27 Oct Hiking in Acadia National Park
As we’ve discovered, Maine is a beast like no other. The biggest of all the New England states, (Maine is the same size as all the others combined), there are vast areas in the North which are extremely rugged and barely accessible during winter months, populated only with wildlife and hunters. After Bangor, the furthest north we ventured in Maine was to see the beautifully-preserved coastal haven of Acadia National Park.
*Update: you can read our complete 2016 New England Fall Foliage Guide here. This includes tips on where on when to see the best foliage, what to eat, which festivals to visit, how much our fall trip to New England cost and our favourite destinations in New England.*
Exploring (and eating) in Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor sits on Mount Desert Island, which makes up most of Acadia National Park. The tiny town hugs the coast and is like the heart of Acadia, comprised of shops, restaurants and a harbour where fresh seafood is brought in daily, huge cruise ships dock and tourists line up on the pier to take whale watching trips.
Even though we visited in October and much of the town was closed down for the season, we still loved Bar Harbor. The restaurants that were open served delicious breakfasts of pancakes made with Maine blueberries and seafood dinners of hot clam chowder, fresh haddock and for Andrew, a lobster roll.
Acadia National Park Hikes
The main reason we’d come to Bar Harbor was to hike in Acadia National Park. There are over 120 miles of trails in Acadia to explore, 26 mountain peaks, 24 lakes and a network of old carriage roads blazed by John D. Rockefeller, who played a big role in preserving the beauty of Acadia and making it accessible to the public. You could spend weeks hiking in Acadia National Park but we had just a couple of days, still it was enough time to tackle these hikes:
Gorham Mountain Trail
This trail allows you a great view of the sea, surrounding islands and Sand Beach. The hike is classed as moderate; a round-trip to the summit is around 1.8 miles. We began by walking through a pine forest where we spotted plenty of red squirrels as we wound our way up towards the peak. Eventually forest floor gave way to rock and we emerged on a clear shelf of rock overlooking the coast, bordered by a strip of forest and a short stretch of white sand beach. From there we could look out to the sea, which is peppered with islands and sailboats before climbing the final few feet for more staggering views from the summit.
We didn’t trek up here but the 7.4 mile route is popular for hikers hoping to catch the sunrise. After hiking the Gorham trail we drove up Cadillac Mountain in time for sunset, stopping at some viewpoints to capture forest and lake views along the way. At the top we joined a crowd who’d gathered to watch the sun slide down behind the mountains; the sky was clear and the air was frigid as we huddled on the rocks to catch the vivid orange sunset.
The Bowl Trail
Whilst hiking the Gorham trail we tagged on a diversion along the bowl trail, which took us to a clear, circular lake surrounded by forest and nestled beneath mountains, which were reflected perfectly in the still surface of the water. At just 1.4 miles in length, the Bowl trail is flat and easy to hike.
The Beehive Trail
From the Bowl we headed to the Beehive trail; which is just 0.8 miles long, but as we later found out, it provides quite a strenuous hike. Ascending the Beehive from the Bowl trail involved some scrambling over rocks, but we quickly reached the summit and paused to take in more coastal views below. Then we started down what we later found out was the wrong side of the mountain; suddenly the path seemed to disappear and instead we perched precariously on rock ledges over sheer drops and clutched the occasional metal handrail.
After a few minutes of this, I decided it was far too dangerous to continue and we climbed back up to descend on the other side. When we got to the bottom of the trail and circled round towards Sand Beach, we saw a sign at the bottom of the Beehive Trail which warned hikers not to climb down the steep side as we had tried to do (you should ascend this path only) and avoid the trail completely if you’re not comfortable with heights or sheer drops. There have been serious accidents and deaths on the Beehive, so I’m glad I followed my instincts and turned around when I did.
After the hairy incident on the Beehive trail I was happy to wander back to flat land and follow the snaking coast line to Sand Beach. This short 290 yard stretch of sand is rare, comprising one of the few cold-water shell beaches in Maine.
From Bar Harbor you can take a walk across the sand bar to Bar Island. Make sure you time your walk according to the tide though; the sand bar is only visible between one and one and a half hours either side of low tide. Once we got to the island we took a short one-mile hike through forest to the small summit, to see the view of the mountain.
Bar Harbor Shore Walk
The Shore Walk is another easy, mile-long route from Bar Harbor, simply stroll along the coastline stopping to check out the information points along the way. If the weather’s clear you can look out to see Porcupine Islands in the distance and watch huge cruise ships sailing in to dock at the harbour.
The Bubble Rock Trail
On our second day of hiking we started along the Bubble Rock Trail, heading for the southern bubble-shaped summit first. Somehow we managed to miss a signpost and ended up scrambling over boulders all the way down to Jordan Pond instead, which turned out pretty well as we got some great views of this huge lake which supplies fresh drinking water.
Following the edge of the pond we were able to locate a trail back up to the summit of South Bubble Rock. Much like the Beehive Trail, we found there were some pretty hairy points on the uphill climb; precarious paths over rocky terrain and some steep climbing which sent some climbers we met back the way they came. We persevered though and were rewarded with some incredible views for our efforts.
Ship Harbor Nature Trail
For a change of pace we drove down to a quieter area of the park to Ship Harbor, where we walked a calm, one-mile lap around the nature trail, which led us through forest out onto the rocky coast. From there we drove further along to see the picturesque Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.
Winter Harbor and Schoodic Head
Most visitors to Acadia rarely venture off Mount Desert Island. On the recommendation of our Airbnb host Zac, we took a detour up the coast to Winter Harbor, where we discovered some quieter areas of the park. Stopping at Schoodic Point, we were able to see some great views of Mount Desert Island.
We then followed a combination of trails on what turned out to be a one and a half hour hike; we started on the Alder path to the summit of Schoodic Head and then headed back down on the Anvil trail. This walk made for a quiet, peaceful end to our amazing hiking adventure in Acadia – one of the most beautiful National Parks I’ve ever been to.
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Visiting Acadia National Park costs $25 per car for a seven-day pass, which you can buy from one of the park’s visitor centres.