This story was originally published in June 2019.
Acadia National Park is one of the most famous destinations in Maine, and for good reason. It’s a place filled with natural beauty. It boasts mountains of pink granite, pristine ponds, bubbling brooks, dramatic sea cliffs and one of the state’s sandiest beaches. Acadia is the outdoor enthusiast’s dream, no matter their abilities or skill level.
The park features more than 120 miles of hiking trails and over 45 miles of smooth, gravel, vehicle-free carriage roads. This trail system is a work of art, with giant stone bridges, rock staircases, wooden footbridges and historic cairns. And the scenery can’t be beat.
It’s no surprise that Acadia can get a bit crowded. Annually, the park sees more than 3 million visitors, with the majority of people visiting in the summer and fall. At the height of tourist season, parking at trailheads and historic sites within the park can be frustrating, if not impossible. But don’t let that discourage you.
Here are some great hikes in Acadia, from easy to most challenging, followed by tips on how to have a successful hiking experience while in the park.
Ship Harbor Nature Trail
An easy, family-friendly hike, the 1.3-mile trail leads to the rocky coastline and through a whimsical spruce forest-fir forest. Along the way, beautifully illustrated nature displays help walkers interpret their surroundings.
The trail is shaped like a figure eight. The first loop was designed to be wheelchair accessible, while the second loop is a little more challenging. Keep in mind that this trail is fairly popular.
Another family-friendly trail, the 1.5-mile Wonderland Trail is an easy hike through a whimsical habitat of granite and twisted pitch pines. The trail ends at the perfect playground — beaches covered with sand and seashells, seaweed gardens and tidal pools.
This trail is very popular, especially among families with small children.
Flying Mountain and Valley Cove
Rising just 284 feet above sea level, Flying Mountain is one of the lowest peaks in Acadia, yet from the exposed bedrock at its top, hikers are rewarded with a great view of Somes Sound, Northeast Harbor and the nearby Greening Island, Sutton Island and Great and Little Cranberry islands.
Located in what is known as a quieter part of Acadia National Park, Flying Mountain is the perfect option for people looking for an easy, short hike. It’s a perfect introduction to hiking for children. It’s a 0.6-mile hike to the summit and back, or you can lengthen the hike by continuing on to a second overlook and descending the north slope of the mountain to visit Valley Cove. The entire loop hike is therefore 1.4 miles long.
Rising 583 feet above sea level, Day Mountain is one of the smaller mountains in Acadia but still offers nice views of the surrounding terrain and ocean. From the trailhead to the summit, it’s about 0.8 miles.
Tracing the rocky coast, Great Head Trail offers unique views of Frenchman Bay and nearby islands. Creating a 1.4-mile loop, the trail visits the highest point of Great Head, a cliff that rises 145 feet above sea level. The spot, marked with a cedar post sign, is also the location of the ruins of a 1900s tea house.
The tea house, once known as Satterlee’s Tea House or Satterlee’s Tower, is now a pile of rubble. Sections of the stone floor remain, as well as pieces of the wall and a hint at what was once steps to the front door. A circa-1920 photograph of the teahouse show that it was a small, circular building with a flat roof, small arched windows with wooden shutters, and a wooden door reached by three stone steps.
In addition, Great Head Trail visits Sand Beach, one of the most popular destinations in the park. Keep in mind that dogs are not permitted on the beach.
Rising 839 feet above sea level, Beech Mountain is topped by an observation tower that offers an unobstructed panoramic view of the region. There are a few ways to hike the mountain. Depending on which trail you choose, the hike length could be anything from 0.8 miles to 2.4 miles.
The parking lot for the hike is at a boat launch for Long Pond. One of the hiking routes — Valley Trail to West Ridge Trail — runs along the shore of the pond for a short distance.
Mansell Mountain rises 949 feet above sea level and can be explored by a number of hiking trails. A popular route is to start on the Long Pond Trail, take the second left at about 0.2 mile to hike up the Perpendicular Trail to the summit, and descend the mountain on the Razorback Trail.
The summit of Mansell Mountain is wooded, but a few great outlooks are located along the Perpendicular Trail, Mansell Mountain Trail and Razorback Trail. The hike hovers around 2 miles in length, slightly more and slightly less, depending on the route you take.
North Bubble and South Bubble are two small but distinct mountains in Acadia National Park. Rising over the north shore of Jordan Pond, these two humps in the landscape appear rounded — like bubbles — and they’ve long been a popular hiking destination for park visitors.
The shorter but more popular of the two mountains is South Bubble, which rises 768 feet above sea level and is home to a mystifying landmark called Bubble Rock. Just east of the mountain’s summit, Bubble Rock appears to be precariously balancing on the side of a cliff, but the boulder is actually quite stable.
North Bubble, rising 872 feet above sea level, offers a stunning, open view of Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake and the mountains and sparkling ocean beyond. Hiking both from the Bubbles Parking Area is 1.8 miles total.
At 520 feet in elevation, the Beehive offers stunning views of Sand Beach, the ocean and the terrain of the eastern side of the island. Though the granite hump is certainly not the tallest peak on the island, it is by far the most dominant geological feature in near the popular Sand Beach. And its trail reminds me of a jungle gym.
The hike starts on The Bowl Trail, which leads through the woods to the base of Beehive’s cliffs. You then turn onto the Beehive Trail to head straight up the face of the cliffs. The trail includes several iron rungs, which hikers can use for support, but for the most part, the trail switchbacks, rising in a zig-zag pattern. The trail also has plenty of granite steps. For a more gradual, safer descent, take The Bowl Trail. The entire hike is less than 2 miles.
Parkman Mountain and Bald Peak
Both rising over 900 feet above sea level, Parkman Mountain and Bald Peak stand side by side on Mount Desert Island, east of Somes Sound, and their summits are so close together that hikers usually visit both in one outing. Located in Acadia National Park, the mountains both provide panoramic views of the stunning landscape of MDI and the nearby ocean, dotted with smaller islands.
Well-maintained park trails climb both mountains and span between their peaks, allowing for a loop hike that is a little less than 3 miles long.
Rising 852 feet above sea level, Norumbega Mountain was named to honor a mythological city of gold thought to be somewhere around the forty-fifth parallel in the region of Maine. The mountain features a nice loop hike that’s just over 3 miles long. A quieter mountain in the park, Norumbega offers some nice views along its ridge. It also features the rocky, steep Goat Trail, which is quite scenic.
Penobscot Mountain Trail
Rising 1,194 feet above sea level, Penobscot Mountain offers amazing views from its summit and overlooks. And because some of its neighbors are more popular — for example, Cadillac Mountain and The Bubbles — Penobscot Mountain is often not too crowded.
The 1.5-mile Penobscot Mountain Trail is just one of a few ways to climb to the summit of the mountain. It follows the mountain’s long southern ridge, known as Jordan Ridge. After its intersection with the Spring Trail, it leaves the forest behind and continues along the ridge for about 1 mile to the summit. Because the ridge is mostly bald, this hike offers views much of the way.
Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail
Rising 1,530 feet above sea level, Cadillac Mountain is not only the tallest mountain in the park, it’s the tallest mountain on the Eastern Seaboard. While several hiking trails lead to this mountain’s top (as well as a road), the 2.2-mile North Ridge Trail is by far the most popular hiking trail on the mountain.
While much of the ridge is bald, there is a variety of plant life to enjoy along the way, including stunted pitch pine, wild blueberries, grasses, sedges other low-lying plants. Impressive granite boulders also add to the scenery along the trail.
Steep sections of trail are broken up by level stretches, which allows you to catch your breath and stretch your legs a bit.
Located on what’s known as the quieter side of the park, Acadia Mountain rises 681 feet above sea level, making it one of the smaller mountains on the island. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most popular hikes in Acadia, perhaps because of its name.
The top of the mountain is free of vegetation in several places, including the summit, offering great views of the region. The mountain also features beautiful stands of twisted pitch pine trees and an abundance of lowbush blueberries. The hike is 2 to 3.2 miles, depending on the route you take.
Gorham Mountain rises 525 feet above sea level near Sand Beach and is a very popular hike in the park. During the height of tourist season, it’s often crowded, but for good reason. This mountain offers stunning views of the region.
A 4-mile loop hike of Gorham Mountain includes three trails: Ocean Path, Gorham Mountain Trail and Bowl Trail. But from the parking lot on the Loop Road, it’s just 0.9 mile to the bald summit of the mountain, so you can opt for a shorter hike if you like.
Gorge Path up Cadillac Mountain
Running through a dramatic gorge between Dorr and Cadillac Mountain, the Gorge Path is a special hiking experience that includes hundreds of granite steps, tiny waterfalls and breathtaking views of Dorr Mountain and beyond that to Bar Harbor and the Porcupine Islands.
From the Gorge Path trailhead on Park Loop Road, the trail is 1.9 miles to the top of Cadillac Mountain, making for an out and back hike of about 3.8 miles. The trail starts out gradual but becomes very rocky and steep as it climbs the eastern slope of the mountain.
Jordan Cliffs Trail
Climbing diagonally up the steep eastern side of Penobscot Mountain, Jordan Cliffs Trail is one of the most challenging and exciting trails in Acadia. Throughout much of the hike, the trail offers stunning views of Jordan Pond and beyond, to Seal Harbor and the Cranberry Islands.
Measuring 1.4 miles in length, the trail is ever-changing, presenting different challenges, including a section of metal rungs and rails that hikers must use to scale the steepest section of the trail. The trail is not for those who are afraid of heights, since a good portion of the trail travels along the edge of the cliff, with a sheer drop to one side and a rock wall rising to the other side. It is also not a place for dogs.
Rising 1,248 feet above sea level, Pemetic Mountain is one of the taller peaks in the park. Its bald summit offers panoramic views that include nearby Jordan and Bubble ponds, Cadillac and Penobscot mountains, and the Cranberry Isles.
One great thing about Pemetic Mountain is that its trails can be accessed from three different parking areas – Jordan Pond North Parking Lot, Bubble Pond parking area, and the Bubbles parking area. This may help you out when planning to hike the mountain during the busy season. This hike can vary from 2.2 miles to over 5 miles depending on the route you take.
Historic hiking trails made up of hundreds of granite steps lead steeply up Dorr Mountain, a peak named after “Father of Acadia” George B. Dorr. This mountain features some of the most impressive trail engineering in the Acadia National Park, and from its summit, hikers are rewarded a 360-degree view of Mount Desert Island.
Multiple hiking trails explore the rocky slopes of Dorr Mountain and lead to the wooden sign at its summit. Trails run up the mountain’s north ridge, south ridge and steep west slope, but the most popular trails for hiking Dorr are on the mountain’s east face, starting at Sieur de Monts Spring. The shortest route to the top of the mountain, out and back, is just under 3 miles, and it’s quite steep. Keep in mind that dogs are not permitted on some of the trails.
Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail
Of all the hiking trails on Cadillac Mountain, the 3.5-mile South Ridge Trail is the longest and gentlest. The trail gradually climbs the mountain’s long, south ridge, which is exposed bedrock for much of the way, offering stunning views of Mount Desert Island, the ocean, nearby islands and coastal Maine as you hike.
Rising 1,530 feet above sea level, Cadillac Mountain is the tallest and most popular mountain in Acadia National Park. It’s also the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard and the first place to view the sunrise in the United States from early October through early March. Be prepared for the fact that there’s a parking lot at the summit.
Zigzagging up the cliffs of Champlain Mountain, Precipice Trail is known as the most challenging and dangerous trail in Acadia National Park. In less than a mile, it ascends nearly 1,000 feet. Several sections of the trail are so steep that hikers must be aided with metal rungs, rails and ladders bolted into the granite cliffs. And in many places, the trail is narrow with a vertical rock wall to one side and a sheer drop to the other. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most popular hikes in the park.
It’s especially important to note that Precipice Trail is usually closed from late spring through mid-August to protect the peregrine falcons that nest on the cliffs. Also, dogs are not permitted on this hike for obvious reasons.
hiking safely in maine
Tips for hiking in Acadia National Park
First, consider using the Island Explorer rather than driving into the park. Well-behaved, leashed dogs are permitted on the bus, and each bus has a bike rack.
While the Island Explorer is free, entrance to the park is not. Park passes are $30 per vehicle or $15 per pedestrian (for example, if you take the bus) and can be purchased online or in multiple locations through the park and neighboring towns. Annual passes are $55, and $20 for seniors. If you do drive a vehicle into the park, leave your pass in the vehicle. It doesn’t need to be on you while hiking.
Before planning your hike or visiting the park, check the park website for trail closures. Often a number of trails are closed for restoration or to protect wildlife during certain times of year. Trail closures will be right at the top of the park’s main page.
After you’ve checked what trails are closed, study a park map and select a few hikes that interest you. Select a plan A and a plan B, and maybe a plan C. This way, if a parking lot is full, you can continue to your next option without frustration. Do not park illegally. You will be ticketed.
If you’re a first-time visitor to the park or unsure about where to hike, visit the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, where a ranger can help you plan a hike using a giant map of the park.
Also, while at the visitor center, you can purchase a trail map, which is extremely important for any hiker in the park (unless you really know your way around). Park trails intersect all over the place. It can get very confusing without a good map. Maps are available for purchase at Acadia visitor centers.
A word of caution: The free trail maps offered at visitor centers are intended for driving only. They do not include trail names, contour lines or trail mileage. Therefore, they aren’t at all helpful for navigating trails.
Don’t underestimate Acadia trails. Some of them are quite challenging. Carry a backpack that contains plenty of water and snacks, insect repellent and sunscreen. A first aid kit and other survival gear is also recommended. This will help you have a safer and more enjoyable hiking experience. Running out of water is no fun, and it’s easy to get a sunburn as you hike along the long, bald ridge of Cadillac Mountain.
Dogs are permitted in Acadia, but they must be leashed at all times, and that leash cannot exceed 6 feet in length. As always, pick up after your dog. Leave no trace. Also, keep in mind that some Acadia trails are closed to dogs because they feature ladders, rungs and other obstacles that can’t be navigated safely with a dog in tow. Here’s a list of those trails.
To avoid the largest crowds, plan your hike early in the morning or later in the afternoon, suggests Gary Stellpflug, Acadia trail foreman. People flock to the park in late morning and many leave in time to get ready for dinner.
For more tips, check out the Acadia National Park Hiking page.