Well this is it. Today we say goodbye to Maine. We’ve been here for five weeks which officially makes it our longest stay in one place ever. I have mixed feelings about leaving. One one hand I’m more than ready to hit the road again. I’m done with private parks for awhile, and soooo sick of looking at our neighbor’s sewer hose while sitting in our front yard. I’m also really excited for what comes next — a week in New Hampshire with Tim’s family, followed by six weeks in Vermont where we get to see more family and reconnect with old friends!
On the other hand, there is something really magical about Acadia National Park. We’ve had a blast hiking the trails and exploring the rugged coast. Also, we’ve had a great time hanging out with fellow RV’ers Nancy and Betsy. They spend the summer here every year and we first learned about the Narrows Too Campground last year because of them. They’ve both been really busy with work this year — Betsy works at the campground office and Nancy works for a local catering company — but we’ve managed to carve out some time for a few get togethers.
For all those reasons I feel like we could easily spend several more months here and never get board. Except…the desire to put the wheels in motion is strong. The other day I stopped at Walmart first thing in the morning and found myself gazing at the overnighting RVs in the parking lot while thinking, “that looks like fun.” What? When Walmart camping is starting to look good you know the wanderlust is strong :)
Before we go I wanted to share a few last adventures. Starting with some kayaking. We really wanted to have another ocean kayaking adventure, but we couldn’t seem to time it just right with the tides, so we settled on a short paddle around Northeast Harbor one evening.
From the harbor we paddled out and around Bear Island where we spotted a lighthouse peeking over the trees. The Bear Island Light dates back to 1839, although it has been refurbished and rebuilt several times since then. Today the lighthouse is under private ownership and used as a summer residence. Sadly, it’s not open to the public and the only way to view the light is from the water. (For a complete history of the Bear Island Lighthouse visit lighthousefriends.com.)
Back in the harbor we slowly paddled around the numerous boats. Northeast Harbor is one of the fancier harbors in the area with lots of large pleasure boats and only a few fishing boats.
We also did a short paddle around Echo Lake. The plan was to put the boats in and find a spot to dock somewhere on the shore so we could go for a swim. We didn’t realize that the shore is mostly private property though, so that idea fell through. Also, the water was a bit on the murky side and neither of us ended up wanting to go in. Oh well, it was still a nice paddle even if it was kind of a gray day.
For a different view of Echo Lake we hiked the Beech Cliffs Trail one evening. Not sure I’ve mentioned it yet, but if want to beat the crowds on the trails in Acadia, early evening or late afternoon is the time to go. Nancy and Betsy told us that they try to get out very early (like 6 or 7) and often find the trails deserted. Since Tim is the complete opposite of a morning person, we do all our hiking after work which usually puts us on the trail around 4:30 or 5. Sometimes we see a few stragglers coming down, but for the most part we almost always have the trail to ourselves. The Beech Cliffs Trail was no exception. We saw one pair of hikers coming down near the start of the trail, and no one else after that.
The trail starts out like so many others around here — with an uphill boulder field that you must carefully navigate around.
Soon we reached the fun part, the iron rung ladders. Acadia has a number of trails they call “Iron Rung” routes, and while this is not the most famous or extreme, it does have a series of ladders that take you up some steep sections of the trail. The first one was pretty tame, the second one a bit longer, and the third and fourth located one after another.
In between the ladders we skirted a tall cliff and climbed lots of stone steps. So while the uphill section of the trail is only 480 feet, this is no meandering, gentle switch-backed trail.
We reached the top just as a bank of fog started rolling in. That tan colored section you see on the edge of the lake is a small sandy beach.
A zoomed in view through the fog shows people enjoying the water.
We took the short Beech Cliff Loop at the top which offered some great views of the lake below.
We took the Canada Cliffs trail back down (no ladders on this one). At this point the summit was completely fogged in so we didn’t get any more views. By the way, if you want to enjoy the top of the Beech Cliffs without climbing the ladders you could park at the Beech Mountain trailhead and hike up the milder Valley View Trail. This is also a good alternative if your hiking companion is furry and has four legs.
Speaking of furry friends, did you know that most of the trails and carriage roads in Acadia National Park are dog friendly? The only exceptions are the the trails with iron ladders (cause most dogs can’t climb ladders). There are also a number of trails with steep cliffs that you have to scramble up and down which might not be suitable for some dogs (Acadia Mtn. and Dorr Mountain immediately come to mind), but in general this is without a doubt the most pet-friendly national park in the country.
That trail was fun and all, but really it was just a warm up for what came next. On the day before our scheduled departure we decided to tackle what is widely considered the most challenging trail in the park. The Precipice Trail to the top of Champlain Mountain might not go up the highest (it’s only the 6th tallest peak in the park), it might not have the longest vertical gain (only 850 feet), and it might not be the longest (the complete loop is only 2.6 miles), but where it falls short in all those categories it more than makes up for in sheer bravado. I’m going to let the pictures do the talking here.
Most people take the North Champlain Ridge Trail to the Orange & Black Path which hooks back up with the Precipice Trail below the ladder section. We choose to skip the O&B Path and instead continued down to the park loop road where we then had a five minute walk back to the parking lot. For one, it was getting late in the evening, and for two we wanted to avoid navigating back down that rugged boulder section.
Now that we’ve hiked the “scariest” trail in the park, here are a few common sense bits of advice for anyone looking to tackle this thrill ride:
- If you have a fear of heights, don’t bother with this trail. Most of it is very exposed and once you start going up those ladders the only way out is to climb back down.
- On that note, don’t try to climb down the Precipice Trail. The park service doesn’t recommend it and neither do I. There are several easier ways to get down.
- Leave the hiking poles behind, they will only get in the way.
- Consider wearing gloves. Between the rough granite rocks and the iron rungs my hands were pretty sore at the end.
- Wear sturdy hiking shoes, bring water but don’t carry it in your hands, and don’t even think about hiking this with your camera around your neck.
- Not suitable for dogs or young kids, although I think adventurous kids over a certain age would really enjoy this hike.
- If you’re going to take photos make sure you are not sacrificing your safety. I always made sure one hand was holding onto a rock or iron rung and my feet were firmly planted before getting the shot.
- Avoid the crowds by getting there early or late. We arrived around 4:30 pm and only saw a handful of others hikers near the start of the rail on their way down.
- From roughly mid-May to mid-August this trail is closed due to Peregrine Falcon nesting. We had originally planned to hike the nearby Beehive Trail because the Precipice was closed for most of our visit. When we learned that it just opened days before we were due to leave we jumped at the chance. If the trail is closed, don’t be jerk and ignore the signs.
Finally, if you are moderately fit, not afraid of heights, and looking for thill, do not skip this trail! I thought it was by far the most fun trial we’ve hiked in a long time and if we wasn’t the end of our stay I would push to do it again.
And with that our five weeks in Maine are over. Yesterday we drove a few hours inland, spent the night at a Walmart (see, I did get my Walmart wish), and are now hanging out in a random park until the work day is over and we can drive the rest of the way to New Hampshire. I’m already mourning the loss of the cool ocean breezes as it is steaming hot here today!