Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hike – The Beehive and Champlain Mountain

Sand Beach and Great Head from a ledge on the Beehive
There are over 100 miles of official hiking trails in Acadia National Park in Maine.  This hike traverses three of them: the Beehive Trail, the Bowl Trail, and the Champlain South Ridge Trail.

As of this writing I have hiked about a quarter of the trails in Acadia National Park.  Of all of them, this hike provides the best coastline views available in the entire park.  It also provides a bit of a challenge for those looking for it.  For those not wanting a challenge, the hard part can be bypassed.

You start the hike by taking the Park Loop Road south out of Bar Harbor.  There will be a fee for entering the National Park.  Drive until you reach the parking area for Sand Beach then pull in and park.

From the Sand Beach parking lot follow the gravel path to the right of the parking lot entrance as you walk up to the Park Loop Road.  Almost immediately cross over the Park Loop Road to the trailhead.  The Bowl trail ascends over rocks and roots for a couple tenths of a mile.  You will come to a split in the trail.  Take the trail to the right to head up The Beehive. 

Please note that the Beehive trail is quite steep and involves a series of iron rungs set in the rock to help you up over sections.  If you have vertigo you should not take this trail.  Do not attempt to take a dog with you, since it will not be able to make it up over some sections.  If you want to skip The Beehive, but still see the views from Champlain then continue on the Bowl Trail until it reaches The Bowl.  The rest of the hike will be what is described below after coming down off the back of the Beehive.

The Beehive

The Beehive Trail quickly becomes a back and forth set of ledges leading up the front left side of The Beehive.  I had heard quite a bit about it and was wondering what my reaction would be to the slim ledges and drop offs.  From my perspective it didn't turn out to be that bad.  There was one place where a set of thick iron treads had been put in place to bridge a gap in a rock ledge.  I admit I paused for a second before stepping onto it and then across back onto the ledge.  It vibrated slightly, but didn't bend at all under my weight.  It was very solid.

At one point I was taking a picture and noticed my foot was not very far from the edge of the ledge.  I instinctively backed up, but my pack hit the rock wall behind me.  I decided to take a couple more steps along the ledge to where it was a little wider.  I would estimate the ledges average 3-4 feet in width.  They are level, though, so you are not standing on something that is pitched toward the drop-offs.

On the side of The Beehive.  Note the width of the ledge.  This is what much of the trail is like.

Many iron rungs are well placed to help you safely ascend on the trail.  In using the iron rungs I realized that the method that worked best for me would be to take the final step up onto the next ledge, while simultaneously reaching for another iron rung or rock outcropping above to ensure I kept my upward momentum.  Because of this I would not try to descend on this path.  There are places where you would have to let go of the grip above you without yet placing your foot on the iron rung below.  While I watched a couple of hikers do it one time, it's not something I would recommend.

Two hikers descending the Beehive Trail

There is no marked summit on the Beehive.  You can walk around to different locations for the views, but some are obscured by trees.  The trip up The Beehive took nowhere near as long as I thought it would.  My brother-in-law George and I had planned for this to be our morning hike and we had so much time left over we decided to continue on to the peak of Champlain Mountain.  It was a good decision.

Descending the back side of The Beehive gives you a great view of The Bowl - a pond that formed between The Beehive and Champlain Mountain.  Since this was May the water was still very cold, but it felt good on what was turning out to be a warm day.

The Bowl

The trail continues clockwise around The Bowl until you reach another split in the trail.  The trail to the left is where you would come in if you had stayed on the Bowl Trail.  Take the trail to the right and continue clockwise around The Bowl.  You will come to the outlet of the pond.  You will need to step across on a few stones, but no wading is required.  This outlet has been dammed up twice by beavers.  The first dam was close to the trail and a second dam was built about fifty feet behind it.  As I stood there on the trail looking at them I realized that the surface of the water behind the second dam was level with my head!

The trail now continues up the South Ridge of Champlain.  This part of the trail ascends gradually.  There are sections that are a little steeper and that occasionally required a hand hold or two, but it is nothing compared to what was already encountered going up The Beehive.

The entire ridge has open, 180 degree plus views of the ocean, mountains, ponds, rivers, beaches, and islands.  Gorham Mountain offers similar views, but Champlain is twice as high.  On the way up I found myself looking behind me almost as often as I was looking ahead.  I stopped many times to take photos.

The trail is over rock ledges, but is well marked with cairns or painted blazes.  You can see places where people have made side trips for particular views.  Go ahead and explore, but always come back to the main trail.  There are no other trails that intersect this one until you reach the peak of Champlain.

There were a few tiny ponds on the way up.  They appeared to be only filled by rainwater, but there were many hardy plants and small trees growing in and around them.

At the peak of Champlain you can see in every direction, from Cadillac and Dorr Mountains one way, to Gorham Mountain and the Beehive, to the islands in Bar Harbor, to Great Head, to Sand Beach, and to Otter Cliffs.  We sat here for a while, had a snack, and enjoyed the views.  It was relatively windy, but it helped cool us off.  On a cold day the wind would probably not be pleasant.

A signpost at the top pointed to the numerous trails that intersect at the summit of Champlain Mountain.  One of them, the Precipice Trail, is now closed for most of the summer because of peregrine falcons that nest in the cliffs that the trail descends.

At this point, turn around and head back down the South Ridge of Champlain to The Bowl.  As much as I enjoyed the views on the way up, I had more fun on the way down.  I was now facing them and I had taken all the pictures I wanted so I simply hiked down while constantly taking in the unobstructed views.

L-R: The Beehive, The Bowl, Gorham Mountain, and the ocean is in the background

Once you have returned to the edge of The Bowl where you took the trail to the right to go to Champlain, this time take the other trail.  It will be to your right on the return trip.  This is the Bowl trail.  It will take you between The Beehive and Gorham Mountain.

At first you will ascend on this trail as you move away from the Bowl, but eventually it will start to descend.  The section from here to the end is all wooded.  Trails will come in from the left (another trail down from The Beehive) and from the right (two different trails from Gorham Mountain.)  Stay on the main trail.  You will eventually come back to the split in the trail where you went to the Beehive.  Stay on your trail and you will come back out to the Park Loop Road.  Cross over the road and go back to the parking lot where you started.

We only encountered two other groups on the Beehive.  One of those groups also did Champlain.  Other than that we had the trails to ourselves.  I've found that before Lunch hikes in Acadia are quieter than after Lunch hikes.

A warning if you don't like crowds, though. I have seen many people on the Beehive all at once.  One time a school bus stopped at Sand Beach and dozens of kids decided to try the Beehive.  From the parking lot you could see them swarming all over it like, well, bees.

Cumulative distance:             4.9 miles
Cumulative elevation gain:   1,300 feet
Cumulative duration:            3 hours

Guide to Acadia National Park Hiking Trails


  1. I have yet to get enough courage to try the Bee Hive. I have climbed Gorham Mountain to the Bowl. It was a nice hike, but I was a bit disappointed when we got to the bowl. It was full of what I was told were blood suckers. I wouldn't have wanted to swim in there. Our dog was however able to make that hike. Acadia is beautiful. I consider it my home away from home.

  2. Thank-you for this post. You have enabled a non-hiking person to be able to experience the beauty of Acadia. I love the Island, but had never seen these views. Spectacular! Also, your writing of the experience was almost as breathtaking as the hike.