Hemmed with golden ferns and fiery foliage, the wooden boardwalk of the historic Jesup Path stretched before us. Maple, birch and aspen trees fanned out overhead, their leaves in the process of changing from green to crimson, peach and countless shades of orange and yellow.
Fall had arrived in Acadia National Park.
To enjoy the magnificent but short-lived display of colors, my husband and I decided to visit Sieur de Monts, a place that’s known as the birthplace of the park. Located at the foot of Dorr Mountain, the area includes Sieur de Monts Spring, a nature center, the Wild Gardens of Acadia and the historic Abbe Museum. It’s also a starting point for some of the park’s oldest trails and memorial paths, which feature remarkable stonework.
Just a short drive from downtown Bar Harbor, Sieur de Monts is located at one of the park’s entrances. It’s a popular spot, and at the height of fall foliage season, I knew it would be crowded. So we arrived in the afternoon, well after the morning rush of visitors.
Sometimes that trick works, sometimes it doesn’t. In this case, we found a free parking spot, so I deemed it a success.
The Jesup Path travels along the edge of the Great Meadow, which is a 116-acre wetland that surrounds a section of Cromwell Brook. The western part of the wetland is dominated by red maple trees, which are among the most colorful trees in the fall. In addition, stands of white birch trees offer yellow foliage, while the meadow’s tall grasses, sedges and ferns turn lovely shades of burnt orange and gold.
The trail, which is wheelchair accessible, spans from the northern edge of the Great Meadow to the shore of The Tarn, a scenic pond at the foot of Dorr Mountain. A big portion of it is an elevated boardwalk, which allows the water of the Great Meadow wetland to flow freely beneath — while keeping hikers dry.
The Jesup Path intersects with the Hemlock Path, forming a figure-eight that’s about 1.5 miles long and fairly smooth and level.
During our walk, we stopped to chat with a group of women. I think our dog, Juno, caught their attention. One of them noticed my camera and suggested I’d find some great photo opportunities on the nearby Homans Path. Sometimes suggestions made by others lead to the best adventures, so I referenced my trail map (made by the Maine-based business Map Adventures) and altered our route to follow the Hemlock Path to Homans Path.
Climbing the steep northeastern slope of Dorr Mountain, Homans Path is built out of hundreds of granite blocks, which form whimsical staircases, pathways and tunnels. Just 0.3 mile long, the steep path travels part way up the mountain to meet with the Emery Path, which we followed up the mountain even farther.
Along the way — on both Homans Path and Emery Path — we enjoyed open views that included The Great Meadow, with Cromwell Brook snaking through the center. Beyond the meadow, the Porcupine Islands dotted the ocean. And to the southeast, Huguenot Head and Champlain Mountain blocked the water from view.
As we hiked, I told my husband, Derek, that we were hiking some of the oldest trails in Acadia. (I’d just read about it not too long ago while conducting some research on the park.) George Dorr, one of Acadia’s founders and the park’s first superintendent, oversaw the construction of six trails leading from Sieur de Monts Spring to the summit of Dorr Mountain from 1913 to 1916. Homans, Emery and Jesup are among the six.
All six of the trails are known as memorial paths because they’re named in memory of a person. Dorr, who credited Andrew Liscomb for the layout and construction of the trails at Sieur de Monts, used the concept of memorial paths as a way to fund trail construction. Individuals who financed a trail could name it after a person of their choice.
“So all these trails are named after rich people — or someone the rich people cared a great deal about,” I explained to Derek as we huffed and puffed up a rock staircase.
The Jesup Path, for instance, was named after Morris and Maria Jesup, philanthropists who backed projects all over Mount Desert Island. Morris was one of the founders of the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association. After his death, Maria provided money to build the Jesup Memorial Library, which was dedicated in 1911, in her husband’s memory.
Homans Path was named after Eliza Lothrop Homans for her major donations of land to Acadia, including the Beehive and Bowl area, while Lela Emery provided the funds to build the Emery Path, which was completed in 1916 as a memorial to her husband John Josiah Emery.
From the Emery Path, we could have taken the Schiff Path up to the summit of Dorr Mountain, but we didn’t feel the need. We’d already enjoyed some great views and it was nearing time for dinner. Plus, we would have had to backtrack 0.5 mile because dogs aren’t permitted on the Ladder Trail. (Dogs can’t climb ladders, after all.)
I think this little adventure drives home the importance of carrying a detailed trail map in Acadia National Park, as well doing a little research ahead of time. There are a handful of trails that are off limits to dogs, and for good reason. Plus, a map makes it easy to change your route for whatever reason.
So we opted to descend the mountain on Kurt Diederich’s Climb, another historic memorial path. The steep, 0.4-mile trail led down to The Tarn, where we jumped back onto the Jesup Path, coming full circle. The meandering hike was about 2.5 miles long and offered us plenty of opportunities to admire the vibrant foliage and enchanting stonework of Acadia National Park.