Location: Acadia National Park, Southwest Harbor
Distance: 1.4 miles
Ages: 5 and up
“Want to go for a hike?” my hiking buddy asked me.
“I can’t,” I said, “There’s no one to watch the kids.”
A few minutes later I texted her back. “How about a kid hike? We can do Flying Mountain.” We added another mom and kid combo on our way and there we were: three moms, four kids, one tiny little mountain.
Flying Mountain is located within the boundaries of Acadia National Park, but over on the western side of Mount Desert Island. To get to the trailhead, take Route 102 from the head of Mount Desert Island towards Southwest Harbor. Turn right on Fernald Point Road and drive past the Causeway Club, then almost to the end of the road. The parking area for Flying Mountain is on the left side of the road. Please note that this hike is within Acadia National Park boundaries; you will need a park pass.
The trailhead starts directly from the parking lot and immediately begins climbing up. Over the last few years the park trail crews have improved this trail immensely to prevent erosion and it now sports a series of log-and-earth steps that the kids found great fun to race up. We’d lost sight of three-quarters of the children within moments, with only my daughter hanging back with the slower grown-ups.
It’s only .3 of a mile to the summit of Flying Mountain, so getting to the top is only part of the fun. A quick climb up those log steps and up a steep rock face–which may prove challenging for shorter legs, so stay near–and you are there. The trail gets a little hard to follow at the top; it jogs to the right toward Somes Sound but the markings aren’t always clear. My son got a little turned around up here and wandered off the trail into the woods; thankfully the older boys who were with him fetched him back almost before I realized he was missing. (At this point he got a quick hiking safety reminder to always stop and wait if unsure of where to go.)
While the view isn’t the most sweeping, from the top you can see the Cranberry Isles in the distance as well as boat traffic in and around Somes Sound. There’s not much room at the top for relaxing, but who needs it? You’ve only been hiking for ten minutes!
The descent from the summit has a few steep drops. It was on this section a few years ago that I taught my daughter that critical rule of hiking descents: when in doubt, slide on your butt. After you are off the granite summit, the trail moderates again into a pleasant walk in the woods for another bit until you hit an overlook side trail. It’s worth the short walk to the overlook and back, even though over the years trees have begun to cut into the view of Somes Sound.
Here’s where I get to prove how honest I am in my writing. I could just continue on with a description of the trail, but instead I’m going to fess up and share that it was at this point that I experienced one of the worst kid hiking meltdowns that I’ve ever seen. Because it was now that my son refused, straight up utterly refused, to hike any further down the trail. He didn’t seem tired, or hungry, or in need of a pep talk. He seemed like a kid who wanted to yell at me a lot about how he didn’t want to walk down the mountain.
Thankfully, since there were other adults along, I was able to simply send my daughter on ahead with our friends while I dealt with the issue. After much cajoling, listening, threatening, and bribery I finally got to the heart of the issue: he remembered doing this hike last year. During the descent of that hike, a loose stone moved under him and scared him, and now he was afraid the “mountain would move” again.
What can you do?
I knelt down, let him climb on my back, and then I piggybacked my 50-pound kid the rest of the way down.
Let’s all take a moment to appreciate the effectiveness of the squat-heavy leg workouts I’ve been doing.
The descent is steep, mostly down stone steps, which apparently can move under you at times so look out for that. Otherwise, it’s a relatively uneventful trip down to the bottom, even with a hefty five-year-old whispering “This is really FUN” and “Can you bounce me higher?” in your ear.
The trail leaves you at Valley Cove, a rocky, protected section of Somes Sound with good rocks for throwing and skipping as well as pretty good sea critter-searching opportunities, depending on the tide. This is usually where we break for a snack on this hike and this time around it’s where I was able to give my shaking legs a rest.
To get back to your car, just follow the Valley Cove fire road about .4 miles back to the parking lot. It’s an easy stroll and if you have enough kids with you, you may find yourself in a game of tag along the way to liven things up.
Kid rating: One thumb up, one thumb way, way down (out of two thumbs).
Kid rating: “I really like the ocean at the end and throwing rocks.” “I HATE THIS HIKE. I NEVER WANT TO DO THIS HIKE AGAIN.”
I’ve been getting some good suggestions for hikes in other parts of the state, so stay tuned for further adventuring. Got a favorite hike I should review? Drop me a line and let me know.