Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: September 2017
- Precipice Trail
- Beehive Trail
- South Bubble Rock
- Gorham Mountain
- Watching the sunset at Cadillac Mountain
Located on Mount Desert Island along the Atlantic coast in Maine, Acadia National Park is the first and only national park east of the Mississippi River. It encompasses all of the beauty, charm, and ruggedness of New England’s wilderness. Many of the trails weave their way up, down, and around mountains, through lush forests and along a granite coastline that has been (and continues to be) ravaged by the never-ending lapping of waves by the ocean.
Day 1: Not your Average day of Hiking
We drove into Acadia National Park late last night. We initially aimed to leave Boston at around 6p.m as it’s estimated to take 5 hours to get there. But by the time we hit the road it was just after 8p.m. Traffic was relatively light, but we were eager to reach our campsite at Blackwoods Campground in order to get a half decent night’s rest. Maybe a little too eager. With just under an hour left of our drive we see those blue and red flashing lights behind us. We pull over by the side of the highway with sinking hearts. K was driving 60 miles in a 40 mile zone – that’s the equivalent of going 30km over the speed limit. And to make matters worse as I’m pulling the car’s registration from the glove box the police officer flashes his light inside and inquires about this little tupperware container of pills that he sees in plain sight. He heads back to his vehicle while we quietly await our punishment. He returns only to ask to examine the contents of this pill container in more detail. It’s just my travel-size collection of over-the-counter meds like advil, tylenol and tums. And the only reason I had it up in the front in the glove box in the first place was because I took a couple of tums earlier and kept it up in the front in case I needed to take a few more. He didn’t really know what to make of the pill container but kindly stressed that I should keep the pills in their original bottles going forward. And then he informed us to drive safe and watch the speed limit. We still can’t believe we got away with just a warning.
We finally arrived at our campsite shortly after 2a.m. Despite our late arrival we were still buzzing with how freaking lucky we were for getting off the hook for speeding. And for having some dicey container with a concoction of pills coated in this chalky residue from the tums. We quickly set up our tent, blew up our sleeping pads and rearranged our sleeping space.
Ideally we would have enjoyed sleeping in this morning given our late night. But there was a group of students camping across from us who had other plans. They promptly woke up at 7a.m. We reluctantly left our warm sleeping bags to get up and boil some water for tea and coffee and breakfast.
We decided to start our first day off in Acadia strong by hiking (more like climbing) the Precipice Trail. It is reputed to be an extremely strenuous hike that involves scrambling over rocks, using handrails and footholds to shimmy across steep ledges, and climbing up a series of iron rungs and ladders – sometimes along exposed sections of a cliff. The Precipice Trail is nearly a 1.5km vertical ascent up Mount Champlain, the 6th highest peak in Acadia. Since the trail is usually closed between mid March to mid August for peregrine falcon nesting there is a small window to hike this trail with reasonably good weather. This trail is no joke in the best of times. We would definitely not have attempted this hike in the rain (or after a rainfall).
It took us just over an hour and a half of conquering our fear of heights to summit Mount Champlain via the Precipice Trail. To descend there are two options: you can take the Champlain South Ridge Trail to the Bowl Trail to Park Loop Road for 6.1km or the Champlain North Ridge Trail to the Orange and Black Path to the Park Loop Road for 2.1km. We read in advance that both trails are rather uneventful, so we opted for the shorter path.
Once we returned to our car we headed back to our campsite to make some sandwiches for lunch. Feeling a little sore from our early morning hike we decided to take it easy for the rest of the afternoon. We drove around the Park Loop Road stopping at many of the attractions along the way like Sand Beach and Thunder Hole.
We also made a detour at Jordan’s Pond and strolled along the Jordan’s Pond Loop (5.6km roundtrip). The path is relatively flat and hugs close to the shoreline of (as its name suggests) Jordan’s Pond. The terrain consistent mostly of gravel on one side and a series of boardwalks on the other. About midway through the path branches off to the Bubbles Divide Trail where, for an extra kilometer or so, the path leads up to the summit of South Bubble Mountain where Bubble Rock – a large boulder that was deposited precariously close to the edge of a cliff by glaciers thousands of years ago – is located. We took a few steps down the path when we were greeted by an older couple who were hiking down the path. They recommended starting the hike at the Bubbles Parking Lot instead. Even though it adds a few hundred meters to the hike, the path is apparently better groomed and not so challenging. We didn’t need that much convincing to turn around and just continue along the Jordan’s Pond Loop.
It was approaching dinner time by the time we wrapped up our hike. The one downside about Acadia’s road system is that most of the Loop Road section is one-way. So in order to return to our campsite at Blackwoods Campground we pretty much had to drive most of the way around the Loop Road. We made a detour through Bar Harbor as it’s faster to cut along Highway 3 to get to our accommodations and along the way we picked up a few stacks of wood by the side of the road for a fire later tonight. We cooked some dinner, but didn’t have much of a chance to relax before setting off again to watch the sunset at Cadillac Mountain.
With an elevation of 1,530 feet (or 466m), Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain and the highest point along the eastern coast. For half the year from mid fall to early spring it is also the first place to view a sunset in the United States. We drove up to the (massive) parking lot at the summit with about 15 minutes prior to the estimated time of the sunset.
We didn’t stay around too long as it was quite windy and chilly on the summit. When we returned to our campsite we made a fire. We managed to stay up until about 8:15p.m before retiring to our tent for the remainder of the night.
Day 2: Day of Summits
We woke up feeling completely rejuvenated from getting a proper night’s rest – well, as close to a proper night’s rest as one can while sleeping in a tent. We boiled some water for tea and coffee and fried up some eggs for breakfast. We were eager to head out to enjoy another day of hiking some of the best trails the eastern coast has to offer.
We started the day off at South Bubble Mountain. We read that parking at the Bubbles Parking Lot is rather limited so we figured we might as well start our day here before the crowds narrow in. It’s a short hike (1.6km roundtrip) to the summit of South Bubble Mountain. The summit offers commanding views of Jordan’s Pond and Eagle Pond. Bubble Rock isn’t immediately visible from the summit marker. The path continues about a couple hundred meters or so until you can see the massive boulder dangling dangerously close to the edge.
After we made our descent back to our car we headed over to Gorham Mountain. The view from Gorham Mountain is one of the best in the park and doesn’t require much effort to summit (it’s 3.2km roundtrip). A few hundred metres into the trail the path branches off into two directions – the Gorham Mountain Trail continues to the left and the Cadillac Cliffs Trail to the right. Both paths reconnect and lead up the mountain.
We opted to take the Cadillac Cliffs Trail on the way up Gorham Mountain and the Gorham Mountain Trail on the way back down. Turns out this was an excellent call as the terrain along the Cadillac Cliffs was much more strenuous. And we’d rather have more of a challenge going up than going down because the downhill portion is always the worst. The path follows along these impressive cliffs and involves a lot of scrambling up and over and in between large rocks.
Once the path reconnects with the Gorham Mountain Trail it’s a short distance upwards to reach the summit marker. The summit offers sweeping views of the Atlantic coast including an aerial view of Sand Beach and Otter Point. There is an option to continue onwards up to Bowl Lake and the Beehive, but we decided to return back to the parking lot for lunch before tackling the Beehive. On our return journey back to the car we continued along the Gorham Mountain Trail. The part of the path that runs parallel to Cadillac Cliffs Trail was much smoother and gentler.
From there we headed back to our campsite to enjoy some lunch and play a round of cards. Shortly after we ventured back out and drove all the way back around Loop Road to the parking area for the Beehive Trail. Similar to Precipice Trail, the Beehive involves a lot of rock scrambles and iron rungs to climb upwards to the summit, but isn’t nearly as lengthy or as strenuous.
The trailhead to the Beehive lies a few hundred metres along the start of Bowl Trail. Alternatively you can bypass the strenuous climb up Beehive altogether and just keep hiking along the Bowl Trail to reach the summit.
The hike (climb?) up the Beehive offers phenomenal views overlooking Sand Beach. We actually found this iron rung hike more enjoyable than the Precipice Trail and significantly less busy. We didn’t encounter a single hiker on our way up.
The Bowl Trail intersects with the Beehive Trail at the summit marker. We continued along the trail until we reached an area that offered sweeping views of “The Bowl” – a little pond tucked in between some mountains. From there we turned around and hiked downwards back to our car.
In search of an easier trail to hike we drove down to the southwestern tip of Acadia. We first checked out the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. It’s a very short hike in the woods to a set of wooden stairs that lead down to a viewing area.
Afterwards we hiked the Ship Harbour Trail (1.9km loop). The path meanders through a wooded area towards the ocean. We went tide pooling here for a bit before continuing onward. Despite the blue skies in the picture I took below, dark clouds were moving in. Fast. About 5 minutes after we made it back to our car it started to pour. It continued to rain for the entire drive back to the campgrounds. But hey, if it’s going to rain, I’d much prefer it when we’re driving as opposed to hiking. And if it’s towards the evening, even better.
By the time we returned to our campsite it was lightly sprinkling. And because of all the tree cover on our site, our picnic table and fire pit area stayed relatively dry. We cooked some dinner and sat by the fire for the remainder of the evening.
Day 3: Enjoying the Final Days of Summer
We woke up insanely early at 5:15a.m to catch a glimpse of the sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain. Don’t piss your pants with excitement though – there was a thick layer of fog that prevented us from seeing anything worthwhile. We were quick to pull a u-ie and head back to our campsite for breakfast.
After we finished eating we packed up our gear and took down our tent. We then checked out at the campground and drove towards Bar Harbour. We saved the hike out to Bar Island for today due to timing of the low and high tides. This hike is only accessible 1.5 hours on either side of low tide. And low tide this morning was at 8:05a.m (and 8:34p.m) – which is about an hour later than the previous day (and about two hours later than the day before that).
After wrapping up our hike we began our five hour drive back to Boston. Along the way we made a brief detour and stopped at Cape Neddick Nubble Lighthouse – one of Maine’s most photographed lighthouses. It was a good way to break up the drive. From there it was just over an hour to get back home.
L & K