Sep 052011

The story goes that, when a post office was built in Bass Harbor in the early 1900s, federal officials asked what it should be called.  A no-nonsense Mainer replied, “Name it after the president for all we care.”  Thus, the village, as well as the post office, came to be called McKinley, until 1961 when folks petitioned it be changed back to Bass Harbor.

Today Bass Harbor, one of the most lucrative lobster-producing ports in Maine, draws tourists, among them President Obama and his family, to see this quintessentially quaint fishing village and the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, built in 1858 (shown above).  But it is primarily a working harbor and still home to laconic Mainers.

I am a fan of seafood purveyor C.H. Rich, for example.  They’re open 365 days a year and sell crab, lobster, whatever they’re catching.  We had just come off a hiking trail and I was trying to calculate if we had time to get over to Bass Harbor for something for dinner so I called to ask what time they were closing.  “When all my boats are in.” 

That was it.  Tired of hype?  Here you go.

We first discovered Bass Harbor seven years ago when we rented a hillside house there overlooking a former sardine canning factory, the wharf, and the busy working harbor. 

In every way Bass Harbor is the opposite of Bar Harbor.  On Mount Desert Island it is on the southwestern part of the island, known as the “quiet side”  versus Bar Harbor’s northeastern location.  Where Bar Harbor has cruise ships, Bass Harbor has lobster boats.  There are a few good restaurants, but not a t-shirt or souvenir shop to be found. 

I love two nearby easy walking trails, Wonderland and Ship Harbor.  The Seawall picnic area, facing south to the Atlantic, is a great place to cook outdoors and relax.

Bass Harbor is appealing at all times of year.  Summertime is great for outdoor dining.  Photographers love fall.  And, as I said, C.H. Rich is open year-round.

The  best time of day to visit Bass Harbor is at sunset.  We often end up taking in its golden charm after a dinner at Thurston’s Lobster Pound in Bernard.

So, plan to include Bass Harbor on your next trip to Mount Desert Island.  If you’re looking for a small, romantic, waterfront inn, check out Ann’s Point.  For other things to do during a visit to Acadia National Park, here’s a guide to the best restaurants, local markets, guides and boat cruises.

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