Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous. The 1-mile Canada Cliffs Trail is moderate difficulty and switchbacks up the cliffs with a few sections of stone and log steps. The 0.5-mile Beech Cliffs Trail is steeper and includes metal ladders and railings.
How to get there: Both trails leave from the Echo Lake Beach parking lot in Acadia National Park near the town of Southwest Harbor on Mount Desert Island. The entrance to the parking lot is off ME Route 102, past Somesville, on the south end of Echo Lake. If you plan to hike these trails off season, the road to the parking lot will be closed (a gate blocking it off). There’s room to park outside the gate, far off the road. The walk to the parking lot is short.
The Canada Cliffs Trail (1.0 mile) is marked by a cedar post sign at the left side of the Echo Lake Beach parking lot. The Beech Cliff Trail (0.5 mile) is marked by a cedar post sign at the far end of the parking lot, reached by walking down a short path.
Information: Hikers wanting to explore the cliffs by Echo Lake have a few options.
Option 1: Hike up and down Canada Cliffs Trail. Starting at the Canada Cliffs trailhead, you will traverse a winding trail, marked with blue blazes, through birch forest littered with mossy boulders. The cliffs rise to your right (west). At first the trail heads south and remains close to the road. You will cross a few small bridges over brooks; then the trail turns north and switchbacks up the cliffs. At the top of the cliffs, the trees open up, offering a view of Beech Mountain to the west, topped by a fire tower. Continue north along the cliffs (following the blue blazes. At a trail juncture, a sign will point to Beach Cliffs Trail and the Beech Cliffs Loop, a 0.4-mile loop that travels along the top of the cliffs and offers great views of Echo Lake and MDI. After exploring the cliffs, turn around and descend the Canada Cliffs Trail. The hike will be more than 2.4 miles, round trip.
Option 2: Hike up Beech Cliffs Trail and down Canada Cliffs Trail. Walk to the beach, turn left and follow a path to the Beech Cliffs Trailhead. The Beech Cliffs Trail, 0.5 miles long, is strenuous and more difficult to follow because it is not marked with blazes. Pay attention and look for stone steps and a worn path at the beginning. The trail becomes increasingly steep, and hikers must climb a number of metal ladders to get to the top of the cliffs. The trail ends at the trail juncture with Canada Cliffs Trail and Beech Cliffs Loop Trail. Descend the Canada Cliffs Trail to the parking lot. This hike is more than 1.5 mile, round trip. If you explore the Beech Cliffs Loop at the top before descending, the hike will be about 1.9 miles, round trip.
Option 3: Hike up and down Beech Cliffs Trail. This option is for experienced hikers only because hiking down a steep trail can be dangerous. This hike is about 1 mile, round trip.
A map of the Canada Cliffs Trail-Beech Cliff Trail loop (option 2), can be found at www.mainetrailfinder.com/Trail/acadia-national-park-canada-cliff-loop. This map does not include the Beach Cliffs Loop, which loops to the north, along the cliffs. For information about park fees and rules, call 288-3338.
Personal Note: I hiked both trails up and down on March 22, 2012 (a sunny day in the 70s). On that date, we came across a blank sign as the Canada Cliffs Trail reached the bare top of the cliffs, Beech Mountain’s east peak. Do not turn left. Continue straight ahead and to the right on the blue blazed trail.
For advanced hikers who aren’t afraid of heights, I suggest hiking up the Beech Cliffs Trail and descending the Canada Cliffs Trail. For hikers who do not like climbing ladders or standing close to cliff edges, hike up and down the Canada Cliffs Trail. It’s a beautiful trail, one that I didn’t mind hiking twice.