Northeast Harbor, a Delightful Basecamp for Exploring Acadia

Northeast Harbor is one of an overflowing handful of iconic sailing destinations on the coast of Maine. It’s also one of the few harbors along the Maine coast where the visiting sailor is reliant upon finding a mooring or dock space to spend the night. That, on occasion, can be a problem.

We love to spend a few days moored in Northeast Harbor when we visit Mount Desert Island. As the town-owned moorings fill up regularly in high season, a mid-day arrival gives one better odds of finding a mooring for the night (they’re on a first-come, first-served basis and check out is mid-morning). Naturally, mid-week is a better bet than weekends to arrive. Holidays will see the most traffic. The worst thing you can do is land at Northeast at the end of a long day, in high season, on a holiday weekend. If you’re planning a visit on your boat, here’s a suggestion….

We think of the entire MDI area as a sailing destination. When we arrive in the area, for instance, we’ll consider the winds for a sail up to Blue Hill for a couple of days (weekend crowds on the water are not an issue there). Or perhaps arriving late in the afternoon, we’ll take advantage of beautiful Somes Sound for an overnight. Valley Cove is a family favorite not far from Northeast Harbor.

And there’s so much more nearby. The Cranberry Islands offer another world altogether, with good anchorage options. Southwest Harbor is another good bet for finding a mooring or anchorage nearby. It, too, is a wonderful town to explore and spend the day.

I’m sure you get the idea. There are many beautiful destinations within a few hours of Northeast Harbor. Arriving in the MDI area late in the day, or on a weekend, consider another option for the night. The following day, you can arrive early at Northeast Harbor (hopefully mid-week), with the greater likelihood of securing a mooring or dockage, and stay as long as you like.

Attractions abound on MDI, but Acadia National Park is the big one. This world-class park has hiking which is second to none. A sailboat can be good gear for Acadia. Anchored in stunning Valley Cove just inside Somes Sound, Christmas has been our floating base camp on several occasions. Park trails begin at the dinghy landing just off the boat. At the top, the ocean and surrounding views are breathtaking. A dip in cool refreshing Echo Lake is just one more reward on a hot summer day hike from our boat. The park offers sailors several good entrance points to Acadia National Park from the water (that’s amazing!).

We use the free bus system out of Northeast Harbor to go to various areas of Acadia National Park. We can spend a day hiking and walking several different areas of the park all thanks to the bus system.

And, of course we’re sure to tour the Northeast Harbor downtown as well. It’s casual, interesting, and relaxing. It has all that a visiting sailor needs, from full provisions to marine hardware and many interesting little shops and restaurants between. The Great Harbor Maritime Museum of Northeast Harbor in town is another favorite stop. It’s an easy walk around much of the harbor. A quiet stroll through serene Asticou Gardens, just outside of the village, is a must for us (you can get there by dinghy as well).

Early mornings on the water are peaceful in Northeast Harbor. As an early riser, it’s my favorite time to steal away quietly to the cockpit with a cup of coffee (and a camera).The sunrise is held back until the last moment by high Eliot Mountain to the east. Then, suddenly, it nearly bursts into the harbor below. Soon after, the harbor comes alive with commercial boat traffic of all kinds and recreational boats coming and going all day long.

Northeast Harbor fishes. A few lobsterboats hang off the moorings nearby or on docks on the east side of the harbor. Various interesting ferry boats docking on the town side connect a few nearby islands with goods and people. These ferries come and go throughout the day.

Morris Yachts has some service docks, buildings, and haul-out facilities tucked into the northwest corner of the harbor. Morris Yachts is still building great sailboats in Maine. It’s a treat for me, a sailor, to see the Morris crew take people out on sailing demonstrations in their new boats. That’s a testament to a confident sailboat builder.

After you’ve spent a little time moored in this harbor it becomes evident why Northeast Harbor is such a popular destination. Despite a large number of boats and a sprinkling of buildings along the shore, the natural form of the deep blue harbor at the base of steep green hills and mountains still dominate this beautiful setting, just as it has for ions. There aren’t many harbors like Northeast Harbor.

Things start to slow down on the water as the sun sets. Evenings are peaceful and quiet. We almost always run into someone on the water we know in Northeast Harbor. It’s not unusual to see several visiting Maine boats and even one or even two from our own home harbor. Need I say more?

Show up early, and don’t miss it.