Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The hike varies in length from 0.6 mile to 1.4 miles depending on what trailhead you park at and your end destination — the overlook on the cliffs or Hunters Beach. Expect a considerable slope on the Lower Day Mountain Trail and the trails leading down to Hunter Beach. Exercise caution while walking along the rocky shore near the water; the bedrock drops off steeply in some areas.
Information: Located just outside of Acadia National Park, Hunters Cliff and Hunters Beach are two breathtaking destinations on Mount Desert Island that are accessible by trails that are owned and maintained by the Land and Garden Preserve.
To visit the dramatic cliffs and cobblestone beach, hikers have two options. They can start on Hunters Beach Trail, which has a small parking area on Cooksey Drive. The trail leads down to Hunters Beach in just 0.3 mile, traveling through a beautiful forest along the way and becoming more steep as it nears the coast. This trail is a great family-friendly option for people looking for a shorter hike, especially if they aren’t looking to walk along the cliffs. Out and back, it’d be just a 0.6-mile hike.
The beach is covered with large cobblestones, which can be a challenge for some people to walk on. Striking through the beach is Hunters Brook. Be careful near the water, as some of the cobbles can be slippery. This is not meant to be a swimming area as there can be strong currents.
The other option is to start your hike on Lower Day Mountain Trail, which has a small parking lot off Route 3. This parking lot is shared with the people hiking up Day Mountain on a trail that starts across the road.
Lower Day Mountain Trail starts at the parking area and travels through a mixed forest as it descends the lower portion of Day Mountain, which is one of the smaller mountains on the island, topping off at 583 feet above sea level. As you hike down Lower Day Mountain Trail, the ocean will emerge above the treetops ahead of you and you’ll cross over areas of exposed bedrock. Interesting features along this section of the hike include a tiny babbling brook and a long ledge where impressive icicles form in the winter.
In 0.3 mile, Lower Day Mountain Trail ends at Cooksey Drive. Directly across this paved road is Hunter Cliff Trail, which continues down the mountain to reach the granite cliffs along the shore in just over 0.1 mile. There you’ll enjoy a breathtaking view of Hunters Head to the east, which is left if you’re facing the water.
To the south, your right, you’ll find metal rungs that belong to a closed portion of what was once known as the Shore Path. This old trail dates back to the late-1800s, according to a piece written by Donald Lenahan on his blog acadiamemorials.blogspot.com. This abandoned path used to travel along the dramatic, rocky coastline for about a mile, starting at a place called Crows Nest, then traveling around Ingraham Point to end at Hunters Beach. The path included iron railings and footbridges, the latter of which were frequently swept away in storms.
Over the years, this trail fell into disrepair and property was purchased along the shore. Nowadays, the path is off limits to hikers. However, Hunters Cliff Trail parallels the trail as it travels north along the coast to Hunters Beach, which it reaches about 0.5 mile from where it starts on Cooksey Drive. And just before reaching the beach, the trail intersects with Hunters Beach Trail.
The trails are marked with rock piles called cairns, as well as green wooden rectangles that are nailed to tree trunks, and green metal signs (circular and with arrows), also nailed to tree trunks. Trail intersections are marked with grey signs with green lettering. Nevertheless, people do sometimes get lost on these trails because cairns get moved and there’s so much exposed bedrock, especially along the shore. The Land and Garden Preserve, which acquired the property in 2015, plans to improve the trail markers in the near future.
For these trails, the Land and Garden Preserve ask that hikers keep their dogs on leash. Hunting, camping and fires are not permitted. Pack out what you carry in and remove all pet waste. The trails are for foot traffic only.
For more information and to learn about other Land and Garden Preserve trails, visit gardenpreserve.org or call 207-276-3727.
Personal note: “Hunters Cliff,” the sign read, tempting me on another adventure. That day — Dec. 4 — I’d already hiked to the top of Day Mountain. But upon returning to the trailhead parking lot, I was faced with two options: return home or stay out in the woods just a little bit longer. I chose the second option.
I hadn’t done any prior research on the trail to Hunters Cliff, but I had hiked it before, years ago. I knew that the trail led down the lower portion of Day Mountain to stunning views of a rocky coastline. But that’s all I remembered. So as I followed the green trail markers downhill, everything was a delightful surprise — the bright red berries growing trailside, the giant icicles hanging from rock ledges, the cairns scattered across the bedrock.
I hurried along, eager to reach the ocean, and when the view finally opened up, I was taken aback by the harsh beauty of the scene. Snow dusted the humps and blocks of granite that bordered the water. Frozen waterfalls draped off the cliffs of Hunters Head, columns of ice as tall as trees. Below, the surf broke against the rock. The water churned into swirls of white and lighter blue — the most vibrant color on the landscape on that overcast winter day. And out on the water, a lobster boat made its rounds, a group of gulls trailing behind.
To my right, I followed a path that was lined on one side with an old iron railing. And beyond that, farther down on the rocks, I found another railing. Broken at one end, it led up and over a rock formation that would require me to climb, hand over foot. It looked dangerous, so I turned around. The daylight was waning and the hike back was uphill.
Later, when researching the hike, I learned that I had actually left the trail to follow the old Shore Path. I’m glad I didn’t continue, as I would have crossed onto private land. I also learned that I should have hiked north along the cliffs to Hunters Beach. I’ve been told that it’s a beautiful place. I’ll just have to save it for another day.
If you’re interested in learning more about historic trails like the Seal Harbor Shore Path, as well as monuments and landmarks throughout Mount Desert Island, check out “The Memorials of Acadia National Park,” by David Leehan. The book is available as an Apple iBook for $7.99.
How to get there: There are two trailheads. To reach both, take Route 3 across the causeway onto Mount Desert Island. After the causeway, veer right at the fork onto Route 102-Main Street. Drive 4.2 miles, then turn left onto Route 3-Sound Drive. Drive 5.6 miles, then turn left onto Route 3-Peabody Drive. Drive 3 miles, then turn left onto Route 3-Main Street in Seal Harbor.
Drive 1.2 miles and the first trailhead parking lot will be on you right. The trail starts right at the parking lot and is marked with a sign to Lower Day Mountain and Hunters Cliff. From there, it’s about 0.5 mile to hike down to the coast and another 0.2 mile to the beach.
To reach the second trailhead, continue driving east on Route 3 for about 0.5 mile, then turn right onto Cooksey Drive. Drive about 0.3 mile and the parking area will be on your left. The trail starts at the parking area and leads to Hunters Beach in 0.3 mile.
For more of Aislinn Sarnacki’s adventures, visit bangordailynews.com/act-out. Follow Aislinn Sarnacki on Twitter: @1minhikegirl, and Instagram: @actoutdoors. Her guidebooks “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine,” “Maine Hikes Off the Beaten Path” and “Dog-Friendly Hikes in Maine” are available at local bookstores and wherever books are sold.