Beating the Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain

For half the year, Cadillac Mountain’s peak is the first place in the easternmost state where the sun appears. This fact brings many people to the top with hopes of catching those rays.

For this view, one could take the easy approach: Driving to the top, and waiting inside the car to watch the sunrise. But, what kind of outdoors person would take that route? One of the experience’s best parts is the journey it took to see that sight.

Preparation is very important, as it takes a little planning to arrive at the top before the sun comes up. First, consider your stamina, so make sure you eat something healthy the night before. Speaking from experience, four or five hotdogs around a fire would be a bad call.

Second, factor in the temperature. It might be August, but in Maine, early morning conditions warrant your wool and down.

Third, calculate your departure time. To do this, know when the sun rises that day, and work backwards from there. For example, on August 13, 2016, the sun will rise at 5:34 a.m.

One of the experience’s best parts is the journey it took to see that sight.

[Photo: Maddy Jackson]
[Photo: Maddy Jackson]
As for the actual hiking part, know which trail you’ll take. My personal favorite is the South Ridge Trail. If you’re new to the peak, realize you can pick it up from the Blackwoods Campground, but because of the distance, plan to add an extra mile to your trip. Not camping? That’s fairly simple: Just drive and park right off Route 3. If you’re coming from Bar Harbor, the trailhead is directly past the entrance to Blackwoods Campground.

In total, the path to the summit is 7.1 miles round trip, not including that extra mile from the campground. Drivers should expect a 3.5- to 4.0-mile trip to the summit, while hikers, depending on speed, should plan for two to four hours. During my journey, I gave myself three hours, which allowed ample time for snacks, breaks, and finding the perfect place to watch the sunrise.

This would make 2:30 a.m. my departure time. However, if you’re someone who enjoys breakfast, like myself, I would recommend giving yourself an extra half hour or so. Also, so you can get off to a smooth start, without having to search around for essentials, pack up all your gear the night before. This way, by 2:00 a.m., your bag is all ready to go.

As another point, when you’re putting your gear together, don’t forget the headlamp. Most of your hike will be through darker conditions, so visibility is paramount. Additionally, if you haven’t changed your batteries in a while, an extra set might not be a bad idea.

Once you’re on the South Ridge Trail, the first mile takes you through a wooded section with a gradual climb. Not long after, you’ll emerge from the tree line. Here, take a second to turn off your headlamp and look up at the sky. With almost no light pollution, Acadia is one of the United States’ best stargazing parks, and what you’ll see at that time of the morning will leave you speechless.

From here, the trail continues to the summit, with most of the hike concentrated on the mountain’s spine and going over large glacial rocks. Most of the blazes on the rocks or cairns will be used, so keep your eye out for them. Then, the last three-quarter mile or so dips back into a tree cover that really tests your attention in the dark.

As you walk toward the summit, you may find you’re the first to arrive, so you get to pick the ultimate viewing spot. More cars will arrive as time passes, and in watching the scene, you will immediately feel a sense of accomplishment for getting there first.

Of course, you’ll also feel cold and desire the warmth of the sleeping bag you left below, but the chill becomes secondary once you watch those first rays emerge, as the view will likely be one of the most stunning things you have ever witnessed. So, take your time to enjoy the sunrise, and after the hike down, reward yourself with a delicious breakfast in Bar Harbor, because you deserve it!