Sunday, September 19 2021

Acadia National Park is home to many famous hikes. The park’s Cadillac Mountain is the tallest peak on the east coast, so everyone wants to blow and blow to that peak. Nearby, Dorr Mountain features hundreds of granite steps on its historic trails. And the almost vertical Precipice Trail on Mount Champlain, with its many ladders and rungs, is known as one of Maine’s toughest hikes.

So it’s no surprise that I rarely hear people talking about Mount Acadia, even though it bears the same name as the park.

Compared to the surrounding peaks of Mount Desert Island, Acadia Mountain is rather short, rising just 681 feet above sea level. (In comparison, Cadillac rises to 1,530 feet above sea level. from the sea.) But I think Acadia Mountain is the perfect destination for someone new to rock climbing in the park and wants to see if this type of hike is really for them.

Recently that “person” was my dog, Juno.

It was a sunny Tuesday in August, so I knew the park would be slammed with visitors. With that in mind, I looked at a trail map and chose Acadia Mountain as my top choice for hiking with Juno for several reasons.

First of all, there is a lot of parking. Second, the mountain is not too ambitious for a dog under a year old who is still learning to climb rocky slopes. And third, I knew the majority of the hike was in the shade of trees which means lots of shade on an 80 degree day.

Clockwise from left: twisted branches of giant pines create a whimsical scene near the top of Acadia Mountain; Juno trains to climb stone stairs; and A wooden sign marks the summit of Acadia Mountain, which rises 681 feet above sea level in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki

It’s always a good idea to enter Acadia with several hiking options, just in case you can’t find parking. Our second option that day was near Beech Mountain, and our third was the more gradual trail up to Mansell Mountain. But luckily we were able to park at the Mount Acadia trailhead where cars lined up along the road.

We carefully crossed the busy Route 102 to reach the trail, which started off steep and rocky as it passed through a pine covered hill. With their long green needles, rough bark, and twisted branches, common pines are some of my favorite plants in the park. They are so fancy.

The trail soon plunged into a shady mixed forest filled with ferns, balsam fir and tall white pines. There we reached our first trail intersection, where we turned left towards Acadia Mountain (while turning right would have taken us up to nearby Saint-Sauveur mountain.) Continuing gradually downhill, we have crossed a small stream where Juno took a refreshing water drink.

Just beyond we crossed the wide gravel road Man O ‘War Brook Fire Road which is closed to vehicles and is a great place to walk or jog. The fire route is just under a mile long and leads to a small waterfall and a viewpoint over Somes Sound. It also connects with hiking trails and is often used to form loop hikes.

We could have done it with Acadia Mountain – going up the west side of the mountain and down the east side, then back to the trailhead on the Man O ‘War Fire Road for a 3.2 mile loop hike . But instead we hiked up and down the west side of the mountain and then jogged Man O ‘War Fire Road for extra exercise, stopping at a catwalk above Man O ‘War Brook so Juno can splash around.

It was an odd choice, and it was actually a longer hike, totaling 3.8 miles. But Juno didn’t complain about the absurd route. This is one of the benefits of having a canine hiking companion.

As I expected, we met many other hikers on the trail, including two incredibly polite children – a girl and a boy – who had walked before their parents and were eager to meet Juno. As they gently stroked her, the boy asked about her breed (husky and boxer) and called her “majestic”. I met the kids and their parents again at the top of the mountain, where the boy exclaimed that the view was “glorious” and congratulated Juno on making it to the top. I guess he was about 8 or 9 years old, while his sister was a little younger. I can’t understand how nice and well spoken they were. They added a bit of joy to our hiking experience.

Being mostly forested, Acadia Mountain doesn’t offer a lot of views all the way to the top. Then, the hikers are rightly rewarded for their efforts. From the top you can look south, over Somes Sound, which is a fjard that partially divides the east and west halves of Mount Desert Island. Beyond is the open ocean, dotted with several islands, including Greening Island and the Cranberry Islands.

Just before the summit, you glimpse the nearby mountains over the twisted peaks of pine trees. Most notable are the nearby St. Sauveur and Flying Mountains, although on a clear day you can spot Blue Hill Mountain in the distance. A monadnock, Blue Hill Mountain is located on the mainland, on the Blue Hill Peninsula, and is a popular hiking destination.

Acadia Mountain turned out to be a great hike for Juno to gain confidence on the stone stairs, which were plentiful. The trail also had a few steep sections that required it to jump. These rocky areas were a bit more difficult on the way down. Sometimes Juno would stop at the top of a staircase and turn to me for guidance. So I took the lead and she followed in my footsteps. We are becoming one hell of a team.

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