Acadia is a strange place for weather. All winter it freezes and snows, and when the thaw comes it rains…pretty much forever. Then, just before tourist season the clouds part, the sun’s God rays descend, and all is right with the world for 1 glorious week. Until the hordes of campers, RVs, and senior outings begin and the silence of the forest becomes a cacophony of screaming kids, barking dogs, and exhausted parents that you just want to give a pat on the back to for putting up with all of it. .
For those into wildlife, the section of Acadia across the bay is well known for moose, and I personally had to break for a black bear right outside of Bar Harbor. There are cruises that leave from Bar Harbor for seals and puffins (or take your kayak out after the hike). For those into science, this is the home base for Jackson Labs. Finally, for those into history and horses, this is a great stop to enjoy historic trails and buildings, and with a little creativity you can make this touristly tame trip both fun and challenging.
Location: Acadia National Park, Maine
How you get there: If you’re coming up for an overnight trip, check out Blackwoods Campground. With the tree cover it stays reasonably comfortable and protected from the early hiking season rain. If you come just before the tourist season this campground is pretty much deserted, and you have the place to yourself. But remember these campgrounds do not have showers! You’ll need quarters to use the showers just outside the campground gates, and this is expensive!
Time for hike: The distance is approximately 12 miles.This is a loop hike.
Best season to do this hike: Just before the tourist season starts in May. The winter is good for skii joring but a lot of stuff is closed. The summer just has too many people for me.
Trails to Take
While it’s been a while since this trip, (what? I’m working on updating things as they happen rather than like 5 years afterwards), I still say the best place to start a hike is the Tarn. The tarn is a little stagnate sort of pond off the side of Route 3 when you are headed into Bar Harbor from the campground. Has some beaver living on one end. There is a pull off to park on the Bar Harbor end, so park there and get ready to spend all day doing this hike!
The trail takes you along the backside of the Tarn, hoping from rock to rock (this is Kane Path). Mark East Face Dorn Trail because that’s how the trail will come back. This is a fun trail to also go up because of the huge rock fall which someone has arranged into rustic stairs and a hidden pool that if you are here in the summer would make an awesome place to cool off.
Continue on Kane Path until you get to the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail. This trail is an easy peasy hike over rock faces to the visitor center at the top of Cadillac Mountain, which has food/drink/clothing, (the last is important if your hiking buddy came under dressed), as well as a great panoramic view. Another hidden gem though, is that at this trail intersection is a small, beautiful pond with a bench. There are also lady slippers (pink & white) in this area. Of all the places we visited in Acadia this pond is the only place I visited twice intentionally.
Kane Path will eventually enter into this maze of smaller trails that are clearly intended for the more casual hiker (sand surfaced with steps). The point here is you just want to keep heading for the park road, so choose the trail that takes you that way. You want to cross the park road, and take the trail around Jordan Lake. You will pass by Jordan Pond House, which is at the end of a long field. This trail around the pond is great! While there are many many people, much of the trail is this odd raised boardwalk which is both novel and kind of fun at the same time (but may be difficult to traverse with dogs).
At the far end of Jordan Lake is another parking area on the side of the park loop road. Get to this parking area, then cross the road, (you are now leaving the tourist areas). Ahead of you is the most challenging part of the hike. This trail leads up (if memory serves) to a short rock face, which you MUST CLIMB in order to continue. If it has been raining for several days this will require a rope, a friend, and possibly a bit of tenacity. The trail continues over rock faces that you can slide down and fall off of if wet, (and you probably won’t die but you will break something). Once these rock faces end it’s pretty boring and mundane though.
You want to climb up to the top of Pemetic Mountain, then at the trail intersection go down again to Bubble Pond. This is a pretty pond with nice picnic areas, and a good place to leave a spare car if you only want to do a portion of the hike. On the other side of the pond the trail continues, and the climb to the top of Cadillac (the highest point on the island) begins. Continue up, and you’ll intersect with the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail and you can go up to the visitor’s center/overlook.
Once you’re done snapping photos, you can return down the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail to take the trails you took on the way in, or you can get on that little loopy trail at the top of the mountain, find where Gorge Path intersects, and take that on the more direct (but steeper and more challenging) path back to the tarn via Schiff Path and then East Face Dorr Trail. Then it’s just a little tired rock hopping back on Kane Path to the parking area.
- You will need quarters to take showers – campgrounds in Acadia National Park don’t have shower facilities, but private facilities exist just outside the campground gates. These are pretty expensive though, so imagine you’re on a lunar mission with a limited water supply and soap up before you get in!
- If you are from a warm climate (anything below NC in the southeast) you need hoodies, rain coats, rain pants, and multiple changes of everything so you can change out of wet clothes, (it rains here – a lot). I brought along a Floridian who got wet, didn’t get changed, and got hypothermia while on a hike. This is an expensive and stupid thing to do.
- The park loop road is a great drive, especially if its rainy and cold and you wuss out on hiking. But be careful…it runs only in certain directions and has only certain turn offs.
- If you got tickets to go out on a boat to see wildlife and lighthouses and wave at the lobster fisherman your trip may be canceled if the water is rough.
- Some of these trails are not exactly intermediate level hiking when wet. I have noted where you might want to keep the dogs/kids/wussy adults at home.
- Buy everything you need BEFORE you get on the island. Stuff is really expensive here! There is a backpacking store in Bar Harbor (along with about a zillion multicolored stuffed lobsters) if you absolutely have to have something.
- Definitely check out the Wild Gardens of Acadia, but the Jordan Pond House is overpriced and over visited. Get your lobster fix in Bar Harbor instead.
- If you really need to see a moose this trip (because you live in a place that only has white tailed deer) you want to go across the bay to the Schoodic Peninsula portion of the park, which is accordingly to a local I once worked with, a hidden gem.
- Bring a tarp so you can cook and eat out of the rain!
- Make sure your tents are water proof, including the floor! We went through 2 tents on this trip and had to buy a tarp to go over the second one because they were waterproofed enough for SC/NY but were not good enough for Maine. We had floor leaks and roof leaks and just lots and lots of general leaks!
- Don’t do the above hike if it has been raining for weeks. You won’t be able to get up the rocks in places.
- The gravel carriage trails in the park are amazingly boring
In sum: Puffins are edible. But they only eat them in Iceland where, presumably, they would otherwise have to eat ice.