For a walk through a quiet forest, hike the Asticou Trail in Acadia National Park this summer.
Asticou’s a familiar name on Mount Desert Island, particular around Northeast Harbor and Asticou Azalea Gardens at the Routes 3-198 intersection. Rusticators and wealthy summerfolk knew this region as Asticou by the late 19th century, and village improvement societies in Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor created the Asticou Trail to link both villages circa 1900.
Despite its proximity to the bustling Jordan Pond House, the Asticou Trail receives little hiking attention. That’s too bad; within a few hundred yards from JPH and its adjacent carriage road, modern civilization fades to natural solitude along this forested trail.
Pick up the trail head at wood’s edge across from the lower-level JPH bathrooms and water fountain. The Asticou Trail descends granite steps to the carriage road and crosses immediately to a sign post. Bear right across a wooden bridge spanning Jordan Pond Stream; hikers can also cross the adjacent carriage-road bridge to reach the trail, but why not take the scenic route?
For approximately 1.0 miles, the Asticou Trail undulates through a predominantly spruce-fir stiffened by the occasional white pine. Moss-covered stones carry the trail across seasonal brooks.
Then, for perhaps 0.1 miles, the trail shifts from needle-covered forest floor to crushed rock before reaching a sign post at a carriage road connecting the Around The Mountain Carriage Road with Rockefeller Estate carriage roads. This connector actually angles south to Intersection 22 before looping north to be crossed, again, by the Asticou Trail.
Just west pass this third carriage-road crossing, hikers encounter a bit of recent Acadia NP history. A new (i.e., less-weathered) sign post points 90 degrees toward Penobscot Mountain (2.1 miles to the summit) and the Penobscot Mountain Trail.
During recent decades, the Penobscot Mountain Trail started near the Jordan Pond House, crossed the Asticou Trail foot bridge, angled northwest across the Around The Mountain Carriage Road, and attacked Penobscot’s steep southwestern corner. Park signs identified the route as the Penobscot Mountain Trail, a name that lingers in guidebooks published into the late 2000s.
The problem? Wrong name for the wrong trail. The actual Penobscot Mountain Trail started on the Asticou Trail about 1¼miles west of the Jordan Pond House and crossed three carriage roads before seriously tackling Penobscot Mountain.
Sometime during the mid-20th century, the National Park Service abandoned the original Penobscot Mountain Trail and transferred its name eastward to the trail climbing Penobscot’s southwest face. The problem? Hikers long knew this particular route as the Spring Trail — although where the spring might be, I don’t know.
Recent trail reclamation efforts led the NPS to reopen the original Penobscot Mountain Trail from the Asticou Trail to the mountaintop and to rename the familiar PMT as the Spring Trail. Both intersect at a well-marked sign post on Penobscot’s southern heights.
Past the PMT sign post, the Asticou Trail quickly reaches a rustic (and I do mean rustic) cedar footbridge spanning Little Harbor Brook. Pause here a while to relish the cool forest and rippling water.
Notice the peace and quiet. Met only a few hikers along the way, didn’t we? The only human voices we’ve heard since a mile back were bicyclists whizzing along the carriage roads, right?
Here at this weather-slapped foot bridge, as at only a few similar places elsewhere in Acadia do nature and time slip away to the early 20th century, even the mid-19th century. So peaceful, so quiet, so red-squirrel-scolding interrupted!
A few steps west from the bridge, Asticou intersects the Little Harbor Brook Trail, a pleasant woodland jaunt south to a Route 3 parking lot. The Asticou Trail heads west past an intersection with an Eliot Mountain trail (built long ago by the Northeast Harbor Village Improvement Society) and then past an intersection with the Sargent Mountain South Ridge Trail.
Here’s another Acadia anomaly. This trail makes a long run up and along Cedar Swamp Mountain, which rises east of Upper Hadlock Pond and southwest of Sargent Mountain. Many hikers, including me, call this trail the Cedar Swamp Mountain Trail at least to where it drops toward the Amphitheater, and we can’t figure out why the Park Service insists on naming it the Sargent Mountain South Ridge Trail.
And recently the Park Service renamed the trail as the Sargent South Ridge Trail. Hey, what gives?
Anyways, the Asticou Trail officially ends at a historic map hut built when the trail was relatively new. At this spot, hikers can take another trail southeast over Eliot Mountain or turn 180 degrees and head east to the Jordan Pond House. The original Asticou Trail once extended across private property to Northeast Harbor, but that extension’s now barred to hikers.