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Ocean Path in Acadia National Park

My wife and I enjoy traveling and spending time at our camp on a lake in Maine. Sharing the beauty and wonders of Maine is our passion.

Rocky shore along Ocean Path with Otter Cliffs in the distance.  Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine

Rocky shore along Ocean Path with Otter Cliffs in the distance. Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine

Breathtaking Two Miles of Ocean Shoreline

This 2-mile stretch of ocean shoreline on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park is one of the most beautiful anywhere. There are no long stretches of pristine white sand beaches here, just breathtaking pink granite shoreline, sheer cliffs, a sand beach, mountains, and a deep green forest providing awe-inspiring views in every direction.

Ocean Path starts at the upper parking lot for Sand Beach. One of the most popular attractions in Acadia National Park, Sand Beach is located along the Park Loop Road, on the left just past the park entrance fee station.

Bearing southwest, the trail winds its way along the rugged eastern shoreline of Mount Desert Island from Sand Beach to Otter Point. Along the way, it passes Thunder Hole, Monument Cove, and Otter Cliffs.

Besides parking at Sand Beach, there are other parking areas along the way and several parking spots on the side of the road.

This popular area and Ocean Path can get very crowded during peak tourist season. Early morning or evening hikes find fewer people. Being located along a portion of the eastern shore of MDI, sunrise hikes or drives only add to the almost indescribable views and experience. While sunny days are the best, the hike and views are still enjoyable even on a cloudy day such as the one when I took these pictures.

The trail, for the most part, parallels the Park Loop Road (Ocean Drive in this area). While many of the views can be enjoyed from the comfort of a car, don't pass up the opportunity to experience each and every step of Ocean Path. The round trip hike is 4 miles (2 miles one-way), but you'll make plenty of stops along the route.

Ocean Path Trailhead at Sand Beach

Ocean Path Trailhead at Sand Beach

Sand Beach

This 290-yard-long beach of unique sand with crushed shell fragments spans the two rocky granite shores of Newport Cove.

Before you begin your hike, stop down on the beach to enjoy the views. With the blue ocean in front of you, to your left is Great Head, a granite peninsula with a 145-foot headlands, one of the highest on the Atlantic Coast. To your right, the rocky shore extends toward Otter Cliffs with the mountains of Acadia behind it.

Despite its popularity, with cool ocean breezes and a water temperature that is rarely about 55 degrees even in the summer, few bathers spend much time in the water. The beach is guarded from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Changing areas and restrooms are located just off the parking lot.

From the trailhead at the upper parking lot, after a gentile uphill climb through a pine forest, the trail emerges to parallel Ocean Drive. From here, you are on your way to one of the most spectacular walks of your life.

Sand Beach with Great Head in the distance.

Sand Beach with Great Head in the distance.

Looking southwest from the Sand Beach upper parking lot at Ocean Path trailhead.

Looking southwest from the Sand Beach upper parking lot at Ocean Path trailhead.

Thunder Hole

Thunder Hole

About 3/4 of a mile southwest of the start you arrive at another of the most popular, if not the most popular, attraction in Acadia National Park, Thunder Hole. Along the way, you will pass several wonderful vistas providing views of the pink granite shoreline. Some look back toward Sand Beach and Great Head, while others provide views of the ocean and islands. To your right, Gorham Mountain rises out of the trees.

Thunder Hole has been described as a small inlet or large crevice carved by mother nature deep into the rocks on the shore. A small cave in the closed end of the crevice is responsible for the "thunder". With the right circumstances, usually a falling tide and a rough sea after a storm, as the water rushes out, the cave partially fills with air. The next wave crashing in forces the air out of the cave and sprays seawater several feet (up to 40!) into the air. The air forced out creates a sound similar to thunder in the distance. If the phenomenon is occurring as you approach Thunder Hole, you'll swear that a thunderstorm is on its way.

Thunder Hole is a great place to stop for a break and take in the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the ocean in front of you.

The salt air, the bell of a buoy ringing in the distance, the sound of thunder beside you, the sea mist spraying across your face, the cool salt air, maybe even a little morning fog, and seagulls above, I can't imagine a more beautiful place on earth.

With a parking lot across the street and parking along the road, tour buses in the area, and the Island Explorer bus stopping nearby, Thunder Hole can get crowded.

The flatter rocks on the shore between Thunder Hole and Monument Cove attract picnickers, birdwatchers, photographers, and sunbathers. Artists, drawing or painting the breathtaking and beautiful scenery, are not uncommon.

Visitors often escape the crowds by moving down the shore, walking and climbing on the massive granite boulders (referred to as "rocking"). Drawing or painting, reading, or just sitting there to pass the time, they enjoy the natural beauty all around them.

Eventually, it is time to move on, to continue your walk further along Ocean Path.

Close-up of Thunder Hole

Close-up of Thunder Hole

Monument Cove

Between Thunder Hole and Otter Cliffs is a little-noted area, Monument Cove. This small cove is marked only by a low stone wall along Ocean Path. Named for a 20-foot-tall pillar of granite that stands free of the steep granite shore, the rock tower was created by the ocean eroding away weaker rock around it. The massive angular rock formations along the shore and in the cove are completely exposed at low tide.

Just south of Monument Cove and across the park loop road is a small parking area with the trailhead for a hike up Gorham Mountain.

A 20 foot pillar of rock stands in front of the shear granite shore in Monument Cove

A 20 foot pillar of rock stands in front of the shear granite shore in Monument Cove

Otter Cliffs and Otter Point

Beyond Monument Cove, the trail bends away from the roadway and through the pine forest. The only noticeable elevation gain occurs as the path rises out of the forest towards Otter Cliffs

At 110 feet high, Otter Cliffs is one of the highest headlands on the Atlantic Seaboard. The sheer cliffs stand in contrast to the rounded and jagged boulders along the shore nearby.

Climbers are often seen at the top of the cliff preparing to repel down the side to the ocean shore below. Others can be found on the sheer walls climbing back up one of the regular climbing routes.

Feel energized after your hike? Really want to join the climbers? No equipment? No experience? No problem. Contact Atlantic Climbing School or one of the other local outfitters to make it happen.

Prior to heading back to Sand Beach, relax or even have a picnic on the rocks at Otter Point. Comfort facilities are available in the Otter Cliffs parking lot.

Enjoy the scenery one more time as you retrace your steps. By the time you get back, you'll be planning your next journey along this beautiful and breathtaking two miles of ocean shore.

Ocean Drive (Park Loop Road) and Ocean Path

Hiking Options:

In the summer, when the Island Explorer Bus is running, this can easily be made into a 1 way, 2-mile hike. Park your car in the parking lot at Otter Cliffs. Hike to Sand Beach and let the free bus transport you back to your car.

For a more strenuous return to Sand Beach parking lot, take Gorham Mountain Trail to Bowl Trail and return to your starting point. For an even more strenuous hike include the trail up and over The Beehive.

Be Careful!

The rocky shore along Ocean Path looks very inviting. There are always several people on the rocks, but be careful if you go out on them. Wear sturdy shoes. The rocks can be wet and slippery.

Be particularly careful when the ocean is rough. In bad weather, rogue waves have, on rare occasions, swept onlookers right off the rocks.

© 2012 Mark Shulkosky

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