by Maureen Farr
What could possibly be more pleasant than a stroll along a secluded shore front path—granite outcroppings and the waters of Frenchman Bay on one side, and many of Bar Harbor’s beautiful old homes on the other? Bar Harbor’s Shore Path offers just such an experience.
Beginning at the town pier, the Shore Path wends its way along the waterfront. At its end, you can turn around and walk back, or you can continue up Wayman Lane to Main Street and the shops and restaurants waiting there. If you return along the Shore Path, the walk is about three-quarters of a mile. The Main Street route makes it approximately one mile round trip. The Shore Path is maintained by the Village Improvement Association, a group of dedicated individuals interested in preserving the sense of community and timelessness of this Maine town.
There is absolutely nothing strenuous about the Shore Path—no rocks to clamber over (unless you choose to leave the path and explore the rocks and tidal pools), just a smooth gravel walkway with a number of spots to stop and enjoy the views. Be sure to bring a camera with you—these mementos you take home will bring your experiences in Bar Harbor back to you each time you look at them.
The Shore Path begins at the left of the town pier. The first building you will pass is the Bar Harbor Inn, which began its existence as the site of the Mount Desert Reading Room in 1881, originally chartered to promote “literary and social culture” in 1874. In actuality, it was designed to provide Bar Harbor’s gentlemen the opportunity to gather for cocktails in defiance of Maine’s prohibition laws. The original building, designed by William Ralph Emerson and constructed in 1887, is a beautiful example of the “cottage” style of summer homes. It was designed to fit its space—the curving front matches the curving line of the shore in front.
Imagine Victorian ladies strolling the same path—ankle-length lawn dresses, high buttoned shoes, white parasols held to protect delicate skin from the hot sun, arms linked with their dashing gentlemen companions. Imagine the laughter as they walked and talked about...who knows what? Politics? Local gossip? The weather, the sea, the lovely homes? They probably discussed a lot of the same things you and I might talk about as we walk the Shore Path.
Don’t let your imagination carry you too far away, or you might miss the best part of the walk—the views. As you look out over the water, you see Bar Harbor’s Porcupine Islands, so-called because they do indeed resemble those prickly creatures. Gulls cry above the granite ledges, sea breezes (sometimes strong ones), blow off the water, and wild roses grow along the way.
At low tide, there are rocky areas that are relatively accessible to agile “rock clamberers.” Remember, parts of these rocky ledges, which are under water at high tide, can be very slippery. Please use common sense and caution when exploring off the path. In some areas, tidal pools offer a look at the microscopic life in the ocean.
Watch for Balance Rock, which is about halfway along the path. (You can’t miss it!) At low tide, you can walk down to this massive (approx. 8 feet high and 12-15 feet in length) wonder and try to figure out what keeps it in place. It appears to balance on two points, and leans precariously towards the sea. Someday, it will lose its balance—who knows when? Facing Balance Rock is the beautiful Balance Rock Inn, another fine example of the “cottage” style of architecture. Its sweeping lawn and the surrounding trees give the inn a wonderful inviting look.
Another fine old home is the former Breakwater Inn, overlooking the breakwater which seems to jut out from Bald Porcupine Island. This old estate, built for a descendent of John Jacob Astor, and allowed to become terribly run down, was restored to its former grandeur in 1991 and used as an Inn and then purchased as a private home later in the decade.
A little further along the path you’ll come to a wooden footbridge, and the end of the Shore Path. Here you can make a choice—return along the shore, or head up a path to the village. If you follow the Shore Path back, note the ledges—their layers of sedimentary rock vary in hue from the reddish tops to white and gray granite. Also note the wear and tear on them as a result of eons of pounding seas.
Should you choose to walk to the village, remember to stay on the path. This is private property which has been graciously made available as access back to town. Once on Main Street, there are many things to do and see. You will be refreshed and invigorated from your walk on the shore, and ready to “take on the town!”