Hikes & Trails

Cadillac North Ridge Trail: An Adventure in Acadia National Park

POSTED ON February 21, 2024 BY Ralph S.


Introduction

Embark on a thrilling journey through the heart of Acadia National Park as we unveil the captivating story of the Cadillac North Ridge Trail, a 4.4-mile (7 km) round trip rocky trail that promises adventure, breathtaking views, and a connection to the rich history of this iconic landscape.

As the highest peak on the Eastern Seaboard, Cadillac Mountain stands as a testament to nature’s grandeur, and the North Ridge Trail is your gateway to its summit. Linking seamlessly with the Cadillac South Ridge Trail, this rocky escapade unfolds a narrative of dedication and vision.

So if you’re a hiker, trail runner, thru-hiker, or backpacker looking for a thrilling adventure, strap on your hiking boots and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime on the Cadillac North Ridge Trail.

History

Sargent Mtn Summit

The Cadillac North Ridge Trail holds a rich, fascinating history that spans over a century. The trail’s genesis can be traced back to the late 1800s when a group known as the “Village Improvement Society” of Bar Harbor began creating a network of hiking paths. This community-led effort was instrumental in establishing the groundwork for what would eventually become Acadia National Park.

A pivotal figure in the development of the trail was philanthropist and conservationist George B. Dorr. Recognized as the “Father of Acadia,” Dorr dedicated nearly half a century to preserving and cultivating the land that is now the park.

In 1913, he and others formed the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, intent on protecting the land for a scenic route to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak on the Eastern Seaboard. The initial development, spearheaded by renowned landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, aimed to seamlessly blend the trail with the natural beauty of the surroundings.

The actual establishment of the trail was a result of the collaborative efforts between these local communities, early conservationist groups, and the National Park Service. The Cadillac North Ridge Trail was finally recognized as a part of Acadia National Park when the park was officially established on July 8, 1916.

Over the decades, this trail underwent various modifications and improvements, with dedicated efforts from notable figures such as John D. Rockefeller Jr., whose philanthropic contributions significantly enhanced the trail’s infrastructure.

Today, the trail remains a testament to early conservation efforts and community collaboration. It continues to be maintained by the National Park Service, ensuring it retains its natural beauty and remains a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Key Facts about the Cadillac North Ridge Trail

Fog on the islands, seen from the Beehive

  • Location: Acadia National Park, Maine, USA.
  • Total Length: approximately 4.4 miles (7.1 km) for a round trip.
  • Hiking Time: approximately 2 to 4 hours to hike the round trip.
  • Trailhead(s): From the parking area off the Park Loop Road, near the fee station, leading to the ascent.
  • Difficulty Level: The trail is rated as moderate. It’s rocky with some steep sections, but suitable for most hikers with average fitness levels.
  • Number of Visitors: The number of visitors varies, but Acadia National Park, where the trail is located, saw 3.43 million in 2019 and 2.67 million in 2020.
  • Established: The trail was officially recognized as part of Acadia National Park on July 8, 1916.
  • Elevation gain: approximately 1,130 feet (344 meters).
  • Best Time to Hike: Late spring to early fall (from May to October), when the weather is mild.
  • Lowest Point: at the trailhead, which is approximately 180 feet (55 meters) above sea level.
  • Highest Point: At the summit of Cadillac Mountain, at about 1,530 feet (466 meters) above sea level.

Trail Overview: Difficulty Levels and Route Options

Cadillac Mtn North Ridge Trail

The Cadillac North Ridge Trail boasts varying difficulty levels and offers two starting points, both accessible from Park Loop Road.

  • Option 1: Kebo Brook Trail (Recommended): The first recommended option begins at the Island Explorer bus stop (location), taking hikers on a brief .1-mile (160-meter) journey along the Kebo Brook Trail. You’ll turn right up the stone stairs, cross the road, and find yourself at the opening of the Cadillac North Ridge Trail.
  • Option 2: Park Loop Road Pull-off: The alternative starting point is a small pull-off just beyond the initiation of the one-way section directed towards Sand Beach. This area has extremely limited parking. Cross the road onto the Cadillac North Ridge Trail and gently ascend the granite slope leading into the woods.

The Journey: Challenges and Highlights

Once you’ve traversed the first mile and entered the woods, you’ll notice the trail becoming more rocky, with a few sets of granite stairs adding to the challenge. Following another 0.3 miles (480 meters), the hike elevates in difficulty, becoming steeper and more exposed. This challenging section rewards hikers with sweeping views and adds a thrill to the adventure.

The trail briefly runs parallel to the road, marked with blue blazes and Bates cairns for guidance. Continue along the granite slopes until the trail flattens out near the summit.

The Summit: Fork in the Trail and Beyond

As you approach the summit, you’ll encounter a fork. Keep to the right and continue for 0.1 miles (160 meters) to complete the trail, which ends on the north side of the summit parking lot. From here, you have several choices: you could walk .5 miles (800 meters) around the Cadillac Summit Loop, offering sweeping vistas of the mountain’s east side, or you could hike a bit up the trail to reach the summit marker.

Services at the summit include a restroom and a gift shop. When you’re ready to descend, return to the north side of the parking lot and follow the Cadillac North Ridge Trail back down to the trailhead.

Please note that there is no public transportation available to and from the summit of Cadillac Mountain.

Seasonal Considerations: Best Times to Hike and Weather Conditions

The Bowl, seen from above

In every season, the Cadillac North Ridge Trail stands as a testament to the diverse beauty of Mount Desert Island. Whether you’re conquering its rocky terrain in the summer or navigating its snow-covered paths in the winter, each season offers a unique perspective on the rich tapestry of Maine’s natural wonders.

Here’s what to expect:

Spring (March-May)

As winter loosens its grip, the trail begins to unveil its vibrant flora. The trailhead welcomes visitors eager to witness the reawakening of nature.

With temperatures ranging from 5°C to 15°C (41°F to 59°F), spring offers a mild climate ideal for a comfortable ascent. However, be prepared for occasional showers and muddy patches as the trail traverses the half-mile section towards the summit parking lot.

The melting snow may render some parts of the trail muddy or icy, so appropriate footwear is essential. Check the current trail conditions here.

Summer (June – August)

Summer is the most popular season for hiking, offering comfortable temperatures typically between 10°C and 25°C (50°F and 77°F). During this season, the trail often teems with hikers, particularly around sunrise, as Cadillac Mountain is well-known as the first point in the US to catch the morning sun.

Arriving early at the Cadillac North Ridge trailhead is advisable, especially during the mid-morning hours when the park sees an influx of hikers. Also, don’t forget to consider alternative transportation.

Click this link to learn more about the weather on Cadillac Mountain

Fall (September – November)

Fall is a fantastic time to hike the trail due to the breathtaking views of autumn foliage. Temperatures can range from 5°C to 18°C (41°F to 64°F), so dressing in layers is recommended. The weather is generally stable, with lower humidity levels compared to the summer.

October, in particular, showcases the foliage at its peak. Hikers navigating the trail will be treated to breathtaking views of Frenchman Bay and the surrounding islands. Furthermore, the Cadillac Mountain area is less crowded during this period. For the best experience, plan your hike early in the morning and prepare for the possibility of early snowfall in November.

Winter (December – February)

Hiking in winter presents a unique challenge due to the cold, harsh weather conditions in the region. Temperatures generally remain below freezing, often ranging from -10°C to 2°C (14°F to 35°F).

The trail, especially the ‘north ridge’ and ‘south ridge’, can become covered in snow and ice, making the hike more difficult. While the trail remains open, it requires careful navigation, especially in the steeper sections. Consider the Gorge Path as an alternative winter route. Hikers should also use caution and consider using gear such as crampons and trekking poles.

Lastly, services are minimal, so check weather data and park updates before planning a winter hike.

Recommended Gear

Cadillac Mtn North Ridge Trail

When preparing for your hike along the Cadillac North Ridge Trail, having the right gear ensures a safe and enjoyable experience. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the recommended items:

  • Appropriate Footwear: The rocky and sometimes uneven terrain demands reliable footwear. Opt for good-traction shoes that provide a good grip. Silverlight’s Footwear Guide offers insights into choosing the right pair and why you might be better served with trail runners than hiking boots.
  • Weather-Appropriate Clothing: Layer your clothing to adjust to the changing weather conditions. Include a waterproof jacket for unexpected showers, a hat, and sunglasses for sun protection. Our Hiking Apparel Tips can guide you in selecting the most suitable clothing for your adventure.
  • Navigation Tools: Though the trail is well-marked, it’s wise to have a map or GPS device handy. Familiarize yourself with the route and potential alternative paths. Also, consider downloading an offline map in case of poor cellular service. Hiking Tips on Navigation can be valuable for honing your skills.
  • Hydration and Nutrition: Always bring enough water, especially during the summer. Energy bars and snacks are also recommended for maintaining energy levels during the hike. Silverlight’s delicious backpacking food ideas provide insights into the best nutrition for staying well-energized on the trail.
  • First Aid Kit: A basic first aid kit with band-aids, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, and any necessary personal medication is a must. Be prepared for minor injuries on the trail.
  • Trekking Poles: These are useful during the steeper sections of the trail or if hiking in winter when the path may be icy.
  • Emergency Essentials: Carry a whistle, a flashlight, and a multi-tool for unforeseen circumstances. A headlamp is a must if you plan to hike around sunrise or sunset.

Remember, the gear required may change with the seasons, so always check the current trail conditions and weather forecast before you set off. For more tips on what to wear and bring, check out these hiking tips.

Accommodation Options

Bar Harbor Inn Pier

The Cadillac North Ridge Trail area offers a plethora of comfortable and convenient accommodation options, most of which are located in Bar Harbor.

  • Bar Harbor Inn: One notable option is the historic Bar Harbor Inn, located just a half-mile away from Eagle Lake Road. It’s an ideal place to rest before or after embarking on your adventure at Cadillac Mountain. The Inn provides a picturesque view of Frenchman Bay, perfect for relaxing and unwinding.
  • Harborside Hotel: If you plan to arrive early to beat the morning rush of hikers, consider staying at the Harborside Hotel, situated strategically on the south side of Bar Harbor. Its proximity to the Cadillac North Ridge trailhead allows an easy start to your day of climbing and exploring the trails.
  • Atlantic Oceanside Hotel: For those who love a good blend of country and coastline, the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel on Cadillac Mountain Road is an ideal choice. It’s located on the east side of Bar Harbor, providing a breathtaking view of the Schoodic Peninsula and the islands in Frenchman Bay. Here, you can watch the sunrise from the comfort of your room before setting off for the day’s adventure.
  • Eden Village Motel and Cottages: For more budget-friendly options, several motels line the Park Loop Road, a short distance from the trailhead. Among them, Eden Village Motel and Cottages offers a quaint, country-style experience with the convenience of being just left off the main trail towards Cadillac Mountain.

Remember, Bar Harbor is a popular destination, particularly in the summer and fall, so it’s advisable to book your accommodation well in advance.

With the right planning, you can find a place that caters to your needs. Check out other available options based on your needs at this link.

Getting There: Directions and Transportation Options

The Mary Todd in Bar Harbor

Getting to the Cadillac North Ridge Trail is fairly straightforward, and there are various transportation options available.

Arriving by Air

  • Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport (BHB): This is the most convenient option for those traveling directly to Cadillac North Ridge Trail. With limited commercial flights, it provides a charming gateway to Mount Desert Island.
  • Bangor International Airport (BGR): For those seeking more flight options, Bangor International Airport is a viable choice. It serves as a major transportation hub in the region.

From Bangor International Airport (BGR)

  • Car rentals are available at the airport, and it’s a straightforward drive from I-395 E and ME-3 E to Bar Harbor. The distance is around 50 miles (80 km), and the journey takes about an hour.

From Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport (BHB)

  • A shorter distance of 12 miles (19 km) to Bar Harbor, this route takes about 15 minutes by car. Car rentals are also available at this airport.

Transportation Options:

  • Rental Cars: The most flexible way to explore the area is by renting a car. Several rental agencies operate at both Bar Harbor and Bangor airports, allowing you to traverse the scenic roads and reach the trailhead conveniently. Navigate via Eagle Lake Road (Route 233) and the Park Loop Road to the trailhead. Note that the Park Loop Road is a one-way section, so plan accordingly. Parking is available at the trailhead but is limited, especially during peak season.
  • Island Explorer Bus: For eco-conscious travelers, the Island Explorer bus system offers a sustainable option to reach the trailhead. With specific routes connecting key points on Mount Desert Island, including Bar Harbor and the Cadillac North Ridge Trailhead, this free bus service eliminates the need for cars. Keep in mind that the Island Explorer operates in one-way sections, so plan your route accordingly.

Getting Around: Navigating the Trails and Beyond

  • Park Loop Road: Access to the Cadillac North Ridge Trailhead is facilitated by the Park Loop Road. Whether you’re in your car or aboard the Island Explorer, this scenic route offers glimpses of Frenchman Bay and the surrounding islands.
  • Hiking Trail Connections: Once at the trailhead, navigating the trails is straightforward. The North Ridge Trail intersects with other trails, providing options for extended hikes. Familiarize yourself with the trail map and consider the one-way sections for a well-planned hiking experience.

Conclusion

The Cadillac North Ridge Trail is a must-visit destination in Acadia National Park. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a beginner, this trail offers the perfect balance of breathtaking views, abundant wildlife, and natural beauty.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your hiking boots, pack your backpack, and get ready for an unforgettable adventure.


RALPH S.

Ralph S. is the founder of Silverlight, an avid hiker and trail runner he enjoys spending time outdoors, riding his motorcycle and swimming at the beach when he's not busy replying to customers or developing new Silverlight gear.

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