The forecast for this Sunday was blue skies and warm sun, but the morning arrived and progressed with no sign of either. And after nearly a solid week of early winter gloom, rain and snow and cold but never a hint of that happy orb on high, it was time.
Two cups of coffee later, the sun was still a no-show. We left the house and headed for the trail under brooding skies, determined to make a day of it no matter. Perhaps over the course of the next 3-4 hours we’d get lucky, but staying inside and fretting about it was simply not an option.
Champlain Mountain in Acadia National Park was the goal, a nice 5.5 mile loop that follows a portion of some seven different trails, starting with the Orange & Black Trail on Schooner Head Road a few miles south of Bar Harbor.
It wasn’t long before we were crossing the Park Loop Road and climbing the east face of the mountain in earnest, branching off above to connect with the trail up the north ridge, perhaps my favorite in the park.
Soon enough we were hiking through a wonderland of pines coated in rime ice, which covered the thinning vegetation the remaining way to the summit. The vista was marvelous from one end of Frenchman Bay out to the far islands to the south offshore. Behind us the peaks of Dorr and Cadillac remained in the clouds, which hunkered down to around the 1,200-foot mark.
We darn near skipped along it was so nice to be up there, especially at this time of year when there is virtually no one on the trails (we would see only one other person on the hike).
We lunched on bologna sandwiches, potato chips and brownies on a high ledge with a sweet lookout to Great Head, Sand Beach and the backside of The Beehive. A few minutes of warm sun broke through while we sat and ate, then disappeared pretty much when we packed up.
A winding and occasionally steep descent down the rocks of the south ridge led us to The Bowl, a drop-dead gorgeous tarn tucked into the ridegeline, where a dip in the summer months is always must. Not today, however.
We skirted The Beehive, dropping quickly down to the road above Sand Beach. The iron ladders and railings of the Beehive Trail would have to wait for another day.
For the first time in recent memory we saw not another soul on Sand Beach; nothing but seaweed and surf, which was just fine by me.
From the beach we closed the loop by following an old road named Satterlee Trail out to Schooner Head Road. A short distance down the road we picked up the Schooner Head Path, which connects Bar Harbor with Schooner Head. The trail parallels the road at varying distances, but no matter, it’s a really nice walk.
It was happy hour by the time we reached the car, which was pre-programmed to head for the Thirsty Whale in Bar Harbor. Alas, as with many businesses in these parts in winter with weirdly variable schedules, it was closed. We settled instead for a couple of drafts at another rather forgettable watering hole.
Note: You should know that this great hike is one you can access year-round, even when the Park Loop Road is closed (which it is from December 15 to sometime in April). In fact, many Acadia hikes are accessible in winter with a little creativity. The effort is worth it, too, for the solitude alone, never mind the natural beauty.
Looking for a comprehensive guide with maps for this and many other mountain trails in the state? Get yourself a copy of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide, a veritable treasure trove of good information many hundreds of peaks and miles of trails.
For more great early winter hike ideas, read my latest column in the Maine Sunday Telegram… “Hiking in Maine: Lots of winter wonderlands to go walking through.”