Acadia National Park is home to many famous hikes. The park’s Cadillac Mountain is the tallest peak on the East Coast, so everyone wants to huff and puff their way to that summit. Nearby, Dorr Mountain features hundreds of granite steps on its historic trails. And the near vertical Precipice Trail on Champlain Mountain, with its many ladders and rungs, is known as one of the most challenging hikes in Maine.
So I guess it’s no surprise that I rarely hear people talking about Acadia Mountain, even though it boasts the same name as the park.
Compared with surrounding peaks on Mount Desert Island, Acadia Mountain is rather short, rising just 681 feet above sea level. (In comparison, Cadillac tops off at 1,530 feet above sea level.) But I think that Acadia Mountain is the perfect destination for someone who is new to climbing in the park and wants to see if that type of hiking is really for them.
Recently, that “person” was my dog, Juno.
It was a sunny Tuesday in August, so I knew the park would be slammed with visitors. With that in mind, I pored over a trail map and selected Acadia Mountain as my first choice to hike with Juno for a few reasons.
First, there’s plenty of parking. Second, the mountain isn’t too ambitious for a dog that’s less than a year old and still learning how to clamber up rocky slopes. And third, I knew that the majority of the hike is under the shelter of trees, meaning plenty of shade on an 80-degree day.
Clockwise from left: The twisted branches of pitch pines make for a whimsical scene near the top of Acadia Mountain; Juno practices climbing rock staircases; and A wooden sign marks the summit of Acadia Mountain, which rises 681 feet above sea level in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki
It’s always a good idea to enter Acadia with several hiking options, just in case you can’t find parking. That day our second option was nearby Beech Mountain, and our third was the most gradual trail up Mansell Mountain. But as luck would have it, we were able to park at the Acadia Mountain trailhead, where cars were lined up along the side of the road.
We carefully crossed busy Route 102 to reach the trail, which started off steep and rocky as it traveled over a hill covered in pitch pines. With their long green needles, rough bark and twisted limbs, pitch pines are some of my favorite plants in the park. They’re so very whimsical.
The trail soon dipped into a shady mixed forest filled with ferns, balsam fir trees and tall white pines. There we reached our first trail intersection, where we turned left toward Acadia Mountain (while turning right would have taken us up the neighboring St. Sauveur Mountain.) Continuing gradually downhill, we crossed a little brook where Juno enjoyed a refreshing drink of clear flowing water.
Just beyond, we crossed the wide, gravel Man O’ War Brook Fire Road, which is closed to vehicles and is a great place for walking or jogging. The fire road is just under a mile long and leads to a small waterfall and a viewpoint of Somes Sound. It also connects with hiking trails and is often used to form loop hikes.
We could have done that with Acadia Mountain — gone up the west side of the mountain and down the east side, then back toward the trailhead on the Man O’ War Fire Road for a 3.2-mile loop hike. But instead, we hiked up and down the west side of the mountain, then jogged up and down Man O’ War Fire Road for some extra exercise, stopping at a footbridge over Man O’ War Brook so Juno could splash around.
It was an odd choice, and it was actually a longer hike, totaling 3.8 miles. But Juno didn’t complain about the nonsensical route. That’s one of the benefits of having a canine hiking companion.
As I expected, we encountered many fellow hikers on the trail, including two incredibly polite children — a girl and boy — who had hiked ahead of their parents and were eager to meet Juno. As they gently pet her, the boy asked about her breed (husky and boxer) and called her “majestic.” I met the children and their parents again at the top of the mountain, where the boy exclaimed that the view was “glorious” and congratulated Juno for making it to the top. I’m guessing he was around 8 or 9 years old, while his sister was a bit younger. I just can’t get over how kind and well spoken they were. They added some extra cheer to our hiking experience.
Being mostly forested, Acadia Mountain doesn’t offer much for views until the very top. Then hikers are aptly rewarded for their efforts. From the summit you can look to the south, out over Somes Sound, which is a fjard that partially divides the east and west halves of Mount Desert Island. Beyond that lies the open ocean, dotted with several islands including Greening Island and the Cranberry Isles.
Just before the summit, you do get a glimpse of neighboring mountains over the twisted tops of pitch pines. The most noticeable are the nearby St. Sauveur and Flying mountains, though on a clear day you can spy Blue Hill Mountain in the distance. A monadnock, Blue Hill Mountain is located on the mainland, on Blue Hill Peninsula, and is a popular hiking destination.
Acadia Mountain proved to be a great hike for Juno to gain confidence on rock staircases, of which there were many. The trail also included a few steep sections that required her to jump. These rocky areas were a bit more challenging on the way down. Sometimes Juno would pause at the top of a staircase and look to me for guidance. So I took the lead and she followed my steps. We’re turning into quite the team.