The “Maine” Event: Acadia’s Best Fall Color Hikes
One could argue that there is no bad time to visit Acadia National Park—and one would likely receive little resistance from those who have experienced the magical park.
However, like a proud peacock showing off its striking plumage, autumn’s arrival to Maine’s coastal gem ushers in a symphony of fleeting shades of red, yellow, gold, and even purple as maple, beech, birch, oak, white ash and other deciduous trees don their brilliant fall leaves beginning in early October (bookmark www.mainefoliage.com to get the most up-to-date conditions).
Whether you have a few hours or days to spare, here are eight can’t-miss hikes that offer impressive opportunities to enjoy Acadia’s most colorful season (in no particular order):
(2 miles/3.2 km roundtrip, easy)
The Great Fire of 1947 scorched more than 17,000 acres on the east side of Mount Desert Island’s spruce and fir forest, making way for healthy stands of deciduous trees to sprout out of the charred landscape. A relaxed stroll along the Jesup Trail transports hikers into one of the few areas where the foliage from before and after the fire obviously intermix. Starting at The Tarn, the easy-going dirt path passes Sieur de Monts and the Wild Gardens of Acadia and then transitions into a wooden boardwalk, where the greenery of old hemlocks that survived the devastating blaze appear on the western side. Paper birch, maple, which fleck the forest with gold and red, and other deciduous trees replenished the burned section in the open meadow on the eastern side.
Bubble Rock Trail
(1 mile/1.6 km roundtrip, moderate to strenuous)
Seemingly endless stands of birches flaunting their golden leaves appear as hikers ascend the gap between the North and South Bubbles. At the top of the 768-foot (234-m) South Bubble, an enormous glacial erratic (appropriately named “Bubble Rock”) clings to the granite cliffs. From this informal overlook, a striking landscape unfolds below, where multi-hued treetops grace the shorelines of Eagle Lake and Jordan Pond. Stay a safe distance from the edge as no handrails or fences exist along these cliffs.
North Bubble Trail to Conners Nubble
(3.6 miles/5.8 km roundtrip, moderate)
On this hike, experience not one, but two, breathtaking vistas of Eagle Lake and Cadillac Mountain’s western flank dotted with color. The trail starts beneath a canopy of yellow birch on its way from the Bubble Rock Trailhead to the 872-foot (266-m) summit on North Bubble. After soaking in views of the fall fiesta from the top, a riot of low sweet blueberry adds splashes of red among the pink speckled granite en route to Conners Nubble. A steady climb to the top of this 588-foot (179-m) summit yields a second—and equally exciting—overlook of autumn’s flashy hues.
Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail
(7.0 miles/11.3 km roundtrip, moderate to strenuous)
Originating at the signpost across from the Blackwoods Campground entrance, a gradual ascent along the southern flank of Acadia’s tallest peak, Cadillac Mountain (1,529 feet), allows color chasers to first appreciate the glowing red low sweet blueberry bush. After arriving at the Featherbed (a small glacial cirque), hikers might start walking with their mouths open—and it will not be because they’re winded. So long as fog has not encased the mountain, the trail reveals jaw-dropping vistas of beech, birch, aspen, and maple collectively doing their best impression of 1970s shag carpet with leaves turned to yellow, gold, brown, red, and orange.
Spry hikers can complete a longer, more arduous 8.3-mile (13.4 km) loop by connecting with the Gorge Path atop the Cadillac Mountain summit. After climbing Dorr Mountain, head south on the Dorr Mountain South Ridge Trail and then west on the Canon Brook Trail to return to the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail.
Gorham Mountain Trail
(1.8 miles/2.9 km roundtrip, moderate to strenuous)
Hikers interested in seeing the most picturesque views of autumn colors sprinkled across the coast below need only to make the steady 0.5-mile (0.8 km) ascent to the false summit about 300 feet above (91.4 m). The true summit requires an additional heart-pounding 0.4-mile (0.6-km) trek uphill to reach the top of the 525-foot (160-m) peak. Both elevated perches offer 180-degree panoramic views of Mother Nature’s autumn touch extending from Frenchman Bay and Sand Beach in the north to the open ocean beyond the Otter Cliff in the south.
Jordan Stream Trail to Little Long Pond
(3.6 miles/5.8 km roundtrip, easy to moderate)
The Jordan Stream Trail crisscrosses the cascading Jordan Stream as it gracefully weaves its way through a forest of foliage flaunting a rainbow of reds, yellows, and oranges. Within a quick 0.5 miles (0.8 km), the historic Cobblestone Bridge appears. From here, connect with the nearby carriage road (turning right at signpost #24 and again at signpost #28) to reach the idyllic Little Long Pond. Autumn colors surround a picturesque boathouse and frame Penobscot Mountain in the background, making this a scene right out of a storybook.
Although the serene carriage road and the lake are located on private property, responsible hikers can saunter here without seeking formal permission.
Witch Hole Pond Loop Carriage Road
(6.8 miles/10.9 km roundtrip, easy to moderate)
This scenic carriage roads features tranquil ponds, views of Frenchman Bay, and the majestic Duck Brook Bridge and jubilantly flowing Duck Brook, all while showing off a flashy display of maple, birch, and oak trees along the way. Begin your outing at the Eagle Lake parking area for the longest loop hike, or from either the Visitor Center or near the Duck Brook Bridge area for shorter options.
Beech Cliff Trail
(1.2 miles/1.9 km, strenuous)
Since this trail closes in spring and summer, fall offers an ideal time to hike one of Acadia’s famous “ladder trails.” Not for those who suffer from acrophobia, this short and steep hike brings intrepid hikers along granite ledges graced with crimson low sweet blueberry bush and golden birch. After navigating a series of gut-wrenching iron ladders, dramatic cliff-top views uncover a colorful band of trees in the valley below extending from Echo Lake to the distant coastline to the south.
Photographer Colleen Miniuk-Sperry, though based in the Southwest, also has enjoyed three stints as an artist-in-residence at Acadia National Park in Maine, roles that led to her photography guide on Acadia.