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Carey Kish

Carey Kish of Mount Desert Island has been adventuring in the woods and mountains of Maine for, well, a long time. If there’s a trail—be it on dirt, rock, snow, water or pavement—he will find it, explore it, and write about it. Carey is a two-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, Registered Maine Guide, author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast, editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide (10th ed.), and has written a hiking & camping column for the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram since 2003. Follow his outdoor travels and musings here, and on Facebook/CareyKish. Let Carey know what you think at MaineOutdoors@aol.com.

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Maineiac Outdoors with Carey Kish
Posted: December 30, 2014

Hiking: Tips for trekking to the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia for the New Year’s sunrise

For just about half the year, from autumn through winter and into spring, the summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park is the very first point in the U.S. to see the sunrise. (For the record, West Quoddy Head in Lubec on the Downeast coast has the honor around the spring and fall equinoxes, while Mars Hill in Aroostook County is first from spring through summer.)

Sunrise (and sunset) draws a fair crowd to the top of the windswept peak on most days when the Cadillac Mountain Road is open and the park is busy with visitors, and New Year’s morning is no exception, when a hardy few make the trek to be among the first in the country to see the fiery orb begin its first day of the year.

The official sunrise on January 1, 2015 for Bar Harbor is 7:08 a.m., but atop Cadillac Mountain it will occur a few minutes earlier. No matter, as dawn breaks at 5:23 a.m. and you’ll want to be up there at that time or soon after to enjoy the beautiful colors for the maximum time period.

A great way to greet the New Year is by trekking to the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia and the first place to see the sunrise in the U.S. Photo courtesy National Park Service/Kristina Rugg.

A great way to greet the New Year is by trekking to the top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia, the first place to see the sunrise in the U.S. Photo courtesy National Park Service/Kristina Rugg.

There are several recommended routes to the top of the 1,528-foot mountain for New Year’s morning, according to the National Park Service. These include the Cadillac Mountain Road, the North Ridge Trail and the South Ridge Trail.

“The road is perhaps the safest and best way to the top,” said Kristi Rugg, Graphics Ranger with Acadia National Park and a frequent visitor to the Cadillac summit throughout the year. “There can be ice on the road right now, so traction of some sort for your boots may be a good idea.” (I do have a late breaking report that the summit road is currently ice-free, making the walk up even easier and more straightforward.)

The Cadillac Mountain Road is wide and moderate in grade, and as the road is closed for the winter, there are no vehicles. The summit road itself is 3.5 miles long, but you’ll need to add another 1.5 miles to that distance to get from the parking area to the start of the summit road. In all, this tallies up to a 10-mile round-trip trek. Hikers should allow at least two hours—perhaps more—to make the trip one-way.

“I left at 4 a.m. last time and got up there in plenty of time,” noted Rugg. Your experience may be different, so plan accordingly.

Parking is available at the park entrance gate (which is closed) on ME 233 a few miles west of Bar Harbor. From there you’ll walk a short distance to the Park Loop Road and turn south. You’ll pass the one-way section of the road en route to the Cadillac Mountain Road gate.

The Cadillac Mountain Road and the North Ridge Trail from ME 233 are two recommended routes to the top of Cadillac Mountain for New Year's sunrise. Image by Carey Kish.

The Cadillac Mountain Road and the North Ridge Trail from ME 233 are two recommended routes to the top of Cadillac Mountain for New Year’s sunrise. Image by Carey Kish.

Hikers preferring to take a trail to the top can follow the North Ridge Trail, which is also accessed from the ME 233 parking area. However, a short distance down the Park Loop Road you’ll arrive at a bus kiosk on the left; this is the start of the Kebo Brook Trail. Take the Kebo Brook Trail a scant 0.3 miles to the official start of the North Ridge Trail. It’s about three miles up using this route.

“The Cadillac Mountain Road and the North Ridge are the two best ways up the mountain,” noted Rugg. “Avoid the west and east faces of the mountain, which, while shorter, are steep and very icy.”

Good advice, as park officials would rather you had a safe and enjoyable outing rather than risk an injury and need to be rescued, and no one wants to start the New Year that way!

Another option to the top of Cadillac is the South Ridge, a 3.5-mile jaunt from ME 3 just opposite the entrance to Blackwoods Campground.

“It’s longer and more exposed, but very scenic,” Rugg said.

Hardy hikers enjoy a grand sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain. Image courtesy www.bca.org.

Hardy hikers enjoy a grand sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain. Image courtesy www.bca.org.

Rugg advises Cadillac winter hikers to be self-sufficient, wearing warm layers and carrying extra insulation in their packs, plus sufficient food and water. And a headlamp or flashlight of course!

“It can be really windy and cold up there, 15 to 20 degrees colder than down below in Bar Harbor,” warns Rugg.

In addition to the aforementioned gear, I recommend taking along a Thermos of something hot, plus an insulted pad to sit on while you wait for the sun to appear. Rugg recommends chemical hand warmers, a fine idea indeed.

There are no facilities open on top of Cadillac Mountain in winter, not even a restroom, so please practice “Leave No Trace!”

A winter sunrise at the summit of Cadillac Mountain, Acadia. Image courtesy www.jakewyman.com.

A winter sunrise at the summit of Cadillac Mountain, Acadia. Image courtesy www.jakewyman.com.

Besides what I hope will be a drop-dead gorgeous sunrise to welcome in the New Year of 2105, Rugg says to look out for a pair of snowy owls flitting about the summit. Bonus!

Acadia National Park has a great Facebook page and Twitter feed that you can follow for information and updates for your adventurous New Year’s hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain and beyond.

Have fun, be safe, and Happy New Year!

Hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain for the New Year's sunrise and you might just spot a snowy owl. Bonus! Image courtesy National park Service/Kristina Rugg.

Hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain for the New Year’s sunrise and you might just spot a snowy owl. Bonus! Image courtesy National park Service/Kristina Rugg.

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