Whale Watching/Island Hopping Boat Rides Near Bar Harbor, ME in April
April 10, 2017 11:27 AM   Subscribe

We booked a last minute 10th anniversary trip to Bar Harbor, ME last night, hoping to fulfill my "dream" to go whale watching. The cursory internet search said whale watching begins in mid-April, but nothing seems to open before mid-May. It doesn't specifically have to be in Bar Harbor, but within reasonable driving distance. Of course any other off the beaten path suggestions are welcome. It seems a lot is still closed in mid-April so year round ideas would be very much appreciated.

The second choice was maybe riding the ferry to Mohegan Island and hoping to see something cool along the way, but the mail ferry says it leaves right after unloading.

I am open to taking a ferry/boat to another island as long as there is an option to come back within the same day. I would love to try to see some wildlife in the water, but sparsely inhabited islands also have an undeniable appeal to us.

We will be there from April 21st - 24th. And we are willing to drive a couple hours to make these dreams come true.

There are other aspects of the trip that I am excited about doing and we love being "away from it all" during the off peak season. We are doing the romantic first sunrise thing at Cadillac Mountain or Lebec depending on whose turn it is. And we are hoping to relax and enjoy some nature and lovely views with some peace and quiet away from our lovely rambunctious 2 and a half year old.

I have been reading every entry about Maine so I am trying to get some great ideas from there, but we are open to all suggestions. I love nature and clams and my partner loves Moxie, pie, and lobster. We also love quirky little museums and roadside attractions.
posted by khyaiin to Travel & Transportation around Bar Harbor, ME (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure if this would fit the bill, but there's a mail boat out of Northeast Harbor that travels to both Great Cranberry Island and Little Cranberry Island multiple times each day. The islands are kind of quaint and have several small museums (at least one) & artist's galleries. They have a similar feel to Monhegan, but you can come back at the end of the day. Oh, you also get to pass by the lighthouse on your way out, and a great view of the osprey nest on Sutton Island.
posted by richmondparker at 11:52 AM on April 10, 2017

The trouble is no matter where you get a whale watching boat from they all pretty much go to the same spot, which is wherever the whales happen to be. Whales migrate up to these parts to feed and if there's no food, they won't be here. Plus it will be damn cold out there this time of year. Whale watching is hit-or-miss thing even in season. The last time I went (out of Bar Harbor, in August) it had been a couple of weeks since the last sighting of any whales. That said, I've been whale watching three times and have always seen whales. When we went out of Bar Harbor we also ran across a couple of basking sharks.

There are plenty of opportunities to charter boats out of Bar Harbor; you could even probably go deep sea fishing. I did once see a whale breech when I was on a fishing boat. If you call around for people with boats you might even be able to ask them what the deal is with the whales. Some may be willing to take you out, though it will cost you more than a ticket on a whale watching boat. (if it's even legal to go whale watching if you're not licensed, I dunno. There are quite a few rules in place.)

For island hopping I can recommend Isle Au Haut, part of which is Acadia NP. You catch the mail boat out of Stonington, a bit south of Bar Harbor on the mainland. This time of year it leaves for the island as early as 7:00 AM though the last boat leaves the island at 4:15PM. The island is small and quiet, at least this time of year, and you can walk most of it or even hitch a ride to the other side.

There's not much to do there, but it is quiet and very Maine-like.

You mentioned Lubec. I've been going to Acadia NP every summer for years but last year we took the drive up to Lubec and I loved it. We went to Quaddy Light, the Easternmost point in the USA. We also drove across to Campobello Island and managed to catch low tide so we were able to walk out to the light house, something you can't do at high tide. Campobello Island is in Canada though, so if you go bring your passports.

My favorite lobster pound on Mt. Desert Island is Thurstons, in Southwest Harbor. Call around though because a lot of places might not be open this time of year.
posted by bondcliff at 11:55 AM on April 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

bondcliff gave you a great answer, but just to be clear: whales migrate, and the water temperature drives their migration. It has been an exceptionally long, cold winter here in northern New England -- Bangor got a significant snowfall late last week -- so mid-April conditions on the water and onshore are significantly different than they have been in past years. (Thanks, climate change!)

That being said, there's a ton to do in Bar Harbor, even off season. Acadia offers enough riches for a week or more exploration alone.

You might enjoy a visit to Swans Island (Ferry Schedule Here)

Lubec and Campobello are fabulous.

You might also enjoy taking a trip out to Vinalhaven, which isn't really "sparsely populated" but is a beautiful and very traditional island community. Here's the ferry schedule - they run two ferries so its very easy to go out on one in the morning and back on a different one in the afternoon.
posted by anastasiav at 12:28 PM on April 10, 2017

Unfortunately, tourist migration is as much a factor as the whale migration so most boat tours of any sort - whale, lighthouse, puffins - don't kick in until May. The same is true for the Abbe Museum right in town.

But you will have plenty of other nature to enjoy with a lot less crowds! I second Thurston's if it is open. There is a nice coffee/tea shop right in town called Matsumoto Joe and Two Cats is a great breakfast spot.

If you are driving to Bar Harbor and love quirky museums you might consider stopping in Portland to visit the International Cryptozoology Museum.
posted by mikepop at 6:38 AM on April 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

The cursory internet search said whale watching begins in mid-April, but nothing seems to open before mid-May.

A few things are open – most of the roads in Acadia National Park, including the one up Cadillac, weren't accessible until this weekend – but whoever told you there’s whale-watching in April in Bar Harbor is way off. Not only are the boats not in the water, the finger floats and docks that those boats tie up to are still stacked in the parking lot next to the bay. The whales won't be here for weeks, and the head whale watch guide (who I worked with for 7 summers) recently emailed me from his vacation in Wyoming.

The Bar Harbor season, 125 years ago, covered 4th of July to Labor Day. At the beginning of the 2000s, it was more like Memorial Day to Labor Day. Now, the big cruise ships show up through September and October, and places open by mid-May, but the third week of April still is not a time to find much available.

The previous posters made good suggestions, but the mail boat will on its limited winter schedule when you're here, Thurston’s doesn't open till Memorial Day, the Islesford Museum on Little Cranberry is closed till mid-June, and so on. Like mikepop said, although he is wrong about the Abbe, the in-town location that is. It's still on its winter hours as well, but open Thursday through Saturday, 10a-4p. I was there last weekend at the opening of its new exhibit, which (like the rest of the museum) is well worth seeing.

The good news; the place definitely is not crowded. On my last spin through town I only saw three non-Maine license plates, one each from MA, NY, and VT.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:38 PM on April 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

More bad news: I forgot to mention that the two-lane road from the mainland to the island currently is being ripped up in a number of places, Monday > Saturday from 6a > 5p. So expect to be delayed by flaggers at least a few times during the last 10 miles of your trip.

More good news: admission to the Abbe Museum – the only museum in Maine, by the way, formally associated with the Smithsonian Institution – is free through the end of April, thanks to sponsorship by a local bank.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:32 PM on April 16, 2017

Thank you to all for your really helpful responses. I am glad that we are going during a non tourist season time even if that means no whale watching. It will give us more time to connect with each other out in nature. Thank you for the info about the other islands to visit via the ferries. We definitely look forward to trying one of those out.

@mikepop - We loved the Cryptozoology museum the last time we were in portland. That is the perfect kind of museum for me. Though I do enjoy most other types of museums as well.

@bondcliff thank you for your suggestions. I hope we make it out to Lubec.

@LeLiLo thank you for the traffic update and explaining the whole season/whale watch update. I only found out yesterday that the Cadillac Mt. road might not be open (yup I am an amazing planner), so I feel a huge sigh of relief to know that it is truly open. We hope to check out the Abbe Musuem.
posted by khyaiin at 1:36 PM on April 19, 2017

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