Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hike – Bar Island

Bar Island and sandbar at low tide
Why is Bar Harbor called Bar Harbor (or Bah Hahbah as we say here in Maine)?  Because there’s a bar in the harbor – a sandbar that is.  It is covered at high tide, but when the tide is out it connects the mainland to Bar Island.  This allows for a hike over to the island and up to its highest point with views back to the town.

This is a good hike for the whole family.  It’s really more a walk than a hike.  Kids can explore the exposed sand bar and no one will be too challenged by the gentle rise to the “summit” of the island (all of 120 feet above sea level.)

Caution – check tidal charts for high and low tides before crossing.  If you are on the island and high tide comes, you are staying there for a while.  I do not know how long the sand bar is covered before and after high tide.  I have crossed twice, but both times were around low tide and the sand bar was quite wide.

Directions – From downtown Bar Harbor head towards the water.  The street closest to the water is West Street.  Drive along this street and you will come to where Bridge Street crosses it and heads down toward the water.  Park along either of these streets, but watch yourself on Bridge Street.  There are some places where you are not allowed to park.  Signs warn that you will be towed at your expense.

You may see ruts in the sandbar where some people have driven out onto it.  You can physically do this and not get stuck during low tide when the bar is dry, but you can’t park on the bar, so it’s pretty pointless to drive onto it.

From wherever you parked walk down Bridge Street and onto the sand bar.  It is not loose sand like on a beach, so you don’t have to really worry about getting sand in your shoes.

As you walk across the bar you will probably see several other people either crossing over or back, and some people exploring what creatures and treasures the tide may have left behind.  At low tide the bar is quite wide, so there can be a lot to explore.

When you reach the island there will be a gate blocking anyone who did decide to drive over.  The path continues up a dirt road and opens out into a field.  On a sunny day this can be an excellent place for a picnic.

Continue walking along the road through the field and you will see the official trailhead on the left.  It is two tenths of a mile to the top.  Take this trail.

Even this section is still more a walk than a hike.  It is only the last couple hundred feet that I would consider a little more strenuous than a walk.  Since this is a very popular hike, you will likely meet people coming and going.  Be aware that many of these people aren’t hikers and may not know the courtesies of passing others on a trail.  How do I know they’re not all hikers?  Both times that I’ve done this trail I’ve met people enjoying their cigarettes as they made their way along.

You will quickly come to the top of the trail.  There is a very large cairn where many people have piled rocks over the years.  Beyond this cairn are open ledges with views of the harbor and the mainland.  Because of the number of people there you will probably need to take turns getting into position for your photos.  The upside is that there should be someone there to take a complete group photo for you.

The second time I went over, though, a young man was there via a mountain bike (I’m not sure they’re even allowed on the trail) and was sitting there eating his lunch and reading a book, not even looking at the view.  He was obviously on his lunch break from his job in one of the downtown shops.  He was sitting right in the middle of some of the photo ops and was not inclined to move out of anybody’s way.  Call it passive-aggressive photobombing. 

Bar Harbor as seen from Bar Island
Closer view of Bar Harbor from Bar Island
Sheep Porcupine Island as seen from Bar Island
When you are done here, simply retrace your steps down the trail, down the road and back to the sand bar.  Cross back over the sand bar and back up Bridge Street to where you parked.
Cumulative distance:             1.7 miles (including the sandbar)
Cumulative elevation gain:   190 feet (including back up Bridge Street from the sandbar)
Cumulative duration:            1 hour (including time for photos and exploring)

Acadia Hiking Guide


  1. Maybe, if you don't mind doing this hike for a 3rd time, George and I can do this one with you next year. I also would like to do some beach combing on the bar as i have heard it's a great place to do that.

  2. Sounds good. I haven't really stopped on the bar itself either time that I have gone over.