Hiking Acadia National Park

July 2020

Acadia National Park has so much to offer everyone, no matter your fitness or skill level. While I made a rough draft outlining what I expected to find, having visited I can now offer a new perspective on how to navigate the park. Note this will not be a comprehensive list of every trail in the park as there are tons of hiking trails but these are the ones we researched and completed.

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The park is very well designed and maintained. Park Loop Road is a 27 mile road that takes you past many of the must see stops. Depending on what you are looking for, driving Park Loop Road can be a bunch of stops for scenic views, relaxing on beaches, hitting all the trail heads you pass, or a combination. There is a portion that is one way with two lanes and allows for parking the right lane so the park can absorb quite a number of people. 

There are tons of hiking trails of varying difficulty in Acadia National Park which means there is a trail for everyone. One thing to consider is anything above easy is guaranteed to have elevation changes and rocks to navigate as opposed to a well groomed trail.

Easy Trails – good for families with small kids or non-strenuous

  • Shore Trail – this is located in downtown Bar Harbor starting on the east side of town and wrapping around the harbor. It leads to the Bar Island Trail which is a sand bar that only reveals itself during low tide and allows you to walk across to Bar Island. But do not get stuck there if the tide comes back – check this website for tide times.
  • Ocean Path – this is the portion of Park Loop Road that hugs the shore line. You can opt to drive from point to point or walk it as it is mostly flat. The entire path officially is 5.8 miles and ends with a summit of Gorham Mountain but if you climbed enough, the route with the most popular stops are within 2 miles. There are multiple overlooks to stop off at and enjoy the view so make sure to leave time to explore.  
    • Sand Beach – relaxing beach with sweeping ocean views 
    • Thunder Hole – named for the sound of the crashing waves into a cove but in order to get the full effect, you need to time your visit properly. The thunder sound is at its peak 2 hours before high tide – check this website for the tides when you visit. Spoiler that we did not visit at the optimal time and it was still really cool.
    • Otter Cliff – another great place for vista views but more importantly, a less crowded place to catch sunrise 
  • Carriage Roads – 45 miles of carriage roads in Acadia in which cars are not permitted (here is a full map). You can take a relaxing stroll or it is very popular to rent a bike. There are many tails connected to the Carriage Roads as well.
  • Jordan Pond Path – is located right by Jordan Pond Restaurant and is a gorgeous lake. The complete loop around is 3.3 miles but you can easily do a portion of it without committing to the entire loop.
  • The Bubbles Divide Trail – two hikes in one! It is 3 miles for two hikes and while it is classified as moderate, I think this is a great option for those that want to try something a bit more adventurous than a flat path but are not ready for climbing up rocks. We saw young children, a pregnant women, and even dogs completing these trails. Both the South and North loops offer great views. The South is an easier, less rocky climb than the North side but the North is a really fun and easy rock climb.

Moderate Trails – expect elevation gains and rock climbing

  • Almost everything else around the park is moderate due to elevation gains and navigating steep rocks
  • Parkman Mountain and Bald Peak – another two for one hike offering two summits in one. These are accessible from the Carriage Road and clock in at 2.7 miles but there is very little flat space in that distance. Recommend climbing up the Bald Peak Trail and down Parkman Trail.
  • Cadillac Mountain (North Ridge Trail) – The trail up to the mountain is 4 miles on the Cadillac North Ridge Trail but there is also a driving route to the top of the mountain. 

Difficult Trails – expect vertical elevation and reliance on rungs and ladders to climb. Here is a video on the National Park website highlighting the intensity.

  • Precipice Trail – Access this from Park Loop Road, 3.2 miles round trip
    • The elevation climb here is intense – 1000 feet in 1 mile but this trail is more importantly challenging because portions with ladders and iron rungs over sheer cliffs. You have to be confident in your abilities, not terrified of heights, and do not go if it recently rained as it makes the rocks you need for traction slippery. That being said, it is a very popular and rewarding trail for adventurous hikers.
    • You probably need somewhere between 2 to 3 hours for this trail. The trail head starts at the parking lot and will summit at Champlain Mountain and be rewarded with amazing views. Do not return the trail you came up (very dangerous) and instead take Champlain North Ridge and Orange and Black trail which returns you to the parking lot.
  • Beehive Trail – Access this from Park Loop Road, 3.2 miles round trip
    • Similar to the Precipice Trail, Beehive is rated difficult due to the steep elevation gains in a short distance and also has portions with ladders and iron rungs over sheer cliffs. But despite the difficulty, it is another popular trail that is highly recommended
    • This trail should take 2 to 3 hours to complete. The trail head starts at the parking lot and lead you through many photo worth views of Frenchman Bay and the coast. Again, do not take the trail you came up down (very dangerous) and instead that the Bowl Trail to return to the parking lot. For those scared of heights but want the view, you can take the Bowl Trail up to the top as well. 

Regardless of which trails you complete, make sure to have really good hiking shoes for the rocks – ones with great traction, are flexible, and have a toe cap as you will smack your toes on rocks at least once. We wore our TerraFlex Trail Shoes by Xero Shoes and they were perfect. These shoes have never let us down on even the most challenging trails. Out of the box comfort, hours of wear with no issues, and trust in their protection on these rocky climbs.

Trails we completed

Beehive Trail

Since the Precipice Trail was closed (always check trail status), we decided to complete The Beehive Trail. I read how crowded this trail can become due to the unique features and difficulty so we arrived to the trail head at 7AM. It was a misty, foggy morning so I was nervous as I read that you should not do this trail in the rain as slippery rocks, rungs, and ladders make it easier to lose your grip, slip, fall, etc – I was nervous about this trail as it was. The Bowl Trail can be completed instead of the vertical climb and wraps behind The Beehive to get you to summit as well so that was my back up in case I backed out.

The trail starts with a warm welcome warning of the serious difficult of trail.

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A great way to start off… boy was I nervous. The trail starts immediately with a rocky path, navigating which ones are supportive and which ones are not like a board game. And only a few minutes later, we met the first climb. No rungs, just grabbing a part of the rock that you could grip. Then the rungs and ladders came. Thank god it was foggy. While we missed out of the incredible views this trail is said to offer, it eliminated the dimension of height and distance so I could just focus on where to put my hands and feet as my next move (channeling my inner Alex Holland). I only took one picture during the entire climb because there was just no way I could even think about pulling my phone out during this.

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Here is a video on the National Park website that shows a portion of the trail. I think I would have lost my cool if I could actually see what was going on around me because this was challenging. After several minutes of non-stop climbing, we reached a platform – I did it. And we stared into the fog, wondering what the view from the summit would look like without the dense fog.

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And we saw no one on this trail. We had the entire thing to ourselves. I could not imagine being rushed through this since it took such mental focus to plan each move up the side of the mountain. There was a family just past the summit we saw that quickly got onto The Bowl Trail descending back down the mountain and that was it. There was a sign at the beginning of the trail and at multiple points along the way stating that portions of The Beehive Trail were closed for maintenance. I knew this could not be because I just checked the park website for closures – and if you read the fine print on the sign, it was only closed Monday through Thursday and it was Friday – perhaps this also turned people away?

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We started the descent down The Bowl Trail making a stop at The Bowl Lake. The fog added such a neat element to the scenery.

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The rest of The Bowl Trail was actually very enjoyable. If you want to get the views at the top of Beehive without the terrifying climb, it was very manageable to hike the well groomed Bowl Trail to the summit.

While I read it can take 2 to 3 hours to complete The Beehive Trail, we were back at the car in under 2 hours. This could be because no one else was on the trail, because I set an insane pace to get the climbing over with, or because there were no vistas to stop and stare at. I am terrified of this type of climb and I am still amazed that I was able to complete it. I truly think the fog was a big factor in curving my peripheral vision and taking that element out of the picture. Now that I have done it, I have the confidence that I could do it again! This is a difficult climb and there have been accidents and deaths associated so please take precautions when completing this trail.

The Bubbles Divide Trail

After lunch at Jordan Pond Restaurant with a great view of The Bubbles, we continued on Park Loop Road to the parking lot to climb them.

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It took several minutes of looping around the parking lot until a spot opened up. These are popular trails as they are more friendly and the parking lot was quite small. After a few minutes, we were parked and set on the trail.

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It is only 3 miles to complete both the North and South Bubble so we decided to go North first. After completing The Beehive, these rocks were a piece of cake to climb over and was actually fun to navigate. It was really much easier and we even encountered dogs on this trail.

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After a short climb, we reached to summit which despite all the cars in the lot, was empty and all to ourselves. The view from up here was wonderful! We could not believe how localized the fog was to The Beehive and Ocean Path area and just a few short minutes away was this beautiful view.

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After the North side, we pivoted to the South side. The South side is a much easier hike with less rocks and more trail. When you reach the summit, you have the choice to continue to “The Bubble Rock” that is teetering on the side of the mountain.

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The view is not a great on the South side as on the North side but both offer something and are easy to complete.

On our way down The Bubbles to the parking lot, we noticed another 0.6 miles would take us to Eagle Lake so we decided to continue the walk. This was a simple trail that eventually lead to Eagle Lake. Once again, we encountered no people and had this tranquil lake all to ourselves.

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Adding Eagle Lake was a great addition to The Bubbles and a fun change of pace and scenery. We completed both Bubble summits and the trail to Eagle Lake in under 2 hours.

Parkman Mountain and Bald Peak

Our second morning was rainy with the tropical storm in effect. We decided that a little rain would be tolerable and we would walk the Carriage Roads and see what we found. Shortly into our stroll, we found the trailhead for Parkman Mountain and figured we would see where it took us and if it was too much in this weather we would turn back.

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The trail starts mostly in the woods so the trees covered us from the rain. Then the climbing started. I did not remember reading about this trail so I knew it could not have been difficult like The Beehive but I was still surprised to see a rung attached to a rock so I began to get nervous as to what we were signing up for. As we continued to climb, the rocks became more wet and the wind became more fierce.

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We continued to reach false peak after false peak and I felt like it was enough but Kevin wanted to reach the top. When we finally reached summit, the rain was painful on our skin from the wind whipping it around, causing no view in sight due to the dense fog still with us through the storm. I had so much water in my ear from the sideways wind and rain. Summit a mountain in a tropical storm? Check that one off the list.

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Since Bald Peak was just next door, we followed the path on. It became difficult to find the blue paint indicating the trail markers so thank god they also had these little rock houses to continue to pave the way.

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After Bald Peak summit, we started the journey back down and I could tell it was a steeper journey that Parkman trail on the way up. The rocks were so wet it was safer to just slide down portions on my butt – I was worried about ripping my leggings!

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There was a moment while descending – again, having seen no people on the trail because who climbs a mountain in a tropical storm – we heard a hearty “HELLO!”. Instantly terrified! It was a cheerful man that was doing a trail run over this entire rocky terrain, asking to pass us, and wished us a good day. Trail running. Sliding down the mountain did not seem so bad.

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Reaching the bottom felt like such victory – we completed the circuit in under 2 hours. We were beyond drenched, several pounds heavier due to the water weight of the clothes and shoes. This is probably a really fun trail in better weather conditions because the rock climbing is not too difficult but challenging enough, though I know Kevin enjoyed it thoroughly. The rain and wet rocks added an element that caused a lot of mental draining to focus on not falling.  I think next time, I would do this in reverse. Bald Peak was much steeper and therefore easier to climb up than struggle down, especially when the rocks are wet.

For our three days, those were the trails we completed on the trip but there are so many more to explore on a return trip, included completing these over again to see a promised views!

To read about the easy trails, visit the full post here!

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