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.
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.
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.
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!”
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!
Have fun, be safe, and Happy New Year!