Difficulty: Strenuous. The 0.9-mile trail is steep and rocky, with a few short sections that require hand-over-foot climbing. Footing is tricky in many places. The hike to the summit, out and back, is 2.8 miles and includes a section of another trail.
Information: The West Face Trail on Cadillac Mountain is one of the most rugged trails in Acadia National Park, traveling over piles of angular rocks and up steep slopes of exposed bedrock. For people who have some hiking experience, this trail makes for an interesting challenge.
Rising 1,530 feet above sea level, Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain in Acadia National Park and highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. It’s also the first place to see the sunrise during certain parts of the year. These distinctions make it one of the most popular destinations in the park.
Six trails climb the mountain from different directions. The North Ridge Trail approaches from the north, the Gorge Path from the east, the South Ridge Trail from the south, and the West Face Trail from the west. In addition, the Cannon Brook Trail and Jordan Ponds Path climb to the south ridge of the mountain to intersect with the South Ridge Trail.
Starting near the shore of Bubble Pond, the West Face Trail weaves up the steep western slope of the mountain for 0.9 mile to end at an intersection with the South Ridge Trail. Along the way, it travels through a mixed forest, which transitions to a forest of jack pines. Views open up early on, especially when the trail crosses areas of exposed bedrock. The first views will include Bubble Pond and the neighboring Pemetic Mountain, and as you climb higher you’ll be able to see more of the island and out to the ocean.
Where West Face Trail ends on the south ridge of the mountain, a sign will direct you to hike north on the South Ridge Trail to reach the summit in 0.5 mile. That leg of the hike is much more gradual, though it does include one hand-over-foot section that includes a metal rung to use for a foothold or handhold.
Keep in mind that while the West Face Trail is well-marked with blue blazes, it doesn’t feature granite steps, bridges or any of the other man-made trail features that many Acadia trails have that make them easier to traverse. In fact, it’s such a rugged trail that it’s not included on the park road map that is handed out for free at visitor centers. It is, however, included on park trail maps and is an official trail that is regularly maintained.
Interesting fact: Cadillac Mountain was named after French explorer Antoine de la Mothe (1658-1730), who gave himself the title “Sieur de Cadillac” after a small town near his birthplace, according to “The Story of Mount Desert Island” by Samuel Eliot Morison. In 1688, la Mothe obtained a grant from the governor of Canada for land on Mount Desert Island. There he and his wife lived for a short period of time, until they moved back to Canada. He entered the fur trade, founded Detroit, then became the Governor of French Louisiana.
All visitors to Acadia National Park are required to pay an entrance fee upon entry May through October. Park passes are available at several locations on the island, including some park visitor centers and entrance fee stations. You can also purchase a park pass ahead of time online, which will save you the trouble of locating a place inside the park to purchase it.
Dogs are permitted on most park trails on a leash no longer than 6 feet. However, West Face Trail is one of the few trails that is not recommended for dogs because it is so steep and rocky. For information, including updates about COVID-19-related changes and guidelines in the park, visit nps.gov/acad or call 207-288-3338.
Personal note: When we arrived at the small parking lot for Bubble Pond, I was dismayed to find all of the spaces full (a common occurrence during the summer in Acadia National Park). But luck was on our side. After just a couple of minutes, a pair of bicyclists packed into their SUV and left, allowing us to stick with our plan A, rather than move on to plan B.
After loading a backpack full of water and snacks, my husband, Derek, and I consulted our trail map and wandered around a bit looking for the trailhead. After a few minutes of walking on the nearby carriage road, we ventured down to the edge of Bubble Pond and found a footpath that led us to the inconspicuous trailhead sign, a carved cedar post.
The trail was so rocky that Derek soon regretted that he’d worn running sneakers and not hiking boots, which have better traction and a stiff sole that makes traversing uneven terrain a lot easier. Nevertheless, we made it to the top and back without any mishaps. And we only saw one other pair of hikers on the trail.
Along the way, I stopped to photograph the bright pink blossoms of mountain laurel. We also paused to watch a curious red squirrel, which hung from a low tree branch as it chattered at us. We sat on a granite slope for a few minutes to watch turkey vultures soaring overhead. And at the top of the mountain, I photographed pink wild roses in bloom.
The sky was blue when we started the hike, but as we climbed, a blanket of low, white clouds rolled in and slowly swallowed up the view. By the time we reached the summit, it was socked in by clouds. We could only shrug our shoulders and laugh at our bad timing. But the wind was constant and seemed to be pushing the clouds around a great deal, and so with a glimmer of hope, we sat down on a granite hump near the summit loop trail and waited. A granola bar later, the sky began to clear, revealing the town of Bar Harbor and the ocean beyond, dotted with several islands. The sun shone bright as we turned around and headed down the mountain.
How to get there: On Route 3, drive across the causeway onto Mount Desert Island. Veer left at the fork, staying on Route 3 and driving toward Bar Harbor. In 7.6 miles, turn right at the park’s Hulls Cove Entrance. After a few hundred feet, turn left onto Paradise Hill Road. (Hulls Cove Visitor Center, which includes a small park store and information center, will be on your right.) Drive 3 miles, then turn right onto Park Loop Road. Drive 1.9 miles, then turn left into the Bubble Pond Carriage Road Trailhead. The parking lot is small, so consider avoiding times of peak visitation.
Also note that the parking lot is closed to all private vehicles when the Island Explorer buses are running. In that case, you will need to take the bus (which is free) to the trailhead.
From the parking lot, walk down to the pond (which is visible from the parking lot) and turn left (northeast). Following a footpath along the edge of the pond, you’ll cross some shallow water on spaced apart granite blocks. Soon after that, you’ll come to a cedar post marking the trailhead for the West Face Trail.
Aislinn Sarnacki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her 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.