Tuesday, September 22, 2015

See first sunrise over nation on Acadia trail

Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain at Acadia National Park.

South Ridge Trail
heads to top
of East Coast's
tallest peak

Day hikers can walk to one of the first spots that the sun touches America each morning via the South Ridge Trail in Maine’s Acadia National Park.

The trail is a 7.2-miles round trip to the top of Cadillac Mountain, which is the highest summit on the Eastern seaboard. Though the hike would be done in the dark, with moonglow and flashlights, the trail is traversable.

To reach the trailhead, from the village of Otter Creek, take Maine Route 3 southwest. About 150 feet past Blackwoods Road, look for a trail crossing Route 3. Park along the side of the road in a gravel pull-off and take the trail north.

The route starts with granite steps and gradually grows steeper as heading through a pine and spruce woods. The granite along the mountain formed about 420 million years ago.

Side trail
About a mile in at a shaded glen is the Eagle's Crag Loop Trail junction. Head right/east onto this trail, as it leads to a rocky ledge that offers great views of Otter Creek, the forest below, and the Atlantic Ocean. It rejoins the South Ridge Trail in a third of a mile; go right/north at that junction.

Back on main trail, the forest soon opens up then the path descends to a small pond called the Featherbed. This marks a good spot to take a break; there’s a bench overlooking the pond. One of the highest wetlands in the park, the Featherbed is about a two miles from the trailhead.

Just north of the pond is a junction with the Canon Brook and Pond Trail, which runs east-west. Continue straight/north.

You’ll appreciate the respite at the Featherbed, for following the Cannon Brook and Pond Trail junction, the route grows steep and rough as crossing exposed granite. Once past the granite, the ascent becomes more manageable, as it heads though trees along the ridge, offering good views of the ocean and islands during daylight.

One last dip in the trail occurs as it crosses a road. Then the trail intersects with Cadillac West Face Trail, which heads west. From there, the ascent is straight to the summit with a 500-feet elevation gain, including a scamper over an eight foot knoll of pink granite ledges that includes an iron rung.

Once at the top, though, the views impress. Cadillac Mountain looms over the horizon at 1528 feet (The true summit is where the trail opens onto a gravel access road.). The mountain’s southern ridge is bare and exposed, offering unhindered views of the ocean and surrounding countryside.

Acadia’s ancient granite peaks are among the first places in the United States to see the sunrise. Be sure to bring a blanket to lay out on the cold rock and take a seat looking southeast.

East of the summit parking lot is a gift shop and then the Cadillac Mountain Summit Path, which loops about the top with interpretive signs describing the views. This brief trail is good to take after the sun fully rises, as the landscape below will be fully visible.

Upon taking in the sights, return the way you came. Alternately, you can shorten the hike to 3.6 miles by having someone pick you up at the summit.

Final notes: Fido may hike the trail if on a 6-foot leash. Also, the trail sometimes is referred to on maps as the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail.

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