Difficulty: Moderate. Footing is tricky in many places because of exposed tree roots and rocks. The 1.5-mile Bernard Mountain Trail climbs gradually to the summit of Bernard Mountain. You can hike this trail out and back for a 3-mile hike, or you can use a steep, rocky Sluiceway Trail to create a 2.6-mile loop hike. You can also add 0.5 mile to your hike to visit an open viewpoint on the northeast side of the mountain, as well as the landmarks Knight Nubble and Great Notch. The steep section between Knight Nubble and Great Notch Trail may not be suitable for dogs.
How to get there: Drive onto Mount Desert Island on Route 3. Veer right at the fork after the causeway. Drive 9.9 miles on Route 102 to Southwest Harbor, then turn right onto Seal Cove Road. Drive 1.3 mile and you’ll come to a gate at the edge of the park boundary. The gate is closed during the winter, when the rest of the road is closed to vehicle traffic. Past the gate, drive another 0.7 mile, then turn right onto Western Mountain Road. Drive 0.4 mile, then turn right at the intersection. Drive 1.2 miles, then turn left. Drive about 0.2 mile to the Mill Field Parking Area.
Information: Covered with tall evergreens and moss, Bernard Mountain is a great place to embrace nature in a quiet area of Acadia National Park. The mountain rises 1,071 feet above sea level and is entirely forested, though it does feature a couple of overlooks on its northeast side.
Bernard Mountain is actually one of two peaks that make up Western Mountain. The other peak is the neighboring Mansell Mountain, which is shorter with an elevation of 949 feet above sea level. Many hikers map a route on the mountains’ intersecting trails to hit both peaks in one day.
Hiking to the top of Bernard Mountain is a bit of a workout and includes a few steep rocky sections, regardless of the trail you choose. The major intersecting trails on the mountain are Bernard Mountain Trail, Sluiceway Trail and Great Notch Trail.
From the parking area at Mill Field, you can start the hike on the 1.5-mile Bernard Mountain Trail or the 0.9-mile Sluiceway Trail. Both are marked with blue blazes.
Bernard Mountain Trail gradually climbs the mountain’s south side and features a few wooden footbridges. It intersects with the West Ledge Trail at 1 mile, then levels off quite a bit as it approaches the summit. At 1.5-mile, the trail hits the mountain’s forested summit, which is marked with a sign.
Just past the summit, you’ll be able to see the ocean through the tall, straight trunks of the trees. And if you continue north on the trail, you’ll soon come to an overlook with a partial view of the ocean. There you’ll find two wooden benches and a wooden cubby on a tree. The cubby, managed by the non-profit Friends of Acadia State Park, contains a notebook inviting visitors to jot down their stories.
From the overlook, the trail descends steeply to reach Little Notch, a dip in the terrain, about 0.2 mile from the summit. There it intersects with Sluiceway Trail, which is notably steeper and rockier than Bernard Mountain Trail. For this reason, you may consider hiking this loop counterclockwise, since it’s usually easier and safer to hike up steep sections than hike down them.
Also from Little Notch, you have the option of lengthening your hike by 0.5 mile. Continuing northeast and uphill, you’ll reach Knight Nubble, a small, forested peak, in about 0.2 mile. From there, you can descend steeply to Great Notch, the low point between Bernard and Mansell mountains. Along the way, you’ll come to a short side trail that leads to the most open viewpoint on the mountain. This trail is marked with a wooden sign that reads “overlook.”
The section of trail between the overlook and Great Notch is especially rocky and steep. In fact, it’s so steep that most dogs would have difficulty traveling down or up it.
From Great Notch you can hike up Mansell Mountain or you can return to the parking area by hiking down Great Notch Trail, then taking a side trail to Sluiceway Trail (at about 0.5 mile).
This is just one of many hiking locations within Acadia National Park. All park visitors are required to purchase a park pass upon entry May through October. Park passes — $30 for a vehicle for seven days and $55 for a year — are available online and at several locations on the island, including park visitor centers. Dogs are permitted but must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet.
For more information, call 207-288-3338 or visit nps.gov/acad.
Personal note: “I’ll bring you on a fall foliage hike,” I told my husband on the morning of Oct. 5. “The leaves are going to be gone before you know it.”
Though it was a Saturday, Derek was on the fence about whether or not he should work. He’s currently renovating a few apartment buildings. And yes, I’m using the word “few” correctly. He’s a busy man. But I wanted him to get out and enjoy the fresh air. And to be honest, it didn’t take that much to convince him. So we piled into my Subaru with our dog, Oreo, and headed to the coast.
Next thing you know it, we’re in an evergreen forest. Green trees. Green moss. Green, green, green.
“This is quite the fall foliage hike,” he teased me as I led the way up Bernard Mountain.
“How was I supposed to know it would be all evergreens?” I cried.
Our disappointment didn’t last long, if it ever truly existed at all. The forest, coated in thick beds of moss, was simply too beautiful and peaceful to be grouchy about.
During our hike, we spotted a few interesting mushrooms and curious squirrels (much to Oreo’s delight). We also came across a big pile of wood fresh shavings, evidence of an especially zealous woodpecker. And at the overlook on the northeast side of the mountain, we did get a glimpse of fall foliage — from afar.
To be fair, there were a few colorful maple trees scattered throughout the hike, but they were few and far between. For the most part, we walked in a world of green.
For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s adventures, visit bangordailynews.com/act-out. Follow Aislinn Sarnacki on Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.