Difficulty: Moderate. The 1-mile North Ridge Trail on Champlain Mountain is fairly gradual climb with just a few steep sections and staircases. The trail does not feature ladders and requires no hand-over-foot climbing. If you park at the parking area near the trailhead, the out and back hike is 2 miles. In the winter, the total hike will be 3.6 miles because the road is unplowed and you’ll need to walk in from another parking area (described below).
How to get there: Take Route 3 across the causeway onto Mount Desert Island. After the causeway, veer left at the fork in the road and drive 11.3 miles to downtown Bar Harbor. At the intersection with Route 233, turn left to remain on Route 3 (Mount Desert Street). At 11.8 miles (from the causeway), turn right to remain on Route 3 (Main Street). And at 13.9 miles (from the causeway), turn right into the Sieur de Monts Entrance. Drive about 0.2 mile, to the end of Sieur de Monts Road, then turn right onto the one-way Park Loop Road. Drive about 0.8 mile and park in the small parking area on your left. The trailhead to the Champlain Mountain North Ridge Trail just before the parking area, on the other side of the road.
Beware that this small parking area may be full, and in that case, you’ll have to continue on the one-way Park Loop Road about 1.8-mile until you can pop off on Schooner Head Road. For a better chance of finding parking, arrive early in the morning, during a week day or during the shoulder seasons (early spring and late fall). In the winter, this part of the Park Loop Road is unplowed and closed to vehicle traffic (though open to snowmobiles); therefore, you’ll need to park in the Sieur de Monts parking lot (off Sieur de Monts Road), then walk 0.8 mile on the Park Loop Road to the North Ridge Trailhead.
Information: Topping off at 1,058 feet above sea level, Champlain Mountain is one of the many beautiful mountains in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. Several trails explore its rocky slopes, including the famous Precipice Trail, the most difficult and dangerous trails in the park. But for this column, I’ll be focusing on the 1-mile Champlain Mountain North Ridge Trail, which is a gradual climb to the mountain’s top through a beautiful pitch pine forest.
Starting at the Park Loop Road, the trailhead is marked with a cedar post sign carved with the trail’s name and the distance to the summit: 1 mile. From there, the trail immediately started to climb gradually through a mixed forest that include a stand of white birches and the occasional spruce tree. This forest quickly transitions into a sea of pitch pines, which are short, twisted pine trees with long needles, rough bark and prickly cones. These hardy trees grow in select sandy, barren areas throughout the state.
Marked with blue blazes and rock piles called cairns, the trail climbs up the north side of the mountain. Early on, hikers are rewarded with views of the nearby Beaver Dam Pond to the west, and part of Dorr Mountain. And a bit higher up, hikers can look back (north) to enjoy views of the ocean. Also to the north is a cluster of buildings, which is a biomedical research facility called The Jackson Laboratory. With a staff of more than 1,500, the lab is Downeast Maine’s largest employer, according to the lab’s website.
About 0.4 mile into the hike, the trail intersects with the Orange & Black Path, which travels around the east side of the mountain to connect with Precipice Trail. It’s the trail that many hikers use to descend the mountain after hiking up Precipice, which is very steep and dangerous to climb down.
Continuing on the North Ridge Trail, the vegetation starts to disappear as the trail climbs toward the summit. The uppermost portion of the trail travels over slopes and humps of exposed granite bedrock and views to the north and east are wide open. This vista includes the Porcupine Islands and Bar Island, and farther south, Egg Rock Lighthouse and the Schoodic Peninsula. On a clear day, this view also includes more distant landmarks such as Schoodic and Black mountains.
The trail ends at the mountain’s summit, where a sign is posted, held up in a pile of rocks. There is also a U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey Reference Mark, a small metal circle, embedded in the bedrock at the summit. As is often the case in Acadia National Park, the summit is a major trail intersection. There the North Ridge Trail meets the South Ridge Trail, Beachcroft Trail and Precipice Trail.
Acadia National Park is home to more than 120 miles of intersecting trails. Carry a map with you while exploring to prevent headaches at trail intersections and avoid getting lost. All visitors to the park are required to pay an entrance fee upon entry May through October, regardless of whether they pass through a fee collection area. Park passes, which are $30 per private vehicle for a seven-day pass or $55 for an annual pass, are sold at many locations throughout Mount Desert Island, including park visitor centers, and online.
Dogs are permitted but must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet in length at all times and must be cleaned up after. During the winter, owners should do their best to keep dogs (and themselves, unless skiing) off the ski tracks.
For more information about Acadia National Park, visit https://www.nps.gov/acad or call 207-288-3338.
Personal note: Coated in ice, the snow crust crunched under our snowshoes on Feb. 17, as my husband and I marched down the Park Loop Road toward Champlain Mountain North Ridge Trail. Sunny with temperatures in the mid 20s, the day was just warm enough for our dog Oreo to accompany us, though we bundled him up in a dog coat and watched him closely for any shivering. We also worried about how he’d handle the icy conditions, but ended up managing better than we did.
Snowshoeing on the Park Loop Road, we passed under a beautiful stone bridge and along the edge of Beaver Dam Pond, which unsurprisingly is home to a beaver lodge and dam. There we observed several animal tracks, including the telltale tracks of white-tailed deer, leading to the open water around the dam, no doubt for a drink. We also spotted two ducks, which upon seeing us, took flight.
At the trailhead to the North Ridge Trail was a hill of ice. I looked at it uncertainly, a little worried that I was getting us in over our heads. Tugging on his leash, Oreo scrambled up the icy slope, encouraging us to continue, so we did, but we weren’t sure how far we’d go. If it got much icier, we decided, we’d turn around.
Fortunately, the conditions didn’t get much hairier than that. For the most part, we were shuffling uphill on crusty snow. In a few steep sections, I had to pause and think about how I’d place my snowshoes — for example, to climb snow-covered rock steps. But on that particular trail, there wasn’t a lot of run off, which creates dangerous ice on many other mountains in the park.
In the sun, we warmed enough to shed our outer jackets. We then laid them out on the snow and sat on them for a quick picnic, surrounded by pitch pines. After sharing a turkey sandwich and having some water, we got moving again before the cold could seep into our bones.
Near the top of the mountain, the wind had swept the snow from the bare granite, so we decided to take off our snowshoes and continue on foot. Boy was that a mistake. After a few yards of bare granite, the snow returned. Not thinking much of it, I stepped down onto the icy crust and slipped, falling on my hip and right arm, and scraping up my hand in the process. Fortunately, I brought some athletic tape, which I used to wrap up the bloody palm so I wouldn’t ruin my mittens. As I sat in the snow and took a breather, Derek retrieved the snowshoes and we continued to the summit.