COMPASS HARBOR - THE BEST KEPT SECRET IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
Compass Harbor may very well be the best kept secret in Acadia National Park, and yet it is hiding in plain sight. Compass harbor has not one, but two seperate beaches, a nature trail which passes through large old woods where the air is often filled with cheerful birdsongs. It is not unusual to spot one or two woodpeckers in the tree's, or wild ducks in a nearby pond. Wild turkeys also claim these woods as their own, along with the deer that wander past in the late evenings.
But compass Harbor offers more than wildlife and sweeping ocean views, for this was the very location that Old Farm was once located. Old Farm was the name of the large estate which belonged to George B. dorr, the man whom many call the Father of acadia National Park. His estate was surrounded by flower gardens with stone work, and he had foot paths leading down through the tree's to the two beaches by the sea.
At least one book claims that wildlife is not the only thing wandering the woods of compass harbor, it states that a grounds keeper died on these grounds and that his ghost haunts the woods there. One thing is certain, on many a late evening fog moves in and haunting wiffs of sea smoke drifts through the brush and trees there.
If you have never spend time at compass harbor you really don't know the beauty of the place you are missing, there is no place in all of Acadia National Park like it. Artists sometimes go there to draw or paint, and musicians also venture there to play a hauntingly tune on a violin or a lively tune on a guitar.
But don't look for compass harbor on any park maps, the site has been removed by request of the Park service. And you will find no signs of any kind at the tiny compass Harbor parking lot, because as the park service recently stated, they would just as soon visitors to the park don't find the location. In other words, the National Park service is treating compass Harbor as an abandoned site.
Recently there was some movement to change all that, and talks were being held on just what, if anything, should be done to the compass harbor site. Many locals wanted the Park Service to spruce up the site, upgrade the hiking trail there, put up signs, make the parking lot larger, and yes, place some sort of a memorial there to finally honor George B. dorr as he should be honored.
The Park Service on the other hand wanted no part of that, they simply wanted the location professionally documented, including the foundations and stone work which still remains of the dorr gardens. it should come to no surprise to anyone that at the end of the day, the Park Service won out - there would be no improvements to the trail, no signs, no widening of the parking lot, compass harbor would continue to be treated as an abandoned site.
One Maine newspaper reported wrote a piece in which compass harbor was called "One of the best kept secrets in all of acadia National Park," and I would have to agree. so once at acadia National Park, how does one find this scret location?
From Main Street in Bar Harbor, leave town following route 3 heading toward Otter Creek. You will pass the Grand Motel and the YMCA along with the town ball fields on the right. The road curves as it passes the cromwell Harbor road. After a short stretch the roadway begins to go uphill, at this point look to the left and you should see a tiny unmarked parking lot - that is the Compass Harbor parking area. A section of the tiny parking area is blocked by tree's and brush.
If you drove past the Schooner Head road or Jackson Labs (locals call the lab the mouse factory) than you passed the unmarked parking lot.
Once at the parking lot, there is an unmarked trail at one corner of the lot, which runs straight through the woods. It soon comes to an intersection, turn left, this route heads for the harbor and the first beach area. It is not unusual to spot one or more sail boats at anchor there in the harbor. You will also find several spots there where you can make your way down closer to the water.
The path turns right and follows the edge of the water before it turns right again. At this turn there is another path leading straight to an area out in the open overlooking the sea, this area is known as Lookout Point. If you are lucky enough to be on the point when a large cruise ship is making its way to Bar Harbor or departing Bar Harbor, you will get some great views of it from the point.
The main trail moves straight ahead for a short distance before turning sharply right, moving away from the ocean views and up a hillside. There are a long line of granite steps that lead up through the woods and end at the top of the hill, where you will find the remains of the George B. dorr estate, Old Farm.
But beofre you head uphill, where the trail turns sharply right, go left and head out to the open shore. From there you can easily access the second, and by far the better, of the two beaches. It is this second beach where many of the locals go to on a hot summer day.
Once you do return to the main path and follow the long roll of stone steps uphill, you can explore the remains of Old Farm. There are still some sections of walls that are still standing as well as foundations. If you search the area well you will also discover some nearly hidden stone works from the old gardens, as well as other stone steps leading downhill toward the sea.
Once you are done exploring the area, continue forward along the main path and it soon comes to an intersection. You could go straight and return back to the tiny parking lot, or you could go left and follow the Schooner head trail. Even if your not interested in following it far, follow it a short ways if you want a chance to spot deer, wild turkeys, birds and wild ducks. From the Old Farm trail, the Schooner head trail quickly comes to a one or two car pull over on the Old Farm Road. Here the trail crosses the narrow country road and enters the woods. Just after crossing the road you will see a pond on the right, at least one old map named this pond Dorr Pond. This area by and around the pond is where you can best see the wildlife in the area. I have left the path and stood on the banking overlooking the pond and taken some of my best photos of wild ducks.
Once you have explored Compass harbor you are most likely going to ask yourself, why in the world would the National Park Service want to keep this area a secret? Its a good question for which only the National Park Service can answer.