Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hike – Beech Mountain, South Ridge and West Ridge

Beech Mountain rising over Long Pond
Beech Mountain is located in Acadia National Park.  It is on the west side of Mount Desert Island, away from the more heavily populated trails.  The island is almost cut in half by Somes Sound – the only fjord on the Atlantic side of North America.  Since Bar Harbor, the Park Loop Road, Thunder Hole, Cadillac Mountain, etc. are all on the east side, the west side of the island sometimes gets overlooked.  Hiking on the west side of the island is usually quieter.

Beech Mountain is unique in one respect: it is the only mountain on the island with a fire tower on the top.  There are four trails to the top.  This post will describe a loop on the South Ridge and West Ridge Trails and a segment of the Valley Trail.  See my other Beech Mountain post here describing the trails on the other side of the mountain.

Directions – When you first cross the causeway from the mainland onto Mount Desert Island you come to a fork.  Heading left to stay on Route 3 will take you to the east side of the island.  You will want to head right on Route 102 for the west side of the island.  Drive several miles until you pass Echo Lake and the Southwest Harbor Food Mart.  The speed limit will drop to 25 miles per hour as you near downtown Southwest Harbor.  Take a right onto Seal Cove Road.  Drive to the top of the hill then take another right onto Long Pond Road.  Drive all the way to the end and park to the right of the pump house.

There are no bathrooms or running water here.  There are trails to the left side of the pump house, but this hike starts to the right of it.  The West Ridge Trail exits the parking area near the shore, while the Valley Trail exits off the back of the parking area away from the shore.  Take the Valley Trail.

It starts out climbing up away from Long Pond, but takes a left and levels out.  It continues level for a while and crosses a road.  Eventually you will come to a series of switchbacks as the Valley Trail gains elevation.  You will come to a signpost indicating that the South Ridge Trail up Beech Mountain heads to the left.  Take this trail.

Looking up at where the next switchback will lead

The switchbacks continue.  The repeating pattern of a bunch of stone steps leading quickly upward, followed by a flat stretch as you make your way back across the face, was a little different.  Rather than have a continuous rise it was almost like doing short wind sprints, followed by walking, followed by more wind sprints.  The trail was well built and maintained, though, and some of these switchbacks give you views of Long Pond.

A peek at Long Pond from a switchback.  Mansell and Bernard Mountains are in the background.

Eventually these switchbacks open out onto more regular ledge hiking.  You can see the fire tower from the trail and it lets you know that you’ve still got a ways to go.

The fire tower at the summit as seen from the South Ridge Trail

You are hiking through trees pretty much all the way to the top, but there are places where there are openings for views.  There are also some informal trails branching off that take you to views.  It does not combine with any other official trails on the way up, though, and it comes out right at the fire tower.

As you climb up onto an open summit, you will see an unmanned fire tower.  It is the only one in the entire Acadia Park system.  The top of the tower is locked, but you can climb partway up the stairs to get longer views.

From the summit you can see all the way to the ocean and Cranberry islands to the south.  From the fire tower you have greater than 180 degree views of the surrounding countryside.

The Cranberry Islands off Southwest Harbor

When you are ready to continue, head off the summit 90 degrees to the left of where you came from.  You will see a signpost just off the summit.  Continue down the trail to the left.  You will shortly come to a trail branching off to the left.  This is the West Ridge Trail.  Take it.

You get views of Long Pond from the top of this trail.  You can make your way down onto ledges to get wider vistas, but you need to return to the trail when done.

The south end of Long Pond with Mansell Mtn in the background.  The Long Pond Trail runs along the shore.

Looking towards the north end of Long Pond.  The Long Pond Trail runs almost to the big peninsula.

[You can find a post for hiking the Long Pond Trail here.] 

This trail drops steadily and somewhat steeply down off Beech Mountain toward Long Pond.  There were a lot of loose rocks on this trail so we had to really watch where we put our feet.  It didn’t take us too much time to lose all the elevation and come out right on the shore of Long Pond.

The trail is now level the rest of the way back.  We passed two houses that looked like private residences.  There was one log walk that had broken and had a loose log, but that will probably be fixed this summer.  We continued to follow this trail around the shore and came out back where we had parked.

The best guide to hiking in Acadia, A Walk in the Park, describes going up West Ridge Trail and coming down South Ridge and Valley Trails.  It seems to be six of one and a half dozen of the other.  One way gives you a series of quick climbs, followed by flats, while the other way has a flat section followed by a somewhat steep, continuous rise.  Either way you cover the same distance and elevation changes, so take your pick.

Cumulative distance:             3.1 miles
Cumulative elevation gain:   845 feet
Cumulative duration:            2.5 hours (including time for photos and summit activities)

Acadia Hiking Guide

No comments:

Post a Comment