Difficulty: Moderate. The 3.3-mile route is on wide, hilly carriage roads surfaced with gravel. The carriage roads are closed to vehicles and are appropriate for walking, biking, running, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
How to get there: Cross the causeway onto Mount Desert Island on Route 3 (also known as Bar Harbor Road) and veer left where the road splits by the convenience store, staying on Route 3. Continue on Route 3 for about 7.8 miles and the road will become two lanes. Stay in the right lane and turn right to enter Acadia National Park. You’ll soon come to a stop sign. Turn right to drive to the large parking lot of Hulls Cove Visitor Center, where you’ll find a kiosk and trail maps. A short hiking trail that leads to the Witch Hole Pond loop is at the west end of the Hulls Cove Visitor Center parking area.
The Witch Hole Pond Loop can also be accessed by parking at Eagle Lake and hiking (or biking or skiing) into it on the trail that travels past the Breakneck Ponds. It can also be accessed from a parking lot on Duck Brook Road by the big stone bridge.
Information: Witch Hole Pond Loop is a 3.3-mile route on the carriage roads of Acadia National Park that visits Witch Hole Pond, Halfmoon Pond and Duck Brook. The hilly loop is great for biking and hiking, and in the winter, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island is home to about 45 miles of carriage roads, which are open to foot traffic, bikers, horseback riders and dogs if kept on leash at all times. All motorized vehicles are prohibited on park trails and carriage roads. Be courteous of other trail users and be sure to review park guidelines, which are posted at www.nps.gov/acad.
All park visitors are required to pay an entrance fee upon entry May through October. Admission fees range in price from $5 (for one person hiking or biking, good for 7 days) to $40 for an annual park pass for a vehicle.
Witch Hole Loop can be accessed from a number of parking areas, including a parking area by Duck Brook Bridge of Duck Brook Road, the Eagle Lake parking area and the large parking lot at Hulls Cove Visitor Center.
If you start at Hulls Cove Visitor Center, the trailhead is at the west end of the parking lot and is marked by a sign that reads “Carriage Trails.” A short way down the trail is a kiosk. In about 0.2 mile, the trail leads to the Intersection 1 of the Witch Hole Pond Loop.
Turn right at Intersection 1 and walk 0.2 mile on the carriage road to Intersection 2 near the edge of Witch Hole Pond. This is where the loop begins. It can be traveled in either direction.
Witch Hole Pond isn’t your typical frog pond. Covering 28 acres and reaching 33 deep, it’s home to a variety of fish, including brook trout, according to a 2006 brochure about fishing in the park provided by the National Park Service and surveys by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
The carriage road makes a few sharp bends then meets Duck Brook, which it follows to Intersection 5 at Duck Brook Bridge. Designed by John D. Rockefeller in collaboration with other architects and local engineers, this large stone bridge was constructed in 1929 to complement the landscape while giving people access to beautiful places in Acadia National Park. Rockefeller built 16 of these impressive bridges on the carriage road system, according to an educational display near the Duck Brook Bridge. All of them are faced with local stone, but no two are architecturally alike.
The road is about 1 mile between Intersection 3 and 5. (Intersection 4 further along the loop, oddly.) The bridge at Intersection 5 leads over the brook to a small parking area on Duck Brook Road.
Continuing past the bridge, the carriage road continues through the forest, often lined with blocks of granite that are characteristic to Acadia’s park roads. It’s 1 mile from Intersection 5 to 4, which is an intersection with a carriage road leading from Eagle Lake.
The last section of the loop — between Intersection 4 and 2 — leads past Halfmoon Pond and back to Witch Hole Pond. This part is 1.1 mile.
For information about Acadia’s carriage roads and other recreational trails, visit www.nps.gov/acad or friendsofacadia.org, a nonprofit organization that works to support the park through a number of projects, publications and public events.
Personal note: A BDN reader suggested I explore some of Acadia’s carriage roads a while ago, as they’re a great option for people who can’t (or don’t want to) handle the tricky footing of many of the park’s hiking trails. The carriage roads are wider than the typical hiking trail, and they’re surfaced with packed gravel, free of the exposed roots and rocks that people encounter on most hiking trails.
The park’s 45 miles of carriage roads are also a great option for people on wheels, whether they be bicyclists or wheelchair users. And in the winter, they’re a playground for recreationists. I saw about 20 cross-country skiers while snowshoeing the Witch Hole Pond Loop with my dog Oreo on Jan. 16 — a Friday. I imagine the route is even busier on a sunny weekend day.
On the way to the snowshoe, I made a pitstop to purchase Oreo a new coat at Crystal Clear Family Pet Center in Ellsworth. I ended up purchasing him a fleece-lined windbreaker, which was perfect for hiking (along with a squeaky toy that appeared to be a mix between a fox and a squid, which Oreo picked out in the toy aisle). I’m giving the shop a shoutout because I spent about an hour there, and they have a lot of great stuff for the outdoorsy dog, including Musher’s Secret, a wax I put on Oreo’s paws to protect him from the cold and crusty snow. Also, every employee I met was kind and helpful.
I decided to let Oreo carry his own gear in his Mountainsmith backpack, hoping it would help him expend more of his boundless energy. It didn’t really work. He pulled quite a bit on his leash, making snowshoeing difficult. After about a mile on the trail, I collapsed one of my snowshoe poles strapped it to my backpack so I could hold the leash with one hand and use a pole with the other. It ended up working out OK, and after a while, Oreo stopped pulling so much, as usual.
The winter landscape was absolutely stunning, from the quiet, snowy evergreen forest to the frozen ponds with mountains in the rising in the background. I even got a glimpse of the ocean not long after passing the Duck Brook Bridge.
We started out the hike in the sun, with blue skies overhead, but it wasn’t long before clouds crept in — first white, then dark gray — and we found ourselves in a squall, with wind whipping big flakes of snow into our faces. The mini blizzard lasted about 20 minutes, then moved on. The sun was peeking out again when we finished our snowshoe.