Despite many local names in the southeastern part of Mount Desert Island — Otter Point, Otter Cove, Otter Cliffs, the village of Otter Creek — there never have been sea otters in this area. Sea otters, in fact, only are found in America along the West Coast, from central California up to Alaska. The names may have come about in honor of the river otters native to MDI, or perhaps through confusion with a different animal in the ocean, the sea mink. (Not much is known about the sea mink, which was roughly twice the size of, and with a much thicker pelt than, the American mink; it was hunted to extinction in the late 1800s.)
Since the mid-1970s, Otter Cliffs, about 500 feet wide and up to 100 feet high, has become the most popular rock climbing spot in Maine, and one of the few places anywhere where you can climb right above the ocean. (The first documented climbers roped up here in the late 1920s.) Dozens of routes — with names like Drunken Sailor, Guillemot Crack, Rock Lobster, Riptide, and The Flake — have been laid out on the rocks for all skill levels from beginner to advanced, and lessons and guides are available from several outfitters in Bar Harbor.
The dangerous rock ledge in the bay just to the east of the cliffs, marked by a green bell buoy, resembles a surfacing whale at the right tide level. These rocks, which lie completely underwater at high tide, are assumed to be what the French explorer Samuel de Champlain ran into on September 5, 1604, the day he named Mount Desert Island. Sailing close to investigate the Acadia shoreline, Champlain ran onto the then unmarked ledge and punched a hole in the bottom of his boat.
The high road/low road split in the Park Loop Road here was designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., to give drivers equally fine views in both directions. (Olmstead probably would be irritated to find out that the road in this area today is one-way, heading away from Sand Beach.)
Fun Facts: In October 2008, a 40-person movie crew brought a 70-foot crane and wireless digital cameras to Otter Cliffs for three days, to shoot second-unit footage of stunt climbers for the 2010 Martin Scorsese film Shutter Island.