Guide to Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island

 

 

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In The Park (continued)

Echo Lake Beach and the Beech Cliffs Ladder Trail

Echo Lake in mid-August:
Echo Lake in mid-August

 

At the edge of the Beech Cliffs:
Beech Cliffs above Echo Lake

The Canada Cliffs, looking over the northern end of Echo Lake with Somes Sound in the far background.
Beech Cliffs above Echo Lake

Atop the Beech Cliffs in 2013,
with Echo Lake Beach below.
Beech Cliffs above Echo Lake in 2013

On the Ladder Trail in 2013
On the Ladder Trail in 2013

A glacier-formed lake beside steep cliffs with a sandy beach at the southern end, Echo Lake Beach is one of the only formal beaches on the island where you can swim without freezing your buns off. It's dramatically pretty, very family-oriented, with a lifeguard, restrooms, changing rooms, and no commercial establishments at all. Because the beach area is relatively small, it can get a bit crowded on hot summer days. Sunbathers looking for a serene and quiet spot should know that many children will be frolicking on the sand.

The first 20 yards or so of the Echo Lake swimming area are shallow, perfect for young children. Since there are no facilities for refreshments available at the lake, be sure to bring your own. You can drive a half mile south on Route 102 past the lake's entrance towards Southwest Harbor to the supermarket on the left, and pick up snacks and drinks there.

Here's a little secret that you may have fun exploring, provided you're a good swimmer and have your own snorkeling equipment. Swim out past the lifeguard-protected area, about 100 yards from the shore. The depth remains about five to six feet for most of this area. You'll notice many large boulders at the base of the cliffs at this point, known as "breakdown". The breakdown continues under the surface, and with your skorkling gear in place, you can swim to where there's a sudden, dramatic, underwater cliff where the depth of the lake drops to 66 feet! It's very intense.

If you need a respite from the crowded beach, or simply want to embark on one of the most rewarding trails on the island, the Beech Cliffs Trail, adjacent to the lake, awaits you. This trail is a short, steep hike that begins at the northern end of the Echo Lake parking lot and rapidly heads up to the top of the cliffs that tower over the beach. The climb includes four vertical ladders and is well worth the effort. Bring binoculars, a camera and water. This is a very rocky and relatively difficult climb, so don't try jaunting up there in your flip-flops. Acrophobes, young children and dogs should not go on this trail. Once at the top, you may choose to continue on the northbound loop to the Canada Cliffs, a 5-minute jaunt north to a better and higher view of the surrounding area. Round trip from the parking lot for the entire hike will take about an hour or so.

On the Canada Cliffs in 2015,
with Echo Lake Beach far below
On the Canada Cliffs in 2015

Carriage Roads

Leisurely Hike on a
Carriage Road in 2015
Leisurely Hike on a Carriage Road in 2015

There are about 55 miles of well-maintained, bucolic, endlessly beautiful carriage roads for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling in the park. No motor vehicles are allowed on these roads. If bringing your own bicycle is not feasible, don't worry. Excellent bikes are available for rent in Bar Harbor for a half or full day or more. You may also rent a bike rack to avoid the arduous (and sometimes dangerous) task of pedaling from town into the park.

These carriage roads offer some of the best examples you'll find of the care and forethought that went into the design and construction of Acadia National Park's public access byways.

Some of the carriage roads trails have moderate-to-steep grades, others are easier. You'll definitely want to consult a trailmap.

Hiking Trails

Dad and the Girls
Climbing The Beehive, 1996:
Dad & Girls Climbing Beehive

Ms. B. At the Base
of the Beehive, 2013
Ms. B. at the base of the BeeHive=

Ascending the Beehive, 2015
Ascending the BeeHive=

 

Acadia offers far too many wonderful hiking trails to list here. Over the years, we've hiked almost every trail on the island; it's our favorite activity there and a primary reason for loving the park so much. Pick up a trail guide in town or at the Park Entrance Visitor Center, and plan a hike according to your skill level. There are well-marked trails that range from level, shoreline walks to outrageous near-vertical climbs, and everything in between. Here's a sampling of our favorites:

  • the Precipice for the most challenging hike and climb (see below)
  • the Beehive to the Bowl for a shorter version of a precipice-like vertical climb (see below)
  • the Perpendicular/Razorback loop for experienced, intrepid hikers
  • Beech Cliffs trail (discussed above) for the most rewarding hike relative to its length
  • Sargent Mountain via the Asticou Trail (including Sargent Mountain Pond) for a long but moderate hike to a beautiful mountain-top pond
  • Conner's Nubble for a relatively short and easy but rewarding interior hike

Plan ahead. Except for trails designated as "easy," most require adequate preparation on your part. Always bring detailed maps, plenty to drink, good hiking shoes or boots, your camera, and a watch. Don't start out on hiking rails in the late afternoon; once the sun begins to set it will get very dark and easy to lose sight of trail markers. Many people have inquired about cellphone reception on the trails, and we recommend that you don't depend on it unless your phone uses satellite connectivity. If you're bringing your dog, stay off the trails with vertical climbs unless you can carry the dog in your pack. Overnight camping in the park is prohibited except in designated campgrounds.

After spending much money over the years on various hiking guides, I can heartily recommend one: A Walk In the Park, by Tom St. Germain. Last time I looked, it was in its tenth edition. You may not find it on amazon.com or at Barnes & Noble, but it should be available in bookstores or outdoor suppliers on the island. Tom's book comes with maps, and in our opinion is the most succinct, informed, and well-written hiking guide we've found. Remember to bring whatever guidebook you choose when hiking! It won't do you any good on the dashboard of your car.

The Precipice and The Beehive

Alex scaling the cliff's face
at the timber line:
Alex scaling the cliff

The ledge at the 800-foot mark:
Ledge at 800 feet

 

The final ascent at 900 feet:
Final ascent at 900 feet

 

At the summit of Mt. Champlain:
Summit of Mt. Champlain

At one spot on the Loop road, you'll see a lot of cars parked and people gawking through binoculars at what look like insects on the towering cliffs above. Actually, they're climbers on a 1,020 foot vertical climb to the top of Mount Champlain, on the appropriately-named Precipice Trail. At the base of this trail is a warning sign that should be read carefully and taken quite seriously. Although not for acrophobes or small children, it's not as difficult as it seems, and if you're bold enough to try it, make sure you're wearing good hiking shoes, have plenty of water, and go early in the day to avoid crowds and the potentially hot midday sun on your back as you climb. You won't need technical equipment (pitons, ropes, etc.), as the designers of the trail installed permanent hand-holds, ladders, and rails at those points that need them. Before starting out, consult trail maps and plan on returning by hiking around the back of the mountain instead of attempting to climb back down the way you came up; climbing down is not recommended. The Precipice Trail is frequently closed July through mid-August because of a family of endangered peregrine falcons that nests mid-trail every year. If you intend to bring children, they must be tall enough to reach six feet with their hands extended above their heads. There are two false summits before the real thing, but once you see that marker at the top you'll know you're there. The views from this summit are among the best on the island.

A mile or so down the Loop Road, you will come to the trail that climbs up the rocky face of the The Beehive, a mountain just south of The Precipice, visible from the shores of Sand Beach. While only about half as high as The Precipice, we feel that the Beehive climb is in some ways more intense, as it tends to be more exposed and more consistently vertical. All of the caveats we mentioned above for the Precipice Trail apply to the Beehive Trail as well.

Although summit of The Beehive is not at all as dramatic as that of The Precipice (it's not even marked), this limitation is compensated by the continuation of the trail to The Bowl (see below) which sits only a ten-minute hike behind the Beehive.

The Beehive, poking up behind Sand Beach:
Summit of Mt. Champlain

 

Ponds and Lakes

 

At the shore of The Bowl, 1998
The Shore of The Bowl

There are several ponds and lakes scattered throughout the island. Most hiking trails will come upon one or another at some point. There may be signs that identify them as drinking water sources (like Long Pond, Jordan Pond, and the two Hadlock Ponds) or ecologically fragile waters, but this is not always the case, so you need to consult reputable guidemaps or other resources to know where you are and what restrictions there are on its use. For those ponds or lakes that are not restricted, you can toss your clothes and jump in. Obviously, you'll need to be cautious about rocks and other hazards below the surface that may not be visible.

The Bowl, a large circular pond behind The Beehive, and Sargent Mountain Pond (also known as The Lake of the Clouds) are two of our favorites. Both require a substantial hike to reach, but are wonderful spots for swimming or just cooling off your feet. The Bowl has a few near-perfect rock ledges that make access to the water easy. If you want to bring your dog to The Bowl, you'll have to take the Bowl Loop Trail, since The Beehive climb is impossible with a dog.

By the way, there are two legends about Sargent Mountain Pond: it's bottomless, and the home of a serpent. Only one of these legends has been disproved.

Cooling off in Eagle Lake, 2015
Cooling off in Eagle Lake, 2015