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Winter Harbor, Maine | Bar Harbor’s Coastal Cousin

Why visit just one harbor when you could visit two? The Downeast fishing village of Winter Harbor, Maine, attracts with its beautiful scenery and charming shops, while just a half-hour ferry ride away, the bustle of Bar Harbor is a strolling tourist's paradise.

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It was the best of times.

Frazer Point Picnic Area, Acadia National Park

Frazer Point Picnic Area, Acadia National Park

Annie Graves

And then it got better.

Cadillac Mountain from Schoodic Point

Cadillac Mountain from Schoodic Point

Annie Graves

Sorry to riff on poor Charles Dickens, who gets it every time there’s a half-baked comparison to be made, but the story of Winter Harbor, Maine, is such a surprise that it deserves something at least as poetic as Dickens’ words, even modified.

Winter Harbor view toward the ferry to Bar Harbor.

Winter Harbor view toward the ferry to Bar Harbor.

Annie Graves

Winter Harbor is the real deal—a Downeast Maine fishing village that’s off the beaten path, with a handful of beautiful little shops, a 5&10, a friendly vibe…and it’s right on the edge of Acadia National Park.

Winter Harbor Main Street

Winter Harbor Main Street

Annie Graves

Not the park you’re thinking of—the one everyone knows on Mount Desert Island, with Bar Harbor in its pocket. This one is across the harbor from Bar Harbor, on the Schoodic Peninsula mainland, and it feels wild, untamed, forgotten. In other words, Winter Harbor’s back yard is acres of stunning ocean coastline. The perfect place to get lost.

Schoodic Point

Let’s get lost…

Annie Graves

But first, there’s town. The Winter Harbor boat landing on Henry Cove reaches right into the middle of the village and grabs it—here’s how it looks at low tide.

Low tide

Low tide

Annie Graves

Now here’s high.

Winter Harbor boat landing on Henry Cove high tide

High tide

Annie Graves

Fabulous either way. From the boat launch, you look straight out to the Bar Harbor Ferry landing—more on that later, but if you’re a resident you ride for half price. Other notable stops in town: Serendipity, a pretty shop filled with cool stuff from local artisans, who are clearly a talented bunch, plus books and an art gallery.

Serendipity

Lots of local artisans.

Annie Graves

Owner Kathryn Balteff is a potter/writer and hosts all kinds of workshops, from felting to writing. The cozy café serves coffee and scones, and her mugs (for sale) hang overhead.

Across the street, Wendilee Heath O’Brien’s bohemian Whopaints Studio & Gallery (paintings for sale at Serendipity, too) is a fun place to be inspired—by both the range of beautiful painting styles and the artist’s dedication to environmentalism.

Wendilee Heath O’Brien

Wendilee’s studio/gallery.

Annie Graves

If you happen to be traveling with a canine companion (we are, if you hadn’t guessed), you can rest your paws right in the center of town at the pet-friendly Winter Harbor Inn, where proprietor Pam Di Ruggiero will even groom your dog. From here it’s an easy walk to J.M. Gerrish for ice cream…

JW Gerrick's Ice Cream

Porch sitting at JW Gerrick’s

Annie Graves

and the Winter Harbor 5&10, a fascinating place to stock up on anything, including Maine-themed baubles, or talk property with owner/realtor Pete Drinkwater.

Winter Harbor 5&10

Tip of the iceberg.

Annie Graves

Now, back to the water. The town’s actual harbor is a quick walk down Harbor Road, where lobster boats and traps make for very picturesque photos, and if you’d like to watch the harbor empty out first thing in the morning, you probably need to be there by 6 am. I certainly had good intentions, but in fact this is what it looks like at dusk.

fishing boats in the harbor

Fishing boats at rest.

Annie Graves

I told you I’d get back to the ferry—it’s a half-hour trip to Bar Harbor by water, instead of the slower drive along Route 1 by land. Either way, you’ll come to the same place, which is about as far from Winter Harbor as you can get anyway, and its own kind of fun.

Bar Harbor streets

Bar Harbor streets.

Annie Graves

Booming Bar Harbor has a sort of Key West vibe crossed with Nantucket pretty—kind of the best of both.

Bar Harbor

Very Key West…

Annie Graves

Rudy gave a big thumbs-up to Cesar at Cafe This Way for the two pieces of bacon that came his way.

Bacon at Cafe This Way in Bar Harbor

Thanks, Cesar.

Annie Graves

All in all, a very satisfying contrast between Harbors.

Acadia beach

Acadia’s beach.

Annie Graves

Which Maine harbor is your favorite?

This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated. 

Comments
  • Garrett

    Annie,

    What a sense of de je’ vu!

    I was raised in Winter Harbor, but haven’t been back in over 40 years. Yet so much is still familiar. Gerrish’s was a favorite hang-out (when it was run by Marie), the art gallery across the street is still an art gallery (though with a different artist now in residence), and I spent many an hour at Schoodic Point (though the less said about that time I stepped barefoot into a clam-bake fire pit, the better…)

    Thanks for some very nice images and some great memories!

    Reply
  • Winter Harbor, no question.

    Lived here as a child, spend 1-2 weeks here every year since. Even when you’re visiting, it feels like home. Love the 5 &10, Peter has anything you need/want.

    Residents are warm and engaging, oceanfront home vacation rentals are the best. My family did a 50 year anniversary gathering here last year with 50+ in attendance.

    Don’t come here, go to Bar Harbor, we like WH just the way it is.

    Reply
  • Yankee

    Another excellent blog post, and the pix are just gorgeous!! (Little Rudy is taking it all in…lucky dog!) A feast for the eyes…looking forward to reading the full story next May….

    Reply
  • Hi Kathryn,
    It was a pleasure to meet you and spend time in your lovely shop! This blog is just the appetizer–the magazine story comes out next May, so stay tuned… Annie

    Reply
  • One of my favorite places on the planet, the site of a memorable vacation. 1986–Campobello and all points north socked in and raining for the week, so we headed south with not too many hopes for finding a campground. Took a fortuitous left-hand turn at the sign for Winter Harbor and, in a deep fog, ran smack into the entrance of a brand-new (then) not-quite-open campground whose caretaker, putting the finishing touches on the facilities, pointed us to a campsite. We woke to the perfect Maine morning, blue-sky, high tide, a rock bound coast for our front yard, our two young boys (then) off and finding flotsam. We stayed the week, and all still have a boatload of marvelous memories of an extraordinarily beautiful place and very kind people!

    Reply
  • Kathryn

    Annie, what a wonderful article! It was great to meet you and I hope you get to visit again soon! Thank you for recognizing our awesome little town!
    Smiles, Kathryn Balteff / Serendipity

    Reply

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