From the late 19th century until well into the 20th, this was one of the ritziest communities on the Eastern Seaboard. City elites came to Mount Desert Island for the social season, arriving by train or steamship to "summer." They rusticated in cottages, a quaint term for their seasonal mansions, or at one of the island's grand hotels.
That storybook era ended with a triple whammy that included the creation of the income tax, the growing popularity of the automobile, and the Great Depression. The Great Fire of 1947, which devastated more than 17,000 acres on the island's eastern half and destroyed more than 60 summer estates, delivered the knockout punch.
When the flames were extinguished, so was Bar Harbor's gilded age, but Acadia survived. Thank summer rusticator George Bucknam Dorr for the foresight to create Acadia National Park, born Sieur de Monts National Monument in 1916, rechristened Lafayette National Park, the first national park in the East, in 1919. Ten years later, it became Acadia.
The park remains a jewel, and Bar Harbor, still the hub of the hubbub on the island, is practically surrounded by park holdings. For a quick escape, Bar Harbor is a convenient base. The free Island Explorer bus service is based downtown, bike and kayak rental shops line Mount Desert Street, and excursion boats leave from the waterfront. It's even possible to walk into the park from downtown: across the sandbar to Bar Island at low tide, down Main Street to the Compass Harbor section or along the Great Meadow Loop, and out the Jesup Path to Sieur de Monts Springs.
Now 24 hours is barely enough time to get one's bearings, and certainly nowhere near enough time to properly introduce the various communities, never mind the park. But it is long enough to dip one's toes in the waters of Bar Harbor and Acadia. To follow this suggested itinerary requires advance bookings at a number of sites. Don't even consider heading to the island in peak summer without lodging reservations. It's a good idea to make dining, equipment, and excursion reservations, too.
Pre-sunrise to 9:30 a.m.: Begin the day with sunrise at the summit of Cadillac Mountain. After basking in morning rays and taking in the panoramic views over Frenchman Bay and beyond, return to Bar Harbor and stretch your legs with a stroll along the Shore Path. The granite-edged pedestrian byway was built around 1880 and edges the waterfront, beginning at the Bar Harbor Inn and about a mile round-trip. Reward your efforts with breakfast at your accommodations or snag a table at either 2 Cats (130 Cottage St., 207-288-2808, 2catsbarharbor.com) or Café This Way (14 Mount Desert St., 207-288-4483, cafethisway.com) for big breakfasts with creative flair, or try Jordan's (80 Cottage St., 207-288-3586), a family classic, for blueberry muffins or blueberry pancakes.
9:30 a.m. to noon: Make the park's Hull's Cove Visitors Center (Route 3, 207-288-3338, nps.gov/acad) your first stop. Watch the 15-minute introductory film, purchase a park pass ($20 per car, $5 per individual for seven days), and pick up maps, a copy of the park newsletter the Beaver Log (and make note of any programs you wish to attend), and perhaps either the Park Loop Road CD or guide booklet. Then drive (or bike, if you're an avid cyclist) the 20-mile Park Loop Road, stopping en route to view the sights and take a hike. The earlier you start, the less crowded it will be. The first must stop on the Park Loop is Sieur de Monts Springs, home to the Wild Gardens of Acadia, the Acadia Nature Center, the original Abbe Museum and trailhead for strenuous hikes up Dorr Mountain. Sand Beach, just beyond the gatehouse, is the park's only large (relatively speaking) sand beach. It's also the trailhead for Great Head, a moderate hike with big views, and the Ocean Path, an easy walk along the shorefront, stretching 2 miles to Otter Point. Thunder Hole earns its name when the tide is rushing in, but at other times, it's rather quiet. A bit more strenuous than Great Head is Gorham Mountain, a 1.8-mile round trip up the third-lowest peak in Acadia.
Noon to 2 p.m.: By now, you've worked up an appetite. The park's Jordan Pond House (Park Loop Road, 207-288-3316, jordanpond.com, reservations strongly advised) has a long tradition as a stop for afternoon tea and popovers on the lawn overlooking the pond, but lunch is equally delightful and good - and most items come with a signature popover. Radiating from Jordan Pond are 57 miles (45 inside the park) of car-free carriage roads, designed by John D. Rockefeller and punctuated by 17 unique, rough-stone bridges. These roads are ideal for walking or bicycling or for a bridge treasure hunt and are noted on maps.
2:30 to 5 p.m.: Return to Bar Harbor and explore after refueling with Bucket of Truth, Girl Scouts Gone Wild, Midlife Crisis, or a more mundane flavor choice from Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream (7 Firefly Lane, facing the Village Green, or 325 Main St., 207-460-5515). Power shop Main, Mount Desert, and Cottage streets, or museum hop. The larger Abbe Museum (26 Mount Desert St., 207-288-3519, abbemuseum.org) specializes in Native American culture; the Bar Harbor Whale Museum (207-288-0288, barharborwhalemuseum.org), operated by naturalists from College of the Atlantic's Allied Whale program, has exhibits on whales and other sealife; the Bar Harbor Historical Society Museum (33 Ledgelawn Ave., 207-288-3807, barharborhistorical.org) has old photos depicting the island before and after the fire; and for those with young kids, the George B. Dorr Museum, on the college's campus (105 Eden St., 207-277-5395, coa.edu) is a natural history museum with a please-touch attitude. Peek into St. Saviour's Church (41 Mount Desert St., 207-288-4215, ellsworthme.org/ssaviour), across from the Abbe Museum; 10 of its 42 stained glass windows are attributed to Louis Comfort Tiffany. Pick up a brochure at the rear of the church; free tours are scheduled in July and August. Take a stroll along West Street, lined with "cottages" that survived the fire.
5 to 8 p.m.: Catch sunset, depending upon activity and sunset time. If traveling with kids, Diver Ed's Dive-In Theater (departs College of the Atlantic Pier, 207-288-3483, divered.com), a two-hour boat trip, is a must. For sunset views over the island, take the Day Mountain Summit Sunset Ride (207-276-3622, www.acadia.net/wildwood), a horse-drawn carriage trip departing from the Wildwood Stables. Sail aboard the 151-foot, four-masted schooner Margaret Todd (ticket office 27 Main St., cruise departs from Bar Harbor Inn Pier, 207-288-4585, downeastwindjammer.com). Or, if you still have energy, book a sunset paddle with Coastal Kayaking Tours (48 Cottage St., 207-288-9605 or 800-526-8615, acadiafun.com).
8 p.m.: Dinner (finally!). If you're on a tight budget, skip the sunset activity and catch the early-bird $8.95 menu, served 4:30-6 p.m., at Poor Boy's Gourmet (300 Main St., 207-288-4148, poorboysgourmet.com). Pair pizza with a flick at Reel Pizza Cinerama (33 Kennebec Place, behind the Village Green, 207-288-3811, reelpizza.com). A choice for all budgets and appetites is McKay's Public House (231 Main St. 207-288-2002, mckayspublichouse.com), with a menu ranging from pub fare to bouillabaisse and dining inside or in a garden patio setting. For finer dining, choose either Havana (318 Main St., 207-288-2822, havanamaine.com), downtown, or Burning Tree (69 Otter Creek Drive, 207-288-9331), about 10 minutes by car.
10 p.m.: Bar Harbor is not renowned for its night life, but possibilities include catching Improv Acadia (15 Cottage St., 207-288-2503, improvacadia.com), an improvisational comedy show; or a movie at the 877-seat, Art Deco-style Criterion Theatre and Arts Center (35 Cottage St., 207-288-3441, criteriontheater.com), built in 1932 - try for a seat in the "floating balcony," an architectural feat. For a quieter choice, head a bit out of town and take advantage of the low light pollution for some star-gazing.
Midnight to 1 a.m.: Shoot pool, boogie, and catch last call for drinks and late-night nibbles at Carmen Verandah (119 Main St., 207-288-2766, carmenverandah.com).
1 a.m. to sunrise: Sweet dreams.
Hilary Nangle can be reached through her website, HilaryNangle.com.