Leaning against an impressive snowbank, I fitted my boots into snowshoes and adjusted the straps of my backpack. I checked the zippers on my gaiters, then moved my extra camera battery to an interior coat pocket so it’d stay warm and functional in the 20-degree weather.
All of those little adjustments prepared me for a comfortable snowshoeing experience. I wasn’t in a rush. I had plenty of time to complete the 2-mile trek to Eagles Crag and back.
Located on the southern slope of Cadillac Mountain, Eagles Crag is a rocky overlook that provides an open view of the southeast corner of Mount Desert Island. From the shelf-like outlook, hikers can identify nearby Otter Cove, Gorham Mountain, The Beehive and, of course, the sparkling ocean beyond.
Clockwise from left: Sunlight sneaks through a dense evergreen canopy on Jan. 31, on the south side of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park;Ice coats the overlook at Eagles Crag; Closeup of dense evergreen. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki
The hike begins on Route 3 in the town of Mount Desert, across from Blackwoods Campground. There, tucked back into the forest, is a cedar post sign marking Cadillac Mountain’s South Ridge Trail. Up a few rock steps and around a corner is a kiosk displaying a trail map and visitor guidelines.
Due to a recent blizzard, the snow was piled high alongside the road, blocking my view of the subtle trailhead. But a park ranger truck and one other vehicle, both parked parallel up against the snowbank, reassured me that I was in the right spot.
Wearing snowshoes, I easily scaled the bank. Whereas, if I’d only been wearing boots, I likely would have sunk up to my hips in snow. For this reason, snowshoes — like ice cleats — make me feel a bit like a superhero. I put them on and, all of a sudden, my ability to travel through a wintery landscape increases tenfold.
As I trudged heroically up the trail, I searched the evergreen forest for features to photograph. A cluster of cream-colored tree mushrooms caught my eye, as did a dead tree draped with a trailing lichen known as old man’s beard.
White-tailed deer tracks were freshly stamped into the snow, so deep and crisp that I could clearly make out the imprint of their dew claws.
Also in the shade of the evergreen forest, I found some of the largest red-belted polypore mushrooms I’ve ever seen. With an orange-to-crimson belt around its outer edge, the saucer-shaped mushroom grows out of dead or dying trees. Throughout Maine, it’s extremely common, but I almost always stop to photograph it. With its vibrant coloring and tendency to grow in rows, it’s an especially photogenic fungus.
Approximately 1 mile into the hike, I reached a trail intersection where I turned right onto the 0.3-mile Eagles Crag Loop. The short trail forms a U-shape, intersecting with the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail in two places that are 0.2 miles apart. The overlook is at the bend in the U.
For most of the hike, the snow on the trail had been packed down by a few snowshoers and at least one cross-country skier. But past the overlook, continuing on the loop trail, I found only one set of snowshoe tracks, accompanied by a dog. This told me that since the blizzard two days prior, only one person had hiked that portion of the trail, and they’d done so in the opposite direction, with hiking poles and an off-leash dog. It was fun to deduce all of that from tracks in the snow.
Just a friendly reminder: Dogs must be kept on leash in Acadia. Furthermore, the rules state that leashes shouldn’t exceed 6 feet in length. And a few places in the park are off limits to dogs.
Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail is a wonderful hike for dogs because it’s gradual. Unfortunately, my dog Juno broke a nail earlier in the week, so she couldn’t join me.
After visiting Eagle Crag, I had plenty of time left in the day, so I decided to continue up the southern slope of Cadillac on the South Ridge Trail. It was another 2.4 miles to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, which is the tallest peak in the park at 1,528 feet above sea level. I didn’t have the time to hike that far. But if I had, it would have been a 7-mile hike.
Instead, I took my time strolling through stands of jack and pitch pines, listening to chickadees and keeping an eye on the sinking sun. In a little under a mile, the trail started following a more distinct ridgeline, where wind had cleared the granite of snow. There I took off my snowshoes to walk the rocky ridge, careful not to step on any patches of ice. I wish I’d thought to pack ice cleats.
To my right rose Gorham and Champlain mountains, while to my left were the dark humps of Pemetic and The Triad, the slopes facing me cast in shadow. The long, snowy South Ridge of Cadillac stretched ahead. And behind, the sun glared off an ocean dotted with islands.
Upon reaching the point where the trail dips down to a pond called The Featherbed, I turned around. It was time to head back to the trailhead.
During the entire snowshoe, I saw only two other people, both women hiking solo. Well, one of the women was actually running (while wearing small, flexible snowshoes designed for the activity).
Let me tell you, when you’re snowshoeing up a mountain and someone runs past you, it really puts your idea of fitness in perspective. She was on a whole other level. I cheered her on, then got back to trudging (still heroically) and photographing mushrooms.
I descended the trail through a forest filled with lengthening shadows and sparkling snow. A peaceful quiet wrapped around me. My steps slowed and I dragged out the last leg of the hike. It sure does feel good to not be in a rush.