The Many Faces of Mount Desert Island

According to broker Erica Brooks, there’s more to Maine’s largest island than meets the eye.
Words By Heather O’Day

Nature is, hands down, what draws people to Mount Desert Island,” says Erica Brooks, realtor at Swan Agency Real Estate in Bar Harbor. “One can hardly discuss the island’s allure without mentioning Acadia National Park.”

The park—which occupies roughly half of Mount Desert Island, as well as portions of additional smaller islands studding Maine’s Atlantic coastline, like Isle au Haut and The Schoodic Peninsula—accommodated nearly four million visitors in 2022; the second highest total ever recorded. “With growth comes responsibility. Accommodation versus preservation is an important balance to strike,” Erica says.

Sweeping vistas of Somes Sound unfold from the Claremont Hotel’s heated pool.

Fortunately, nonprofit organizations like Friends of Acadia and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust are on a mission to protect the park’s delicate ecosystems and waterways while simultaneously maintaining a positive visitor experience. Thanks to their efforts, swaths of land—like Marshall Island, an unspoiled mass of nearly 1,000 acres located between Swan’s Island and Isle au Haut—provide primitive opportunities for both campers and naturalists, while environmentally-friendly transportation alternatives like the Island Explorer (a free-of-charge park shuttle service) supply stress-free means to access some of Erica’s favorite trails. “Homans Path is one of the best short yet challenging hikes in Acadia. The granite stairs that ascend from a trail near the Wild Gardens of Acadia quickly lead you up some switchbacks that offer incredible views across Great Meadow, Kebo Valley Golf Club [the oldest and, perhaps, most scenic golf club in Maine], and Frenchman’s Bay,” Erica says. “For something a little easier, Great Meadow Loop and Jesup Trail are equally pristine in all four seasons.”

While Acadia may be the bait, it’s the island’s vibrant and, in many ways, unexpected cultural amenities that ultimately hook visitors. “Because our population (roughly 11,000-year-rounders) inflates to almost triple that during the summer months, we’re equipped with facilities that aren’t typical of other small, rural communities; things like theater, art and music festivals [like the renowned Bar Harbor Music Festival, which recently celebrated its 57th year], and amazing restaurants to name a few,” Erica says.

Colorful reminders of the island’s lobstering heritage abound (photo by Hannah Hoggatt).

Somes Sound, dubbed the only fjard (a submerged glaciated valley) on the east coast, neatly splits the island into distinct east and west sides. Bustling Bar Harbor—a colorful collection of shake-sided shops, hotels, and restaurants tucked snugly into the crook of Frenchman’s Bay—occupies a portion of the more densely populated east side of the island. Erica says: “I love breaking up my busy work day by walking over to The Terrace at the Bar Harbor Inn for a bite to eat under the iconic canopy of yellow umbrellas; it has postcard-worthy views of the working waterfront and the Porcupine Islands.”

Folks pining for a cold, post-hike pint will find respite at Bar Harbor Beer Works, one of Erica’s go-to local breweries. “They have a huge selection of taps that are always changing, plus the sunny deck overlooking Main Street is a great place to unwind on a hot summer day.”

You can almost hear the purr of these lobster boats as they idle in the glittering surf of Frenchman’s Bay. Photo by Jon Bilous.

While some find these buzzy east-side hot-spots energizing, others come to the island seeking the desolate and awe-inspiring scenes portrayed in antiquated paintings brushed by the hands of famed Hudson River School romantics: Cobalt waves clapping against the blushing granite coast; glittering horizons punctuated by the snapping linen sails of schooners; turmeric-dipped tips of conifers at sunset. For the folks who take after the original “rusticators,” there’s good news: indeed, there are pockets where the tranquility portrayed in those early, sepia-tinted paintings still reigns.

A cruise around the discrete west-side of the island via US Route 102 presents opportunities aplenty to bask in the hushed beauty of Seal Cove, Hodgdon Pond, and the Algerine Coast. “As a realtor, I’m lucky to have the opportunity to travel all over the island to visit some very unique and private places. Recently, I had a few listings on the ‘quiet side’ of the island. If I timed my appointments right, I’d try to get a lobster roll to-go from Archie’s Lobster and cruise over to the Seal Cove picnic area to enjoy a solitary lunch with gorgeous western-facing views.”

Crowned by a 20th-century bridge, Little Harbor Brook appears plucked from a fairytale.
Main Street is a must in Bar Harbor, especially in midsummer (photo by Hannah Hoggatt).

In the aptly named Pretty Marsh—a small village clutching the outskirts of the island—a secluded picnic nook features the ethereal mystique of a secret garden. Thick carpets of verdant moss all but swallow the thump of hiking boots, and the weathered tops of wooden tables offer themselves as platters to display produce fetched from nearby farm stands. “The farmstand close to Bartlett’s Landing has the best selection of organically-grown flowers,” Erica says.

The Schoodic Peninsula cuts a captivating sea view through the mist (photo by Michael D. Wilson).

From the Trenton Bridge entry all the way to the Bass Harbor Head Light Station, which is perched on the island’s southernmost tip, MDI has thoroughly worked its magic on Erica, who, some might say, is properly bewitched. Raised just outside of Bangor, her childhood consisted of countless drives to the island in order to scramble up Cadillac Mountain or to go for a spin in her grandfather’s sailboat, which was anchored in Northeast Harbor. After college, Erica tried Colorado on for size but wound up boomeranging right back to Bar Harbor in 2005. “I consider myself pretty well-traveled,” Erica says. “Somehow, everywhere else seems to pale in comparison. Maybe it’s the ocean, but I find that the sense of expansiveness—of freedom—here is overwhelming in the best possible way.”

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