Let me tell you about a favorite hike in Acadia National Park that has historic origins and rewarding views. It’s only a half-mile up, but it’s treacherously–and thrillingly–steep. (So, I’ll include a tip so that you don’t have to go down the way you came up!)
Let’s go to the western part of Mount Desert Island, known for good reason as the Quietside, to the shores of Echo Lake. From its western shore rise high cliffs, and this is where we’ll hike. It’s called Beech Cliff Ladder Trail.
Beech Cliff Ladder Trail was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps as part of FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s. Single men, 18 to 25, were eligible to enroll if they agreed to send $25 of their monthly $30 wage check back to their families.
You can think about this as you make your way to the back of the Echo Lake parking lot to find the trail head. As you start ascending on switchbacks, you’ll have the help of stone steps, gifts of the CCC, and iron ladders.
The trail cuts to the left of the perpendicular wall that rises over Echo Lake.
Your footing will also be challenged by roots. But cable and cedar railings will help you on this steep climb, as will more stone steps – 303 of them, according to a 1986 inventory reported in the Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation’s Pathmakers.
At the upper end of the trail you’ll encounter a series of ladders to ascend the cliff face.
When you reach the top, you’ll first be compelled to look down! You’ll see the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Echo Lake Camp.
The view of Echo Lake’s beach from above demonstrates one of the reasons why it has been chosen by the editors of Down East magazine as one of the 12 Best Lakes for Swimming in Maine — “a wide swath of sand joins shallow clear water that extends far out.”
Enjoy the views from the open summit. To the south, you can clearly see Greening Island Great Cranberry Island beyond.
Be sure to explore the small loop to the north and appreciate the views of Echo Lake, with Acadia Mountain rising from its eastern shore, and Somes Sound and Sargent Mountain in the distance.
So, now what? Veteran MDI hiker Tom St. Germain says backing your way down any ladder or cliff trail is “harrowing” so I recommend planning ahead and creating your own “biathlon” loop. This means starting your day by leaving your bikes locked near the pumping station at the southern tip of Great Long Pond.
Then, after you summit Beech Cliff Ladder Trail and explore the top, hike a short distance west. You’ll meet folks taking the comfortable walk– first described in a guidebook in 1871– in the opposite direction up to Beech Cliff from the parking area at the southern end of Beech Hill Road. Continue south to West Ridge Trail to emerge from the woods at the southern end of Long Pond, where your bikes await. Then bike Long Pond Road and Lurvey Spring Road back to the parking lot of Echo Lake.
Relax. Gaze ahead for two miles as Echo Lake shimmers like an aquatic valley between Beech Mountain rising above it to the west and Acadia and St. Sauveur Mountains to the east.
Or…jump in for a swim…and make this day a triathlon of fun!
Have you ever hiked Beech Cliff Ladder Trail? Please add your comments! Or tell us all about another trail and why you like it.