Visiting Acadia National Park has been on our bucket list for quite sometime. Originally we planned on taking a trip to Acadia in June to celebrate graduating from Penn State, but we ended up moving the trip back until October. As it turns out, waiting until October was a great decision!
Traveling to Acadia during the summer means large crowds, lots of bugs, and warmer weather (which can be nice, unless you are doing extensive hiking). However, when visiting in the first two weeks of October there are less people, little to no bugs, and temperatures in the mid-60s (we even rearranged our trip to ensure we had the best weather possible for hiking Acadia National Park).
While we were at Acadia, we ended up hiking everyday. By the end of the trip we had enjoyed the view from Cadillac Mountain, challenged ourselves climbing the Beehive and Precipice Trails, and relaxed at Sand Beach. If you are going to Maine, we hope this guide to hiking Acadia National Park will help you get the most out of your trip.
There’s no other way to start off this guide than with Cadillac Mountain. Cadillac is a great way to kickoff your time in Acadia, because it’s the only summit in the park you can reach by car. Via Park Loop Road, you can drive 3.5 miles to the mountain’s summit, pulling over at several lookouts along the way to enjoy the panoramic views.
Of course you can also choose to hike to the summit by foot taking one of two trails: the North Ridge Trail or the South Ridge Trail. The South Ridge Trail can easily turn into an all-day event, with a somewhat strenuous 3.5 mile hike to the top. This is one of the longest stretches of trail in the park, but also one of the most rewarding. The North Ridge Trail is a shorter alternative and offers equally stunning views of the north side.
No matter how you decide to get to the top of the mountain, you have to hike the half mile trail that loops around the summit. This trail offers some of the best views in Acadia, and gives you a sneak peak at what the rest of the park has in store for you.
Even better, take in this view at sunrise! As the tallest mountain on the Eastern seaboard, Cadillac Mountain is the first point in the US to receive the rising sun’s rays (not year round though, just from October 6 – March 7). The combination of 40 degree weather, lack of sun, and strong winds caught us off guard – so bundle up!
We did not spend a lot of time exploring the Carriage Roads, but we did stop through on our way to Cadillac Mountain. We parked near Eagle Lake, and explored the area by foot to take in the stunning view of the mountains overlooking the water. Across the street we found a smaller body of water, home to several beavers dams (and we assume beavers, although we did not see any)!
While relaxing at Eagle Lake, we did notice quite a few bicyclists. At the time we were not aware of this, but the Carriage Roads run all throughout the park, and make up 57 miles of “crushed rock” perfect for hikers, bikers, horse-riders and even horse-drawn carriages.
JORDAN POND LOOP
The next trail we tackled was the Jordan Pond Loop. Plan accordingly, and you can fit in a pre-hike lunch or an post-hike dinner at the Jordan Pond House. The food was delicious, but just know there is a limited menu from 3:00-5:00pm.
We recommend starting with the West Side of the trail, because it features a mile of slim wooden planks rising off the marshy ground, followed by some rocky terrain, which makes the hike more exciting. The East Side of the hike is very easy, with a path you follow along the water for about 2 miles leading back to where you began.
This is definitely the easiest trail we “hiked” in Acadia, but as I mentioned before, be sure to plan your trip accordingly. We started the hike around 5:00pm and ended up hiking the last half of the trip in the dark (with iPhone lights guiding our way through the woods).
This is by far my favorite trail in Acadia National Park. It’s a quick 30 minute
hike climb to the top, so prepare yourself for an adrenaline rush (at least for my fellow people with a fear of heights)! To me, this trail was the perfect ratio of challenge and reward.
There are boulders, iron rung ladders, and steep steps all along the edge of the cliffside. All of these obstacles are reasonable, but paired with a narrow margin for error, it makes things more interesting.
Truthfully I did not sound this confident during the hike, but there’s a reason for that: we accidentally led ourselves off trail for a good portion of the hike (and we thought we learned our lesson on Mount Nittany). There were moments where I could barely stretch my limbs far enough to make it up parts of the vertical climb. Soon after, we found ourselves emerging from behind a “restoration area” sign. Oops!
Once you reach the summit, take your time and enjoy the view; then make your way down the backside of the mountain on the Bowl Trail to complete your hike. Halfway down the trail you will make it to the Bowl, which is an awesome glacial pond tucked away in the mountains.
The best part about the Bowl is that it is one of the few ponds in Acadia that isn’t used for drinking water, which means you can swim in! While we didn’t get to swim in the Bowl (the downside of visiting Acadia in October), it is a great way to celebrate hiking the Beehive Trail during the summer.
Located just across Park Loop Road, Sand Beach is the perfect place to relax after hiking the Beehive Trail (or any hike for that matter). It’s a great spot to enjoy a book, eat lunch, or take a nap. Make sure to bring a blanket or some folding chairs to sit on!
While we didn’t hike it, we’ve been told the Great Head Trail (located on the “Great Head” Peninsula…which is in the image below) is a nice hike. The 1.5 mile hike takes you around the perimeter of the peninsula, where you will see pink granite boulders and birch trees along the path.
I debated whether or not to include the Precipice Trail in this “Hiking Acadia National Park” guide. Not because I didn’t enjoy it (in fact it was one of my favorite memories from our trip), but because it is in fact more of a climb than a hike. However, I would have been crazy not to include it!
I will say that this trail is not for everyone (Leslie being the perfect example, as she opted to relax on Sand Beach than to try Precipice). If you have a severe fear of heights or an inability to climb ladders, then you are exactly the person who shouldn’t try Precipice.
With that said, I do recommend everyone strongly consider climbing the Precipice Trail. Not only was it fun, but the views were beautiful! And the feeling of accomplishment after reaching the top was unmatched! I especially enjoyed the parts with iron rungs and ladders.
Originally I planned to solo hike the Precipice Trail, however I met a middle-aged man named Greg at the base of the trail and we ended up climbing it together. Once we reached the summit, we opted for the shorter route down to the parking lot (which follows the Champlain North Ridge Trail to the Orange & Black Trail).
Top to bottom took us around two hours. We were lucky enough to have a clean hike through to the summit, with no injuries and not having to wait behind other hikers.
GORHAM MOUNTAIN TRAIL
After finishing the Precipice Trail, I met up with Leslie at Sand Beach and decided to fit in one more hike for the day. The Gorham Mountain Trail is fairly easy, with a moderate ascent and beautifully laid out stone steps. To make things a little more interesting, take the Cadillac Cliffs Trail on the way up, which breaks off from Gorham and returns again before you hit the summit.
The Cadillac Cliffs Trail is steeper and offers rock climbing opportunities. On the way up there is also a very small cave you can maneuver your way through, and a tunnel in the granite. Although Gorham Mountain does not have the tallest peak, we could still see great views all around us: Beehive to the north and Sand Beach to the east.
OCEAN PATH & THUNDER HOLE
We decided to save the best hike for last (or at least our favorite)! The Ocean Path is a two-mile trail along the rocky coast that stretches from Sand Beach to Otter Point. The path is fairly level, however we recommend you keep off the path and walk on the rocky coast!
We must have spent hours walking along the coast. There were birds flying in the air, the sunlight was sparkling across the water, with the smell of the ocean in the air. Every once and awhile we would stop, take a seat, and watch the waves crash upon the rocks.
The Thunder Hole is located along the Ocean Path, halfway between Sand Beach and Otter Point. No matter what time of day, there is always a crowd dotting the rocks around the Thunder Hole waiting to watch it in action. When the waves are big enough, they crash into a natural inlet, rumbling like thunder as the water is thrown up into the air.
Have you hiked Acadia National Park before? If so, which was your favorite trail? Let us know in the comment section below!