Climb Ev’ry Mountain: Witch’s Hole, Acadia National Park

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Bikers ride over the Rockefeller-built bridge – part of the network of carriage trails in Acadia National Park – near Duck Brook Road.

Repeat after me, boys and girls: There is no shame in walking your bike up a steep trail.

Once more, with feeling: There is no shame in walking your bike up a steep trail.

I freely admit that as a biker, steep hills and I do not get along. I can set a pretty good pace on suburban roads and flatland woods trails, but I generally leave the serious mountain biking to the really serious extreme sports types. (Aside from the occasional round of ziplining – see also: Hunter Mountain – I generally prefer my sports to be non-extreme. But I digress.)

The family and I were on a week-long trip to Maine in mid-August. Lots of hiking, biking, kayaking. And I’m pleased to report that I got plenty of fodder for the blog, including two visits to Acadia National Park. One day involved a bike ride around the northern end of the park, which I am describing to you here, and a side visit to Sieur de Monts (that’s for another entry). The other was a visit down to Jordan Pond (also for another entry).

Acadia is one of the most popular parks in the national parks system. Probably if you ask, people will give different reasons for visiting: the awesome view from atop Cadillac Mountain, watching the crashing surf along Thunder Hole, being able to brag about being in one of the first spots to see the sunrise in the United States in the morning…well, you get the idea.

Now, the downside to the park’s popularity is that it gets crowded in the summer. Really, really crowded. You may find yourself competing for a parking spot or a seat on one of the Island Explorer buses as a result.

Arrived at the park’s northernmost parking area at Hulls Cove, bikes in tow, after crawling through the construction going on at the causeway onto Mount Desert Island. We’d thought about biking on part of the Park Loop Road, but after seeing what the traffic was like, among other things, we opted for the carriage road leading into the north end of the park.

Now I’m going to tell you about why I started the blog post like I did.

The carriage road leading up from Hulls Cove is steep. We managed all right on the first little bit, but once we came to the steep hill that starts taking you up the mountain, we started having serious second thoughts about proceeding.

But then a lady coming downhill on her own bike assured us that this slope is the worst section of the trail. “Trust me, it gets better.”

Well, then!

Made it to the top of the slope where it started to plateau, and then found that the rest of the carriage roads were (relatively) easy. All the same, you will find that low gear is your best friend.

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Witch’s Hole.

The carriage roads, 45 miles of them according to the map, run in a network, mainly down the center of the park. They connect Eagle Lake, Jordan Pond, Day Mountain and the smaller bodies of water: Witch’s Hole, Bubble Pond, Aunt Betty Pond and the two Hadlocks. Bikes are welcome on all publicly-owned carriage roads (the park abuts private property in spots, so watch the signs), horses are allowed on certain roads, and keep your dogs on leash.

Witch’s Hole is a good-sized pond in the northern sector of the park. Some of the carriage roads wrap in a loop around it, and this is the route we ended up taking.

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A kiosk near the bridge, with a box containing carriage road maps.

At several places in the park, you’ll be able to pick up a small black-and-white map of the carriage roads in the park. Now, if you look at the map, you’ll see numbers on it. Each of those numbers corresponds to a signpost along the roads: very useful. The Witch’s Hole loop trail corresponds with signposts one through five.

The Witch’s Pond loop, on its eastern edge, takes you past one of the stone bridges that John D. Rockefeller had built for the park, leading out to Duck Brook Road. And it’s quite an impressive bridge, arching high above the brook, so it’s a good place to stop, drink some water and take a few photos.

Continued chugging along – there’s a section of the trail where you’re coasting downhill for a while, and then back up another incline near the pond before heading back toward Hull’s Cove. And the steep incline that was giving us so much trouble.

There is a “Danger: Steep Hill and Sharp Curve” sign; I strongly advise you to heed it. While I’m mostly confident in my bike’s brakes, I decided to dismount and walk the bike through the curve for safety reasons.

Returned to the car, stashed the bikes, refilled our water bottles and caught the Island Explorer to head off to Sieur de Monts.

For future reference, it seems to me that a (slightly) better plan might be to drive into another area of the park, say to Duck Brook Road or the park headquarters at Eagle Lake, and bike the carriage roads from there. Oh, well, live and learn!

So that’s day one at Acadia. Stay tuned for Sieur de Monts and Jordan Pond, plus a few other junkets farther downeast, including the northern terminus of the East Coast Greenway.

 

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