Cadillac Mountain: The Jewel of Acadia National Park
It had been over 30 years since I last visited Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, so my memory was certainly clouded by time. As we drove the long access road to the top of the mountain, the faded pictures in my mind began to come into focus as the scenic vistas revealed themselves before us. This really is one of the most beautiful mountaintops on the east coast, and also one of the easiest to access. It’s no wonder that Acadia National Park is regarded as the crown jewel of the North Atlantic coast, an honor that it richly deserves.
Cadillac Mountain is the highest point in Acadia National Park at 1,530 feet and is renowned as the first place in the United States to view the sunrise from October 7th to March 6th. Located on Mount Desert Island in the municipality of Bar Harbor, Cadillac Mountain is just one of over 20 mountains on the island that were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago and then shaped by retreating glaciers. The result is one of the most visitor-friendly mountaintops with spectacular views in every direction.
Summit Road and Parking
The Summit Road to the top of Cadillac Mountain travels for approximately 3.5 miles, with several scenic stops along the way. Use caution going in both directions as there is usually a lot of traffic coming in and out of the scenic stops. Also, I tend to look at the scenery as I drive, which can be dangerous on the Summit Road with steep cliffs right at the edge of the road, so pay attention to your driving, please.
With plenty of free parking, restroom facilities, and a small snack and gift shop, a visit to the summit of Cadillac Mountain is pretty stress-free. Taking in the scenic views is just as easy with a short trail that takes visitors around the summit. There is even a short wheelchair-accessible trail, which affords views of Bar Harbor and Frenchmen Bay.
Cadillac Mountain is named after the French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, Sieur de Cadillac. During the late 17th century, La Mothe extensively explored the coast of what was then called New France and was granted a substantial parcel of land that included Mount Desert Island. In 1918, Green Mountain was renamed after La Mothe and Cadillac Mountain was born.
Summit Loop Trail
The top of Cadillac Mountain is mostly exposed pink granite surrounded by a forest of spruce and pine as the mountain gently slopes to lower levels. You’ll notice numerous large glacier placed boulders and a smattering of blueberry and alpine plants as you wander the summit.
Exploring the top of Cadillac Mountain via the 0.5-mile Loop Trail can be characterized as more of a leisurely stroll than a hike, and it’s a great place to bring a picnic or a good book to read. With all of the exposed rock, there are plenty of places to sit, and the view in every direction is something to behold so don’t forget your camera.
Looking toward Bar Harbor is particularly scenic, especially when a cruise ship is sitting just offshore. The downside to a cruise ship in Bar Harbor is that it can get crowded atop the mountain as cruisers head for the main attraction here.
With such an open expanse at the top, many people forgo the pathway and venture in whatever direction appeals to them. One of the great things about this mountaintop is that you can explore at will and find your own little corner of peace and serenity.
That said, please be aware of the off-limit areas with protected vegetation. While we all love to explore, we want to be good stewards of the environment and not do damage to the fragile plants that survive up here.
While most visitors stick to the well-worn path around the exposed summit, many do not realize that the actual summit of Cadillac Mountain is up a short path hidden behind the gift shop. We had great fun trying to locate the summit marker and after a few minutes of searching, we did indeed find it. This part of the mountain is less traveled and the views are just as stunning, so check it out while you’re here.
If you would like to hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain there are several trails of varying degrees of difficulty. The North Ridge and South Ridge trails are the most popular, with the South Ridge trail offering a more moderate yet longer trek. We did not hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain, but we did climb to the top of Acadia Mountain, which is moderately strenuous and involved a fair amount of rock climbing.
- North Ridge Trail: 4.4 miles round-trip, 1086 foot ascent, moderate.
- South Ridge Trail: 7.4 miles round-trip, 1350 foot ascent, moderate to strenuous due to the distance.
It's All About the View
From the top of Cadillac Mountain, the views seem to go on forever. To the north, you’ll surely spot Bar Harbor and the occasional cruise ship anchored offshore in Frenchman Bay. To the west lies Eagle Lake and hopefully another beautiful sunset. To the south, you’ll locate the Cranberry Isles followed by the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean, and to the east, across the Mt. Desert Narrows lies the Schoodic Peninsula.
No matter what direction you look to, you’ll surely be greeted with picture-perfect scenery. A particularly popular time of year to visit is during the fall when the changing foliage carpets the hills with a kaleidoscope of color and makes an already stunning view even more spectacular.
Acadia Park Information
Acadia National Park is open year-round, however, not all facilities will be open and accessible during the winter. The Cadillac Mountain access road closes from December 1st to April 14th.
The Visitor Center at Hulls Cove is open from April 15th to October 31st from 8 am until 6 pm.
Cadillac Mountain is located within Acadia National Park, so entrance fees do apply.
- Individual: $15
- Private Vehicle: $30
- Motorcycle: $25
Acadia Annual Pass: $55
Lifetime Senior Pass: $80 (Age 62 and over)
Annual Senior Pass: $20
Active Military Pass: $0
All passes can be purchased online or at any of the visitor centers, campgrounds, at many gift shops in the area or simply pay the fee at the Cadillac Mountain entrance station.
Pets are allowed in Acadia National Park, but must be kept on a leash, so feel free to bring your furry four-legged friends.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Bill De Giulio