Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous. The Penobscot Mountain Trail is 1.5 miles long, according to the National Park Service, and is just one of several trails that explore Penobscot Mountain. Expect plenty of exposed tree roots and rocks, as well as some wet, slippery granite in places.
How to get there: The closest parking area in Acadia National Park to Penobscot Mountain Trail is at the Jordan Pond House off the Park Loop Road. After driving onto Mount Desert Island on Route 3, veer left at the intersection and drive toward Bar Harbor for about 7.6 miles and turn right to enter Acadia National Park at Hulls Cove Visitor Center. Drive straight forward for a few hundred feet, then at the intersection, turn left onto the Park Loop Road (Hulls Cove Visitor Center and a large parking area will be to the right if you need to pay for a park pass or purchase a trail map). Drive on Park Loop Road for 3 miles, then veer right and continue on Park Loop Road for another 4.4 miles, then turn right into the parking area for Jordan Pond.
Navigate the trails and carriage roads around the pond to reach the trails leading up Penobscot Mountain, which lies just west of the pond.
Information: Rising 1,194 feet above sea level on Maine’s scenic Mount Desert Island, Penobscot Mountain is one of many beautiful mountains to hike in Acadia National Park. And because some of its neighbors are more popular — for example, Cadillac Mountain and The Bubbles — Penobscot Mountain is often not too crowded.
The 1.5-mile Penobscot Mountain Trail is just one of a few ways to climb to the summit of the mountain. There is also the 2.2-mile Jordan Cliff Trail, which is a more technical hike, including includes iron rungs and narrow steps; as well as the 1.8-mile Asticou Trail, which is a more gentle climb and connects to Sargent Mountain South Ridge Trail to the north. In addition, there are a few connector trails. It’s wise to bring a trail map so not to get confused.
One way to reach the Penobscot Mountain Trail is to start at Jordan Pond House parking area near the south shore of Jordan Pond, then follow Jordan Pond Path along the edge of the southwest tip of the pond, past Jordan Pond House, to a carriage road. Turn right onto the carriage road and hike north to a three-way intersection (#14 on the trail map posted in the parking area), where you will turn left, continuing on carriage roads.
The carriage road will soon cross a beautiful stone bridge, and you’ll see a carved cedar post marking Jordan Cliffs Trail on your right. Just beyond that is Spring Trail, also marked with a carved cedar post on the right.
Here the Spring Trail acts as a shortcut to Penobscot Mountain Trail, but it’s not for everyone. This short section of the Spring Trail (about 0.3 mile) between the carriage road and Penobscot Mountain Trail is very steep and includes a narrow path along a cliff face (made safer by a wooden railing) as well as a climb up a narrow crevice between rocks. Therefore, this option isn’t suitable for most dogs and young children.
If you do choose to turn right onto Spring Trail, after about 0.3 mile of steep climbing, the trail meets Penobscot Mountain Trail about 1 mile from the summit. Turn right onto Penobscot Mountain Trail to hike to the summit. If you turn left, you’ll descend the mountain to the carriage roads.
If you decided against the Spring Trail, simply continue on the carriage road and you’ll find the Penobscot Mountain Trail to your right after about 0.6 mile of walking. Turn right onto the trail and start the gradual ascent up the mountain through the forest.
The Penobscot Mountain Trail follows the mountain’s long southern ridge, known as Jordan Ridge. After its intersection with the Spring Trail, it leaves the forest behind and continues along the ridge for about 1 mile to the summit. Because the ridge is mostly bald, this hike offers amazing views much of the way.
As you climb, you’ll see Jordan Pond to your right (east) and the humps of Parkman and Norumbega mountains to your left (west). And if you pause for a moment and look behind you, the view stretches over Long Pond and Seal Harbor to the glittering Atlantic Ocean and the Cranberry Isles.
The summit of the mountain is marked with a wooden sign lodged in a large pile of rocks. (There, the Penobscot Mountain Trail intersects with two other hiking trails.)
While hiking in Acadia National Park, be sure to understand and follow park regulations, which are posted on www.nps.gov/acad/ and at the park’s many visitor centers. Dogs are permitted on most park trails if a leash no longer than 6 feet long. As always, pick up after yourself and your pets (including their waste). Leave cairns (rock piles that mark the trail) as you find them, and try your best to “leave no trace.”
All park visitors are required to pay an entrance fee upon entry May through October. Park passes are available at several locations on the island, including park visitor centers. For information about the park, call 288-3338.
Personal note: My friend Heather, who currently lives in Boston, traveled north to visit family in Maine this past weekend. I’ve known her since grade school, and I’ve always enjoy spending time with her, so I suggested we go on a hike to check out the fall foliage in Acadia National Park. She didn’t take any convincing. Neither did my dog, Oreo. So the three of us hopped in my Subaru and we headed to the coast.
Jordan Pond was dark and textured with waves, stirred up by the cold fall wind, that morning. Bundled in fleece jackets and winter hats, we hurried along the shore on the smooth Jordan Pond Path (a great trail for families) to find the carriage roads.
The goal was to get to the top of Penobscot Mountain, a peak I had yet to visit in the park, but I wasn’t set on which route we would take. After reading a bit about the Jordan Cliffs Trail, we decided against it because we knew it would be too steep for Oreo, regardless of how much of a rock climber he thinks he is. But we did try the shortcut of the Spring Trail, which also proved to be steep and challenging.
On the Spring Trail, Oreo failed to climb up the steep rock “steps” in a narrow crevice twice on his own, so I gave him a boost. He made it, but it was a bit nerve wracking. I wouldn’t suggest it for most dogs.
Once we reached the Penobscot Mountain Trail, the climb was more gradual, and the views opened right up. The terrain was a mix of brilliant colors. The fall foliage of reds, oranges and yellows seemed to only intensify the hues of the rosy granite, pale green lichen and emerald pines.
Along the ridge, the trail was marked with Bates Cairns, rock piles with a specific design — two rock legs, a shelf rock topped with a directional rock — developed by Waldron Bates, a man who blazed many of the trails of Acadia National Park in the late 1800s. I told Heather about the cairns and commented on the peculiar problem the park has with people disturbing them. Rangers have told me that park visitors move and tear down cairns all the time — as well as make new cairns off trail — which can be really confusing to hikers.
The sun fought through the clouds as the morning wore on, but the harsh wind kept up. At the summit — where about 25 other hikers were busy snapping photos (it was Saturday, after all) — we took obligatory summit sign photos ducked behind a ledge to regroup and escape the wind, then turned around and hiked down the mountain.
Heather, thank you for helping me with my camera work and taking Oreo’s leash (as he pulled relentlessly) for at least half of the hike. It was a day full of laughter and sun. And watch out, I think Oreo wants you to be his girlfriend.