Hiking in Acadia: If You Love the Precipice, Try Beech Cliff Ladder Trail

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Jun 162013
 

Summit Ladder Trail Beech Cliff Acadia

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.

Beech Cliff wall

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.

ladders Beech Cliff trail

Ladder Trail Beech Cliff

When you reach the top, you’ll first be compelled to look down! You’ll see the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Echo Lake Camp.

Appalachian Mountain Club Echo Lake

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.”

Echo Lake Beach Mount Desert Acadia

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.

Echo Lake Acadia St. Saveaur Sargent Mountain

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.

biking in Acadia

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!

Echo Lake Beach Acadia

Related Stories:

Celebrating the Pathmakers of Acadia National Park

Five Favorite Hikes in Acadia National Park

Best Hikes in Acadia: Jordan Cliffs and Penobscot South Ridge Loop

Have you ever hiked Beech Cliff Ladder Trail?  Please add your comments!  Or tell us all about another trail and why you like it.

Best Sunday Brunch in Bar Harbor? Hike To Great Head.

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Oct 072011
 

 Great Head Overlooking Sand Beach Acadia MaineFor the best Sunday brunch in Bar Harbor, Jeannie’s, 2 Cats, and Café This Way all have fans.  Whether it’s for blueberry pancakes, a trout omelet, or Eggs Benedict, these three all get their share of rave reviews. 

But on this early autumn Sunday morning, it was less about the food and more about the ambience as I decided where to have Sunday brunch in Bar Harbor.

 That didn’t necessarily mean that my food rating would be inferior.  In fact, I started with a thermos of freshly brewed Sumatran – stronger than what most restaurants serve.  Then I headed to Bar Harbor’s Eden Farmers’ Market for the selecton of a pastry. 

Eden Farmers Market Bar Harbor Maine

 As I walked into the market in the YMCA parking lot next to the Ball Field, a young lady made an unequivocal recommendation for homemade donuts, but I pressed on. 

 

There were purveyors of everything from rainbow chard to squash and carrots.   

Pumpkins Bar Harbor Farmers Market

When I found the baked goods, the seller at first distracted me with a story.  “I’m on my third marriage,” he confessed.  “I’ve finally learned how to make a relationship work.  I don’t call her my wife.  She’s my life manager.”  

 Then he recommended the blueberry scones. 

I proceeded down Route 3 and took the fork left on Schooner Head Road.  At the very end I parked and grabbed by pack full of breakfast.

Birch trees Great Head Trail Acadia National ParkThe birch trees on the trail to Great Head stood like ushers as I moved swiftly forward.  Brilliant berries of the sumac represented a change in vestments for the season. 

Sumac Great Head Trail Acadia National Park

 At the top of this little peninsula, 56 feet above sea level, I celebrated the beauty of the views overlooking Sand Beach and toward Bar Harbor. 

Then I ate, joined by other hikers.

To descend, you can walk down toward Sand Beach to complete the 1.4 mile loop for this little hike.  Or you  can process the way you entered.  Regardless, the congregation of hikers all chatted about the beauty of the morning and the good fortune we had to be on Great Head overlooking Sand Beach on this morning in September.

 

To read more about the best restaurants in Bar Harbor and throughout Mount Desert Island, visitors to Acadia National Park can find detailed reviews on OUR ACADIA.

 

 

 

Today is National Trails Day and I’m Celebrating the Pathmakers of Acadia National Park

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Jun 042011
 

National Trails Day, started in 1993, encourages us to get out and discover America’s walking and hiking trails.  It is also a great opportunity to celebrate those who have contributed to the development and awareness of these trails.  My favorites are in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine.

The island’s first trailmakers were the Wabenaki Indians who, prior to the European explorers and settlers from Massachusetts in the 1760s, forged carry trails to transport their canoes between bodies of water.  One such trail today is the Jordan Pond Carry Trail between Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake.  As with all carry trails, it is the shortest, flattest route between ponds.  We’ve found it to be a great way to end a circuit that begins at Bubble Rock parking area, ascends up to North Bubble past Bubble Rock, heads north to Conners Nubble, and runs along Eagle Lake.

My next shout-out goes to Clara Barnes Martin, who in 1867 wrote the first trail guide for what was to become Acadia National Park.  Her “little book,” she said, served the double purpose of a guidebook at the island and “at home in wintry days a souvenir of pleasant summer-time.”  How cool is it that a woman wrote this first trail guide!

By the 1890s extensive trail building was sponsored by village improvement societies, and people who financed a trail could name it after whomever they chose.  We were thinking of that when we hiked Kurt Diederich’s Climb.  Hundreds of stone steps enable a 1,223-foot gross vertical gain to the top of Dorr Mountain.  Contemporary guidemaker Tom St. Germain calls this path, constructed in 1913, “historically important.”  The view from the top of Dorr, shown here, presents the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay.

From stone steps to iron rungs and ladders, innovative trail construction continued with Waldron Bates, who chaired the Roads and Paths Committee of the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association from 1900 to 1909.  In addition to the Precipice Trail, one of my favorite places for using iron rung ladders is the Beehive Trail.  It not only takes you up to the glacial cirque called “The Bowl,” but has a wonderful view of Sand Beach. 

It is a great alternative when the Precipice is closed due to peregrine nesting.

My final acknowledgement today goes to the individuals who participated in trail building as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  In 1933 they had a camp on the west side of the island, today known as “the quietside,” and expanded the trail system there with such great trails as The Perpendicular, which also features hundreds of granite stairs!

This is my ninth summer of hiking on Mount Desert Island and every year increases my indebtedness to these trailmakers.  What do I think are the best trails in Acadia National Park?  Just click here.

Feb 122011
 

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.

Acadia Mountain

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.

Beech Mountain

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.)

Where to Eat — and Drink — after a Day of Hiking in Acadia National Park

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Aug 232010
 

We emerged from the woods after a 5-hour bike/hike, with no energy to prepare either food or ourselves for dinner.  The idea to go directly to Knox Road for BBQ and beer was perfect.  The dress code was flexible, ranging from the basic (Red Sox t-shirts) to the high-end (Patagonia t-shirts), and the menu fit our appetites (big).

Knox Road Grill serves Mainely Meats BBQ and specialty ales and sodas from The Atlantic Brewing Company, where it’s located.  The 15 or so tables are mostly outside under a canopy and on a terrace, from which you can see the huge stainless vats in the brewery next door.

Lunches and dinners, all served with coleslaw, potato salad, and delicious baked beans, feature your choice of pulled pork, ribs, hot Italian sausage, chicken, or a combination.  On the table there’s both a traditional sweet BBQ sauce and a hot one.  We indulged in a dinner of pulled pork and a combination platter.

There are no napkins here.  Just a big roll of paper towels on each table.

Beer is seriously satisfying.  Diners get to experience The Atlantic Brewing Company’s full line of ales, as well as seasonal specialties.  They run the gamut from light and fruity to dark and rich, extracting flavors from malts and hops imported from England and water straight from the well in Town Hill, Maine.  I’m not the only blogger raving about the ales of this micro-brewery.

So, join the locals and visitors relaxing from a day of hiking and biking.  You’ll feel satisfied, not only because Knox Road Grill doesn’t pinch your pocketbook, but also because, thanks to The Atlantic Brewery, the second or third beer might be even better than the first.

Knox Road Grill is located at 15 Knox Road, Bar Harbor.  They are open seven days a week from Memorial Day to Columbus Day.  The Atlantic Brewing Company gives free tours of the brewhouse daily at 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00 throughout the summer season (Memorial Day to Columbus Day). They also have free tastings of all of the beers and rootbeer and blueberry sodas in the gift shop. No reservation is necessary.

For more ideas on where to eat during a trip to Acadia National Park, visit OUR ACADIA.

Jun 052010
 

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.

Acadia Mountain

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.

Beech Mountain

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, take a look at the exciting array of restaurant possibilities on Mount Desert Island.