Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hike – Great Head

Great Head as seen from Gorham Mountain
Okay, get your minds out of the gutter.  The “Great Head” in the title refers to the name of the peninsula where the trails are, not what you were thinking.  (Not that those two things are mutually exclusive, but this post will only be describing hikes.)

In addition to covering all of the trails on Great Head I will also go over two additional connecting trails to Great Head from Sand Beach in Acadia National Park.

Directions – Take Route 3 south from downtown Bar Harbor.  Just after passing the Compass Harbor region, take a left onto Schooner Head Road.  Drive down this road until you come to a four way stop.  Drive straight through the intersection and you will quickly come to a parking area on the left.  There will be a sign on the road that only authorized vehicles are allowed beyond that point.  The trailhead is off the back of the parking lot.

The official trails on Great Head sort of make a figure “8”, where the center of the eight does not pinch together.  There are many informal trails off the main ones.  There are also two other ways to reach the network of trails, both starting at the Sand Beach parking lot.  I will describe all of these.  The cumulative numbers at the end are for all of these trails.

When you leave the parking lot you will be on a wide, flat trail.  A trail will quickly split off to the left, but you should continue straight.  In a few minutes you will come to a trail that splits off to the right, where the split makes a skinny “Y” with the main trail.  I believe this is an informal trail that has been taken so much it is worn as much as the regular trail.  Take this split to the right.  It brings you down onto Sand Beach with a stream running across the beach in front of you and The Beehive in the distance.  You can explore along the beach.

Sand Beach - note the pillars of sand left on the rocks where the stream washed the rest away

When you are done here look for a set of stone steps leading up off of the beach.  They will be closer to the ocean than where you originally came down onto the beach.  At the top of these steps is where the main path is.  If you want, you can turn left and quickly cover the trail back to where you took the “Y” split.  If you do, turn around and come back to the top of the steps.

From these steps, take a right and look for blue blazes to guide you up over some small rock ledges.  Periodically you will get views of Sand Beach.  There are also informal, worn trails that lead to ledges with views.

Sand Beach with The Beehive in the background as seen from Great Head
[You can read about hiking The Beehive here.]

You will come to a signpost that indicates the Great Head Trail goes in two different directions from where you came in.  If you were looking down on the trails from above, with the parking area at the top of the “8” then this point is the left side connector for the top and bottom circles of the eight.  Heading left takes you through the center of the “8”, while heading right takes you along the outside.  You should take the trail to the right.

The trail will now drop a little in elevation as you head out to the end of the peninsula.  There are many open areas for views.  You can also go down onto the rocks that are at the edge of the ocean.  This is a popular hike, so there were about a dozen people at various viewing locations, even though the day was overcast.

Lone fir tree with Old Soaker in the background

Continue around the trail on the peninsula, making sure to watch for the blue blazes that mark the official trail.  You will come to the other side of the peninsula where there are additional viewpoints.  I encountered a group of students here that were being led by an instructor.

The end of the Great Head peninsula
Life appears in even the most barren places

Continue on the trail and you will now be starting back towards the parking area.  You will come to a signpost showing a trail heading off to the left, towards the interior of the peninsula.  You are now at the right side of the “8” where the top and bottom circles come together.  To complete the circuit take this trail to the left.  It rises about 150 feet to come out at the first signpost you encountered.

If you want to just go back to the parking area you can turn right and go back on the trail you came in on earlier.  If you want to complete the rest of the Great Head trails then turn around and go back down the trail you just came up on.  When you get back to the trail on the coast, turn left to continue to head toward the parking lot.  This is more of a woods trail, even though you are still quite close to the coast.  This trail will eventually turn left and connect back into the main trail just off the parking lot.  Take a right and you emerge where you left your car.

I’ll now describe the two paths from the Sand Beach area that lead to the Great Head trails.

To get to them drive back to the four way stop.  If you want a view of the ocean from Schooner Head, turn right at this stop and drive a short distance to a parking area for Schooner Head.  There is no hiking needed here to see the view.  (There is a Schooner Head Path that starts/ends here that goes all the way to Compass Harbor, but I will describe that in a separate post.)  When you are done, drive back to the four way stop. 

If you are coming from Schooner Head, drive straight through the intersection.  If you are coming from the parking area for the Great Head trails, turn left.  You will quickly come to the Park Loop Road, just before the gate entrance.  There will be a fee to enter the national park.  It varies depending on the time of year.  Drive along the Park Loop Road and you will quickly come to the Sand Beach parking area on your left.  There are bathrooms and running water here.

The first way to get to Great Head is to go down to the beach itself.  You will see Great Head at the other end of the beach.  Walk along the beach via a path that parallels a wooden fence.  When you come to the end of the beach you will need to cross the small stream that I described earlier.  Usually this is not a problem, but the day I was there there had been rains for a few days before and it was running stronger than usual.  People were able to get over it by walking toward the ocean and crossing where the stream split into pieces and flattened out as it entered the surf.  Once you cross, look for the set of stone stairs I described earlier.

The other way to get to the Great Head trails is via a trail off the Sand Beach parking lot.  Look for it near where cars leave the parking area to head toward the exit.  This trail will lead down through the trees and cross a couple of wooden bridges.  It parallels the Park Loop Road for a while, and then turns right.  You pass over and behind the stream that runs down to the beach. 

The stream that leads out onto Sand Beach

You will come to a metal gate at the end of a paved road.  It is to keep vehicles off the trail.  Walk around the gate and onto the road.  In maybe a quarter of a mile of walking on this paved road you will come to the Great Head parking area that was described above.  Now you know where the “authorized vehicles only” road goes to.

However you choose to get to the trails, this is a good hike for the whole family.  The smallest children may need some help up over a few sections, but by and large this isn’t that technical a hike.  It is more than a walk, though, so watch where you put your feet so that you don’t turn an ankle.  The most strenuous part of the hike is the section that crosses the interior of the peninsula (the middle of the “8”), so if you are tired you may want to skip it.

Cumulative distance:             roughly 2.5 miles for the Great Head trails; 4 miles overall
Cumulative elevation gain:   350 feet
Cumulative duration:            2 hours (including time for photos)

Acadia Hiking Guide

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