1-minute hike: North Ridge Trail, Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park

Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous. The 2.2-mile trail is steep in several areas and travels over rocky terrain. Much of the trail is open to the wind and sun. 

How to get there: The North Ridge Trail leaves from the Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park. To get there, cross the bridge onto Mount Desert Island on Route 3. After the bridge, veer left, remaining on Route 3 and drive about 7.5 miles to the entrance of Acadia National Park on the right. Enter the park and pass the gate onto Park Loop Road (also known as Paradise Hill Road). Continue on Park Loop Road (which on some GPS may become Jordan Pond Road) for about 3 miles until the road splits. At the split, take a sharp left and Park Loop Road becomes a one-way road. (If you veer right instead, you will soon reach Cadillac Summit Road on the left and you’ll know you’ve gone the wrong way.) Drive a short distance on Park Loop Road and you will see parking spots for the North Ridge Trail on the left. The trailhead, marked with the cedar post sign, is directly across the road from the parking spots. A bit farther up the trail is a kiosk with a map of the trail and rules.

Information: Rising 1,530 feet above sea level, Cadillac Mountain is not only the tallest mountain on Mount Desert Island, but also the tallest mountain along the eastern coast of the United States. It provides stunning views of the island, including the cluster of buildings and ships that comprise Bar Harbor, a bustling town just minutes away.

A few routes lead to the top of Cadillac Mountain. The scenic Cadillac Summit Road, which is open to vehicles, officially opened in 1931. The paved road meanders along the north and eastern side of the mountain to a large parking area at the top. The road is closed from December through April 14 and whenever weather conditions require. 

For hikers, there are a few trails that lead to the summit: the North Ridge Trail, the South Ridge Trail, the West Face Trail and the Gorge Trail.

The 2.2-mile North Ridge Trail travels along the mountain’s north ridge and is the focus of today’s “1-minute hike.”

Keep in mind, the trailhead of North Ridge Road is off Park Loop Road, which is closed from December through April 14.

From the Park Loop Road, the North Ridge Trail climbs steeply to a kiosk displaying a detailed trail map and rules of the park. For example, hikers are asked to stay on marked trails. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on a 6-foot leash at all times. And visitors are expected to adhere to Leave No Trace principles, which include enjoying wildlife from a distance, packing out trash, leaving nature where you find it. Fires and camping aren’t allowed in the park; and bicycles and horses are only allowed on the carriage roads and fire roads unless posted.

Park management also asks visitors not to tamper with cairns, which are rock piles that mark the trail. Acadia trails are marked with Bates cairns, designed in the early 1900s by Acadia trail builder Waldron Bates. The Bates cairn is made up of two large base stones supporting a mantel between them. A fourth rock, known as the pointer rock, rests on top and points in the direction of the trail.

The trail is also marked with blue paint (on the trees and on the bedrock).

Views open up early in the hike along the ridge. To the northeast, you will see the cluster of buildings and ships that make up Bar Harbor, as well as the sandbar leading out to Bar Island. To the west is Eagle Lake, and to the east is nearby Dorr Mountain. 

While much of the ridge is bald, there is a variety of plant life to enjoy along the way, including stunted pitch pine, wild blueberries, grasses, sedges other low-lying plants. Impressive granite boulders also add to the scenery along the trail.

Steep sections of trail are broken up by level stretches, which allows you to catch your breath and stretch your legs a bit. 

As you near the summit, you’ll notice the trail is lined with rope. Since the summit of Cadillac is such a popular destination, the summit area has sustained loss of soil and vegetation over the years as people have wandered off trail to seek privacy and unobstructed scenic photographs. In response to this problem, in 2000, the park developed a wide meandering walkways and educational signs at the summit; areas of vegetation have been roped off; and a ranger is often present. 

Tucked in a forested area not far from the summit is the Cadillac Summit Center, which includes an information center, bathrooms and a shop of gifts and snacks (such as trail food, baked goods and hot beverages).

Remember: all park visitors are required to pay an entrance fee upon entry to Acadia National Park May through October. Passes are non-transferable and available at Acadia National Park visitor centers and fee collection areas. Credit cards are accepted.

Acadia National Park, Maine’s only national park, is the first national park east of the Mississippi River, according to “The Making of the National Parks: An American Idea,” by Kim Heacox. Established in 1919, Acadia is 47,400 acres and is the result of individual land donations. For information, visit www.nps.gov/acad or call 288-3338.

Personal note: Last weekend, I decided it was high time to hike Cadillac Mountain for a “1-minute hike.” I’ve hiked the North Ridge Trail several times before, so I decided to start with that trail, though there are two other ways up the mountain (which I’m sure I’ll explore on another day). Derek and our dog Oreo joined me, both eager to tackle a mountain despite the cold weather.

To stay warm, I pulled my winter hiking gear out of storage and found my Columbia thermal pants, which has a reflective lining for trapping in heat. I then layered on a wool shirt, a fleece and a windproof fleece. With a fleece-lined hat and mittens, I was good to go. 

For Oreo, who was wearing a dog fleece, it was his first hike carrying his new Mountainsmith dog pack. He seemed to enjoy it. The only problem he faced is that he likes to roll onto his back, and the backpack sometimes made it difficult for him to flip back over. He reminded me of a beetle that had been flipped over on his shell.

It was my third time hiking North Ridge Trail, and I must say, I’m a fan. It’s not a long hike, yet it brings you to the top of Acadia’s tallest mountain. You get to enjoy stunning views of the island for the majority of the hike, not just at the summit. And when you aren’t looking at the surrounding mountains and the sparkling ocean, you can enjoy the nearby scenery — the pink granite bedrock and the stunted evergreens.

If planning hiking Cadillac, I have one piece of advice: Don’t be discouraged when you see cars and crowds at the summit. It’s all a part of the experience. And bring a few bucks with you to buy a hot chocolate or brownie from the summit store.


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Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.