HIKING MOUNT DESERT ISLAND: POCKET GUIDE by Earl D. Brechlin, April 2012, Down East Books, 72 pages, paperback, $7.95.
The rosy granite summit of Cadillac Mountain, the tallest point on the U.S. Atlantic coast, is arguably the top hiking destination on Mount Desert Island. At the height of tourist season, hikers squeeze by each other on the many footpaths to the top, calling out greetings in various languages. Vehicles climb the mountain on a winding, paved road and cram into an overflowing parking lot. Lowbush blueberries are plucked from the mountain’s slopes by critters and children alike.
For some people, the crowd is a key component of the MDI hiking experience. Others would rather avoid the hubbub and find a quieter spot to explore the island’s beauty. Fortunately, MDI is home to a multitude of hiking routes known to those truly acquainted with the island landscape.
Earl D. Brechlin, a registered Maine guide in Bar Harbor, has been exploring the trails of MDI for the past 30 years, and he has no qualms about sharing his favorite hikes with fellow hikers. Recently, he completed the second edition of “Hiking Mount Desert Island: Pocket Guide,” published in April by Down East Books. In the conveniently small book, he describes trails ranging from the easy Bar Harbor Shore Path on the east side of the island to strenuous mountain climbs on the western side (Bernard Mountain, Knight Nubble and Mansell Mountain).
“You have such a range of hikes here. You can be next to the ocean or deep in the forest. There’s no end to the diversity,” said Brechlin, who works full time as editor of the Mount Desert Islander.
Brechlin, originally from Connecticut, has been hiking since he was a Boy Scout in the early ’70s. He discovered Acadia National Park on MDI when he was attending the University of Maine, studying forestry.
“Once you hike in Acadia, you can never go back,” he said.
Brechlin has hiked throughout the state, including parts of the Appalachian Trail, and as a volunteer he has worked on trails in Baxter State Park. But it’s in his backyard where he has found the most beautiful trails with ladders that climb sea cliffs and switchbacking stone steps.
In the guide, he has limited space. Nevertheless, his personal experiences of the trails are woven throughout the short, to-the-point trail descriptions. Of the trail climbing Huguenot Head, a 731-foot hill beside Champlain Mountain, he wrote: “Built by craftsmen nearly 100 years ago, the Beachcroft Path up Huguenot Head is one for the most handsome on the island. The 1,500 winding steps and easy grades are so reminiscent of a hobbit road that one almost expects to see Frodo himself strutting down the mountain.”
Like many other outdoor enthusiasts, Brechlin enjoys escaping the cacophony of society to be alone with his thoughts.
“For me there’s certainly a spiritual component to hiking,” he said. “it’s not so much you go out and listen to the wilderness, but I think when you’re in the wilderness, you hear your own voice more clearly.”
The first national park east of the Mississippi River, Acadia National Park has long been a top destination for outdoor enthusiasts — hikers, naturalists, cyclists, bird watchers and trail runners alike. With more than 2 million people visiting the park each year, one might argue that the popular park isn’t the best place to find peace and quiet. But Brechlin has learned how to dodge the crowd. When the tourist season picks up in the summer, he typically hikes trails that are closer to the center of the island, which tend to be less busy than coastal trails.
“Sargent Mountain is open, more alpine-like. And even on a day in July, if you get up there early enough, you can have it all to yourself,” he said.
“I think a nice bang for your buck is Kebo Mountain — that’s a nice one,” he said. “There are three fairly low summits and ways to do loops there with connecting trails. It feels like you’re back in the woods without having to drive a long way.”
Brechlin also authored of the first edition of the pocket guide, and he’s amazed at how hiking on the island has changed over the past 10 years. Trails have been renamed. Volunteers and park rangers have fixed up old trails and blazed new trails.
Along with detailed trail descriptions, Brechlin has added GPS coordinates for summits and small trail maps to this edition.
“People ask me what my favorite hike in Acadia is, and I always say, ‘the last one I just did,’” Brechlin said.
Also check your local bookstore for “Biking Mount Desert Island: Pocket Guide” by Audrey Minutolo Le, published in April 2012 by Down East Books. Both books can also be purchased at downeast.com.