In the northeast corner of New England, Maine’s Down East shoreline is a rugged stretch of snaking inlets and lighthouse-studded peninsulas. (In fact, unfurled into a straight line, the state’s Atlantic border would total more miles than the entire California coast.) This vast seaside was carved out by a long-gone glacier, which also left a legacy of sprawling bays strewn with forest-covered islands.
Among them is Mount Desert Island, the Down East’s crown jewel and home to its charming gateway town of Bar Harbor. Singular in its brand of natural beauty, this Northeast enclave is a stunning haven of mountain forests, colossal granite cliffs, and rocky coastline.
Fitting, then, that the island also features Acadia National Park, America’s first designated wilderness area east of the Mississippi — and its most visited today. It’s not hard to see the allure: The national park and its town are a sanctuary for over 40 species of native wildlife, and the island is laced with 125 miles of hike-able trails.
With at least 25 distinct hikes spanning every level of difficulty to choose from, here are five Mount Desert Island favorites. Make your way there on a Tradewind charter flight to Bar Harbor, and from there, the trailheads wait just a short distance from the town.
The Ocean Path
For a leisurely stroll that’s filled with natural wonders, try the Ocean Path, which meanders along the coast for two miles between Sand Beach and Otter Point. With its flat, obstacle-free terrain, this paved path is one of the most family-friendly trails on the island.
No matter which direction you decide to take (the path is accessible from terminal parking lots on both the Beach and Point sides), this walk provides a captivating yet peaceful glimpse of coastal Bar Harbor. It’s beautiful in every weather condition, too — which is good news, considering it swaps daily (if not hourly) between sunshine and atmospheric fog.
Halfway through the walk is Thunder Hole, a unique fissure in the craggy rocks where the crashing waves transform into roaring geysers up to 40 feet high. Between this awe-inspiring spectacle and the tide pools of Otter Point, you’ll also find the bumpy cove of Boulder Beach, named for its collection of bowling ball-like rocks that have been smoothed out by the tumultuous Atlantic. Built up over centuries on the east-facing shore, they glow like a field of pink gumdrops with the rising sun.
Gorham Mountain Trail
Close to the Ocean Path (just past Thunder Hole) is the entrance to Gorham Mountain Trail, a moderate hike that’s 525-foot summit offers scenic overlooks of the topography below and the adjacent peaks. As an added bonus during the summer, this jaunt is lined with vibrant Wild Maine blueberry bushes (so it’s no surprise that hikers can often be seen descending with purple-stained fingers).
Follow the route from the trailhead as it slopes gently up the side of the mountain through a spruce forest. When the trail forks, either way will get you to the top (they rejoin further ahead), but those looking for an easier path should veer left, where there are fewer natural hurdles.
Eventually, the woods will empty out into a beautiful clearing that’s often mistaken for the peak. Take some time here to soak in the views of the Otter Cliffs and Cranberry Islands before continuing to the true summit just ahead, complete with its own spectacular eagle-eye vantage of both land and sea.
Rising 1,528 feet above sea level, Cadillac Mountain is not only the tallest of Mount Desert Island’s 20 peaks; its summit is also the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. From October to March, the mountaintop is known as the first place in the United States to spot the rising sun.
There are multiple ways to reach Cadillac’s precipice and its panoramic views, and they vary in difficulty. Via the paved Cadillac Mountain Road, those with limited time or mobility can actually park at a lot near the top before walking its scenic, 0.3-mile loop. Alternatively, Cadillac’s winding road (which inclines gradually over 3.5 miles) can be easily navigated from the bottom.
For less pavement and more trail, take the out-and-back North Ridge Trail, a moderately difficult but visually magnificent open ascent. To find the trailhead, park in the ME 233 lot (located a few miles west of Bar Harbor), head down Park Loop Road until you find Kebo Brook Trail, and follow it for less than half a mile. There, you’ll find the beginning of North Ridge Trail, making way for three picturesque miles to Cadillac’s pinnacle.
A more strenuous path is the South Ridge Trail Loop. Toward the summit, the forested trail opens up to a granite face, and some boulder scrambling is required to conquer the steep slope. However, hikers are immediately rewarded with expansive views of the national park and the Atlantic, as well as the nearby Porcupine Islands perched in the foreground of Frenchman’s Bay, their hills bristling with pines.
Jordan Pond Path
Tracing a 3.3-mile circuit around Acadia’s deepest (and second largest) lake is Jordan Pond Path. Though most of the loop is easy to navigate (transitioning between patchworks of flat ground and wood-plank walkways), this hike’s moderate difficulty comes as the path crawls across some uneven granite on the pond’s northwest side.
Hugging the shoreline, the trail teems with aquatic wildlife, including frogs, beavers, birds, and more. The path also offers plenty of stopping points to savor the surrounding mountains, which frame the placid pond from nearly every angle.
Take some extra time to look across the lake from its southern edge, which on clear days features the domed peaks of South and North Bubble Mountains rising over the water and reflecting on its glassy surface. To satisfy post-hike hunger, the south side of the lake is also home to Jordan Pond House, the national park’s only full-service restaurant, which has held wild acclaim for its popovers (served with butter and Maine strawberry jam) for at least the past 125 years.
While each of the twin Bubble Mountains on Jordan Pond’s north side has a unique pathway to its respective summit, the south peak is popular due to a peculiar landmark left behind long ago by a glacial retreat: Bubble Rock itself. Permanently perched on the side of a cliff, it’s seemingly on the brink of tumbling into the wilderness below.
To see the boulder up close, park in the Bubbles parking lot before taking the Bubbles Divide Trailhead west through the forest, where it cuts through the valley separating the north and south peaks. Soon after passing the North Bubble trail on the right side, the South Bubble trail will emerge on the left. Follow this easy path until it ascends to the summit, and look for the small side trail leading to Bubble Rock, plus breathtaking views of Jordan Pond from above.
When it’s time to head back down, those with children will want to backtrack using the same easy route. Others looking for a more adventurous descent can continue down the South Bubble Trail, which requires some clambering as it weaves in switchbacks down the cliffside, eventually joining up with Jordan Pond Path.
Tradewind offers private charter flights to Bar Harbor year-round. To reserve a charter, call us at 1-800-376-7922 or click here.
Featured Photo: Christian Collins via Flickr / CC BY