Hiking all the peaks in Acadia (part one)

This spring, for some reason, I thought hiking all of the peaks in Acadia National Park would be great fun for my family.

From the beginning, it seemed like a bit of a far-fetched plan. Once I dug up a list of all the peaks, deleted the ones that didn’t have legal trails to the top, and realized that left thirty-one peaks to climb…. Well. It seemed downright laughable.

But the kids were game. My husband was game. I guess I was game?

I decided not to write about the hikes in detail because, well. That’s a lot of hikes. Also, I wasn’t really sure we could do it. I didn’t want to start something and then have us publicly collapse in the middle of it all. I didn’t even mention it to friends until around peak eleven.

But here we are, within shooting distance of our goal. As I write this, we just completed peak 28. In the absence of some great catastrophe, I think we might make it.

So here is the story of hiking all the peaks in Acadia, peaks one through ten.

We approached the early hikes cautiously. We started with mountains we knew well and that were an easily manageable length and difficulty. We had to build up endurance, strength, skills, and confidence. I knew there would be big challenges ahead, so I wanted to spend some time convincing my kids they were big time hikers that could do this.

It was spring, which meant we immediately had to accept one truth of this adventure: if we were going to do this, we weren’t going to be able to be picky about the weather conditions. We were going to have to think like through hikers or mountaineers. We were going to have to go out no matter what. And in these early hikes, we did.

Peak one, Flying Mountain, is one of my kids’ favorites hikes and one that is often our first hike of the season. They loved getting in the groove with this one, even though it was a grey and chilly day.

Peak two, Kebo Mountain, had a completely flooded approach to the trailhead, the result of weeks of rain. We had to bushwhack our way to the trail on high ground and finished with a comically squishy walk down the Jesup Path boardwalk.

jesup path kebo

This boardwalk is usually a foot above dry ground, not a floating dock.

It was peak three, Great Head, where we encountered our first real misery. It was chilly and grey when we started, drizzly as we continued, and full-on raining for the last half. I thought that this would lead to droopy, whiny kids, but the opposite became true. They actually had a great time joking and laughing about how cold and miserable we all were while we slid down the rocks. By the time we stopped on the way home for hot chocolate to warm up, I knew that this hike was on its way to family legend.

rainy outside memories

This was during the “drizzle” stage. It got worse. Much worse.

On Day Mountain, peak four, we were besieged by black flies every time we stopped for breath. Fastest hiking we’ve ever done.

Acadia Mountain, our fifth peak, is one of my favorite hikes in Acadia. That said, I’d never taken my kids up it. At slightly over three miles, it was the longest hike we’d ever taken them on to that point and possibly the hardest, with some serious scrambling both up and down. I won’t say it was no problem–there was definitely complaining–but we did it. I felt like we leveled up that day.

Peak six was our old favorite, Beech Mountain, hammered out one evening between work and dinner. I still maintain that this is one of the best hikes in Acadia for kids. Short, fun, view great views and a fire tower to climb at the top.

After that we took about a month off for summer travel, but when we came back, we attempted peaks seven (Bernard Mountain), eight (Knight Nubble), nine (Mansell Mountain) all in one four-mile hike.

It was a lot.

It was a whole lot.

For the first time, we had an injury beyond scrapes and bruises. My daughter slid coming down the extremely steep gorge between Bernard and Knight Nubble and hurt her ankle badly. We had several anxious moments where we tried to assess if the injury was serious or not while I calculated exactly how difficult it would be to piggyback a tall nine-year-old down a mountain. Thankfully, it turned out to be just a twisted ankle–not a sprained one–and as the pain faded she was game to continue.

Then on our way down our final peak, she suffered a complete exhaustion-related emotional collapse. Her frustration and exhaustion led to another bad fall, and as I was half-carrying a fine-but-weeping child down the mountain, I thought, “I suspect this may all be a mistake.”

mansell mountain

This is what a truly worn out child looks like. Sadly, I still had to get her down the mountain.

By the time we got to Bald Mountain, a weird, drive-by, unmarked peak ten that shouldn’t even be on the peak list, we were all in a very bad mood. Nevertheless, I cajoled everyone out of the car and to up the deer path to the top, took a picture of our feet in lieu of the usual summit sign photo, and crossed peak ten off our list.

I suspected it would be our last.

bald mountain

These are very tired feet.

The very next day, my rested and cheerful daughter said: “I can’t believe we did four peaks in a day. That was crazy. And amazing.”

It was. We are.

So we kept going.

Stay tuned for part two: peaks eleven through twenty, where we begin to learn some lessons about maintaining kid energy, keeping our spirits up, and deciding when to throw in the towel.

Cherie Galyean

About Cherie Galyean

In a perfect world, Cherie Galyean would spend hours every day chasing her kids up hiking trails, pretending to garden, and baking things. Instead, she works full-time in the non-profit sector and fits those other things in-between loads of laundry in her free time. A Maine native with multiple hometowns, she currently lives on Mount Desert Island with her husband, seven-year-old daughter, five-year-old son, and the best shelter mutt in the world.