A Weekend of Winter Hiking in Acadia: Day Mountain & Gorham Mountain
One of the most attractive features of Acadia National Park is its ease of accessibility–the ability for locals and travelers alike to depart their home or accommodation in Bar Harbor and be immersed in The Park in 15 minutes or less. This ease of accessibility is arguably all the more attractive in the wintertime when the days are shorter and the weather is rather unpredictable. Last weekend I elected to take advantage of two nearby hikes–Day Mountain and Gorham Mountain–the former on Saturday and the latter on Sunday. These relatively short hikes are ideal for brief off-season excursions as the trailheads are easily accessible by auto and the hikes themselves are not especially aggressive in any way that makes them particularly dangerous in any weather conditions. That being said, this winter has been a particularly icy one with many rains and melts followed by freezes and snow events and so on and so forth. Thus, there certainly was no shortage of slippery conditions on either mountain–in fact, most of the hike up and down Gorham last weekend was one which took place on ice–so you want to make sure you’ve got the proper gear. I encountered only a very few other people on these hikes–I believe it was four in total, all near the base of Gorham–and all of these folks were using microspikes. Without the proper gear Day Mountain was probably passable with minimal risk of injury, however the same could not be said for Gorham, which as of a week ago was effectively a 500-foot mound of ice.
On this occasion the Day Mountain hike took me about two hours, which is probably a half hour to an hour longer than it needed to take. I went slowly not so much because of the conditions, but because I was in no hurry and was comfortable enjoying the sights and sounds of seclusion in the 30-some-degree weather (not especially warm for this time of year, but not especially cold, either). Of note–Day Mountain, only a few hundred feet high but offering impressive views over the Seal Harbor area and of the neighboring mountains, has the distinction of being the only mountain in Acadia with a carriage road to its summit, which opens it up for various forms of recreation that a hiking trail does not afford. On this occasion I climbed the hiking trail up and took the carriage road down. The best views are situated, if you’re hiking up the trail, just prior to the trail’s crossing of the carriage road for a third and final time prior to their intersection at the summit. If you’re using the carriage road up and down I would strongly suggest stopping at this third intersection of road and trail and venturing a minute or two along the trail until the sweeping ocean view presents itself just above the treetops.
Towards the end of my journey along the carriage road on my way down the mountain I encountered some rather impressive ice formations which are helpful in demonstrating just how much ice there is here this winter. Just by studying these ice formations visually I figured the ice must’ve been at least a foot thick in some places, if not substantially thicker. And Day Mountain wasn’t nearly as icy as Gorham. To be clear, I am not suggesting these challenging conditions detracted from the experience–as a matter of fact, I experienced quite the opposite. While I am not so much one to hike for any sense of accomplishment or even adventure–I’m really just in it for the views and the peace of mind that comes along with being out in nature–one can’t help but be colored with at least tinge of excitement when tackling a somewhat challenging environment, assuming one is equipped with the proper gear for maintaining a necessary level of safety.
Gorham Mountain can be accessed from its own parking area, or from the Beehive trailhead across from the Sand Beach parking area on the Ocean Drive (the section of the Park Loop Road open to vehicles all year). Approaching the hike from Sand Beach allows–at least when the leaves are off the trees–magnificent views looking up at the granite cliffs of The Beehive. The Beehive is itself an extremely popular short hike which remains easily accessible by car throughout the year, though I would not recommend it in snowy or icy conditions–it’s a ladder trail.
The hike up one side of Gorham, down the other side, and along the Ocean Drive back to my vehicle took me about three hours when in the summer it might take one-and-a-half. I probably could’ve moved a little faster but had no reason to. The views looking down at the Ocean Drive spanning all the way from Sand Beach and Great Head to Otter Cliff and beyond were breathtaking (see panorama at the top of this post–wow!). I also experienced the unexpected bonus of glancing up to see a Bald Eagle soar about 20 feet directly over my head. I’ve seen a good many Bald Eagles in Acadia, but never so close. Unfortunately the surprise flyover happened rather suddenly and I wasn’t able to snap a photo, but trust the sight was impressive!
Yet another successful weekend spent outdoors in Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park! If you’re interested in experiencing some winter hiking for yourself, we just a few days ago got walloped by a foot or so of snow, and not much of it has melted as yet!