Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hike – Acadia Mountain, Flying Mountain, Man O’War Brook, Somes Sound, Valley Cove

Somes Sound from the summit of Acadia Mountain
The east side of Mount Desert Island is the part that most people think of in regards to Acadia National Park.  The west side, or the “quiet side” as some people call it, provides a number of opportunities for hiking in the park, and without the crowds that can sometimes be a part of the popular hikes to the east.

This post describes a traverse of Acadia Mountain, a side trip to Man O’War Brook, a hike along the edge of Somes Sound on the Valley Cove Trail, and a traverse of Flying Mountain.  Although I usually do loop hikes back to my vehicle, I did not on this one.  I will explain below.

Directions – When first coming onto the island, bear right onto Route 102 instead of staying on Route 3 to go to Bar Harbor.  Stay on this road for several miles, passing through Somesville.  Echo Lake will appear on your right.  Approximately two thirds of the way down the length of the lake you will see a sign for Acadia Mountain parking.  It will be on the right, between the highway and the lake.  There is room for several cars here.  There is a bathroom, but no drinking water.    

The trailhead is across the highway from the parking area, so make sure to cross with care.  In only a tenth of a mile you will come to a split.  Heading right would take you up St. Saveur Mountain.  [You can read about hiking St. Sauveur in my post here.]  Bear left for Acadia Mountain.  In another couple tenths of a mile you will come to a fire road.  Cross over it to continue.

The trail has been quite easy so far, even heading down slightly in places.  You finally start to gain some elevation up Acadia, but other than one section, the trail remains not too difficult.  This one section is a quick rise over a rocky upthrust.  This doesn’t last too long, though, and the trail flattens out some after passing this point.

On the way up you have views of Echo Lake and Beech Mountain behind you.  As you come out on the partially wooded summit of Acadia, the lower part of Somes Sound stretches out before you.  It opens onto the ocean, with the Cranberry Islands visible beyond it.  (Somes Sound is the only fjord on the eastern side of North America.)  It only took me 30-40 minutes to reach the summit.

The southern end of Somes Sound from the summit of Acadia Mountain

While the views are good here, they are actually better 5-10 minutes further on the trail.  This trail leading down the eastern side of Acadia is still the Acadia Mountain Trail.  It traverses the mountain.  This side that faces Somes Sound is quite a bit steeper than the western side that you first ascended.  At one point it drops 600 feet is less than a half a mile.  I felt the trail could have benefited from a couple of iron bars to help in a few places.  It took me about an hour to descend, but I stopped many times for pictures.

The southern end of Somes Sound from just below the summit of Acadia Mountain
Looking north up Somes Sound from the east side of Acadia Mountain
Flying Mountain (left) and St. Saveur Mountain (right) from eastern side of Acadia Mountain
Large roots grown through once-solid rock over who know how many years

When the trail flattens out you are almost at sea level.  You will come to a sign for the Man O’War overlook.  Head down the steps to the left to see this.  It is named this because man o’wars (ships) could pull right up alongside it and fill their water barrels from the waterfall as the stream empties into the sound.  The stairs end before you can see anything.  Carefully make your way out onto rocks and continue around an outcropping and you will finally see the small waterfall.  In the spring the volume is probably quite a bit heavier.

Man O'War Brook as it empties into Somes Sound.  This was September and volume was low.

When you are done here, retrace your steps back up over the stairs.  Turn left and you will shortly come to a signpost for multiple trails.  Bearing right will take you back along the fire road you crossed over near the beginning of the Acadia Mountain Trail.  This would be the shortest way to return to your car, and it is my recommendation for the best choice.  I didn’t make this choice, however.  I stayed to the left to take the Valley Cove Trail along the edge of Somes Sound.  (You could also head up St. Saveur Mountain via the Valley Peak Trail.)

Sunlight hitting tree moss at the beginning of the Valley Cove Trail

I figured the Valley Cove Trail would be a nice walk along the water like the Long Pond Trail (read about it here), the Jordan Pond loop (read about it here), or the Ocean Path (read about it here).  Boy was I wrong.  This was by far the hardest part of this hike and it tired me out more than any of the hiking I had done the previous four days.

This trail actually consists of a number of smallish ups and downs as you make your way along a long talus slope of rocks at the base of St. Saveur Mountain.  None of them are huge, but even 50-75 foot high quick rises and falls add up when there are that many of them.  I later read that there are over 600 stone steps that make up this section of the trail.  A few of them were loose, so watch your step on them.

Section on sloped ledge with large dropoff.  Watch your footing!

After a while I actually started wondering if it wouldn’t be easier for me to just make my own way over the rocks on a relatively level course.  Be careful what you wish for.  The trail eventually does just this.  I found myself trying to follow painted blazes on the rocks, but often just picking my own way to get across them.  This slowed me up quite a bit.  All told, it took me an hour to make my way the one mile along this trail to Valley Cove.

Part of the section that involves scrambling over boulders

The trail finally leaves the talus slope and flattens out.  A sign will indicate a fire road to the right that will take you to the Flying Mountain parking area.  Heading to the left will take you down onto a small sand beach.  Heading straight will take you up Flying Mountain.

Despite the name, Flying Mountain is only 284 feet high, but its position perched right on top of the end of Somes Sound still allows it to provide some great views.  The trail rises easily up it and in about three tenths of a mile you will come to the summit.  There are open views across the sound to Northeast Harbor and south to the Cranberry Islands.  A couple was picnicking here.  I stopped and had a snack myself.

The end of Somes Sound from the summit of Flying Mountain

When done here, continue on the Flying Mountain Trail to head toward the parking area.  You will see a sign for a scenic overlook.  Take this short side trip for another good view to the south.  Come back to the trail and finish the rest of it to the Flying Mountain parking area.

View of Cranberry Islands from Flying Mountain scenic overlook

At this point I was much more tired than I had expected to be from only 4 miles of hiking.  I had left myself in a bit of a pickle, though, because I was not back at my car.  I had St. Saveur Mountain between it and me.  I had planned all along to go back this way, but now the prospect of another two miles traversing another mountain was not a pleasant one.  I was definitely not going to retrace my steps back over the Valley Cove Trail, and it would have been longer anyway.

As luck would have it two men were coming down off St. Saveur as I reached the trailhead for it (which is a little way down the fire road off the Flying Mountain parking area.)  I asked them about the trail they had just come down and they said it was “a little steep”.  [To read my post about hiking up St. Sauveur on this trail click here.]  I joked with them about the mistake I had made and they offered to give me a ride back to my car.  They were parked at the Flying Mountain parking area, so we just walked back out the fire road.

I was very grateful to these two good Samaritans.  I did not get their names, but one taught at Colby College.  If they ever read this I just want to say thanks again for what you did.  They were also there to do some ocean kayaking, but I couldn’t offer any advice on that.  I did give them some tips on a few good hikes.  They asked about The Bubbles, but I unfortunately had not done them yet.  Using this as an impetus, I hiked the Bubbles the very next day.  You can read that post here.

Mountain only (traverse via Acadia Mountain Trail, then return on fire road):

Cumulative distance:             3.2 miles roundtrip
Cumulative elevation gain:   600 feet
Cumulative duration:            2 hours (including time for photos)

Acadia and Flying Mountain (hike described above):
            NOTE – you will need two vehicles, one at each parking area

Cumulative distance:             4.0 miles one way
Cumulative elevation gain:   1200 feet (800 feet for sure.  The rest is a guesstimate of the ups and downs on the Valley Cove Trail.)
Cumulative duration:            4 hours (including time for photos and snack)


  1. From the amazing pictures, it looks like you had a wonderful day. It reminds me a little of Colorado.

  2. @Dawn - I did. Thanks. The mountains here are much lower, but their proximity to the ocean makes up for it.

  3. Almost slid off into Valley Cove today on the steep rock you have pictured. They should have warning signs there and iron rungs to hold onto in addition to the section they did build up with safety rocks. My husband saved my life. We hiked up from Flying Mountain to st. Saveur to Valley Peak. 3.7 very challenging miles with world class views.

    1. @Gabriela - Thanks for sharing your story. I definitely agree that that sloped section is badly in need of an iron bar to hold onto. My guess is this is a less traveled trail, so it has not garnered enough attention for the safety issue.

  4. my wife and I just did the Flying Mountain, Valley Cove, St. Saveur hike last weekend and didn't know about the part with the boulders. I came across your site when searching to see if others had the same experience. I must say, it was pretty scary especially that sloped ledge that you have pictured. They really should install some iron bars or foot holds on some of those rocks. I'm surprised more people don't get hurt there. I guess like you said, its just not a popular trail.

    1. I agree. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

      Every now and then I catch a news story about someone falling on the Precipice Trail or the Cadillac Mountain West Face Trail, but nothing on this one.

  5. Flying Mtn / Valley Cove was my very first hike at Acadia back in the mid 80's. Since then I have hike many of the hikes at Acadia. Acadia Mtn/Flying Mtn Dorr Beehive Cadallic from Black Woods Camp Ground Penobscot & Sargent Mtns Norumbega to name a few, not to mention the kind of bizaar Anvil Trail over by Scoodic - it's sort of a 'troll forest' - almost lost my hiking pal on that one - this was yrs prior to learning about David Paulides and his Missing 411 books and yt vids. Chip thanks for your terrific photos, commentary and for bringing back fond memories of a very special park - Acadia.