When you step outdoors this time of year, you know why you hike. It’s autumn, and changing leaves are carpeting the landscape with color. Biting insects have all but disappeared, and the crowded trails of summer have thinned out. It all adds up to great fall hiking.
Hike any trail and you are soon immersed in the natural wonders of fall. Some trails are my favorites over others for fall foliage viewing.
All three of these hikes are along the coast. There’s one in Camden, another in Acadia and one in Sullivan. Coastal Maine is the last place where leaf color persists, long after it has dropped off inland. Usually by the last of October, even the leaves on the coast will have dropped to the ground. Time is of the essence, as they say. So, if you’re going to catch the changing leaves, you had better start now.
Georges River Land Trust
Finding the trail: From the north on Route 1, go through Camden village toward Rockport. Take a right on West Street just past the Rockport town line. After a little more than 2 miles, you will come to Route 17. Drive west about 2 miles on Route 17. There’s a parking area on the right, just past Mirror Lake and a view of the mountain. Refer to the DeLorme Maine Atlas on Map 14. The 2009 edition does not show the trails from the west, however.
This hike, at a little over 2.5 miles, is the longest of the three. Ragged Mountain, at around 1,200 feet, is best known for a ski area, the Camden Snow Bowl, on its eastern slope. The trail described here is on the western side. It’s part of the Georges Highland Path.
After leaving the parking area, follow the path as it winds through a hardwood forest and a few stone walls before heading toward the base of the mountain. It follows the base for about a mile, then turns up steeply for the top over some bare ledges. Soon, you come to a great view of Mirror Lake. The hardwoods around the lake are a carpet of color in October.
Just after this vista, the trail takes a sharp left, up more bare ledges toward the top. Small cairns mark the trail. There are radio towers on the top. Some of the best views are just down slope, south of the towers. The views to the south are of Rockland Harbor and Owls Head, jutting into the Atlantic. But there are also great views from the western side of the top, and on a clear day you can see Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
On the summit, another approach trail from the northeast meets up with the one you took. It’s possible to leave a car and hike the entire ridge, more than 5 miles. Instead, for this hike, return to your car the way you came. Total round trip distance is a little over 5 miles.
Acadia National Park
Finding the trail: Take Route 102 from the head of the island south toward Southwest Harbor. Just before the village, take a right on Seal Cove Road. Go about a half-mile to a four-way intersection. Take a right on Long Pond Road. Go to the end of the road to a parking area at the south end of the pond. The trail starts here. Refer to DeLorme Atlas Map 16.
Pick up the trail on the west side of the pumping station for the drinking water for Southwest Harbor. Follow a graded path for a little over a quarter of a mile. On the left there’s a signpost for the Perpendicular Trail. Turn here.
For the next half-mile, the trail winds steeply, for about 200 feet up through a stone staircase, almost like a spiral staircase. There are great views of Beech Mountain and Long Pond to the west. The stairs top out at the base of a cliff on the left. After leaving the cliff, the trail heads for a prominent ledge that overlooks the length of the pond below.
The top of Mansell Mountain, the end of this up and back hike, is forested, so the best views are from the trail down below. However, there are several possible longer loop trails that leave from the top, with more views to the west and south. Refer to a good trail map for these loops. For this hike however, head back the way you came. Total round trip mileage for the out and back hike is about 3 miles.
Donnell Pond District
Finding the trail: Drive north on U.S. Route 1 from Ellsworth 14 miles to East Sullivan. Turn left on Maine Route 183. At around 4½ miles there’s a sign on the left for the public lands. Turn on that road, which soon becomes dirt. Follow it to a Y intersection and there’s a sign for Black Mountain Trails. Turn right on that road. Refer to DeLorme Atlas Map 24. It’s about a couple of miles to a small parking area on the right. The trail starts on the opposite side of the road about 25 feet up the road. Look for a brown sign that reads Big Chief Trail.
The trail starts gradual at first, then climbs steeper as you approach the western side of the mountain. In a little under a half-mile you come to an intersection with another trail. At this point the trail is marked with large rock cairns. Turn right to the East Peak of Black Mountain. Descend into a sag, then come out on exposed flat ledge with great views of Mount Desert Island and Tunk Lake.
Follow the cairns across the ledges to the bare summit where you climb steeply over ledge to the top. From the open top there are outstanding 360-degree views of the other mountains in the range, Catherine, Caribou and Tunk. On a clear day you can see all the way to Eastport.
There are also several loop trails in this network, but this up and back hike is only 2 miles, round trip. Return the way you came, if you’re not taking a loop trail.
There you have them, three great foliage hikes along the coast. From the tops of each of these mountains, the valleys below lie blanketed with colors in autumn. When viewed from above, hardwood forests are splashed with hues of gold, red and yellow. A hike on one of these trails is a colorful journey into fall.