Location: Acadia National Park
Distance: 1.4-1.7 miles depending on route. 1.4 miles as outlined below.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Ages: 4 and up
Great Head in Acadia used to be one of my back-pocket hikes before I had kids. I could pull it out at a moment’s notice and loop it in 30 minutes or so–sometimes I’d do it twice since it was so short. Although it takes a little longer to cover the distance now with the short folk along, it’s still one of my favorites simply because the payoff for the effort is unmatched.
To get to the trailhead: take Route 3 onto Mt. Desert Island and through Bar Harbor. Just outside of town, take a left onto Schooner Head Rd. and follow it to the parking lot at the end. Please note that, like any place in Acadia, a park pass is required. (Note: You can also access this trail from Sand Beach on the Park Loop Road. Just park in the beach lot, head down to the beach and across to the far side. These directions do not correspond with starting the hike from this location, so make sure you consult a map.)
There are a few choices to how you can loop this hike. Right at the beginning you will need to choose a left or right fork. I always go left because it’s a more direct route; the right fork will take you more towards Sand Beach. The first part of the left trail is a nice walk through the woods, with sporadic ocean views sneaking through the trees. After a bit the trail again forks and you’ll have a choice to make. The right fork brings you to a smooth but steep granite scramble and a longer route to the summit. The left is a quicker route to the summit. Since we were planning to have lunch at the top and it was past noon, we took the left fork to get to the food faster. A little further through the woods, up some rock stairs (“I love these things!” — my son) and you will see the Atlantic Ocean open up before you.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to stop for a picnic at the top, never fear. There are ample views to enjoy as the trail circles around Great Head. While it dips in and out of the woods, over short granite climbs, and across a couple of log bridges (“I love these things!”–my daughter), the trail always cuts back to incredible views of first the open ocean and then Sand Beach.
There are a few somewhat steep scrambles over granite faces, but my kids managed easily with just an adult nearby for a balance check. Shortly after the beach overlook, there will be another trail fork. Going left will take you lower onto Great Head and back to the original trail split at the beginning of the hike. You can also get down to Sand Beach from this trail. We went right, which brought us back down the granite scramble to the second fork, then back through the woods to the parking lot.
Kid rating: Two thumbs up, even though one of those thumbs was a little whiny near the end
Kid review: “I really like those log bridges.” “Can we go to the beach now?”
For another, winter take on this hike, try the One-Minute Hike review.