Difficulty: Easy to moderate. The trail forms a 1.3-mile figure eight. The first loop is surfaced with gravel and designed to be wheelchair accessible; while the second loop is not surfaced with gravel, not wheelchair accessible and includes bog bridges, rocky sections and some exposed tree roots that can easily trip people not paying attention to their feet.
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 right onto Route 102 and drive 1.6 miles to an intersection in the town of Bass Harbor and veer left onto Route 102A. Drive 2.3 miles on that road, passing the road to Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, and the parking lot for Ship Harbor Nature Trail will be on your right, just 0.3 miles before the Wonderland Trail park area, which also will be on your right.
Information: The Ship Harbor Nature Trail is one of several easy, family-friendly hikes in Acadia National Park. Shaped like a figure eight, the trail leads to the rocky coastline and through a whimsical spruce forest-fir forest. Along the way, beautifully illustrated nature displays help walkers interpret their surroundings.
The trail starts at the parking lot and crosses a small clearing before entering the woods, where a kiosk displays a trail map and visitor guidelines. Soon after the kiosk, the trail splits into the first loop, which is wide and surfaced with gravel.
If you turn right and hike the loop counter-clockwise, the smooth trail winds its way through the woods to a viewpoint of Ship Harbor. The trail then gently descends to the water, where there’s an interpretive display about mudflats, home to soft-shelled clams, marine worms, periwinkles and a variety of crustaceans. This location is a great place to look for wading birds, such as sandpipers and lesser yellowlegs, picking through the water and mud for food.
The interpretive displays along the trail were illustrated by Logan Parsins, a woman from California known for her detailed and colorful depictions of the natural world. Parsins works part-time as a high school art teacher and freelance illustrator. In addition to Acadia National Park, her clients include Yosemite National Park, Scientific American magazine and UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources.
Eventually, the trail will lead to the center of the figure eight, a four-way intersection. There you can either head back to the trailhead on the forest portion of the easy loop, or you can continue on to the second loop, which travels over uneven terrain to some stunning outlooks on the rocky shore. On this section of the trail, small children may need assistance while walking over rocks and narrow bog bridges.
At the far end of the figure eight, you’ll come to an interpretive display about tide pools and the many creatures living there-in. Nearby, just beyond a ledge of rosy granite, are several tide pools to explore.
The Ship Harbor Trail is accessible in the winter and makes a good snowshoeing destination, but keep in mind that ice often makes the trails dangerous. Wear snowshoes or ice cleats when necessary, and factor in the short daylight hours. Always bring a headlamp, just in case.
The park asks that hikers stay on trail; enjoy wildlife from a distance; leave plants, rocks and sea animals where you find them; and dispose of human waste in a cathole that is at least 6 inches deep and 100 feet from water sources or trails — or use the outhouse at the trailhead. Bikes, horses, camping and fires are not permitted on or near the trail.
Dogs are permitted if kept on leashes no longer than 6 feet and are attended to at all times. Carry out all dog waste.
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, visit www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/.
For information, visit www.nps/gov/acad or call 288-3338.
Personal note: It was a surprise to see an empty parking lot on Saturday morning at Acadia National Park. It seemed a luxury to have the popular Ship Harbor Nature Trail all to ourselves — at least for a little while.
After about 15 minutes on the easy trail, my husband, Derek, and I, paused to photograph a view of the grey-blue ocean under an overcast sky. As I fiddled with my camera settings to pick up the glow of sun filtering through the clouds, Oreo barked to announce a small group of hikers coming up behind us. We waved and let them pass.
They were the first of several hikers that ended up passing us on the trail that day. We were moving slow, trying to capture the beauty of the rosy granite shore. And we came to a screaming halt when I spotted a group of buffleheads — shy sea ducks that I rarely have the opportunity to observe. From our vantage point on a small cliff, I watched a bufflehead twist his big white head around to groom the dark iridescent feathers on his back. He then thrashed around in the water, flapping his wings and rolling on his side to groom his white chest with his salmon-colored feet. I say “he” because the females and males of the group were easy to tell apart — the females having a different pattern with less white and none of the purple-blue iridescence to their dark feathers.
The cold air turned my fingers pink, reminding me that mitten season has begun. Nevertheless, Oreo wanted to go swimming. I allowed him to wade into a tide pool, but when he started drinking the salt water, I pulled him back to dry land. Briny vomit is on the list of things I don’t want on the backseat of my car.
More photos from the trip: