6 Springtime Waterfall Hikes in New England

Melting snow and muddy trails may put a mild damper on high elevation springtime hikes, but one of the major benefits of melting snow is the ferocity it adds to some of the already impressive waterfalls in New England. Impressive flows and spraying water can make them some of the most scenic hiking objectives in the area. Don’t miss these ones this spring.

Courtesy: Chris Luczkow
Courtesy: Chris Luczkow

Arethusa Falls

Regarded as perhaps the most scenic waterfalls in New Hampshire, Crawford Notch’s Arethusa Falls is an incredible reward at the end of a moderate 1.5-mile hike that should not be missed! The height of the plunge is nearly 200 feet, and while it serves as a popular ice climbing spot in the winter months, once the warmer temperatures add to the snow melt, the massive cascade becomes even more worth the sweat.  During spring and early summer, the flow is impressive,  but by the end of the summer, it’s likely to significantly decrease, so plan your visit early.

The hike itself begins at the end of Arethusa Falls Road. Only 0.1 miles into the Arethusa Falls Trail, you have the option of cutting left to the Bemis Brook Trail. This offers a steeper climb with the addition of two other waterfalls until you reach the main event.  If you were hoping for a longer hike, you can always add the Frankenstein Cliff Trail to your loop for a total of 4.2 miles.

Courtesy: Richard
Courtesy: Richard

Glen Ellis Falls

At 65 feet tall, Glen Ellis Falls in Jackson, New Hampshire is impressive even in times of low water, but even more magnificent in spring.  The falls itself drops over the headwall of an ancient glacial valley and features deep green pools that tempt you closer to the water. Don’t underestimate the danger of the fast running water: Swimming is prohibited in the area.

Nestled in Pinkham Notch, there is a designated parking lot off Route 16, and a short 0.2 mile hike will lead you to this breathtaking view. There is a short waterfall just upstream from the main falls, and a second just downstream, and the series of staircases will get your blood pumping as you take in the magnificent sight. As the waterfall is easily accessible, it is also extremely popular. However, the crowds will be sparser in the early spring, which is definitely one of the better times to visit.

Courtesy: SridharSaraf
Courtesy: SridharSaraf

Falling Waters Trail

The Falling Waters Trail is a popular trail to the summit of Little Haystack Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park. The trail features three stunning waterfalls and finishes with breathtaking views from the summit. The first waterfall seen on the trip is Stairs Falls, soon overshadowed by Swiftwater Falls: a 60-foot tall mix of cascades and smaller plunges. The last waterfall, and by far the most impressive of the three, is the 80-foot Cloudland Falls. This features a horsetail-like drop. The best views are off the main trail as you get a bit closer to the falls. The hike is definitely worth just reaching the waterfalls, even without summiting Little Haystack.

Courtesy: Doug Kerr
Courtesy: Doug Kerr

Moss Glen Falls

Situated at the end of an incredibly easy 0.1 mile hike from Stowe, Vermont is a spectacular 125-foot combination of several falls one after another. Moss Glen Falls culminates with a 62-foot slide leading into a plunge followed by several cascades. In high water, such as in the early spring, this is essentially a single falls of nearly 75 feet.  This makes the total drop (125 feet) one of the largest in the state. There are so many angles and varyingly dramatic views of the falls, it is essential to view them from below as well as from above. The lower views are accessible by wading your way upstream into the gorge, but if you want to access the gorge above the falls, use the trail to the left.  This is a favorite swimming hole spot in the summer, but be aware that the rocks are extremely slippery.


Warren Falls

Though small in stature, Warren Falls has some incredible features. Consisting of a rumbling series of cascades along the Mad River in Warren, Vermont, Warren Falls are made of three distinct tiers, totaling only about 20 feet in height, broken up into individual drops of about 7, 10 and 3 feet. The pools below each drop make for excellent swimming holes, but only when the river is running low. This would not be recommended in early spring, as the recent snow melt will only increase the water level. These pools are clear and surprisingly deep, with the pool after the final tier being nearly 20 feet deep.

Warren Falls is located just off of Route 100 south of Warren. There is a large dirt pullout on the west side of the road. A trail begins from the right side of the pullout and follows the river downstream. It is a quick walk to the falls.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Screw Auger Falls

The waterfalls of the Gulf Hagas Gorge in Northeast Piscataquis, Maine are among the most popular in the state of Maine.  Often referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East” The gorge consists of a series of waterfalls, cascades, and is part of the Appalachian Trail Corridor. However, a 7.5-mile trail will allow you to view various waterfalls in the area.  A majority of the crowds flock to see Screw Auger Falls, which is the most photogenic of all the waterfalls on this hike.  Here the brook drops about 15 feet into a punchbowl formation, often used as a swimming hole. However, if you continue along the rim of the gorge. you will encounter Buttermilk Falls, Billings Falls, and Stairs Falls.  When you enter through the entrance gate (it does require an entrance fee), ask about the water level, as the trail can be slick and more dangerous in high water.

Alpha Guide: Cadillac Mountain's South Ridge Trail

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Go way east and take in one of Maine’s rugged coastal peaks during this staple Acadia hike. 

At 1,530 feet, Cadillac is the tallest mountain on the United States’ Atlantic coastline, offering incredible views of Maine’s rugged seashore from the top. If you want to be among the first people in the continental United States to see the sunrise, there is no better place to view it than from Cadillac’s summit, and as a must-do trip for every visitor to Acadia National Park, a 7.1-mile roundtrip hike via the South Ridge Trail gets you there.

Quick Facts

Distance: 7.1 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★

Season: Year-round. Best from May through October
Fees/Permits: $25 park entrance fee per vehicle (May through October)
Contact: https://www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm



Depending on traffic, getting to the South Ridge Trail from downtown Bar Harbor is a breeze. Simply take Route 3 for a little over five miles before making a left onto Blackwoods Road. Then, look for the trail sign, which is visible from the road. Still lost? Blackwoods Campground is nearly adjacent to the trailhead.

The one tricky part about getting here is parking, since there is no dedicated lot for the South Ridge Trail. Instead, just park alongside the road near the trailhead.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Into the Woods

Hiking Cadillac Mountain is a fairly straightforward trip. The 3.5-mile stretch is well marked with blue blazes and cairns, and features very few connecting trails, thus minimizing the opportunity for wrong turns. Adding to the ease of navigation, approximately two-thirds of the trail is above treeline, enabling hikers on a clear day to see the route sprawl out ahead of them.

After parking across from Blackwoods Campground, hikers dip into the woods and follow the blue blazes as the trail gently ascends through the beautiful Maine forest. On the whole, the South Ridge Trail gains roughly 1,500 feet from the car to the summit, and although the change is gentle, hikers should not be lulled into thinking this trek is easy. The initial section is notoriously rocky and rough with roots, before giving way to slabby granite ledges.

Eagle Crag Cutoff

After roughly a mile, hikers are poised to encounter the first landmark of the day: the sign for the Eagle Crag cutoff (44.324177, -68.219193). Just 0.3 miles from here, the Crag features a long granite ledge that provides an excellent vantage point to take in views of the surrounding area. However, the 0.3-mile diversion leaves and then reconnects with the South Ridge, so, to give yourself the best chance at summiting, consider saving Eagle Crag for the return trip.

From the Eagle Crag cutoff, continue following the blue blazes as you climb out of the forest and into a blend of slabby rock and scrubby trees. As you get a little higher on the South Ridge Trail, the forest gives way to a rocky ridge, and there’s a chance you’ll get off the trail. Although this transition is well-marked, pay close attention to the cairns and blazes; otherwise, the well-traveled “footpaths” here lead you nowhere as you come out of the forest.

The Bates Cairn. | Credit: Tim Peck
The Bates Cairn. | Credit: Tim Peck

It’s also here that hikers will encounter something unique to Acadia National Park: the Bates Cairn. Named after Waldron Bates, a trail builder in Acadia during the early 1900s, the Bates Cairn features two large base stones that support a mantel stone with a pointer stone on top. Tampering in recent years has resulted in signs requesting visitors to both leave the existing cairns alone, including not adding rocks to them, and to refrain from building additional cairns. Help protect this special place by leaving the trail as you found it!

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Featherbed

Nearly a mile up the trail from the Eagle Crag cutoff, hikers will encounter the trip’s second major landmark: a small glacial pond called The Featherbed. It is one of three in the park, with the others being The Bowl, located behind The Beehive, and Sargent Mountain Pond, between Penobscot and Sargent Mountains. Depending on the weather, sit for a moment to enjoy the uniqueness of its stunning scenery.

Shortly after departing The Featherbed, the South Ridge intersects with the Canon Brook Trail (44.338486, -68.219193). Here, take a quick look at the sign, make sure you’re pointed in the right direction, and continue following the blue blazes and rocky ridge toward the summit.

From here on out, the trail is largely unprotected by trees, exposing hikers to everything from intense sunlight to fierce winds. Consider keeping a sun shirt, wind shirt, or lightweight rain jacket accessible for this section, as you never know what type of weather you’ll encounter. And, if conditions are too fierce, don’t hesitate to call it a day and turn around.

From here, the South Ridge Trail ascends the park’s notorious pink granite steps and slabs for 0.7 miles to its intersection with the West Face Trail (44.346916, -68.229324). Well marked with a large sign, the intersection is a relief for hikers, indicating the summit isn’t too far off.

The South Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck
The South Ridge. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Final Push

Hiking from the intersection with the West Face Trail, you’ll realize the impending encounter with civilization. Until this moment, hikers are immersed in nature, enveloped by the quiet of the forest and lost in the stunning views of the ocean and surrounding mountains. In the final push, however, the South Ridge Trail bumps up against the auto road and sees an increase in traffic, as people who have driven to the top explore the trails around the mountain’s summit. Strangely, it’s here that the trail might be the most challenging, as it features a few short-yet-steep sections that involve using iron rungs.

Looking down on Bar Harbor from the summit. | Credit: Tim Peck
Looking down on Bar Harbor from the summit. | Credit: Tim Peck

The Summit

Once you’re on top, look for the true summit, which is located along the gravel path and marked by two survey benchmarks established by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey (44.35127,-68.22649).

After locating the two survey markers and tagging the true summit, head up past the gift shop (44.351997, -68.225945) and skirt along the parking lot to take in views not afforded by the South Ridge Trail. Looking down below, you’ll see the village of Bar Harbor and islands off the coast.

After you’ve had your fill of views, take a walk around the short loop path at the summit. Make sure to check out the interpretive signs about the history of Acadia National Park. Once you’re done, simply return the way you came, and follow the South Ridge Trail back to your car.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Sunrise Bonus Points

While it’s commonly assumed that Cadillac Mountain’s summit is the first place to see the sunrise on the East Coast, it’s only true for part of the year. Even if your trip doesn’t align with the first-to-see-sunrise dates—October 7 through March 6—a pre-sunrise hike is still a great way to experience a must-do Acadia activity, earns you extra cred from the people who drove up the auto road, and gives you an excuse to order a double stack of blueberry pancakes for breakfast when you get back to town. Want more info on sunrise ascents? Check out our guide to “Beating the Sunrise on Cadillac Mountain.”

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

The Kit

  • A large percentage of the South Ridge Trail’s long, gradual ascent and descent occurs on exposed rock, minimizing the need for waterproofing and maximizing the need for traction. Trail runners like the Brooks Cascadia 12 or hiking shoes such as the Oboz Sawtooth Low are perfect for the terrain.
  • Because so much of the trail consists of an exposed rocky ridge next to the coast, a wind shirt like the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite is a borderline necessity for blocking the ocean breeze.
  • Pick up the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Acadia National Park Map before you go to get psyched, and bring it along on your hike just in case.
  • Hikers unaccustomed to Maine’s rocky trails will appreciate a good pair of trekking poles, like the Black Diamond Trail Backs, for added stability and confidence in unfamiliar terrain.
  • If the sunrise is on the agenda, consider adding a belay coat like the Outdoor Research Perch or a lightweight sleeping bag like the EMS Velocity 35 to your pack. Standing on a mountaintop in the dark next to the ocean can be pretty cold, even in mid-summer.
  • Another sunrise must-have is a headlamp, like the Black Diamond Revolt, as you’re going to spend a considerable amount of time hiking in the dark.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Keys to the Trip

  • Bring your wallet, and treat yourself to a cold drink, ice cream, or a whoopie pie at the summit’s gift shop.
  • One of the best things about hiking to Cadillac’s summit for the sunrise is the excuse to eat a big breakfast. Jordan’s Restaurant is a Bar Harbor institution. Enjoy a stack of their wild blueberry pancakes—you’ve earned it!
  • If you started later in the day and prefer your carbohydrates in liquid form, Bar Harbor Beerworks is right on the main drag and delivers outdoor seating options, while Finback Alehouse offers a more subdued setting.
  • Planning on camping during your trip to Acadia? Sites book well in advance for popular summer and fall weekends, so make your reservations early. Don’t count on finding an open site when you get there.
  • If camping isn’t your thing, book a small cottage with a kitchen just outside of town. They’re affordable and keep you from having to trek into town every time you want a meal. We’ve had luck staying at Hanscom’s over the years.
  • Is there someone you would like to share the summit with but don’t think they’ll be able to make the hike? Arrange for them to drive up the road and meet you at the top! The drive up the auto road is free, provided you have paid the park’s entry fee.
  • If you’re looking for other things to do while in Acadia, our “First-Timer’s Guide to Acadia National Park” has you covered. Make sure to check out the tide pools, the Beehive Trail, and Otter Cliffs.

Current Conditions

Have you climbed Cadillac recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!

The Top 6 New England Hikes

If you’re not getting out hiking this month in New England, you’re missing out! Between the weather, foliage, and lack of bugs, any trail in this northeastern corner is sure to give you a great day out. But, we couldn’t pick just one, so we asked our staff to help choose the best New England hikes.

Credit: Chris Picardi
Credit: Chris Picardi

Maine: The Knife Edge

Chris Picardi

For some, summiting Maine’s Mt. Katahdin marks the culmination of an epic journey along the Appalachian Trail, while for many others, it’s the reward after a strenuous day hike. Regardless of why you are hiking Katahdin, the mountain’s one feature that will almost certainly leave you in awe is the Knife Edge Trail. This 1.1-mile stretch traverses an exposed ridge with plummeting drops on both sides. While the trail can be deadly during inclement weather, on a clear day, it provides the best views of the rest of the mountain and some of the most rugged landscapes in all of New England.

Credit: Hannah Wholtmann
Credit: Hannah Wholtmann

New Hampshire: Mount Liberty

Hannah Wohltmann

With only four miles to the summit, making it the easiest of the Franconia Ridge hikes, 4,459-foot Mount Liberty offers incredible 360-degree views of the surrounding White Mountains. This mountain is accessible and extraordinary in all four seasons of the year. Ascend and descend the Liberty Springs Trail, and make sure you don’t forget your camera! Whether you’re thru-hiking or day hiking, Mount Liberty is the best bang for your buck. 

Credit: Liz Bonacci
Credit: Liz Bonacci

Connecticut: Bear Mountain

Liz Bonacci

Looking for a great hike the whole family can enjoy? Look no further than Bear Mountain in Salisbury. While this mountain stands as the tallest in Connecticut, at 2,316 feet, don’t be intimidated. Take the Undermountain Trail off Route 41 and proceed gradually to the summit for three miles. The slower ascent allows you to chat with friends and family while enjoying the breathtaking views of the Berkshires in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The remains of an old stone tower at the summit let you scramble to the top to capture that “perfect” picture, or simply sit and enjoy lunch while basking in the accomplishment of climbing Connecticut’s highest peak.

Credit: Tim Peck
Credit: Tim Peck

Massachusetts: Mount Wachusett

Tim Peck

John Muir famously said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go,” but what happens when the mountains are calling, and you have other commitments? That’s where the convenience of Mount Wachusett comes in. The mountain is less than half an hour from Worcester, less than an hour from Boston, and under an hour and a half from Providence and Hartford, making it the go-to for anyone seeking an adventure without spending an entire day in the car. With an incredibly diverse array of trails, the mountain offers routes for everyone, as hikers can choose steep and direct ascents like the Pine Hill Trail or longer, more gradual climbs like Harrington. No matter which you choose, those who summit Mount Wachusett will be rewarded with great views of Mount Monadnock and Mount Watatic, and on clear days, the Boston skyline is visible, as well.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Rhode Island: The North-South Trail

Ryan Wichelns

There aren’t too many places in the country’s second-most densely populated state where you can really feel like you’re away from it, but the North-South Trail in the Arcadia Management Area might be one of them. The N-S Trail runs continuously from the Massachusetts border in the north to the ocean in the south, but the 13-mile thru-hike where it bisects Arcadia, with its mixture of quiet forests, old farmland, and 10-foot Stepstone Falls, is a highlight. Head south from the Hazard Road Parking Area to Buttonwood Road, and then, spend a night at the park’s only permitted backcountry campsite, located by Stepstone Falls.

Courtesy: Justin Rumano/Flickr
Courtesy: Justin Rumano/Flickr

Vermont: Devil’s Gulch

Go down, rather than up, to hike one of the hardest sections of the state-splitting Long Trail. The five-mile loop will take you over a mountain and then down deep, so you can scramble over logs, boulders, and through a small cave, all surrounded by 175-foot walls. Watch for moose amongst the ponds and meadows on the other side before looping back.

Hike, Swim, Repeat: The Beehive Trail at Acadia National Park

On my last trip to Acadia, I discovered that I have a problem with the Northeast’s only contribution to the National Parks: Between the epic climbing, great biking, and scenic hiking, there is just too much to do. Once you add in visiting sites such as Thunder Hole, watching the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, and grabbing a pint or two at Bar Harbor Beerworks, there is little time for resting and relaxing during a vacation there. While I felt the crunch to cross items off my Acadia list during my last visit, I also wanted to find a few quiet moments to slow down and recharge my batteries.

The Beehive

The Beehive is the perfect short hike for those days where you feel like you should do something, but you are actually thinking about taking a rest and dipping your toes into the sand. It rises prominently across the street from and shares parking with Sand Beach, a 290-foot long stretch of sand created from shells ground down by the pounding surf. This location is certainly an anomaly when compared to the rest of the park’s craggy coastline.

I found that the recipe for a guilt-free beach day is to make a quick ascent of The Beehive, and then head to the beach for an afternoon of reading, napping, and trying to tell yourself that the water isn’t that cold.

While Sand Beach is pretty unique, the trail leading to it is a wonder as well. If you look carefully from the parking lot, you will most likely notice hikers making their way up the Beehive Trail. While a short hike, at a little less than a mile, it is definitely a challenge, with just under 500 feet of elevation gain going straight up the feature’s front.

Climbing up the iron rungs.

More than merely steep, The Beehive can at times feel technically challenging, as you encounter near vertical terrain and use iron rungs to climb the trail’s most difficult sections. The trail also delivers a level of exposure more familiar to climbers, as hikers are frequently required to negotiate narrow ledges and exposed cliffs. People with small children, a fear of heights, or questionable footwork should consider following the Bowl Trail around The Beehive’s less-steep backside. Also, because of the hike’s steep nature, pets are not allowed.

Those who make the ascent will bask in fantastic views of Sand Beach, as well as Great Head and Frenchman Bay, from the open summit slabs. Because going up is easier than descending, I recommend that hikers follow the Bowl Trail back down. Also, this route creates a nice lollipop loop and allows for seeing a little bit more of the park.

Don’t let the short stature of The Beehive deter you from getting out and climbing this gem. With plenty of vertical, its semi-technical nature, and phenomenal views, this trail presents enough challenge for experienced hikers and plenty of adventure for new ones.

Looking at sand beach from a narrow ledge.

Hidden Gem: Acadia's Tidal Pools

For many hikers on the East Coast, myself included, Acadia National Park is beloved and cherished, and much of its beauty comes from the surrounding water. But, most don’t think to look there, let alone consider it a reason to love the park.  

On a trip to Acadia this summer, I tried to explore parts I hadn’t seen before and focused on seeing Acadia’s famous tidal pools, located in several places, all unique and each worth a visit. Revisiting old favorites and discovering new ones, I went to three different spots on both sides of Mount Desert Island’s “lobster claw.” 

The most important thing when viewing tidal pools is timing! You must know when the tide is out or when it is coming in. Optimal viewing will be at low tide. For safety reasons, get there when the tide is going out (approaching low tide), and always keep an eye on the water — it comes in faster than you think. For finding the best time, USHarbors.com offers a helpful tide-monitoring resource

Acadia Tidal Pools

Schooner Head Overlook

The first tidal pools I visited were at Schooner Head Overlook. I arrived first thing in the morning, so that I could be there as the 11 a.m. low tide approached. Because of the clouds overhead, there wasn’t a single car in the parking lot. It was a short walk to get down to the waterfront and, from there, a bit of a scramble. Keep in mind that wet rocks are incredibly slippery, and rocks with seaweed are twice as dangerous, so proceed with extreme caution.

This time, the tidal pools were magnificent, populated by crabs, periwinkles, barnacles, sea anemones, sea urchin, and more marine life.

However, Schooner Head Overlook’s main attraction is Anemone Cave. As it is incredibly difficult and dangerous to enter, it can only be reached at the lowest tide. Further, its environment is also very delicate, so, in response, the Park Service no longer advertises it as a place to go.

That being said, you can still see inside the cave without entering. As you approach from the tidal pool areas at Schooner Head, you can kneel on a small ledge to view the inside. I highly recommend taking a peek, as you will be able to see all sorts of unusual life, from hot pink seaweed to deep red anemones. It remains a beautiful natural wonder hidden along Maine’s coast.

Acadia Tidal Pools

The Quietside

The next tidal pools I visited were on Mount Desert Island’s west side, known to the locals as the “Quietside.” Several tidal pools make the Quietside their home, and the first I checked out was at Wonderland. To get there, just pull off 102A to find a small, skinny parking lot with a bathroom.

To access the tidal pools, take a half-mile or so walk through pines, until you hit the shoreline. From there, you can walk in either direction to explore the pools. Wonderland is particularly nice, because the pools are larger and less crowded with seaweed. As such, you can easily get close without causing any damage or stepping on barnacles.

Too, the water is typically clear and gentle, which makes the area a nice place to stop and have lunch. And, for a longer journey, right down the road is Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

Blagden Preserve

The last tidal pool stop I made was at the top of the Quietside, at The Nature Conservancy’s Blagden Preserve on Indian Point. Not owned by the National Park and, as a result, not frequented by many of its visitors, the Preserve is one of the island’s hidden gems. To get to the shoreline, take the Big Wood Trail for one mile through rich and dense pines, mosses, and ferns. Don’t forget to bring bug spray. Then, the trail opens up into a meadow, where you will see a path down to the water.

Here, the shore hosts great tidal pools, but is especially famous for its harbor seals. Bring your binoculars and plan to be there around dawn or dusk for the best fauna viewing.

Acadia Tidal Pools

This was my tenth trip or so to Acadia, and every time I go, I find new places to explore. The tidal pools are just one small part of what makes the park so incredible. Acadia is always worth the trip, so if you get the chance to head up this summer, make sure to check them out! 

What You Need to Know About Climbing at Otter Cliffs

From the Precipice to the Bubbles to Great Head, Acadia National Park is full of great climbing destinations. But, in spite of all the fantastic spots, one place stands out among the rest: Otter Cliffs.

While New England may offer many larger and more imposing walls, nothing compares to climbing on this relatively small crag. Rising roughly 60 feet out of the ocean, this collection of compact granite cliffs provides incredible rock, fun routes, and one of the most picturesque and unique climbing experiences anywhere.

In addition to the Instagram-worthy setting of Otter Cliffs, there is something incredibly exciting and intimidating about the moment you commit yourself to the climb and either rappel or get lowered down to the lapping waves below.

From the bottom, the walls look steeper than they did at the top, even on the crag’s moderate routes. After pulling yourself onto the rock, you quickly realize that this isn’t Cathedral granite or Rumney schist. Although the walls are composed of granite, the ocean’s tides, waves, and mist make the first few moves of most Otter Cliffs routes pretty spicy, with damp, greasy hand-holds and slick feet.

Otter Cliffs

Another thought occurs when you arrive at the bottom of the cliff: You’re committed.

While commitment is something all climbers face, there is an unnerving feeling exclusive to being at the bottom of a sea cliff. Despite being a climber accustomed to all of these uncomfortable positions, you sense something powerful about the ocean under your shoes, the tide rising, and the knowledge that the only way up is to climb.

Well…In all honesty, climbing isn’t really the only way up. However, it is, perhaps, the most convenient and certainly the most dignified way back to the top. While Otter Cliffs provides such an experience, it also presents a unique set of challenges and requires a different set of skills from most of the other popular New England crags.

Getting There

If its seaside location, amazing routes, and impeccable granite weren’t enough to entice you, the approach will, as the crag is less than a five-minute walk from Park Loop Road. To find it, just follow the hiking path on the ocean side of the road and look for the climber’s path leading to the cliff.

If you are there during the busy season of July and August, you’ll very likely hear the climbers before seeing them. Before reaching the cliff, you will encounter a climber registration box — don’t forget to sign in, as it helps the National Park Service monitor climbers’ use of the area.

Setting Up

Otter CliffsDuring the height of Acadia’s climbing season, the top of Otter Cliffs can resemble a spider web, as numerous parties will have anchors strewn across. While there are some fixed anchors available, many of Otter Cliffs’ climbs require a gear anchor. It’s also worth noting that due to the heavy use this cliff sees, building anchors using trees is frowned upon. If you aren’t familiar with building your own anchors, brush up on your skills with a lesson from EMS Climbing School.

As you learn about gear anchors, you can also brush up on other skills valuable to Acadia-bound climbing, such as top-down belaying and hauling. As a side note, there is also a good chance one of our AMGA-certified guides can give you a few pro tips, such as the island’s best routes, places to camp, and spots to grab a beer.

Route Favorites

The Great Chimney is perfect for warming up and getting acquainted with the island’s climbing, as it’s rated a beginner-friendly 5.5. But, don’t let that fool you: Even experts appreciate climbing this stunning location, as this route ascends the chimney between a freestanding sea stack and Otter Cliffs themselves.

Climbers looking to push themselves a little harder need only to move over a few climbs to the Yellow Wall. Moderately graded at 5.8, this spot is known for a yellow lichen-covered arete, hence its name. This route places climbers on the wall’s edge, only increasing the exposed feeling of climbing above the crashing ocean beneath you.

Climbers interested in trying a local test piece need only look few climbs over from Yellow Wall to Guillotine. I have seen it graded anywhere from 5.10a to 5.10b to 5.10-, but it has always felt harder than that to me. Forcing climbers to use all their tricks, Guillotine begins at the wide crack around the arete from Yellow Wall. As you ascend, follow the route’s small face holds and thin cracks while attempting to conserve enough energy for the pump-like crux at the roof. If you manage to cruise the crux, you’ve exceeded my ability and are welcome to leave your grading recommendation in the comments.

By tackling its great routes, ascending its amazing rock, and seeing a one-of-a-kind location, most Otter Cliffs climbers won’t even care that they one-hung Guillotine, because it gives them an excuse to go back and try again.

A First-Timer's Guide to Acadia National Park, Courtesy of a Local

Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island are the Northeast’s gems. Rugged Maine coastline combined with bald granite mountains and an oftentimes rustic New England feel coalesce to provide one of the best experiences you will have this summer. However, be aware that it can be packed with tourists, traffic jams, parking issues, and lobster-everything.

Speaking of which, my first piece of advice to you is this: Don’t eat the lobster ice cream. I don’t care how novel you think it is, or how adventurous you feel, but lobster and vanilla do not mix. This “delicacy” is an abomination. Both lobsters and ice cream deserve better.

Aside from this, there is plenty to do in Acadia, from the outdoors to local watering holes to dining, that it’s hard to fit it all into a single trip. Luckily for you, you can go back. That being said, if it’s your first time visiting, I have some tips:

1. Stay on the quiet side of the island

Throngs of summer residents, tourists, and cruise ship passengers come to Bar Harbor, choking the village and driving up vacation rental costs. If you want to sleep outside, I recommend Quietside campground. Blackwoods and Seawall are both good, too, but are more popular. Additionally, areas across the fjord tend to offer a slightly more rustic Maine atmosphere.

I'm fairly certain that this is Beehive peeking out of the mist. Most of the mountains on the island are bald at the top, so layering is important. Mountains tend to generate their own wind conditions for a variety of reasons, so be prepared. Some mosses have evolved to trap heat, and you can measure that it's a fraction of a degree warmer within the tuft of moss if you have the right equipment. [Credit: Charles Fischer]
I’m fairly certain that this is Beehive peeking out of the mist. Most of the mountains on the island are bald at the top, so layering is important. Mountains tend to generate their own wind conditions for a variety of reasons, so be prepared. Some mosses have evolved to trap heat, and you can measure that it’s a fraction of a degree warmer within the tuft of moss if you have the right equipment. [Credit: Charles Fischer]

2. Hike the mountains

Depending on what your activity of choice is, Acadia can offer you a number of great opportunities. You can bike the carriage roads, take climbing lessons, go on a whale watch, or see marine creatures at Diver Ed’s Dive-in Theater. However, for the outdoors enthusiast, there are some must-do hikes.

The big one is Cadillac Mountain; supposedly, the combination of location and elevation makes it the first point on the U.S. East Coast to see the sunrise each day. People flock to the top every morning, and it’s worth joining them at least once. By road, you can drive or bike to the top, and many hikes also lead to the summit – just remember a headlamp.

Beech Mountain is often overlooked, but this short hike up to a fire tower provides you with a great view of the sea.

Beehive is a bit strenuous, and people with a fear of heights will have trouble with some of the small but still fairly safe ledges. Once you reach the summit, you’ll get a truly gorgeous view of Great Head, Sand Beach, and Otter Cliffs.

Speaking of Great Head and Otter Cliffs, while not mountains, they’re excellent for bouldering and rock climbing, and present a great opportunity to examine tide pools, where you can find starfish, eels, and a variety of other sea life.

The last must-see for many folks is Jordan Pond and the Bubbles, twin peaks reflected in a clear pond. After, stop by the Jordan Pond House for chowder and popovers.

There are so many more areas I would like to list here, but it would be far too long. It is worth noting, however, that Schoodic Peninsula is part of Acadia but is not on Mount Desert Island. If you make the trip, you will be rewarded with a hidden gem that is generally free of crowds.

3. Where to eat

While there’s a lot of great food on MDI, I’m mostly familiar with Bar Harbor. There, Two Cats and Cafe This Way are must-visit breakfast and brunch establishments. The food is good quality, the atmosphere is just right, and they accommodate vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets. Also, Maine is known for its blueberries, so blueberry anything is delicious and fresh.

Morning Glory is a great little bakery where you can get foods sourced from local farms. Here, too, they offer vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options; also, for lunch, stop by to grab a sandwich.

Just across the street is Siam Orchid, a Thai restaurant owned by a truly great guy. His seafood is sourced locally, and everything is overall fantastic.

For dinner, come by Galyn’s; if I’m getting lobster, that’s usually where I’ll go. That being said, I don’t think there’s any such thing as bad lobster on MDI. Once there, stick around for dessert.

Along with all listed above, other call-outs are Geddy’s and McKay’s.

You'll see many similar iconic shots of climbers on this exact climb at Otter Cliffs. Most guiding services will take you here and the top roping is well established with metal rings and staples. It's still a good idea to know how to build your own anchors in the many cracks here, though. Beware of the tide, and do not descend near the waves to retrieve lost forgotten gear. Let it go man, just let it go. [Credit: Charles Fischer]
You’ll see many similar iconic shots of climbers on this exact climb at Otter Cliffs. Most guiding services will take you here and the top roping is well established with metal rings and staples. It’s still a good idea to know how to build your own anchors in the many cracks here, though. Beware of the tide, and do not descend near the waves to retrieve lost forgotten gear. Let it go man, just let it go. [Credit: Charles Fischer]

4. For beers and desserts

If you have a sweet tooth and you’ve already been to Morning Glory, try MDI Ice Cream, offering two locations in Bar Harbor with a unique assortment of flavors. Out of the choices, I recommend a waffle cone with Nutella ice cream and chocolate sprinkles.

If you want an adult beverage to top off dinner, then the Lompoc is where all the locals hang out. While the food is a bit overpriced and the music loud, they have one of the best beer selections in town.

For a beer and a meal, the Thirsty Whale is where you can grab a pint and a burger. You’ll find better-priced fare there, but keep in mind it can be hard to get a table during peak seasons.

[Credit: Charles Fischer]
[Credit: Charles Fischer]

5. Other Advice

What else should you know? For one, the whole town is very dog-friendly. Also, for getting around during the summer, a free bus run sponsored by L.L. Bean can take you to a variety of locations around the island. Catch it on the village green to reduce the headache of trying to find parking; just pay attention to the schedules.

Along with these points, I can’t write this piece without mentioning my alma mater, College of the Atlantic. The campus is open to the public, and the giant whale skull alone is worth stopping for. You’ll further find a wonderful natural history museum on campus, where there’s usually some interesting installation art. As you walk around, you’ll discover that many of the buildings are comprised of old Rockefeller summer homes, and that they basically have a castle on campus. Eat your heart out, Hogwarts!

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!