Rising 525 feet above sea level, Gorham Mountain is small compared to many other mountains in Acadia National Park, yet it’s a popular hike — for several good reasons.
I recently revisited the mountain with a group of family and friends. On a sunny Saturday in early April, well before the busy tourist season, we shared the trail with just a few other groups.
Starting at the parking lot for Gorham Mountain Trail, located off Park Loop Road, we had two options: We could either hike to the summit and back for a 2-mile hike, or we could extend our trek and complete a 4-mile loop.
One reason Gorham Mountain is so popular is its proximity to other famous destinations within the park. Following the 4-mile loop, you hike up and over Gorham Mountain, then visit Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and Monument Cove. That’s what my group decided to do.
Just two-tenths of a mile into our hike, we came to our first trail junction, and there would be several more. That’s why it’s always a good reason to carry a trail map when hiking in Acadia. Otherwise, you can easily take the wrong turn.
The first junction was with Cadillac Cliffs Trail, which veered off to the right. Looking at my map, I could see that it reconnected with Gorham Mountain Trail about three-tenths of a mile up the mountain. We decided to check it out.
Traveling along the base of dramatic cliffs, Cadillac Cliffs Trail is rockier and more challenging than Gorham Mountain Trail. It also includes a short section of metal rungs, like a ladder, making it inappropriate for dogs. We learned this the hard way, since two dogs were with us on the hike: Juno and Josey. However, if you’re interested in rock formations and small caves, you don’t want to miss this short side trail.
If you’re into history, just before that first trail junction, embedded in rosy granite, is a bronze plaque in memory of Waldron Bates, one of the first trailbuilders in Acadia National Park. In the late 1800s, approximately 25 miles of Acadia trails were added under his leadership, including the Gorham Mountain Trail and Cadillac Cliffs Trail.
What’s more, the rock piles that mark the trails in Acadia today are called “Bates cairns” because their design was developed by Bates. Each cairn features two rocks that serve as feet to a longer table-top rock; and on top of that is a small rock that points in the direction of the trail.
Continuing up the mountain, we walked through beautiful stands of pitch pines, which are some of the most iconic plants in the park. These short, rugged, spiky conifers are found on many of Acadia’s mountain ridges, yet they’re absent throughout most of Maine.
On the trail, I also noticed plenty of low-bush blueberries, teaberry and sheep laurel. In late spring and early summer, sheep laurel blooms to display small pink flowers. Blueberries become ripe in mid-summer.
Another reason Gorham is so popular is the “bang for your buck” factor. For a short hike, hikers reap great rewards. Open ledges near Gorham’s summit offer stunning views of the nearby ocean and neighboring peaks.
At one of these open areas, we stopped for a drink and snack. We could easily identify Sand Beach and the headland beyond called Great Head. We also watched the waves crash on Old Soaker, a rock ledge off the coast that helps protect Sand Beach from heavy waves.
Other landmarks you can see on the hike include the south ridge of Cadillac Mountain and Beehive, a nearby dome-shaped mountain that’s home to one of the steepest hikes in the park, one filled with rungs and ladders.
The summit of Gorham Mountain was marked with a wooden sign, held up by a large pile of rocks. The sight of it brought back happy memories.
Gorham Mountain was my late dog Oreo’s first hike. I have a photo of him standing by that summit sign. I remember him being a bit clumsy and hesitant on that hike. He would pause and watch me hop from rock to rock, then he’d follow suit. From there, he went on to hike hundreds of trails with me before he passed away in 2020.
It was nice to see my new dog Juno following in his footsteps.
From the summit, we descended the north slope of the mountain to Sand Beach. That portion of the hike traveled through the forest and included plenty of rocks and uneven ground. Along the way, we passed by three intersections with trails leading to The Bowl (a beautiful pond) and Beehive. We veered right at every intersection to stay on track to Sand Beach.
A wide arc of soft sand, Sand Beach is one of the most popular destinations in the park. Dogs are not permitted June 15 through Sept. 8, during the beach’s busiest season. But in early April, our canine companions were free to romp in the waves (on leash, per park rules).
After a sunny sojourn at the beach, we followed the smooth, level Ocean Path for seven-tenths of a mile, past Thunder Hole and Monument Cove, to close the loop. That last stretch of easy walking was the perfect end to our adventure, allowing us to stretch our legs and cool down before climbing back into the car.
For more information about Acadia National Park, including how to purchase a park pass, visit nps.gov/acad/