The Best Hiking Trails in Maine’s Acadia National Park Are the Gifts of Historic Pathmakers

This is my ninth summer of hiking on Mount Desert Island, and every year increases my indebtedness to the trailmakers who made it possible to access so many places where the mountains greet the sea. 

The first pathmakers on Mount Desert Island were the Wabenaki Indians who, prior to the European explorers and the settlers from Massachusetts in the 1760s, forged carry trails to transport their canoes between bodies of water. 

One such trail today is the Jordan Pond Carry Trail between Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake.  As with all carry trails, it is the shortest, flattest route between ponds.  We’ve found it to be a great way to end a circuit that begins at Bubble Rock parking area, ascends up to North Bubble past Bubble Rock, heads north to Conners Nubble, and runs along Eagle Lake.  Here’s what the view is like of Eagle Lake from Conners Nubble.

 By the 1890s extensive trail building was sponsored by village improvement societies, and people who financed a trail could name it after whomever they chose. 

We were thinking of that the time we hiked Kurt Diederich’s Climb.  Hundreds of stone steps enable a 1,223-foot gross vertical gain to the top of Dorr Mountain.  Contemporary guide maker Tom St. Germain calls this path, constructed in 1913, “historically important.”  The view from the top of Dorr, shown here, presents the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay.  

 From stone steps to iron rungs and ladders, innovative trail construction continued with Waldron Bates, who chaired the Roads and Paths Committee of the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association from 1900 to 1909. 

One of my favorite places for using iron rung ladders is the Beehive Trail.  In fact, if the Precipice is closed because of peregrine nesting, it’s a great alternative hike.  At only 2 miles, it is a short, but difficult climb that utilizes rungs and ladders to help you maneuver the steep face of Champlain Mountain.  As you do, you have beautiful views of Sand Beach, as shown at the right above.

And at the top, one of the rewards is to see The Bowl, below, which is a glacial cirque formed in the depression of the sides of mountains. 

My final acknowledgement goes to the individuals who participated in trail building as part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  In 1933 they had a camp on the west side of the island, today known as “the quietside.” 

The CCC expansion of the trail system included such great trails as The Perpendicular, which also features hundreds of granite stairs.  At the height of the summer season these trails offer a solitude not possible on the most popular trails around Jordan Pond or Ocean Drive.  In addition, the deep boreal forests and rich moss floor of the western mountains are in marked contrast to the woods of the eastern part of Mount Desert Island, which have re-grown since the Great Fire of 1947.

If you use Tom St. Germain’s highly acclaimed  hiking guide A Walk in the Park, you’ll also be treated to some historical perspective of Acadia’s trails.  The Olmsted Center has also published a detailed report on the historic hiking trail system of Mount Desert Island called Pathmakers, the photos and maps in which I particularly enjoy.

For more ideas on the best trails in Acadia National Park, just click here. 

Happy hiking.

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