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Acadia National Park | Art of the Trail

I’d be a liar if I reported that all trails at Acadia are hauntingly beautiful sculptures handcrafted of ancient rock. Take, for example, the West Face Trail down Cadillac. After turning off the ridge, I find that it hasn’t benefited much from the hand of man; it’s an unrelenting drop, crossing stretches of jumbled, angular boulders that tumbled down the mountain eons ago and came to rest with malice aforethought, their sharp corners facing up. I no longer feel as though I’m strolling through a pleasant gallery but instead am now involuntarily engaged in some reality-TV obstacle course, gingerly picking my way down–aware that a misstep may mean, if not certain death, then abrasions, inconvenience, and humiliation. I long for the stair builders.

I survive the descent with dignity mostly intact. At the base of the mountain I come to the shore of lovely Bubble Pond, encased in emerald hills. At the pond’s outlet I find a small stream. It’s obvious what I need to do: remove shoes, apply feet. While soaking and paying somewhat closer attention to moss than is customary for me, I catch glimpses of mountain bikers gliding specter-like through the forested hillside above. Recuperated and reshod, I walk up to investigate. And there I find myself back in Acadia’s spectacular trail gallery.

Acadia’s carriage roads are rightly famed for their beauty and grace. They were designed for an earlier era, yet suit ours perfectly. Broad and well-wrought of finely crushed stone, often edged with boulders, these gently winding roads have a medieval, fairytale-like quality, and you half expect a troop of knights to come galloping along, pennants fluttering. The roads were one of the grand extravagances of the early 20th century, built so that island denizens could take their horses and buggies out into the wilds, without suffering the indignity of unattractive sights or untidy lanes. Paid for largely by John D. Rockefeller Jr., they weave through forests, along streams, and (gradually, so as not to tax the horses) up hills, with ocean or lake views that blossom with every yard of elevation.

Today the roads feel as though they were designed solely in anticipation of the invention of mountain bikes. They’re perfect for a slow afternoon’s pedal–but I find that they’re also perfect for walking. I started the day climbing, occupied with the rhythm of my heart, then moved into hiking, which involved complicated negotiations among feet, legs, and rocks. Now I’m moving loosely with a comfortable rhythm, and for the last four miles, I feel as though I’m on autopilot.

Climbing and hiking are adventures of the body; walking is more an adventure of the mind, a time when your thoughts can unspool in a leisurely way. Only once is my breath taken away: when I stop to admire the view of Jordan Pond from the carriage road along the base of Penobscot Mountain and I happen to glance down. The road was built atop a 20-foot rock wall painstakingly crafted out of a talus slope; the labor to provide me with this simple view seems nearly Egyptian.

I arrive at the Jordan Pond House a little more than eight hours after I departed Sand Beach. A low-angled sun casts deep shadows across the lawn running down toward the pond’s shore. The grass is scattered with tables and people enjoying tea and popovers, a 19th-century island tradition that’s managed to go feral here and survive. The tea drinkers seem in no hurry to leave–a number of them have sent out exploratory parties to gather blueberries at the lawn’s edge–and I inquire at the desk about the wait time. At least 25 minutes, the hostess tells me.

I look at my watch. Then I look out front and see the free Bar Harbor shuttle bus ready to pull out. I realize that I can be back in town before I’ll even be seated here at the cafe. Bar Harbor, I know, has a bountiful supply of cold and excellent beer, which begins to have a large effect on my imagination. Beer isn’t quite as civilized a beverage as tea, but it’s equally ancient and possessed of comparable restorative properties. And I figure I’ve had enough culture today in the galleries of Acadia. I walk outside, clamber aboard, and set off on the last leg of my day’s journey.

For maps, brochures, and seasonal schedules and fees: For additional images of Acadia, visit:

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Monday, April 18th, 2011

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