Hiking all the peaks in Acadia (part three)

This spring, for some reason, I thought hiking all of the peaks in Acadia National Park would be great fun for my family. Turns out, that meant thirty-one peaks to climb. It was a level of insanity that I hadn’t really counted on, but we decided to try anyway.

Part one, covering our hikes of peaks one through ten, is here.

Part two, covering peaks 11 through 20, is here.

And finally! We reach the conclusion: peaks 20 through 31.

In case it wasn’t clear from the first two posts, we didn’t plan our hikes in any kind of logical order. We didn’t give much consideration to length or work our way from shortest mountain to tallest. We considered those options, but ultimately decided that it made more sense just to think about what felt right for the day and choose that way.

It sounds a bit new age-y, but it actually made a lot of sense. Some days we had a lot of energy, so we went on long or challenging hikes. Some days we didn’t have a very big time window, so we chose something we could complete quickly.

As we hit hike twenty-one, we started to feel like we needed to rack up some wins. We were all getting a bit tired of the project, especially since it was September by this point. So we started planning a few double peak hikes.

First up was The Bubbles, the two rounded peaks at the north end of Jordan Pond. While we have done South Bubble several times–mostly in order to try to push Bubble Rock from its perch–neither the kids nor I had ever climbed North Bubble. Turns out that North Bubble is pretty much the same as South Bubble, just with a slightly different angle on the view. For the first time, we noticed the beginning of the beautiful foliage that would accompany the rest of our hikes.

Bubble Rock

Participating in a time-honored a tradition: attempting to shove off Bubble Rock.

The next weekend we went with another easily connected pair: Bald and Parkman Mountains near Northeast Harbor. I have always liked these two, mostly because their nice open summits allow for wonderful views in all directions. This was added fun as we began pointing out all the mountains we had climbed…and what still remained.

We were all beginning to notice how much our mental map of Mount Desert Island had improved; we were beginning to know every peak and pond, road and bay by heart.

At this point, we’d pretty much exhausted our multiple peak hike options. So we knew we would have to start pulling in some hikes with more exciting points to them to keep enthusiasm going.

That’s why the next weekend we decided to piggyback on an trip to Ellsworth and head over to the Schoodic Peninsula section of Acadia National Park for the lone peak on that side: Schoodic Head. We happened to be there as the remnants of Hurricane Jose were passing by offshore, which made for some spectacular surf watching down at the ocean before our hike.

For Conners Nubble, a little peak overlooking Eagle Lake, we decided to try something even more interesting. Conners Nubble itself is a quick little hike, but getting to the trailhead requires a mile or more of hiking along either flat trails from the Bubbles side or along the Eagle Lake carriage road. One of my rules for hiking with kids is “harder hikes are better than longer hikes,” so I had to find a way around it.

My husband and I spent some time staring at the map.

“Maybe we could bike the carriage road?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I said. “Or maybe we should go across the water.”

“Ooooh,” he said.

canoeing Eagle Lake

Option three.

We put in at one side of Eagle Lake, canoed and kayaked our way across to the other side, hauled out at the trailhead, hiked up and down, and zipped back across.

Peak 26 done, with an added arm workout.

Next up was one of the hardest ones left on our list: Dorr Mountain for peak 27. We decided to take one of the hardest but most fun routes up (the Ladder Trail) and then one of the most historic down (Kurt Diederich’s Climb). Coming down the mountain, something tickled my memory and I asked my daughter for a picture. Without prompting, she walked over to the wall of granite neaby, posed, and then moved on. Later, a search brought me to this post by the great Acadia on My Mind, where it became obvious that the reference that jogged my memory was Diederich’s daughter Elsa, back in 1915.

Kurt Diederich's Climb

Just two girls hiking the same trail, almost 100 years apart.

Sometimes hiking is just a bit magical.

Our next two peaks, the Triad (peak 28) and Norumbega Mountain (peak 29) were mostly fun, steep, beautiful ways to see the foliage. It’s truly amazing that you can see the bright red of blueberry foliage a full mountain away, but you can.

Finally, finally we made it to peak 30. We were down to two major mountains: Pemetic and Cadillac. As Cadillac is the tallest, we decided that would be a fitting last hike. So Pemetic Mountain it was.

We were trying to fit our hike into a busy Saturday, so for the first time in this project, we actually purposefully got up early to go hiking. We were the first people on the short but steep Pemetic Northeast trail that day. Climbing to the top of a mountain in half a mile is invigorating and as we stood triumphantly alone at the top, surveying the beautiful 360 degree view in the early morning light, we really began to feel like the entire project had been worth it.  Everywhere we looked, there was a mountain we had climbed, a lake we had walked by, an ocean we had thrown rocks into.

We were on peak 30.

It felt like we had really made this national park our own.

After that experience, climbing the big granddaddy of Cadillac Mountain was almost a let down. The North Ridge trail of Cadillac is lovely for the first two-thirds, but a bit less charming for the last third, which is always within earshot of the auto road and contains pristine hordes of tourists who have driven up and are now going for a little stroll.

We felt out of place with our packs and sweaty selves, but we dutifully crossed to the spot behind the gift shop where we had been told the summit really is. There is no iconic wooden summit sign on Cadillac, just an old geologic survey marker. We took a foot photo, ate the picnic lunch we’d hauled up with us, and took a few minutes to bask in what we’d done.

Cadillac summit

Victory is somehow less glamorous than we thought.

But the wind was strong, the tourists were many, and the day was creeping on. We swung by the bathrooms, refilled our water bottles while the kids marveled at the idea of gift shop on top of a mountain, and headed back down.

Just like that we were done.

It took us 22 hikes spread over six months to complete. We’d hiked in heat and cold, pouring rain and blistering sun, through whining and laughter. We’d done it.

All 31 peaks.

Except that a few weeks earlier, two people–on separate occasions–after hearing about the project asked me “What about Isle au Haut?”

There isn’t a peak on the Isle au Haut section of Acadia, is there? Turns out, yes. There is. Duck Harbor Mountain.

There are really 32 peaks in Acadia.

It just wasn’t on our list.

Dang it.

Well. There’s always something new to learn about Acadia National Park.

And there’s always next year.

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.