of the year.
- Why You’ll Love It: If you’re looking for something less bracing, Echo Lake Beach offers warmer, freshwater swimming options. This is the perfect family-friendly beach, especially for those with younger children.
- Activities: Apart from swimming, this lake is ideal for kayaking, paddleboarding, and even fishing. You can rent kayaks or paddleboards from nearby vendors. Picnic tables and grilling areas make it a great spot for a lunchtime barbecue.
- Amenities: Echo Lake Beach offers well-maintained restrooms, changing areas, and lifeguards during the summer season.
- Parking Suggestions: The parking lot is relatively small and tends to fill up quickly, especially on weekends. Arriving early is advisable.
Seal Harbor Beach: The Local’s Choice
This less-popular beach on the South side of the island is farther away from the crowds of Bar Harbor and offers a quieter experience. It’s favored by many locals for its relative seclusion.
- Why You’ll Love It: For those who want to avoid the crowds, Seal Harbor Beach is your go-to. This beach is more secluded and offers a peaceful respite from the more touristy spots.
- Activities: The shallow waters and gentle waves make it ideal for wading or a relaxed swim. You can also take a leisurely stroll along the beach, where you might find sea glass and unique shells.
- Amenities: Basic amenities like a public restroom are available, but there aren’t any lifeguards or snack stands.
- Parking Suggestions: Street parking is available nearby. Since this beach is less crowded, finding a spot is generally easier compared to other beaches.
Honorable Mentions (Additional Beach Options)
These honorable mentions are less ideal beach options that offer more quietude than traditional beachy goodness. That said, they might be just what you’re looking for.
- Hunter’s Beach: A lesser-known, pebble-filled beach ideal for those looking for solitude and perhaps some bird-watching.
- Long Pond Beach: For those interested in freshwater but wanting to avoid crowds, Long Pond offers a quieter alternative to Echo Lake Beach.
- Pretty Marsh: If you want a beach-adjacent experience completely off the beaten path, check out Pretty Marsh. It’s more rocky than sandy, but the solitude might be exactly what you’re seeking.
Iconic Mt. Desert Island Sights: Your Must-See List
Mt. Desert Island is more than just beautiful beaches and delicious ice cream—it’s also home to some of the most iconic sights in Maine, if not the entire East Coast of the United States. If you want to experience the best that nature has to offer, from towering mountains to captivating coastal phenomena, then keep reading.
Cadillac Mountain: Peak Sunrise Viewing
For many, Cadillac Mountain is the iconic sight of Mt. Desert Island. Receiving dawn first in the country for much of the year, it’s one of the most exciting locations to visit near Bar Harbor.
- Why You’ll Love It: At 1,530 feet, Cadillac Mountain holds the title for the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. But what makes this peak truly special is the breathtaking sunrise. It’s consistently among the first places in the United States to greet the morning sun, offering a spectacle that draws hundreds every day.
- Activities: Beyond the sunrise, Cadillac Mountain offers many outdoor activities. Hiking is a popular option, with several trails ranging from easy to moderate. The summit road is also bike-friendly for those who prefer to pedal their way up.
- Best Time to Visit: For the sunrise, the summer and early fall months are ideal. The weather is usually clear, offering unobstructed views.
- Parking Suggestions: The summit parking area fills up quickly, especially during sunrise and sunset. Consider using the park shuttle service or arrive very early to secure a spot.
Thunder Hole: The Sea’s Own Drum
Not to be confused with the similarly named Oregon wonder Thor’s Well, Thunder Hole is a special thing to experience, with the waves of the ocean being channeled in all its cacophonous glory. It’s a must-visit on the island.
- Why You’ll Love It: Thunder Hole is a natural rock inlet where, under the right conditions, the waves produce a thunderous boom and a spectacular splash that can reach up to 40 feet! It’s as if the ocean is putting on a show just for you.
- Activities: Besides the acoustic marvel, the surrounding area offers cliffside trails for those interested in a scenic hike. These trails offer breathtaking panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean.
- Best Time to Visit: To witness Thunder Hole in all its glory, visit 2 hours before high tide. Check local tide charts for precise timing.
- Parking Suggestions: A parking lot is available nearby, but given its popularity, spots can fill up quickly, especially during high tide. A visit during the early morning or late afternoon can help you dodge the crowds.
Jordan Pond: A Natural Mirror
This pond is famous for its clarity, perfect reflections, and classic popovers. While it’s less famous than the previous entries, it’s just as breathtaking a display of nature’s beauty.
- Why You’ll Love It: Jordan Pond is famous for its crystal-clear waters, which offer mirror-like reflections of the surrounding mountains, including the North and South Bubble Mountains—known locally as “The Bubbles.”
- Activities: A leisurely stroll around the pond on the Jordan Pond Path is a great experience. For the more adventurous, kayaking and canoeing are allowed, but motorboats are restricted to preserve the pond’s clarity. Also, consider visiting the Jordan’s Pond House for a bite to eat; they’re for popovers and tea—an Acadia tradition since the 1890s.
- Best Time to Visit: The pond is at its serene best during early mornings and late afternoons.
- Parking Suggestions: There is a dedicated parking lot, but it fills quickly during peak seasons. Consider taking the Island Explorer Shuttle that stops at the Jordan Pond Visitor Center.
Honorable Mentions (More Sights to See)
If you’ve already seen the real showstoppers, and are left wanting more, or maybe crowds aren’t your thing, consider these lesser-known locations that have a lot to offer.
- Sieur de Monts: Home to the Abbe Museum and the Wild Gardens of Acadia, this area offers a look into both the natural and cultural history of Mt. Desert Island.
- Ship Harbor Nature Trail: This trail is perfect for families and offers scenic views with less foot traffic.
- Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse: For lighthouse aficionados, this iconic lighthouse is perfect for photography, especially during sunset.
- Asticou Azalea Garden: If you’re visiting in the spring, the Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor is a riot of color and a quiet place for reflection.
Satisfy Your Cravings: Best Restaurants on Mt. Desert Island
A trip to Mt. Desert Island wouldn’t be complete without sampling the island’s diverse culinary offerings. Whether you’re a die-hard foodie or simply looking for a hearty meal, we’ve got your cravings covered.
Mainely Meat BBQ: A Carnivore’s Paradise
- Why You’ll Love It: If you’re a fan of smoked meats and tangy sauces, Mainely Meat BBQ should be at the top of your dining list. This barbecue joint offers a robust menu with meats smoked to perfection and homemade sides that will leave you wanting more.
- Signature Dishes: Don’t leave without trying their smoked brisket and mouth-watering pulled pork. The cornbread is a house favorite that pairs perfectly with any dish.
- Best Time to Visit: Weekends can get pretty packed, so consider going during the weekdays for a quieter experience.
- Parking Suggestions: Parking is available, but spaces can be limited during peak hours. Early arrival is recommended.
Beal’s Lobster Pier: A Feast from the Sea
Nothing makes seafood taste better than fresh sea air, and Beal’s is an iconic option for seafood on Mt Desert Island. Nestled in SW Harbor, it’s a great place to go after visiting Seal beach.
- Why You’ll Love It: Freshly caught seafood with a view, Beal’s Lobster Pier offers more than just a meal; it’s a full-blown dining experience. Overlooking Southwest Harbor, the restaurant offers alfresco dining options where you can enjoy the ocean breeze.
- Signature Dishes: The lobster rolls are a must-try. Also, their clam chowder has a reputation for being one of the best on Mt. Desert Island.
- Best Time to Visit: Sunset dining is highly recommended for the best harbor views.
- Parking Suggestions: There’s an ample parking area at the restaurant. However, it’s a popular spot, so consider arriving a little early during dinner time.
Cafe This Way: Breakfast Like You Mean It
There’s no better way to start your day than with a great breakfast and a fresh cup of coffee. This is a great spot for just what you need to make the most of your day on Mt. Desert Island.
- Why You’ll Love It: Located in the heart of Bar Harbor, Cafe This Way offers a cozy ambiance perfect for leisurely breakfasts. With a menu boasting both traditional and innovative options, it’s a great place to start your day.
- Signature Dishes: The blueberry pancakes are legendary, featuring local Maine blueberries. Their artisanal coffees make a perfect accompaniment.
- Best Time to Visit: They’re busiest during brunch hours on weekends, so try to beat the crowd by going on a weekday or arriving early.
- Parking Suggestions: Street parking is available, but it’s a popular area. Arriving early is your best bet for finding a spot.
Honorable Mentions (Additional Dining Options)
There are tons of great dining options on Mt. Desert Island! Here are a few more options to consider that we love.
- Charlotte’s Legendary Lobster Pound: This classic 50’s inspired seafood spot is a great choice for a great meal.
- Salt & Steel: A great place to find elevated American cuisine. The gourmet fare is approachable for most and delectable to all.
- Havana: Enjoy a bit of Latin flare in the North. The pan-Latin American cuisine is a great change from the more typical food options in the area.
Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream: A Sweet Retreat
Who doesn’t love ice cream? It’s the perfect treat, especially after a day of hiking or beach-going. Here are some top picks for you:
Mount Desert Island Ice Cream: The Artisan Experience
With fully homemade ice cream, you can’t find a better treat to enjoy when exploring the island on a hot summer day.
- Why You’ll Love It: With an array of unique flavors, Mount Desert Island Ice Cream is a treat for your taste buds. Enjoy the flavors like lavender, blueberry basil, and more.
- Signature Flavors: Don’t miss the Cardamom or the Dark Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt. Truly one-of-a-kind!
- Best Time to Visit: Early evenings are ideal but expect a bit of a line—it’s that good.
Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium: More than Ice Cream
This is one of the most iconic dessert options in Bar Harbor, with hundreds of chocolates, great ice cream, and more.
- Why You’ll Love It: Located in downtown Bar Harbor, Ben & Bill’s is more than just an ice cream shop; it’s a full-on emporium with homemade chocolates, candies, and fudge.
- Signature Flavors: Try their Lobster Ice Cream for a truly Maine experience. Yes, it has real lobster in it!
- Best Time to Visit: Mid-afternoon is usually less crowded, giving you ample time to decide among their extensive offerings.
- Parking Suggestions: It’s situated in a busy part of town, so it’s best to park in one of the nearby public lots and walk over.
Lodging Near Mt. Desert Island: Where to Stay
When it comes to lodging near Mt. Desert Island, Maine, Salt Air Properties comes highly recommended. We offer a variety of Maine vacation rental houses available for you to stay for your Maine vacation that can fit all budgets and group sizes, providing the perfect base for your island adventures. Avoid the crowded hotels and their dull atmospheres and enjoy a palace that really feels like home!