Our dogs have a sixth sense for when travel plans are in the air. Bust out the duffle bags and they go on high alert, watching carefully to see what gets packed, as a signal for what sort of fun is being planned: Swim suits? Oh joy—they love to chase sticks through the waves! Hiking boots? Yahoo! Evening clothes? Sigh… not so fun.
It’s true, there are plenty of ways to safely leave your dog behind when you travel. We’ve used kennels, dog-sitters, neighbor kids, and even doggie resorts. For many trips, it just makes sense. But what dog doesn’t love a road trip? Most hop right in, ready to be a loyal travel companion wherever you might be headed. Nose out the window, beard flattened by the breeze, catching all the smells that the backroads of America have to offer.
The tricky part of travel with dogs is finding the right destination, with recreation, dining, and vacation rental opportunities that don’t discriminate against the four-legged among us. Bar Harbor, Maine, is such a place, and autumn is absolutely the time to go.
Tiny Bar Harbor (population under 3,000) sits nestled on Mount Desert Island on the Maine coast, about a six-hour drive from Boston. Most of the island is protected, as part of Acadia National Park, and in fact the town of Bar Harbor is completely surrounded by the park. After arriving on the island, one of your first activities should be a drive up to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak on the New England coastline (1530 feet). Take in the lay of the land and work out the kinks from the drive with a short hike in any direction.
The annual show of blazing colors begins in early September as the leaves turn red and yellow, and peaks by early October. I’ve never found a more stunning backdrop for hiking, and there is no shortage of hikes to tackle. Over 100 miles of hiking trails meander through the forested hills of the park, and dogs (on leashes!) are welcome on all but the most steep. For dogs that need to blow off steam before hiking on-leash, head over to the off-leash area at Little Long Pond, a privately-owned tract of land near Seal Harbor, on the southern end of the island.
After September 15th, dogs are also welcome on the public swimming beaches at Sand Beach and Echo Lake. Beyond the swimming beaches, there are miles of rocky shores for walking, retrieving sticks, and chasing waves. The town of Bar Harbor is extremely dog-friendly, and locals seem to bring their dogs everywhere: on buses, into shops, along the harbor, and on the decks of pubs and restaurants as they dine—try the tree-studded deck of the Dog and Pony Tavern for a perfect post-hike spot to linger over some local seafood and wind up the day.
Find more information about traveling with your pets in Acadia on Maine Vacations.