Acadia National Park is expecting 3 million visitors during this special centennial year, and based on my recent observations, that number may well be exceeded. Trailhead parking lots fill up early these days and appear to remain at capacity most of the day, whether it’s midweek or the weekend.
Don’t let the crowds deter you from tramping around this island paradise this summer and fall. The best plan for beating the Acadia traffic woes and parking hassles is to leave your car in town somewhere or at your campground or motel, then hop aboard the free Island Explorer bus, which runs pretty much everywhere on Mount Desert Island morning to night.
As a local hiker I’m rather crowd-averse, so I’ve explored the following handful of less-traveled hiking routes, itineraries that hopefully will get you out and away from the throngs of people and afford a modicum of solitude during this busy season.
Norumbega Mountain Trail
Most hikers scramble up Norumbega Mountain from the jam-packed trailhead on Route 3/198, just north of Upper Hadlock Pond, tackling the peak by way of the steep 0.6-mile Goat Trail.
Better is to start farther south at pretty Lower Hadlock Pond. The Hadlock Ponds Trail quickly connects to Norumbega Mountain Trail, which takes its sweet time climbing the south ridge through a fragrant forest of scraggly pines.
Return the way you climbed, or descend via Goat Trail and take Lower Norumbega and Hadlock Ponds trails back to the start.
Cedar Swamp Mountain
The Asticou and Jordan Pond Path wends through mature mixed woods on its route from Northeast Harbor to Jordan Pond and offers access to two paths that don’t seem to see much in the way of foot traffic.
Park at Brown Mountain Gatehouse on Route 3/198 and follow carriage roads east to a junction with Sargent South Ridge Trail. Enjoy the views on the way up to Cedar Swamp Mountain, then drop sharply down to Birch Spring. The Amphitheater Trail descends from there, taking in two historic stone bridges on the way.
Complete the loop via the Asticou and Jordan Pond Path, and carriage roads.
Cadillac Mountain West Face
The steep mile from Bubble Pond to Cadillac Mountain’s south ridge via the Cadillac West Face Trail is perhaps the most strenuous in the park, with rough footing, ledge scrambling and huge sloping slabs that are sure to keep you on your toes.
Descend South Ridge Trail to a tarn known as the Featherbed, then head steeply down to the west on Canon Brook Trail. At an old beaver pond, the trail morphs into Bubbles and Jordan Pond Path. Follow this out to a carriage road and take it back to Bubble Pond.
Note: Bubble Pond trailhead is closed to cars through Oct. 10, so you’ll need to use the bus.
This low crag north of the Bubbles, with its terrific views of Eagle Lake and the western flank of Cadillac Mountain, has become one of my favorite spots in Acadia.
From the Bubble Rock parking lot on Park Loop Road, join the line of hikers up Bubbles Divide Trail to the saddle. Visit the top of South Bubble and the precariously perched Bubble Rock if you must, but it’s better to make tracks for North Bubble and then to relative solitude on the open ledges of Conners Nubble.
Return via Eagle Lake Trail and Jordan Pond Carry.
Bernard Mountain via West Ridge Trail
Cloaked in a thick cover of spruce and fir, Bernard and Mansell mountains have plenty of nice hiking but just a scattering of views, which may be why the paths are generally quieter in this area.
For outstanding vistas ranging from Seal Cove Pond and Blue Hill Bay to the Camden Hills, try the West Ridge Trail. The path climbs over open slabs for much of the way to Bernard Mountain Trail, which leads to the summit.
Retrace your steps or descend via Sluiceway Trail and amble back to the trailhead via the lightly traveled Western Mountain Road.
Note: This hike is well off the Explorer bus route, so a car is needed.