Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Great hiking trail in Acadia: Beech Mountain

Set of trails heads to historic
fire tower on granite summit

Acadia National Park is home to the tallest mountains on the Atlantic Ocean. And at nearly 48,000 acres, the park offers a number of great peaks to explore and view the rugged Maine coastline.

One such spot is Beech Mountain. Topping out at 839 feet, it provides an impressive view of Mount Desert Island as well as a fire tower to enjoy.

Tree-lined path
Finding the mountain is easy enough. From Rt. 102, head onto its western branch, also known as Pretty Marsh Road. After a quarter mile, turn left onto Beech Hill Road. In about 3.1 miles, you’ll reach the Beech Mountain parking lot. Watch for the observation tower; it can be seen from miles away.

Start the 2.4-mile hike by locating the head for Valley Trail at the lot’s left-hand corner of the lot. The tree-lined path runs flat and smooth. About a third of a mile in, boulders appear with increasing frequency. Watch for rock cap fern, which grows atop some of the rocks, and for slab caves, or small hollows between granite blocks where local fauna often live.

At about 0.6 miles, turn right onto Beech South Ridge Trail and head up stone steps. Low-lying Canada dogwood and tall boulders line much of the trail. Also look for rock tripe, which are brown, scaly patches on the rock faces. Orange-hued mushrooms sometimes also can be spotted.

Most of the trail for the next 0.8 miles are rock steps, some of it winding, some of it steep ascents followed by flat stretches. A series of outlooks allow you to catch your breath while enjoying water views.

Fire tower
Beech Mountain summit, a granite peak sporting rocks about the fire tower’s base, offers spectacular views. To the west-northwest stretches Long Pond. To the northeast is Echo Lake, and to the east Somes Sound. To the southeast is the great Atlantic Ocean. Distant mountain peaks and islands also are visible.

The steel fire tower with the open grating on its steps was erected in 1962, brought to the peak via air. It replaced a deteriorating, Depression-era wooden tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and that was used from 1941 to the mid-1950s. The new tower was rarely manned, except during times of high fire danger, until 1976. It’s now on the National Registry of Historic Fire Towers. The tower typically is closed to the public but usually opens once or twice a year; call 207-288-3338 and press “0,” Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., to see when it is. Even if closed, you still can head up the stairs to just below the cabin.

For the return trip, continue on Beech Mountain Trail past the tower. Turn left, or to the west. About 0.1 miles down, avoid veering off onto Beech West Ridge Trail. You want to continue heading straight or to the right. Great views abound the entire way. The trail then continues for another 0.7 miles, returning to the parking lot.

The best time to visit is between late April thru mid-November, but the temperature can swing wildly even in the summer as wind, fog and rain sweep the mountain top. Also, during the wet season, mosquitoes and black flies can frequent the area, so be prepared.

Learn about other great national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.