Saturday, March 5, 2011

Hike – Beech Mountain, Beech Cliffs, Canada Cliffs, Valley Trail

Long Pond from Beech Mountain Trail
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. 

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 two segments of the Beech Mountain Trail.  (See my other Beech Mountain post here describing the trails on the other side of the mountain.)  I will also describe some other short hikes that you can take from the same parking spot.  All of these hikes are relatively easy.

Beech Mountain and its fire tower

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 Routes 102 and 198 for the west side of the island.  Drive about 5.3 miles and then turn right onto Pretty Marsh Road.  In about a quarter of a mile turn left onto Beech Hill Road and drive all the way to the end (about 3 miles.)  You will come to a barrier across the road and a parking lot on the right.  It can hold several cars.  I believe there is also a bathroom there.

If you are coming from the Bar Harbor area, take Route 233 west off Route 3.  Drive about 6 miles until it ends at Route 198.  Turn right and drive 1.4 miles where you will intersect with Route 102.  Turn left and drive about 1 mile to Pretty Marsh Road.

Three different trails all start at this parking lot - Beech Mountain Trail, Beech Cliffs Trail, and Valley Trail.

First walk towards the North corner of the parking lot.  There will be a trailhead for the Beech Mountain trails.  Soon after leaving the parking lot the trail splits.  The loop can be hiked in either direction.  This describes a counterclockwise route.

Take the trail to the right.  You will not gain a lot of elevation at first as you start around to the west side of Beech Mountain.  As you get higher on the trail tremendous views of Long Pond appear.  The pond remains in sight for quite a bit of time as you traverse the western side of the mountain.

Long Pond from Beech Mountain Trail

Once you have gone all the way around to the west you will start gaining elevation more quickly.  Long Pond will disappear from view.  As you near the top this trail will have the West Ridge Trail connect into it.

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.

Cranberry Islands from the summit of Beech Mountain

The trail down starts on the opposite side of the summit from where you came up.  It was not well marked and it took a few minutes to find it, since there are some informal trails also leading away from the summit.  This trail is shorter than the first part of the loop and you descend quickly.  When you come back to where the trail split, turn right and you will come out in the parking lot where you first started.

You can end your hike here or you can explore the other options you have from this same starting point.  My sister and brother-in-law decided to stop here, but I decided to continue on.

To go to Beech Cliffs cross across the road at the entrance to the parking lot.  The trailhead for the Beech Cliffs Trail is found here.

This trail is short and it rises steadily, but not steeply.  You will come to a split in the trail.  Heading right takes you to the Canada Cliffs Trail.  For now head left to continue to Beech Cliffs.

When I hiked it there were signs about Peregrine falcons nesting in the cliffs.  The trail was still open, but you were not allowed to leave the trail because you might disturb the falcons.

After taking the left path you will quickly come to another split in the trail.  This is a small loop at the end of the Beech Cliffs Trail.  When you emerge at the outer arc of the loop you will see Echo Lake stretching out below you.  At the south end of Echo Lake is Echo Beach, a part of the Acadia National Park system.  There are several informal trails leading away from this loop, but I did not explore them because of the ban.

Echo Lake from Beech Cliffs

When you are done admiring the views from here, complete the circuit and come back to where the loop started.  Head back down the trail to where you went left toward Beach Cliffs.  At this fork now head left onto the Canada Cliffs Trail.

Despite the name, there are no real open views on the Canada Cliffs Trail.  This is a forest loop that provides an interesting contrast to the prior hikes of open ledges.

As you start on the Canada Cliffs Trail you will soon pass the Beech Cliffs Ladder Trail on the left.  This is a steep descent to Echo Beach.  A little further on Canada Cliffs Trail you will come to a split.  The trail forms a loop at this point.

Take the trail to the left.  You will wind your way around so that you are heading back in the direction that you came.  You will come to a split in the trail.  Heading left will bring you to the Valley Trail.  Heading right will bring you back to where you started on the loop.  If you do this section to complete the loop you should then turn around and come back to this split.  This time take the trail to the right to go to the Valley Trail.

This section of the trail will end the Canada Cliffs hike.  It quickly connects to the Valley Trail.  If you want to end your hike then turn right and follow the Valley Trail north.  It will quickly come out at the end of Beech Hill Road where you parked.

If you want to continue your hike then turn left and follow the Valley Trail south.  This is another forest walk, but with a twist.  You will be walking at the eastern base of Beech Mountain with cliffs rising very steeply above you.  In these steep cliff faces large trees have managed to take root and grow.

East side cliffs of Beech Mountain from Valley Trail

The Valley Trail descends gently on a well-worn path.  In about a mile of straight hiking you will come to a place where a trail heads off to the right and starts to gain elevation.  This is the South Ridge trail to the summit of Beech Mountain.  The trail that continues straight is still the Valley trail and it will take you to a different parking lot at the end of Long Pond.

I turned around at this point and hiked back up the Valley trail all the way to where I parked.  There is a barrier at the end of the Valley trail where it connects to Beech Hill Road.  This is to prevent people from driving vehicles onto the trail.

If you were going to cut anything out, I would recommend skipping the Canada Cliffs trail.  This would save you about one mile.  Just return to the parking area from Beech Cliffs and walk past the road barrier onto the Valley Trail. 

All in all this was an interesting combination of mountain ledges, mountain summit, cliff top, and forest trails, and all of them can be done from the same starting point. 

All three Hikes:

Cumulative distance:             4.5 miles
Cumulative elevation gain:   880 feet
Cumulative duration:            3 hours (including time for photos and summit activities)

Acadia National Park Guide

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