Bar Harbor and The Porcupines, ME

by  Moderator_K

A self-supported trip created by Moderator_K

Trip Overview

While this trip may sound like a punk rock group, it's really a wonder of geology and incredible scenery. The Porcupines-Long, Burnt, Bald, and Sheep-sit just to the east of Bar Harbor and feature impressive and many-hued geological formations with fascinating shapes and textures that speak of glacial activity long ago. You'll definitely want to bring plenty of film for your camera: Every angle offers fresh views of these island shores, and a glance to the west places the historical rusticator mansions against a backdrop of the mountains. Numerous seabirds and shorebirds frequent this area, and harbor porpoises are common sights.

Everywhere you look you can see signs of glacial activity and lessons in geology. You'll spot erratics that dot the shore; fascinating layers of rock called the Bar Harbor formation, with streaks of white, reddish, and darker-hued rock; sea caves and jagged overhangs, where glaciers tore chunks from the bedrock; and an incredible variety of beach shapes and materials, from "popplestones" (local term for cobblestones, or rocks rounded smooth by wave action) to layered sand. Even the sloping shape of the islands as they rise from their southern to northern ends is a record of glacial movement and pressures. These are commonly called whalebacks and are noticeable throughout the area.

Conditions can change rapidly over the course of this paddle, so you'll need to remain flexible and be ready to head in early to seek shelter along the shoreline if needed. A strong northerly can build surprisingly nasty seas, and it is typical for southwesterly winds to gain strength through the early hours of the afternoon to roughen up the best-laid plans. The area around Rum Key (a privately owned island between Burnt and Long Porcupine) can be particularly rough if seas build on a strong southerly and oppose an ebbing tide. A planned loop around Long Porcupine may find you running for shelter from a southerly breeze and backtracking on the northern side to return home.

You can launch from the town ramp in Bar Harbor or from the rocky shore at Albert Meadows, which is just up and tucked off Main Street. Several islands in this area offer public access, but you'll want to make sure to give seabirds and other wildlife a wide berth, especially during the early-summer months when they are most vulnerable. Bar Island, which bars to the mainland at low tide, is often full of tourists who stroll over for a look. The mud and sandbar is a favorite feeding spot for shorebirds when they aren't driven off by the people. Don't even consider trying to muck your way across the bar at full low tide; you're liable to leave your footwear behind in the sucking mud.

The islands of Sheep Porcupine, Bald Porcupine, and the Hop are part of Acadia National Park and are open to the public, though Sheep Porcupine is home to nesting seabirds and should be avoided until nesting season is over in early August.

Long Porcupine, owned by The Nature Conservancy, is only open to day use after August 15. The cliffs of this island are home to nesting guillemots; other seabirds, bald eagles, and ospreys also nest on this protected island.

The Hop is a small island that bars to Long Porcupine and makes an easy stop for a leg stretch or lunch. Treat it gently, however, because sensitive nesting sites are nearby.

Burnt Porcupine is privately owned. Though paddlers regularly check out the keyhole on its western shore (do not enter except under flat calm conditions, and be willing to back out), please do NOT land on this island.

The channel between Sheep Porcupine and Burnt Porcupine is marked by green bell bouy #7. It's a busy route between the islands. Be very cautious about crossing this area in foggy conditions. In general, fog should keep you along the Mount Desert shoreline. You don't want to find yourself picking your way through the heavy boat traffic in these waters under a blanket of fog.

If you plan to visit Bald Porcupine Island, which is connected to the breakwater, you'll have to cross an open stretch of water where you'll be exposed to any wind or choppy seas. Beyond Bald Porcupine you can explore along the Mount Desert shoreline to Compass Harbor, which sits between Ogden and Dorr Points and makes a nice lunch stop or leg stretch. The shoreline along the cove and Dorr Point is owned by Acadia National Park and open to the public for day use.

Trip Highlights: Incredible scenery that's a lesson in geology: cobblestone beaches, sea caves, overhangs, whalebacks, and glacial erratics.

Trip Duration/Length: A paddle of a bit less than 13 miles will allow for a long loop around the eastern side of Long Porcupine and then a trip to Bald Porcupine and Compass Harbor. That said, weather conditions may well prevent a full loop, since there are open exposures to both the south and the north during portions of this trip and fog could halt your progress at any point. Instead, you may want to hug the Mount Desert shoreline down to Compass Harbor and beyond for a more protected paddle, using the land contours for protection and staying found as needed. Or if you are pressed for time, try just a jaunt around Bar Island or Sheep Porcupine.

Navigation Aids: Chart 13318 Frenchman Bay and Mount Desert Island (1:40,000). Bell buoy off Sheep Porcupine; Bar Harbor Light at the breakwater.

Cautions: Fog and boat traffic. Some open water with wind exposure, choppy conditions. launch sites: The Bar Harbor municipal ramp sits adjacent to a highly congested area where all the tour boats dock and there is a constant coming and going of vessels of many sizes. There is a small beach next to the ramp that is roomier for kayakers (until high tide) and won't block other boaters' access to the ramp. Parking is a problem at the municipal ramp. During the summer months there is a three-hour limit at the town lot, so you'll need to unload and then park elsewhere and hike back. A better choice is to park and launch from Albert Meadows, where you may leave your car for the day. Head up the hill on Main Street for 0.2 mile and turn left onto Albert Meadows Street. The parking area is at the end of this road. The launch is a short hand-carry to the water. This launch is best at high water under calm conditions. Low-tide launches are slippery but possible. If you don't like the looks of launching at Albert Meadows, just use it as your parking site and walk back to the town ramp.

Local Attractions: Acadia is the second most popular national park in the country and the most popular destination point in Maine. Plan on being overwhelmed with options-and crowds-during the summer months. Acadia National Park is a treasure with its restored carriage roads and spectacular scenery full of hiking trails, climbing spots, quiet ponds, mountain bike trails, campgrounds, and a wealth of wildlife. The town of Bar Harbor offers all the services even the most jaded tourist could demand.

Trip Details

  • Trip Duration: Day Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: Open Water/Ocean

Trip Location