Difficulty: Easy. The 2.1-mile Ocean Path is a wide path that’s surfaced with gravel much of the way. Expect a few small hills and stairs built of wood or stone. The trail becomes more rugged and rocky as it circles Otter Point. Keep in mind that this is a 4.2-mile out-and-back hike, unless you park vehicles at both ends or turn around early.
Information: Tracing the scenic, rocky coast of Mount Desert Island, the Ocean Path is a popular easy hiking trail in Acadia National Park that spans from the famous Sand Beach to Otter Point. Along the way are several short side trails to viewpoints where you can sit on pink granite bedrock to picnic or simply enjoy the ocean views.
If starting at the Sand Beach parking lot, the trailhead for the Ocean Path is just past the restrooms and changing rooms, marked with a cedar post sign. From there, the trail climbs to the Park Loop Road, which it parallels much of the way. Lining the trail are beautiful, twisted evergreen trees called pitch pines. Notice how the long needles not only grow out of the trees’ branches, but the trunks as well.
As you walk along, there will be many opportunities to follow maintained side trails to the shore. Take care to remain on constructed paths (which often include stone steps) rather than wandering onto unofficial trails that have been created by wandering walkers. In some areas you may notice little “restoration area” signs or roped off areas. This indicates that you should remain on the main Ocean Path.
From left: The bottom section of the observation platform for Thunder Hole is closed due to ice on Jan. 26, in Acadia National Park; A cobblestone beach is seen from the Ocean Path on Jan. 26, in Acadia National Park. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
In about 0.7-mile, the trail passes Thunder Hole, a coastal rock formation and cave that produces a thunder-like boom when the water rushes in and out — if you visit at the right time, which is generally two hours before high tide. At other times, you may just hear a gurgling. A walkway and staircases, hemmed in by railings, lead along the cliffs to a closer view of Thunder Hole, but the lower section of this may be closed due to inclement weather or ice. This landmark is one of the most famous destinations in Acadia.
A parking lot for Thunder Hole is located across the Park Loop Road. And there are two additional parking lots along Park Loop Road between Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, allowing walkers to hop on and off the Ocean Path at a few different points.
Continuing past Thunder Hole, the trail continues along the shore to a view of Monument Cove, which features a beach of large, wave-rounded cobblestones. Just after the cove is a cedar post sign for Gorham Mountain Trail, the trailhead and parking for which is across the Park Loop Road. Gorham Mountain rises 525 feet above sea level and offers great views of the island and ocean. The trail measures 0.9 mile from the trailhead to the summit.
The final stretch of the Ocean Path heads uphill gradually to travel along the top of Otter Cliff, then it circles around Otter Point to end at a parking lot. This section of the trail is a bit rugged. It moves away from the road to trace the shore, sometimes traveling over uneven bedrock. This is also the section of trail that sometimes holds onto ice longer in the winter due to it being shaded much of the day. Watch your step.
From left: BDN reporter Aislinn Sarnacki and her dog, Juno, sit together at an overlook along the Ocean Path on Jan. 26, in Acadia National Park; A group of bufflehead ducks swim close to shore on Jan. 26, and are seen from an overlook on the Ocean Path in Acadia National Park. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN & Courtesy of Derek Runnells
The trail ends at the Otter Point parking area just after rounding the point. With a bus stop located at Otter Point and Sand Beach, this is a great hike to complete if using the Island Explorer bus system (which does not run in the winter and was closed during the summer of 2020 due to COVID-19).
Dogs are permitted on this path if leashed at all times, and that leash cannot exceed 6 feet in length. Dogs are not permitted on Sand Beach from June 15 to Sept. 8. At all other times, they are allowed on the beach but must be on leash.
All visitors to Acadia are required to pay an entrance fee upon entry May through October. All vehicles must display a park entrance pass clearly visible through the windshield. Park passes are usually available at multiple locations on Mount Desert Island, including park visitor centers. However, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the park is encouraging all visitors to buy and print a pass online before you arrive at the park. For more information, visit nps.gov/acad or call 207-288-3338.
Personal note: With a puppy, there’s a lot of firsts to look forward to — both for the puppy and the owners. On Jan. 26, it was my puppy Juno’s first time to Acadia National Park. We started our adventure at Sand Beach, where she played in sand and seaweed for the first time. Then we walked along the Ocean Path, where she was introduced to small hiking obstacles like stone steps and granite slopes. She also saw her first snowshoe hare.
Covered in soft white fur, the hare stood out like a sore thumb against the mostly snow-free landscape. I initially spotted it hopping up the path in front of us, then disappearing over a hill. In hopes of snapping a photo from afar, I walked up the trail ahead of my husband Derek and our puppy. But the hare was nowhere to be found. Resigned, I turned around to rejoin my hiking companions when, bam, there it was, sitting right beside the trail.
The hare was so close to me that I had to change settings on my camera so my lens could focus. I warned Derek, and he scooped up Juno so we could creep past the animal without causing a puppy-hare scuffle. Juno stared at the creature with her wide blue eyes but, to my surprise, didn’t let out a peep.
The temperatures remained in the 20s that day, but the land sheltered us from the cold breeze, and the sun, unimpeded by any clouds, warmed us as we walked. Off shore, we spotted several waterbirds, including a group of bufflehead ducks. And at Thunder Hole, we stood and listened to the gurgle of water sloshing through the cave.
We walked all the way to Otter Point, continually checking Juno to make sure she wasn’t cold or tired. Then we walked back and stopped at Sand Beach one more time to take in the beauty of the beach with just a few people roaming its silky sand. For those who’ve been to Sand Beach busy in the summer, it’s quite remarkable to see it so deserted. Winter truly is a special time in Acadia.
How to get there: There are several parking lots that provide access to the Ocean Path, and they’re all located off a one-way section of the Park Loop Road on Mount Desert Island. During the summer, the Park Loop Road can be accessed from multiple park entrances.
From the Hulls Cove Entrance off Route 3, just north of Bar Harbor, turn left onto the Park Loop Road (driving the loop clockwise) to reach the Sand Beach parking lot about 6 miles. Or, from the Sieur de Monts Entrance off Route 3, just south of Bar Harbor, turn left onto the Park Loop Road (driving it clockwise) to reach Sand Beach in about 3 miles. However, in the winter, these routes aren’t an option because sections of the Park Loop Road are closed.
In the winter, just south of Bar Harbor on Route 3, turn left onto Schooner Head Road and drive 2.5 miles. Turn right to enter the park at the Sand Beach Entrance. In about 0.1 mile, turn left onto the Park Loop Road and drive about 0.5 mile to the Sand Beach parking lot. Along the way, you’ll pass through the Sand Beach Entrance Station.
Another option is to continue past the Sand Beach and park at the other parking lots located along the Park Loop Road for the Ocean Path, including the parking lot at Thunder Hole and Otter Point. Keep in mind that all of these parking areas fill up quickly in the summer. Arrive early in the morning, in the late afternoon, on weekdays or off season for better chances of finding parking.
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.