Maine’s Best Kept Secret- 4th of July in Bar Harbor

This past July, we ventured into the state of Maine for the first time and enjoyed exploring both the interior and along the coast. Knowing that we wanted to carve out some time to explore Acadia National Park, we figured the 4th of July holiday would be a good time to explore that area and take full advantage of the long holiday weekend. Having sampled some of Maine’s spectacular landscape as we drove along the interior, we fully expected to fall in love with this new area, but, we never expected to unwittingly discover such a perfect 4th of July destination.

Acadia National Park occupies most of Mount Desert Island. Just outside of Acadia, sits the largest town on the island, Bar Harbor, which was completely unfamiliar to us before we arrived in the area. There are several different campgrounds on Mount Desert Island, and a free L.L. Bean sponsored shuttle operates several lines throughout the island, making transportation to Acadia, Bar Harbor, and other destinations throughout the island very assessable. Acadia provides RV parking at the Visitor Center, which also serves as one of the largest transportation hubs for the different free shuttle lines, eliminating the stress of trying to navigate cramped roadways, avoid darting park visitors, and skip congested parking areas inside the park itself. In fact, most areas inside Acadia don’t offer oversized parking, and several portions of the park are segmented off by low clearance bridges of around 10-12-feet. We did wake-up early one day to venture directly into the park to visit the Jordan Pond and parked in this area, but given the complimentary shuttle service and the free parking accommodations at the main visitor center, we highly recommend taking full advantage of these perks and avoiding the stress of trying to navigate the park in an oversized vehicle (or shaving off your camper in a low-clearance bridge).

Acadia offers lots of different hiking options for all ability levels, with the Bubbles, the Beehive, Cadillac Mountain, and Precipice Trail being some of the more strenuous hikes, and ones that will play on a fear of heights. Ocean Hike and the Jordan Pond loop are two of the easier stroll-type walks throughout the park. While the 4th of July weekend is certainly one of the more crowded times throughout the park, there are enough hikes in Acadia itself and activities throughout the island and Bar Harbor, that it helps to keep the congestion levels in any one spot down and dispersed (morseo than some of the other National Parks we have visited, like Zion, Arches, and Yosemite).

Bar Harbor is a charming destination town at any time, and it particular comes alive during the 4th of July holiday. If you are looking for an urban setting with throngs of people and “hip” settings, this will not be the place for you. Bar Harbor, while it probably doubles or triples in size during the 4th of July festivities, still doesn’t come close to the sheer volume of more urbanized celebration points, like D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, etc…. However, and to its credit, Bar Harbor offers all of the excitement of the 4th of July within the Americana context of a “small town”, complete with a community pancake breakfast, lobster races, afternoon parade, and fireworks.

The celebration starts early, 6 am early, with a community-wide pancake breakfast (featuring Maine blueberries of course!), which ran until 9 am at the Bar Harbor Athletic Field. There is a section along the field designated as RV parking, so we woke-up super early and scored prime parking real-estate that served as our home base and nap point throughout the day. Around the field is a craft fair featuring local artisan goods and at 10 am the 4th of July parade winds its way through downtown Bar Harbor. Featuring all the usual cast of characters you would expect from an American parade, including community athletic teams and organizations, fire and police officers, Shriner’s in their motorized cars, and local businesses. One unexpected stand-out was a float featuring lumberjacks chipping away at logs as they went and throwing wood scraps like candy to the kiddies. Something I imagine you can only find in a small town and to be enjoyed fully until one false chip leads to an accident and regulatory bodies deem it “unsafe”.

 

After the parade, which only lasted about an hour, a perfect amount of time considering the heat, there is a community seafood festival back at the Bar Harbor Athletic Field featuring fresh Maine lobster. Positioned around the Field is a collection of local food vendors mixed in with craft tents. The YMCA hosts lobster races for your betting pleasure and savvy visitors are already heading over to the Agamont Park to place their chairs/ blankets for the night’s firework spectacle. Throughout the afternoon, different parks in town host activities, such as a dance off and musical performances. The afternoon is also a great time to check out the town or make use of the free shuttle system at the Village Green to jet over to Acadia National Park and squeeze in a short hike.

Fireworks start after 9 pm at the Agamont Park, which overlooks Frenchman Bay. The bay is home to several small ships, giving it the quintessential harbor feel. Set to music, the show lasted for about an hour, and was one of the most picturesque fireworks shows we had ever seen with the harbor setting, natural “stadium seating”, and the perfect ratio of a crowd for revelry- minus the masses of a jam-packed city.

The firework show ended around 10:30 pm, which happened to coincide with low tide, so we made our way down to the harbor shore and were able to walk across the temporary sand bridge that leads to a small island operated under the Acadia National Park system called “Bar Island”. Home to isolated hiking paths and ghost lore, it is a roughly 2-mile hike to the peak of the island. The island itself was fairly deserted at this time of night, save for a few park rangers who kindly warned us of the high tide turn-back-time (if you are stuck on the island, you can either wait ‘til morning or call for a pricey water taxi). Down below, the sand bridge area becomes a mecca for the night surfing crowd, who pack it in on SUVs.

From natural splendor, seaside adventures, and Americana charm, Bar Harbor, Maine was a relaxed and magical place to celebrate the 4th of July festivities.

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