Difficulty: Easy. The hike is 1.4 miles, out and back, and the trail is fairly wide and smooth, without many exposed roots and rocks. However, the trail was not designed for wheelchairs or strollers.
How to get there: Drive onto Mount Desert Island on Route 3 and veer right after the causeway to head toward Southwest Harbor on Route 102. In 5.2 miles, veer left at the fork and continue on 102 for 11.3 miles, passing through a light in downtown Somesville (at about 5 miles) and the town of Southwest Harbor. At 11.3 miles, you’ll come to a fork; veer left onto Route 102A and drive 4.1 miles to the parking lot for Wonderland Trail, which will be on your left.
Information: The ultimate family adventure, Wonderland Trail in Acadia National Park is an easy hike through a whimsical habitat of granite and twisted pitch pines. The trail ends at the perfect playground — beaches covered with sand and seashells, seaweed gardens and tidal pools.
This scenic spot on Mount Desert Island is a place for exploration and relaxation. In addition to families, Wonderland attracts artists, wildlife watchers, picnickers and people who are simply looking for an easy walk in the state’s most popular park.
Dogs must be kept on a 6-foot leash at all times, and owners are expected to pick up after them. It’s also important that dog owners bring fresh water for their canine companions, which may try to drink the salt water when thirsty.
The trail leaves directly from the parking area, entering a woods full of moss and lichen. The first section of trail is fairly shaded with tall evergreens, but the terrain soon opens up to an interesting habitat of exposed bedrock, stunted pitch pines and low-lying bushes. This part of the trail is roped off on both sides to encouraging hikers to stay on trail. Signs are posted along the way designating it a “restoration area.”
At its end, the trail splits to form a small loop. (This type of trail is often referred to as a “lollipop trail” because of its shape.) Along the loop are a few access points to the coast. The beaches — rocky in some places and sandy in others — offer stunning views of the ocean and nearby islands. When the tide is out, there are several tidal pools to explore. The park asks that visitors be careful with sea creatures and leave things (such as rocks) where found. Taking photographs is a great way to carry the beauty of Wonderland with you.
Wonderland is just one of the many beautiful places you can enjoy in Acadia National Park, which contains 125 miles of hiking trails on Mount Desert Island, and additional 30 miles of trails on Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut. These trails travel to historic sites, along the coast and to the summits of mountains, offering visitors a wide variety of outdoor adventures.
All Acadia National Park visitors are required to pay an entrance fee upon entry May through October, regardless of whether they pass a fee collection gate on their way to the trailhead parking area. The cost of park passes varies. To learn about where to purchase a park pass at www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/.
For information about the park, visit www.nps/gov/acad or call 288-3338.
Personal note: “Look! It’s leaning on its elbow,” I said as I walked behind my fiance, Derek, and our dog Oreo on Sunday.
“What?” Derek asked, turning around with a confused look on his face.
“The tree,” I said pointing to a stunted pitch pine beside the trail. “It looks like it’s leaning on its elbow. See the branch?”
“Oh,” Derek said, humoring me. “Maybe it tipped over a long time ago and just grew like that.”
The tree was tilted on its side, one branch touching the ground then bending — like an elbow — as if to support it. Of all the beautiful sights along the Wonderland Trail, it was an unusual feature to point out. But that’s the thing with trails — they appear differently to each hiker.
“There’s so much to see,” I said as we navigated through seaweed and rocks to a sandy section of the beach. I bent down to pick up a white slipper shell, then examined the sand, which appeared to be made up entirely of crushed sea shells.
I looked down as I walked, peering into tidal pools filled with color and scanning the sand for treasures to photograph. Seaweed swayed in the shallows — reds, greens and browns. There were rocks of all shapes and patterns, spotted and striped, and bits of sea glass, shining in the sun.
Periwinkles rolled underfoot, then slippery sea weed, then soft sand.
I looked up to take in the view — nearby islands, covered with evergreens, and in between, ocean, as far as the eye could see. A bald eagle wheeled overhead. Gulls cried and chattered on a nearby sandbar.
Oreo waded in the water and trotted over mounds of glistening seaweed with confidence. He raised his head and sniffed the breeze, checked out a lobster trap washed ashore and (sigh) rolled in the sand. The ride home smelled like salty dog.
I was pouring water into Oreo’s bowl when Derek said, “Is that a seal?”
“I don’t see it anymore,” he said, staring at a jumble of rocks and seaweed nearby.
Then a head popped up.
“That’s not a seal,” I said, creeping forward to take a picture.
“All I saw was the pointy nose,” he replied.
The mink stared at us. We stared at the mink. It disappeared. Where’d it go? Its head popped up out of the seaweed, closer this time. Was it curious? I stepped forward. It ducked and darted under a rock, then it was up again, stretching its long neck, so close that I couldn’t focus on it with my 400mm camera lens. Its brown fur was matted with sea water, and it had a white patch on its chin. I backed up. It vanished again, then popped up to my left, sprinting over the rocks to the woods.
I’d hoped to photograph some seabirds that day, but the mink encounter was much more exciting.
(In the video, you’ll hear me call it a weasel. That’s what I thought at first, but after doing some research, I learned that minks — which look like weasels, but bigger — are more likely to stalk the shoreline. In fact, minks are fast swimmers and can dive 15 feet underwater!)