Pat & Chuck Blackley / Alamy
October 07, 2014

Acadia National Park taught me to respect the day hike. As a young backpacking zealot, I once indulged in a kind of backcountry snobbery, considering any hike that didn’t involve carrying at least a day’s rations and sleeping outdoors to be a mere stroll, hardly worth the effort. Ah, the impetuousness of youth. The intensely scenic—and often surprisingly rugged—coastal mountains of Acadia put the lie to such hauteur. The best day hikes in Acadia show off knockout vistas of forested hills, glacial lakes, jagged cliffs, rocky shoreline, and the endless stretch of the Atlantic—sometimes all at once. There are lung-busting hikes, with enough scrambling and exposure to keep thrill seekers happy, and there are gentler, steady rambles that lead to views every bit as dramatic. The tangle of over 120 miles of trail makes for infinite variety. I proposed to my wife on a day hike in Acadia. I’ve taken in mountaintop tableaus forever imprinted on my mind and summited peaks on days so cloudy, the hike could only be its own reward. Here are five not to miss.

Cadillac North Ridge Trail

From the north, it’s a short and somewhat steep hike to the top of the 1,530-foot peak that first sees the glow of sunrise over the Atlantic. Views of the long, rocky ridge of Dorr Mountain keep you company on the way up. Give yourself an hour-and-a-half to reach the summit.

Jordan Pond Path

An easy, slightly graded walk starts on the south shore of supremely photogenic Jordan Pond, with the twin buttes known as the Bubbles looming across the water. The trail network around Jordan Pond offers a variety of lengths and destinations—circle the pond or take a wooded hike beneath the cliffs of Pemetic Mountain.

Acadia Mountain Trail

The high point of Mount Desert Island’s western half, 681-foot Acadia Mountain looks out over the blue inlet of Somes Sound, often misidentified as a fjord, but not without resemblance to Scandanavia’s dramatic flooded valleys. Set aside four hours for the sometimes steep loop that also passes over nearby St. Sauveur Mountain.

Gorham Mountain Trail

From a trailhead on the Park Loop Rd., a steadily ascending trail passes beneath chiseled cliffs, with detours to a few cool, weathered sea caves from ancient days of higher sea levels. The 525-foot summit looks out over the ocean and the neighboring, exposed hump known to locals as the Beehive. 

Beehive Trail

Just next door to gentler Gorham Mountain, a trip up the Beehive is not for the faint of heart. A deceivingly short half-mile route includes steep switchbacks, exposed ledges, and segments where iron rungs provide hand- and footholds for near-vertical assents. The reward is an unsurpassed view of the Atlantic and of Acadia’s beaches and cliffs.

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