Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast of the United States. If you can force yourself to get up early and make your way to the summit, you can be the first person in the US to see the sunrise. The mountain is located in the heart of stunning Acadia National Park in Maine, incidentally one of the most visited parks in the country.
There are four hiking trails to the summit: the North Ridge, Gorge, West Face and South Ridge trails. After consulting our list of suggested hikes, we decided to hike up the South Ridge Trail, which is the longest ascent of Cadillac Mountain. The trailhead is located on Route 3, only 100 feet (30 meters) south of the entrance to the Blackwood Campground. There is no parking area as such, but you can just pull over on the side of the road. It is a seven-mile (11.3-kilometer) roundtrip, which took us a good four hours to complete.
Besides hiking up, Cadillac Mountain’s summit can also be reached by car. This is both good and bad. It is part of the fantastic Park Loop Road, which allows visitors to explore Acadia National Park and see its major highlights. You have to pay to access this 27-mile (44-kilometer) loop and this keeps the park running. The downside is that the summit is unbelievably crowded. It is a real anticlimax when, after hiking for an hour and a half, you arrive at the top and you’re immediately surrounded by hundreds of people strolling around with large cameras around their necks and wearing white socks in sandals.
The views, however, are fabulous and absolutely worth the effort. And, without wanting to come across as a hypocrite, the souvenir shop was nice. There’s an outdoor tap where you can top off your water bottles. It was a hot day and we happily took advantage of that.
Cadillac Mountain’s South Ridge Trail
The South Ridge Trail up Cadillac Mountain begins in the cool shade of the spruce-fir forest. Needles cover the soft forest floor and muffled the sound of our hiking shoes. We saw a couple of squirrels and heard the pecking sound of a woodpecker. We started our hike in the morning and early rays of sunshine shone through the canopy above.
The trail ran through the forest for a while and rose gently at first. It quickly got steeper and the tree roots and leafy shade started to give way to granite surfaces, lichen-covered rocks and small pitch pines. Blueberry bushes lined the trail. The warm air was rich with the scent of pine resin. We were still surrounded by trees, but instead of spruce and firs, we now saw birches and oaks.
Eventually the forest opened up to the exposed south ridge. We were no longer walking on leaves or needles, but on rocks and stones. The large barren granite was patched with little ponds and vulnerable vegetation.
At intervals we were reminded by signs not to disturb the plants and animals. They have a tough time as it is and could definitely do without being trampled or touched. Once on the rocky ridge, the views of the surrounding landscape emerged. We could see the Porcupine Islands in Frenchman Bay, the Schoodic Peninsula and the rest of Acadia National Park.
We arrived at the summit, which was soaked in sunshine, sat down and spent about an hour eating our lunch while enjoying the views – but not the crowd of people. We carved the mountain’s name in our walking sticks (that’s what we do) and headed back down the same way.
The hike up and down Cadillac’s South Ridge Trail is fairly gentle and doesn’t pose any big challenges. It was a nice and pleasant hike and the views were well-worth it.