Kayakers flock to Bar Harbor like diners do to the Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park.
East of Penobscot Bay, no other port attracts kayakers like Bar Harbor does. Being the annual gateway to Acadia National Park for more than 2 million people helps, due to sheer numbers, but another factor helps, too: Local outfitters make kayaking look easy.
Several kayak outfitters are based on Mount Desert Island; local guidebooks list phone addresses, phone numbers, and websites. Competition keeps prices affordable, and although outfitters and their clientele frequent the same waters, every outfitter offers a variation on the kayaking theme.
From the Bar Island sand bar to the gravel beach beneath the Bar Harbor Inn to private docks alongside West Street’s bustling commercial district, kayakers launch their colorful craft to explore the Porcupine Islands and Frenchman Bay. Passersby lean over the West Street or Shore Path railings or stand along the sand bar to watch guides lead fledgling kayakers — some visibly nervous — into the local waters.
As elsewhere in Maine, MDI outfitters teach people how to handle a kayak, from boarding and disembarkation to safety to proper paddling (“left, right, left, right,” not “left, left, right, right” as I’ve seen canoeists circumnavigate a cove). Training (and tours) start by midmorning and continue until nigh sunset. Men, women, and children (the last not too young) don lifejackets and helmets, listen intently as the guide speaks, and then slip into kayak cockpits and push off for high adventure.
From Bar Harbor, the typical kayak tour encompasses Bar Harbor “harbor,” Bar Island, and Sheep Porcupine Island. Paddles dipping rhythmically and flashing in the summer sunlight, kayakers cruise past the islands’ rugged granite shorelines. The guide details local landmarks, including sea caves and eagle or osprey nests.
Wind and wave may change an itinerary. A strong sea breeze can stir chop on Frenchman’s Bay and roughen the water between Bar Island and Sheep Porcupine (second island from the left when viewed from Cadillac Mountain). A guide will adjust the trip accordingly and keep kayakers inshore.
Some kayak tours turn seaward from Bar Harbor and work along MDI’s eastern shore toward Compass Harbor. Outfitters also launch tours from Bass Harbor, Northeast Harbor, and Southwest Harbor, which provide access to Eastern Way, Somes Sound, and Western Way.
Inland, kayakers can also access:
• Eagle Lake. Take Route 233 west from Bar Harbor and use the trailerable ramp on the lake’s north shore.
• Echo Lake. Use the trailerable ramp just off Route 102.
• Jordan Pond. Use the handcarry boat ramp near the Jordan Pond House.
• Long Pond. Use the trailerable ramp just off the Pretty Marsh Road in Somesville or a similar ramp on the pond’s south shore in Southwest Harbor.
• Northeast Creek. Draining MDI’s northern marshes and streams, this creek flows into Thomas Bay near Mount Desert Narrows. Park at the gravel pull-out beside the Route 3 bridge and hand carry a kayak to the creek “inside” the extremely busy highway. Kayakers typically paddle inland, away from the bridge.
• Seal Cove Pond. Follow the signs to this remote trailerable ramp beneath Bernard Mountain in Tremont.
Of course, kayakers can also launch from any public dock on MDI, including scenic and somnolent Pretty Marsh on the Quietside. Kayakers often use a short beach adjacent to the
Northeast Harbor Town Dock; kayakers launching from NEH quickly reach Eastern Way.
Kayakers venturing onto salt water must respect the marine environment. Onshore and offshore winds can quickly raise whitecaps and pin muscle-powered kayakers against a lee shore.
Even on a perfect summer afternoon when a sea breeze does not reach Acadia’s hidden, tree-shaded glens, Frenchman Bay can rock and roll.
The island’s three major ports — Bar Harbor, Northeast, and Southwest — are alive with boats and boaters during summer. Kayakers must constantly watch for boats; not all boaters necessarily watch for kayaks, especially boaters unfamiliar with local waters.