Imagine: 24 mountains on an island the size of Martha’s Vineyard. That’s Mount Desert Island in Maine, and it should be your destination if you want to hike where the mountains meet the sea.
I’m now on my seventh summer of hiking Acadia National Park’s trails, marveling at each experience and recording it in my copy of A Walk in the Park by Tom St. Germain. This small volume has been my indispensable guide and should be yours.
When I started hiking in Acadia, I’d always ask locals and people I’d meet on the trails, “What’s your favorite hike?” Now that I’ve covered 32 of the 59 Tom St. Germain lists, I’ll share my favorites.
Jordan Cliffs & Bluffs to Penobscot Mountain
This 4.3 mile loop, sections of which were constructed before 1900, makes me feel like a kid. Stone steps, iron rungs and railings, ladders, and bridges over ravines combine with great views of Jordan Pond on the ascent. That alone would make this a spectacular hike, but the 360-degree views atop Penobscot deliver sheer bliss.
Giant Slide Trail & Grandgent to Sargent Mountain
Also in the Jordan Pond area, I like the Giant Slide Trail along Sargent Brook and the steep Grandgent climb. You get two peaks for the price of one: first, spectacular views from Gilmore Peak and then from Sargent Mountain. I make the 5.4 mile loop by descending on the North Ridge Trail, which Tom St. Germain recommends for its excellent views of Somes Sound.
The Precipice to Champlain Mountain
This short, but exhilarating hike deserves its notoriety. It’s a 1,160 vertical gain or loss, depending on how you look at it, but I don’t recommend you look down. After all, this trail takes you up the sheer east face of Champlain Mountain. Rungs and ladders help, but some ledges have no protection. At the top the views of the Atlantic and Frenchman Bay are equally breaktaking.
I’ve done this hike again and again, not only because it is my favorite way to introduce new people to Acadia hiking, but I just love it. Both on the trail and at the peaks (two of them), there are superior vistas. In fact, the steep descent down the eastern side of Acadia Mountain offers some of our most-photographed views of Somes Sound.
Atop this 849’ mountain is a fire tower that boosts your viewing pleasure. And at its base is wonderful Long Pond that affords the opportunity to combine this hike with a little kayaking. My preferred route for this hike is to go up the West Ridge and descend on Valley Trail, which is thickly wooded and covered in moss and lichen. Another option is to descend to Echo Lake Beach, where you can leave your bikes for the trip back to Long Pond, making this a hiking/biking/kayaking triathalon.
Next to water and great hiking boots, the necessity I also recommend for hiking in Acadia is the trail map of Mount Desert Island published by Map Adventures. It clearly shows the 110 miles of hiking trails, as well as 57 miles of carriage roads, signpost numbers included. Believe me, though Acadia’s trails are well marked, you can take wrong routes and end up well out of your way, exhausted. Last weekend I was stopped twice by people with less detailed maps who were quite confused.
The five hikes I’ve recommended here are all moderate to challenging. You’ll definitely get some exercise as well as spectaculars views of Acadia National Park’s mountains, lakes, islands, bays, and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean. The good news is that you’ll be guilt-free when you indulge later in lobster and blueberry pie! So, after you’ve planned your hike, find the best restaurants and lobster pounds on Mount Desert Island.
(First published June 2010.)