My original reason for coming to the East Coast was that I saw a picture of Acadia National Park one day and decided that I just had to go there. The scenery is just beautiful, and what better way to take it in than by hitting some of the park’s many hiking trails.
Acadia covers a good portion of Mount Desert Island, an island off the Maine coast that is attached to the mainland by a causeway. The main town on the island is Bar Harbor, a bustling little tourist town in the summer months. In fact, Bar Harbor is a bit too bustling for me and I end up avoiding it for the most part. It’s not a large town, but the streets are full of people, everywhere’s busy, it’s nearly impossible to find a park, the traffic nearly always crawls to a standstill, and whole thing just gets a bit much after a while. Luckily there are plenty of other places to escape to. The western side of the island has some little towns that are a bit more chilled out (Southwest Harbor has my goto coffee shop), and it’s not hard to find a nice quiet hiking trail if you need some space.
The weather’s not the best for my trip here. I guess after my perfect day for Lafayette my luck has run out. Luckily my couchsurfing hosts give me some advice on good trails to do, and warn me off climbing the Beehive, one of the more famous trails on the island. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with climbing the Beehive, but it’s pretty slick in wet weather and notorious for injuring people. I take their advice and give it a miss. Instead, I decide to make a loop of the Gorham Mountain Trail by returning via the Ocean Path, and do a hike up Mount Mansell on the western side of the island if I still have enough light left.
The Gorham Mountain Trail starts at the same trailhead as the beehive. It’s been a hectic drive over and I wonder how busy the trail in going to be. Luckily for me, the odd bit of misty rain (and probably the fact that 99% of the people here are lazy) seems to be keeping most people in their cars. The few others I do see split off early on and head for the Beehive. I’m glad to have the trail to myself but I wonder if it’s such a good idea for them to go up there. They don’t look like particularly rugged outdoorsmen and although the rain isn’t too intense, it’s enough to make the trails fairly slippery. Oh well. If the various warning signs at the trailhead haven’t deterred them then I doubt anything I say is going to change their minds.
After the bustle of Bar Harbor, getting lost in the woods here is wonderful. The trail basically involves walking over various large rock slabs, but as far as mountains go, Gorham is pretty easy going. I don’t even break a sweat on the climb up, which is good since I don’t really want to be sweltering away in my raincoat. The light drizzle brings out the greens in the trees nicely and the pleasant amble through the forest is a great place to drift away with my thoughts.
After a nice climb, the trees open up as the trail runs along the top of Mount Gorham. The scenery here is a great example of the pink granite and lovely small firs that Acadia is famous for. It doesn’t have the impressive grandeur of a lot of the US national parks. The beauty here is in the serenity. It’s a wonderfully lonely stretch of coastline. Oddly enough even the bustle of Bar Harbor and rush of summer beach goers can’t quite dampen the feeling of isolation that dwells in this place. It must be truly spectacular when the weather cools down and the summer tourists leave.
The rainy day is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand there’s supposed to be some great views from up here but they’re all hiding in a blanket of white fog so I feel like I’m missing out on some of the main features of the trail. On the other, the fog really adds to the mood of the place. Plus, I can’t see the other mountains, but in places the clouds part enough to give me some great glimpses of the misty ocean that are almost better than a clear view. I’m pretty sure there are some pirate ships lurking just out of sight!
The descent from Mount Gorham is just as pretty as the climb up, with a very similar landscape. The rain has pretty much stopped by this point and I start to see a few more people on the trail. As the Gorham Mountain Trail ends and hits the Ocean Path, a few people becomes, well, quite a few. The rain has stopped and the Ocean Path is so flat and well kept that it’s easy enough to tempt some of the lazy people out of their cars. After having the trail to myself, the relative crowds are a bit disappointing, but it’s worth putting up with them to get a closer look at the wonderful coastline at Otter Point.
Just before I get back to the car I see a gathering of emergency services vehicles at the trailhead that I started at. I’m not positive that’s what they’re there for, but I’m guessing someone has hurt themselves trying to climb the Beehive. When I get back to where I’m staying my hosts will confirm that yes, that’s probably what it was as someone tends to need rescuing from there about once a day. Seriously? Come on people, I know accidents happen, but if you used your brains for a second maybe they wouldn’t happen quite so often.
I’ve still got a fair few hours of daylight left so I decide to round off my day in the woods with a hike on the western side of the island. The rain has started to close in by the time I get to the Mount Mansell trailhead but I’m not to be deterred. Mount Mansell isn’t a long hike, but unlike Gorham Mountain it’s a steep climb, which is a bit of a shock to the system after so much easy strolling. The trail to the peak is called the Perpendicular Trail and it’s an impress feat engineering. The huge cut stone slabs are a challenge for the thighs but I can’t help admiring how much work has gone into them as I make my ascent.
I’m sure there’s usually a good view from the peak but unfortunately the rain means I can’t see anything that’s more than a few meters in fronts of me. As with the coastal trails however, the landscape really suites the fog that is hanging around. Not that the two trails look the same however. Far from it. Where Gorham is classic Acadia with its little firs, pink granite and forlorn coastline, the area around Mount Mansell is what you would expect the Maine woods to look like: super creepy. The fog skulking around the tall pines leaves me in no doubt why Maine breeds horror writers. I half expect zombies or axe murderers to be lurking around every corner. This is intensified by the descent back to the trailhead being legitimately scary. I take a different route on the way down which doesn’t have the steep steps. Instead the trail is basically walking over large rock slabs. This is fine most of the way, but in places they’re very steep stone slabs, and the rain makes them rather slippery stone slabs. The light is starting to dim by this point as well and I can’t help but come back to the fact that, axe murderer or no axe murderer, this would be a very bad time and place to break my leg.
All is well though, and I make it back to the trailhead without mishap. No overnighter in the rainy, creepy Maine woods necessary. I confess, I actually enjoyed the trek up Mount Mansell partly because it creeped me out so much, and it was nice to see another side to Acadia. I’ve not only been on two great trails, I’ve seen a broad spectrum of the scenery the park has to offer. A fulfilling day all round.
The Gorham Mountain Trail is around 2 miles one way. It starts at the trailhead for The Beehive (on the Park Loop Road across from the entrance to Sand Beach, which is the easiest place to park) and splits off around 0.2 miles in. Follow the signposts to The Bowl if Gorham isn’t marked yet. The trail ends right next to the Ocean Path so it’s easy to join these two to make a loop back to Sand Beach.
The Ocean Path is an easy 2 mile seaside stroll between Sand Beach and Otter Point. The trail passes the Thunder Hole which is worth a look if you catch it at high tide. The Otter Cliffs are also a popular rock climbing area if you have the time and gear for it.
The Mount Mansell trailhead is a bit trickier to find. Head towards Southwest Harbor and just before the town take a right down Seal Cove Road. Another right down Long Pond Road will take you to the trailhead. The path to the top is via the Perpendicular Trail which starts off to the left of the car park along the lake. For the 2.4 mile loop, descend via the Mansell Mountain Trail and then take the Cold Brook Trail back to the car park. If you have time, it’s also possible to do a larger loop by skipping the Mansell Mountain Trail and continuing on to Bernard Mountain. I’d recommend getting a map though, there’s lots of different ways you can split of in this area.
Listening to: La Mer – Nine Inch Nails