In 1913, when John D. Rockefeller, a summer resident of Mt. Desert Island, began planning the 57-mile network of gravel paths for horse-drawn carriages, he could not have envisioned that thousands of cyclists would come to use the same network of paths running through Acadia National Park for recreation.
Rockefeller saw the automobile as a threat to the peace and splendor of the park and the people who walked and rode horses there, and his response was to create an auto-free zone. His construction efforts spanned 27 years and resulted in a system of paths that wind around lakes, over hills, through forests and across handsome granite bridges that connect the pathways.
With the park’s 100-year anniversary approaching in 2017, there’s no better way to celebrate the park’s history and get in shape for the upcoming winter snowshoe season than to hit the trails this fall. The pathways provide the serenity that forests are known for and a great workout for all fitness levels. The only company you might encounter will be other cyclists, walkers and the occasional horse-drawn carriage.
There are many access points to the trail system, but regardless of where you enter the network you can gain access to them all. There are hills to challenge your legs as well as long, relatively flat stretches to enjoy the scenery. There are also wide paths that are perfect for families with children and beginners. The surface of the paths is crushed gravel and suitable for any type of bike. Sign posts are located at the intersections so that you know where you are headed, and maps are available at any of the bike rental shops in nearby Bar Harbor.
Each bridge-span along the paths is unique, designed for the area where it is built. Some remind visitors of ancient Roman structures, while others seem to grow naturally out of their surroundings. The paths themselves, designed for Maine’s climate, are constructed of native granite, boulders and logs. Three layers of rock make up the base, and all have stone culverts and wide ditches. Between 1992 and 1995 the paths were extensively rehabilitated; drainage was improved and surfaces rebuilt.
If you are camping in the park you may want to catch the park bus at Black Woods Campground and go into Bar Harbor to rent bikes. Then you can pedal up to the Duck Brook entrance and directly onto the carriage paths. This is a long, uphill slog providing a good workout for your legs, but is not so good for the family experience. Beginners and families with children are better off driving to another access point, such as the gatehouse entrance at Jordan Pond. From here you can cycle a short out-and-back route along the scenic pond. Or, continue on that path and ride the Eagle Lake loop for a total of 14 miles. These trails consist of rolling terrain and long climbs, with beautiful views of the lakes and forest. There are several scenic stops along the way to take a break or have a picnic.
Alternatively, you can also drive Maine Highway 198 to the Parkman Mountain parking area just north of Upper Hadlock Pond and try the Hadlock Brook Loop, a good introduction to the carriage paths at just four miles in length. This route has two hand-hewn stone bridges and a sparkling 40-foot waterfall. And for the seasoned athlete, the rugged Around-the-Mountain loop will leave you gasping.
There are numerous places to stop off and enjoy your surroundings, including the shores of Eagle Lake and Jordan Pond. If you are heading out to Jordan Pond you can get a cup of coffee and snack upstairs in the Jordan Pond House gift shop. For something more substantial, there is also a full-service restaurant open daily with both indoor and outdoor seating on its magnificent lawns overlooking the pond and surrounding peaks. Their lobster stew is locally renowned. Also, the afternoon tea is an event not to be missed. Leftover from the days of yore, tea (or coffee) is served with their world famous popovers.
There are two main rental shops in Bar Harbor that provide half-day and full-day rentals: Acadia Bike and Bar Harbor Bike Shop. Both shops provide helmets and free maps. You can also request a bike with a wider seat for comfort. Bikes have a bracket to hold your water bottle, and the shops sell any accessory you might need. You can also rent car racks, child trailers and seats, helmets for all and even baby backpacks. Ask either shop about a guided tour planned with your family in mind.
Acadia’s misty heights and mix of green forest and spectacular ocean panoramas are known worldwide, and fall is a prime time to visit the park and enjoy its natural beauty. Any method you choose to explore–on foot, two-wheels or horseback–will provide great cross-training and a nice preview of the trails to prepare for the upcoming snowshoeing season.