Bar Island Trail one of a kind in Acadia National Park

One in a series of historic trail highlights leading up to the Acadia Centennial

The Bar Island Trail is one of a kind in Acadia National Park.

The wooded, rocky island can only be reached at low tide each day, starting at a sand bar that begins at the end of Bridge Street in Bar Harbor.

It’s great to walk along the ocean on the bar and then on the other side, ascend the trail through the woods on the island.

From a small hill on the island, people can get great views back to Bar Harbor and Acadia peaks. Along the way, a Porcupine Island rises from the ocean horizon.

The catch is that Bar Island can be reached just 1.5 hours on either side of low tide.

Strange enough, cars are allowed to drive on the bar, even though it’s less than a half mile long. Some people break a rule, park their car and leave it behind for a walk on the island.

cruise ship acadia national park

A view from Bar Island puts into perspective one of the many cruise ships visiting Bar Harbor.

A prominent sign on Bar Island’s shore warns people that the tide rises quickly, but inevitably an inexperienced few lose track of time and find themselves stranded on the island when the tide comes in and washes over the sand bar.

It seems like a summer never passes without stories about swamped cars or people needing to be rescued from Bar Island at high tide.

The mishaps are hard to understand but they are as sure as the tides themselves on Bar Island.

Bar Island Trail steeped in history

First described in 1867, the trail was reopened by the National Park Service in the 1990s when the island was still privately owned.

The park completed ownership of the island in 2003 when it purchased 12 acres from former NBC News correspondent Jack Perkins and his wife, Mary Jo, who lived for 13 years in a small home they built on the island.

Perkins called Bar Island his “garden of Eden” and described his life there in his book, Finding Moosewood, Finding God. He and Mary Jo co-wrote Parasols of Fern, A Book about Wonder, a children’s book inspired by a girl named Eugenia, who frequented Bar Island a century ago.

You can still see remnants of the Perkins’ home on the island. And you can imagine what it must have been like living there, for the Perkins and for all those before them.

bar island

Only at low tide can you walk across the sand bar to Bar Island. It’s safe about 1-1/2 hours on either side of the tide; otherwise you risk getting stranded.

Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

About Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

Dolores Kong and Dan Ring are co-authors of the Falcon guides Hiking Acadia National Park and Best Easy Day Hikes Acadia National Park, and also blog at acadiaonmymind.com. They’ve backpacked the 270-plus miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, and are members of the Northeast 111 Club, having hiked all major peaks of the Northeast. Dolores is a former staff reporter at The Boston Globe. Dan is a journalist and former Statehouse bureau chief in Boston for the old Ottaway News Service and for The Republican, the daily newspaper for Springfield, Mass. They are married and live outside Boston.