Photography by Greg Hartford
Northeast Harbor is a quiet alternative to the bustle of Bar Harbor, Maine, and bears the impression of refined class. The village is situated on the southern end of Mount Desert Island, and has long been a summer haven for the country’s elite. Each season, the impressive yachts and sailing vessels that move into the harbor are a spectacle of their own, beautifully complementing the natural backdrop of Maine’s coastline.
“Northeast Harbor is probably the most protected harbor on the island,” says John Lemoine, who has been the Mount Desert harbormaster for the past twelve years. Because it is so well-protected, the harbor operates year-round, utilized by local fishermen seeking refuge during the winter. During the summer, the harbor is greeted by a brigade of vacationers. Among them is the Rockefeller family, who summers in the village.
Although Northeast Harbor is known for attracting an elite crowd, it is accessible for transient boaters looking for a quieter and more protected alternative to Bar Harbor. Northeast Harbor Marina offers more public dockage than Bar Harbor and usually has more availability. The harbor rents transient slips and moorings daily, but making a reservation is recommended. “Dockage can get a little tight during the summer because we do take reservations to fill them up,” says Lemoine. “But it’s very rare that we have to turn someone away and that we can’t find a mooring or a slip for them.”
The marina offers pump outs and has a shower building with laundry. There are a number of restaurants within walking distance that serve Maine’s signature seafood. Main Street has boutique shops and artisan galleries, but that is about the extent of Northeast Harbor’s urban sphere. “It’s the complete opposite of Bar Harbor,” says Lemoine. Visitors looking for a bit more action while still enjoying the benefits of the quiet, protected harbor can easily access Bar Harbor by the Island Explorer bus system. According to Lemoine, the bus stops at Northeast Harbor every 20 minutes during the busy summer months and takes only 30 minutes to reach Bar Harbor.
The bus offers access to the entire island, including the airport and Acadia National Park, which is perhaps the region’s greatest attraction. Throughout the summer, visitors take the bus from their boats to the park and hike for the day, then catch another bus back. Such easy access to a National Park is uncommon elsewhere in the state. “We’re a unique part of the Maine coast because of how the park and the town blends together,” says Lemoine. “Sightseeing is the biggest draw.”
Even outside of Acadia National Park, Northeast Harbor is rich in natural landscape. Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Garden bloom beautifully in the spring and further contribute to the harbor’s peaceful ambiance. Visitors can enjoy the natural landscape in a number of ways. Sea Princess Cruises operates out of Northeast Harbor and provides nature tours along the coast and through Acadia. Sea Princess is also available for private charter.
In close proximity to the harbor, the Cranberry Isles are a popular destination for day trips. The isles offer an impressive view of Mount Desert Island and the mountains of Acadia National Park, and there is even a maritime museum in Islesford on Little Cranberry Island. Northeast Harbor also allows easy access to Somes Sound, a fjord carved out by glaciers that runs far into Mount Desert Island, practically splitting it in two. The sound is deep and naturally protected, and it has long been utilized for weathering Maine’s infamous storms.
The waters surrounding Northeast Harbor are well protected by the outer islands, so it’s usually calm. Each trip is its own wildlife tour. “It’s a beautiful place, and I take it for granted because I see it three hundred days a year,” says Lemoine. “But every time you go out on the water here you never know what you’re going to see.” Eagles, ospreys, seals and porpoises are all commonly sighted. With a little luck, visitors may even spot a whale or two.
Northeast Harbor is situated in the heart of one of the Atlantic’s most diverse natural landscape. A town that caters to tourists and commercial fishermen alike, it is well-equipped to accommodate the traffic it deservedly receives. Though there may be more traffic on the water than in the streets, Northeast Harbor’s safe waterways and unbeatable scenery bring summer vacationers back year after year.