A Memorable Day Hiking in Acadia National Park

I was on my way to Baxter State Park for some mid-summer hiking, when I made a spur of the moment decision to go to Acadia National Park for a day hike to avoid inclement weather forecast for Baxter. Located on Mount Desert Island, and encompassing Bar Harbor, an iconic Maine seaside resort, Acadia National Park is a beautiful place to visit and hike in.


Having been to Acadia in the fall of 2012 (as part of a reconnaissance mission to scope out the park) and driven to the top of Cadillac Mountain on a picture perfect day, I was looking forward to hiking Acadia in September. To that end, I had eagerly poured over Hiking Acadia National Park: A Guide to the Park’s Greatest Hiking Adventures, a well written and beautifully illustrated book, and identified a number of hikes that sounded like they were within my capability. On the top of my list was the Cadillac North Ridge Trail, which I understood was of moderate difficulty, only a 4.4 mile round trip from the trailhead to the summit of Cadillac Mountain and back and rewarded the successful hiker with some excellent views of Bar Harbor, the Maine coastline, and the surrounding mountains from open ridges on the last part of the climb. It sounded perfect!


Unfortunately, when I arrived at the trailhead at about 11 am, there were no roadside parking spaces left. Disappointed, I decided to drive to the other side to the island and climb the second trail on my list, Cadillac South Ridge Trail. Because the trail was a 7 mile round trip from trailhead to summit and back, which I felt was beyond my capability, I decided to hike as far as I could but turn around at any point where I felt it prudent to do so. With this modest objective, I set out on what was to become the most amazing adventure of my young hiking life.


The first part of the trail winds gently through the woods, rising through a short, moderately steep stretch to emerge after 1.2 miles onto open ledges with incredible views. The trail climbs gently over the open ledges for most of the remaining 2.3 miles to the summit of Cadillac Mountain (elevation = 1,528 feet; elevation gain from trailhead on Route 3 = 1,378 feet).


The panoramic views of the ocean and the mountains, the gently sloping trail and the interesting features of the granite ledges, and the many nice people I met on the trail seduced me into continuing to climb beyond my first go/no go point—a beautiful mountain pond called the Featherbed, which required a descent into a small saddle and a climb up to the ledges on the far side.


When I reached the open ledges again, I was so tired that I thought of turning around. Fortunately, a couple of young hikers stopped to chat with me as I rested and suggested that I might want to consider hiking the short distance remaining to the summit, and, after resting, descending the Cadillac North Ridge Trail to pick up a free island shuttle bus back to my car, instead of turning around and hiking back the way I had come.


The prospect of hiking down and up that saddle again was so daunting, and the fact that the views from the open ledges were even more astounding then they had been before, convinced me that my best option was to push forward. Besides, if I could make it no further than the summit, I felt that my chances of getting a ride down the mountain on a bright, clear, summer day were excellent. So I pushed on.


The last mile of this hike was more challenging than I expected, requiring several short climbs up somewhat steep rocky inclines to a short gravel road that leads to the summit. But I made it! As I sat on a stone wall admiring the view with the other tourists and ate a well-deserved lunch, I thought about how I had managed to hike 3.5 miles to the top a mountain twice the elevation of my practice peak (mighty Mount Agamenticus in southern Maine), marveled at the beauty of this special place, and tried to stave off thoughts of the looming descent. Soon, however, reality set in and I began the 2.2 mile trek, via the Cadillac North Ridge Trail, to the trailhead and the shuttle bus that I hoped would still be running when I arrived (ETA = 4 pm). Pic2

There is agony and ecstasy on every climb, as I had already experienced, but there was a lot more agony on the second leg of my journey. It started when, after a short walk on the open ledges of the trail with their beautiful views to the east, I descended into the woods. Winding, rocky, root filled, and nondescript are the adjectives that come to mind when I think about the Cadillac North Ridge Trail. The one bit of ecstasy I experienced on the way down was the thought that by arriving late (because of my last minute decision on the Maine Turnpike to go to Acadia in the hope that the weather would clear), I had been forced to find another way up the mountain. After what seemed like the proverbial eternity, I emerged at the trailhead with five 5 minutes to spare before the last bus of the day arrived. I got the one remaining seat and happily deposited my weary bones in it.

The ride back on the Island Explorer shuttle bus was an adventure in itself, as I was shepherded by the courteous and efficient bus driver to a place where I could pick up a second bus (which he called ahead to arrange). The second bus driver eventually deposited me, after making a special detour to do it, right at my car door. Without the kindness of these nice people, who went out of their way to accommodate a weary hiker on a very busy summer day at one of America’s busiest national parks, I would probably still be looking for my car. As a result of this amazing, unplanned adventure, the magnificent Cadillac South Ridge Trail will always be special to me. On this beautiful summer day on the trail, I became a hiker!


To read more about my adventures as a senior citizen learning to hike in the Maine Woods, see my Maine Hiker’s Journal.