A World of Unique Character and Natural Beauty

Acadia's Wild Side

February 7, 2012      Author : Jeffrey Romano    Category: Environment      0 Comment(s)

Most hikers who visit Acadia National Park venture to Mount Desert Island and enjoy its many well-trodden paths to popular panoramic vistas.  Exhibiting incredible stonework and attention to detail, these trails are true works of art and an essential stop on any Acadia vacation.  A wilder, less-traveled, but equally compelling corner of Acadia National Park is Isle au Haut.

" In the canopy above, flocks of white-winged crossbills devoured spruce cones on one tree after another."

Two summers ago, I had the opportunity to spend a full day exploring this scenic island, reveling in its rugged landscape and natural beauty.

The forecast for the mid-July day was clear skies and warm temperatures, perfect conditions for a hike in coastal Maine.  I arrived bright and early to Stonington, an active fishing village on the southern tip of Deer Isle.  After climbing aboard the 7:00 AM ferry, we quickly departed.  The water was like glass as the one-hour cruise headed south through the collection of offshore islands.  Basking in the early morning sun, I scanned for harbor seals and other signs of life – it does not get any better than this.

Before long, we reached the town landing on the island’s northwestern corner. Roughly six miles long and two miles wide, the National Park Service owns 47% of Isle au Haut.  The heart of Acadia’s Isle au Haut unit is located on the island’s southern half, which not surprisingly, is where the island’s most stunning natural features exist.  Departing the boat, I made a beeline in that direction.

Just south of the town landing, a National Park Ranger Station welcomes you to the island and the start of the Duck Harbor Trail, a relatively level route that was a perfect choice to begin the day’s hike.  Through classic coastal evergreen forest, the path winds past boulders and through a moss-covered landscape.  Offering an occasional ocean view, the mostly forested trail provided much solitude and time for quiet contemplation.

"As the path rises higher, the views become more spectacular, especially the western scenes of Penobscot Bay and the Camden Hills."

Soon, the day’s travels led to Duck Harbor.  This narrow cove on the southwest shore of the island is home to a small National Park campground (available with advanced reservations) and provides an ideal starting location to discover the island’s most scenic locations.  The day’s first stop was Duck Harbor Mountain.  Ascending rapidly from sea level, the Duck Harbor Mountain Trail scales a series of granite ledges.  As the path rises higher, the views become more spectacular, especially the western scenes of Penobscot Bay and the Camden Hills.

An incoming off shore swell adds spectacle to this westerly view from the Goat Trail.

Carefully making my way over the summit, the somewhat challenging path descended as quickly as it rose on the other side of the mountain and ended at an intersection with the Goat Trail.  With the mid-summer sun rising high in the sky and air temperatures not far behind, it was nice to be

Rugged shoreline view from the Cliff Trail

near the shore again.  Turning left onto the Goat Trail, I ascended a small knoll that afforded incredible views of the island’s coastal cliffs.  On this day, a tropical storm far offshore was fortuitously generating pounding surf that only served to enhance the experience.  Especially soothing was the sound of the waves crackling through the cobble beaches below.

Heading south once again, I continued to be drawn farther down the scenic Western Head.  Joining the Cliff Trail, my adventure led to picturesque promontories high above the ocean.  The cool breezes and incredible beauty were intoxicating.  How could it be that so few people were enjoying this special place with me on this perfect summer day?

Needing a place to kick back and grab a bite to eat, I stumbled upon a quiet ocean-side picnic location.  At an intersection of the Cliff and Western Head trails, a short spur lead to the island’s southern most point.  Under the shady forest, I took advantage of this serene spot and watched nature as it unfolded.  Atop the rising ocean, common eider mothers watched over their young ducklings.  In the canopy above, flocks of white-winged crossbills devoured spruce cones on one tree after another.

Common eider mothers watch over their young ducklings.

Re-energized from the brief respite, it was time to hit the trail once again.  Joining the Western Head Trail, I began a return trek to Duck Harbor.  Although following a less-dramatic shoreline than other routes, this pleasant path provides frequent coastal views of classic Maine scenery.  A great end to a day of hiking on Isle au Haut.

Returning to Duck Harbor in time to meet the late afternoon ferry back to Stonington, it was tough to depart.  Next time, I must plan for an overnight stay at the campground.  Exploring Isle au Haut on a summer’s evening and gazing upon the setting sun must be amazing.  Next time!

More Information
Acadia National Park: http://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm
Duck Harbor Campground: http://www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/duckharbor.htm
Isle au Haut Trails Map: http://www.nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/upload/iahmap.pdf
Isle Au Haut Ferry: http://isleauhaut.com/index.html
Isle au Haut year around living: http://www.isleauhaut.org

Photo by Maria Fuentes

About the author / photographer

Jeffrey Romano is author of “Classic Hikes in New England’’ (2010) and “Best Loop Hikes: From New Hampshire’s White Mountains to the Maine Coast’’ (2006.  He is also a regular contributor to the Boston Globe.  Jeff can be reached at www.jeffreyromano.com.


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