Dysart’s Great Harbor Marina-Southwest Harbor
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A COMPLETE Guide to Southwest Harbor Maine in Acadia National Park

Southwest Harbor is giving Bar Harbor a run for its tourism dollar as people flock in record numbers to Acadia National Park. As more people learn about the towns and villages of Mount Desert Island, they’re considering if the crowded roads and full parking lots of Bar Harbor are worth it.

Bar Harbor gets the biggest crowds because it’s the closest to Acadia National Park, but is it really? When you look at Mount Desert Island, you can see that it takes up the bulk of the island. The surrounding towns offer excellent access to the park but also provide different pivot points to the islands offshore.

Beech Mountain Trail-Southwest Harbor
Beech Mountain Trail | photo via carstenwerner1

If you could bottle up everything that makes New England great and throw out the traffic, pollution, and limited shoreline access (looking at you, Massachusetts), you’d find it all — and then some — in Southwest Harbor.

This might be the Quieter Side of Mount Desert Island, but it sure does make a statement. Also, it’s the most centrally located town on the island.

Dysart’s Great Harbor Marina-Southwest Harbor
Dysart’s Great Harbor Marina | photo via kimswan

About Southwest Harbor Maine

If we’re counting birthdays, Southwest Harbor was actually settled two years before Bar Harbor. Once the home of the Wabanaki people, settlers arrived and transitioned the region into a shipbuilding spectacle and fishing village.

In fact, the town is home to Maine’s top shipbuilders, including Hinckley, Ellis, Wilbur, and Morris Yachts. All the while, the wealthy migrated from the “Bar” to this section of the island.

Steven King’s Inspiration

Southwest Harbor was also the scene setter for Stephen King’s “Storm of the Century.” He wrote the miniseries in a rare swivel from horror novels.

“That is my absolute favorite of all of them. I loved Colm Feore as Linoge, and I loved the story. They filmed it in Southwest Harbor in Maine in the wintertime, and they got the snow, so you get the sense of this awesome blizzard and the people trapped in it. They did a terrific job.”

Stephen King

Everything that made Southwest Harbor desirable in the 1700s is still here today. King is also fond of the town, recalling in 2013, “The first time we saw Southwest Harbor, we knew we wanted to have a place there. It’s beautiful. It’s a place where you could feel the past and present coexist.”

Southwest Harbor vs. Bar Harbor

Let’s get one thing straight — the “Quieter Side” doesn’t mean the boring side. Ideal vacations will leave room for both harbors and the additional options of Northeast Harbor and Bass Harbor on either side.

Bar Harbor has more action. Southwest Harbor has more authenticity. Bar Harbor is closer to the main entrance. Southwest Harbor is closer to everything else. Let’s not split hairs, either — the two harbors are just 14 miles apart through some of the most stunning Maine scenic roads.

If you’re worried about winter closures of Acadia National Park, you still have preserved lands to explore all winter long with year-round lodging and dining in Southwest Harbor. The quieter side gets even quieter while glistening in your own personal snow globe.

Every part of Mount Desert Island is worth exploring, but if you’re on a time crunch, why not choose the side that offers more breathing room and less traffic?

Long Pond-Southwest Harbor
Long Pond | photo via toasteronwheels

Outdoor Things to Do in Southwest Harbor

Without even leaving the town of Southwest Harbor (or its villages), you’ll be amazed at the outdoor things to do. Take a look at these favorites.

Carroll Homestead

Like much of Acadia National Park, the Carroll Homestead was a gift from a local family who spent nearly a century and three generations in this modest home while the affluent built majestic retreats nearby.

The home is open for tours with guides dressed in clothing from that era. You might even get put to work doing some chores around the homestead.

Hiking Trails

This section of Acadia and Mount Desert Island hosts several amazing hiking trails for all skill levels:

  • The Flying Mountain Loop takes you up the ridge of a mountain on a 1.5-mile hike.
  • The Wonderland Trail is 1.4 miles of flat hiking along a rocky and dynamic coastline.
  • The Ship Harbor Trail follows a 1.3-mile wooded trail that ends at the rocky head with a secret cove that shows up at low tide.
  • The Beech Mountain Trail is a tough 1.2 miles but is worth it for the scenic views and a photo op at the Beech Mountain Fire Tower.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO: Always check the Current Condition & Alerts on the Acadia National Park website or app to see if trails are closed because of weather, winter, or wildlife.

Charlotte Rhoades Park & Butterfly Garden

The mystical place of Charlotte Rhoades Park & Butterfly Garden features a picturesque garden, walking paths, and a scenic overlook of Southwest Harbor. The park offers educational programs and exhibits, making it a great destination for both nature lovers and students interested in environmental science.

Echo Lake-Acadia National Park
Echo Lake | photo via musings_of_a_wanderlust

Echo Lake Beach

Just outside the town limits, you’ll find one of the best beaches in Acadia National Park at Echo Lake Beach. The beach has a separate swimming area from other water activities, and the water temperature here is a good 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the ocean in summer.

Seawall Coastline

The power of the ocean is visible at Seawall in Southwest Harbor. Instead of an artificial seawall, this one is at the mercy of the tide and currents. It offers a rocky and unique layering of rocks staircased down the shoreline. See the sunset from here if you can.

Long Pond

Visit Long Pond on Mount Desert Island (not to be confused with Long Pond on Isle au Haut) with easy access to the southern shore, still within the Southwest Harbor limits. Some might refer to it as Great Long Pond since there’s also a (Little) Long Pond in Seal Harbor.

If you want a more challenging Long Pond activity, head up the nearly 5-mile Perpendicular and Razorback Loop. You can paddle Long Pond as well.

Maine State Sea Kayak.-Southwest Harbor
Maine State Sea Kayak. | photo via cosmo1118

Kayak Rides

Paddle your way to an Aqua Safari with Maine State Sea Kayak. There’s even a money-back guarantee if you don’t see the wildlife promised. This is a safe solution because each trip is customized for tides, currents, and weather.

Bike Rentals

With so many miles of carriage roads cleared of cars since John Rockefeller Junior had them installed, Island Time Ebike Rentals is the perfect way to explore without having to lug your own bike around. Tours of Southwest Harbor by bike are also available.


The Quieter Side of Acadia Chamber of Commerce has a helpful light pollution map for finding the best place to search the night skies. The aforementioned Seawall is one of the most popular places to see the night sky, but you can see the western edge of Mount Desert Island has the darkest skies possible.

Acadia Fishing Tours-Southwest Harbor
Acadia Fishing Tours | photo via baggavonds

Take a Boat Ride

When you’re staying near a major fishing village and boat dock, you get the bonus of boat tours galore. Here are some awesome options:

Southwest Harbor Public Library-Southwest Harbor
Southwest Harbor Public Library | photo via suncynfl

Indoor Things to Do in Southwest Harbor

Are you sure you want to go inside with all that outdoor stuff to do? The first stop should be at the Southwest Harbor/Tremont visitor’s center at the Harbor House Community Center. A children’s center is also there, and families can research rates for activities, camps, and daycare during their visit.

Wendell Gilley Museum

The Wendell Gilley Museum is dedicated to the art of bird carving and features a collection of over 1,200 designs created by Wendell Gilley and other well-known artists. You can learn about the history and techniques of bird carving through exhibits, workshops, and demonstrations.

Clark Point Gallery

Clark Point Gallery showcases the contemporary art of emerging and established artists from a diverse range of mediums, including painting, sculpture, photography, and mixed media. You can enjoy the views or savor a piece forever by purchasing one of these seaside masterpieces.

Cygnet Gallery

More artwork awaits at the Cygnet Gallery, with rotating exhibits of local artists in a modern and fashionable setting that’s still reminiscent of coastal New England.

Southwest Harbor Public Library

Before you even think about rolling your eyes about visiting a library, know that Southwest Harbor Public Library, in a town of 600 people, saw 42,000 visitors in 2022. It’s likely because of the vast array of children’s activities and events, plus the “I’m not crying, you’re crying” stories behind the stained glass that adorns the walls.

Boats in the harbor at the end of the day. Southwest Harbor, ME
Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island

FAQs About Southwest Harbor Maine

How do I pack for a trip to Southwest Harbor?

Layers of comfortable and casual clothing will be helpful when visiting Southwest Harbor during any season. On average, temperatures in the heat of summer rarely get above 80 degrees.

Freezing temperatures at night can happen anywhere from November through April, with January being the coldest month. Winter guests need all the winter accessories and crampons for boots in snow and ice.

You’ll want boat shoes, water shoes, and hiking boots — all of which should be broken in before you arrive. If temperatures catch you off guard, or you need more layers, check out the L.L. Bean Outlet discount store in Ellsworth, just 20 miles away.

Is Southwest Harbor kid-friendly?

All of Mount Desert Island is welcoming of families, couples, and solo adventurers. Southwest Harbor offers many unique experiences to learn history, wildlife, and conservation, while Acadia National Park has programs designed just for kids.

Can you swim in the ocean near Southwest Harbor?

You can swim in the Atlantic near Southwest Harbor, but you will likely find it too cold to go more than knee-deep. Even in the hottest part of summer, the water averages 54 degrees.

Echo Lake and Long Pond will likely be warmer (but more crowded) swimming areas in the summer.

Do I need a car in Southwest Harbor?

The use of the Island Explorer bus system is strongly recommended to reduce traffic and protect the environment. It’s free and has two routes that go through Southwest Harbor.

Can I bring food on tours or to tourist attractions in Southwest Harbor?

Boat captains are usually okay with alcoholic beverages, other drinks, and food on their boats. As one captain said, “Especially on the sunset trips, people like to bring a bottle of wine.”

However, ask your tour guide or check the company website to see what you can bring and if you’ll need your own cups.

Keep in mind that Acadia National Park has alcohol-free spots, so you should review the rules before taking a bottle. Also, all local law enforcement and park rangers have zero tolerance for anyone under 21 drinking alcohol.

Bass Harbor Cropped
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse | photo via theiphonepic

More Things to Do Near Southwest Harbor

The Quiet Side of Acadia isn’t just Southwest Harbor. There are more towns, villages, and harbors to see too.

Island Hopping

Take a boat ride to the Cranberry Isles and sail from Southwest Harbor to Great Cranberry Island and/or Islesford (not to be confused with Islesboro 33 miles as the crow flies away).

Bass Harbor

The nearby fishing and boating village of Bass Harbor holds more seaside adventures, including the famed Bass Harbor Head Light Station and one of the best places in the park to see a sunset. You can also head to Swans Island from here.

Northeast Harbor

If you think that you’ve seen the best boats and yachts in Southwest Harbor, Northeast Harbor in the town of Mount Desert says, “Hold my chardonnay.”

This longtime retreat for the rich and famous has been welcoming guests since the 1800s, and it’s one of the spots where you’re most likely to see a Kardashian or a Kennedy.

MDI Lobster Co-Southwest Harbor
MDI Lobster Co | photo via mdilobster

Southwest Harbor Maine Restaurants

Visitors might assume it’s all seafood in Southwest Harbor because Maine is known for its lobster, but you’ll have a range of restaurant options. In fact, it’s quite impressive for a small town to have this many wonderful choices.

Casual Eateries

The oldest fishing pier on the island is home to MDI Lobster Co., with water views and an extensive menu of fresh seafood and land-lover specials. Only you can tell us how it compares to another waterfront option at Beal’s Lobster Pier.

LOBSTER LESSON: You don’t have to go through a sit-down, to-go, or deli counter service to get lobster. You can buy it right off the pier from lobster boat captains if you want to cook it yourself.

Next Level Sports Lounge is the most popular social watering hole in town. From packed houses for Patriots’ games to local groups hosting meetings among a spread of comfort food, there’s always something happening here.

Rise above the docks at the Upper Deck at the Marina for bird nest views of the harbor and horizon views across to the Cranberry Isles. And, Peter Trouts Tavern & Inn has an extensive menu from weekend brunch to small plates to big dishes.

Red Sky Restaurant-Southwest Harbor
Red Sky Restaurant | photo via emily_eats_nyc

Upscale Restaurants

Many guests agree that if you judge Rogue by the outside, you’re missing an elegant experience inside. The menu adjusts for the creativity of the chef and the seasonally available local ingredients.

Even if you aren’t staying at the Claremont Hotel, you can still dine in one of its upscale haunts or fuel up at its Batson River Fish Camp.

Red Sky Restaurant offers intimate dining inside with classic elegance or outdoor cabanas for salt air in your hair. Hearth & Harbor is a locally loved option that serves wood-fired food — pizza, pasta, and more.

Coffee & Ice Cream Shops

Silent City/Saint Dreux Coffee Shop is so much more than a fresh brew. Ice cream, pastries, soups, and sandwiches fill out a menu that also includes frozen drinks and fresh lemonade (with a variety of “ades”).

Another fantastic ice cream option is Quiet Side Café & Ice Cream Shop, which serves homemade pies as well.

Little Notch Bakery & Cafe is an artisan bakery with an Italian-influenced menu offering coffee, bittersweet chocolate brownies, homemade soups, and famous pizza dough. Yep, there’s coffee too, including fresh roasts and canned options to go.

Salt Shop specializes in sweet, savory, and specialized items. You can shop while they scoop and pick up a unique gift for loved ones back home.

Wineries & Breweries

For a winery trip or local brew pub, you’ll need to face the more crowded Bar Harbor. However, places like Liquor Locker MDI offer various locally made wines and beers to take with you.

For the perfect wine paired with a charcuterie board, visit Sawyer’s Specialties. One of those specialties is a section full of Maine-made wines.

To-Go Food & Catering Services

The upscale parties, abundant rentals, and tight travel budgets might have you searching for different dining options. Southwest Harbor’s crowd loves a catered event, and there are several options here:

You can pick up grocery staples for a picnic at Sawyer’s Market, which has been serving this community since 1946. Southwest Food Mart is a perfect stop on the way to or from Echo Lake.

The Claremont-Southwest Harbor
The Claremont | photo via annapolisgilman

Southwest Harbor Maine Hotels & Other Lodging

Southwest Harbor has an overnight port for all lodging needs — from campsites to king suites — all with unique Maine settings. Here are a few top-notch options.

The Claremont

When being outdoorsy means a spa and superior service, The Claremont is the place to be. Even Conde Nast ranked it as one of the top five hotels in this part of the country. Rooms, cottages, cabins, and signature houses await. Don’t miss yoga on the lawn or a game of croquet.

Southwest Harbor Inns

The charm of Southwest Harbor is filled in the rooms of places like the Cafe Drydock & Inn, with unique rooms named after Mount Desert Island treasures.

Harbour Cottage Inn was the first hotel in Southwest Harbor to welcome the growing tourist crowds of the 1870s and is still open for quaint accommodations.

Seawall Campground-Southwest Harbor
Seawall Campground | photo via thisistheday_maj

Waterfront Lodging

Seawall Motel & TideWatch Suites is a stone’s throw from the water, with rooms and condos available for all group sizes.

At The Moorings Inn Waterfront, you’ll see more boats than boulders on the rocky beach where you can debate if Somes Sound is really a sound or a fjord.

Closer to the center of town, you’ll find Harbor View Motel & Cottages where you’ll have your own deck to sip coffee near the sound (uhh… fjord).

Southwest Harbor Camping

Just 4 miles from Southwest Harbor’s core and minutes from the best sunsets of your life is Seawall Campground, part of Acadia National Park.

If you don’t have a camper, the friendly team at Acadia Camper can help and even deliver your “home” to the campsite of your choice.

For those who want to be closer to the trails than the tides, the family-owned Smuggler’s Den Campground with more than 100 spots is perfect.


Want the wilderness but need more than a campsite? Consider a cottage.

Hutchins Cottages of Acadia gives a rustic experience without roughing it too much. Put Summer House Cottage Rentals to work for you to find the perfect place without getting lost in a Google black hole.

The Turnstone Cottage might have you rethinking what a cottage really is with its spacious layout and elegant design.

Acadia Yurts & Wellness Center-Southwest Harbor
Acadia Yurts & Wellness Center t | photo via theregoesholi

Yurt Adventure

You might want to Namaste at Acadia Yurts & Wellness Center to experience a true mindfulness practice of serenity and self-awareness. Yurts and tiny houses are available for rent. The wellness center offers a float tank, sauna, massages, and yoga classes.

Discover All These Things to Do in Southwest Harbor

There is truly a harbor for everyone on Mount Desert Island, and it helps to explore all the options before settling on one place. You can’t go wrong, considering the island is just 15 miles long and 12 miles wide.

Whether you stay, play, or sail from Southwest Harbor, this guide should help you get your bearings for an amazing trip to the Quieter Side of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park.

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  1. Please have someone come back to Southwest Harbor,Maine. They need to revise the article. There are quite a few changes. Thank you.

    1. Like what, Nancy. We arrive there on Tuesday. Things we shouldn’t do or things we should add to the schedule? Any help would be appreciated!!

  2. Golf of Maine Miniature Golf is the newest addition to Southwest Harbor. Located less than a mile from the heart of Southwest Harbor the 18-hole Marine and Fishing inspired Miniature Golf Course is brand new and is open April – October. Lots of rock gardens, water features and flowers, GOM is a great place to have large groups for some great family and friendly fun or a perfect date night as it’s open until 9pm most evenings! There are also 2 food trucks insight for BBQ, lobster rolls burgers, ice cream and much more! http://www.golfofmaine.com

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