Acadia National Park, Maine
Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail offers hikers a challenging trek to the summit of the eastern seaboard’s highest mountain, where you can enjoy spectacular views across the coastline of Maine and the multitude of islands that sit off shore
Hiking to the Summit of Cadillac Mountain
Where many Acadia National Park visitors opt for the easy route and drive their cars to the top of Cadillac Mountain, more intrepid individuals seek and find a bigger challenge on the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail.
Cadillac Mountain is the highest as well as one of the most iconic mountains on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. It is located within Acadia National Park which forms the centrepiece of Mount Desert Island.
Needless to say, the views are exceptional. This, combined with easy vehicle access to the summit, makes this one of the busiest places in New England during the summer.
Huge summer crowds swarm the summit area, often venturing beyond the designated viewing areas. This has resulted in lots of soil and vegetation loss. Most avid hikers, on the other hand, realize the fragility of the landscape, the importance of staying on the trail and know the rewards that a strenuous hike brings.
For all those reasons, I strongly recommend choosing the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail over simply driving up the access road or indeed hiking the North Ridge Trail.
This is a beautiful hike—one of the best day hikes in Acadia National Park—offering intimate woodland scenery, stretches of exposed granite and expansive views.
Hiking the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail
The South Ridge Trail is one of a few trails that lead to the summit of Cadillac Mountain. In my opinion, it’s the very best, one of the park’s longest straight stretches of trail.
The trail starts near the Blackwoods Campground, on Maine Route 3. It starts off quite slowly, leading firstly through peaceful forests. After a short distance, as you gradually climb higher, you’ll leave the woods behind and arrive at a remarkable meadow-like area.
Tip: At the junction of the South Ridge Trail and Eagle’s Crag, the Eagle’s Crag Loop Trail is a 0.3-mile detour to a wonderful overlook. I really recommend taking this short side trail. It connects again with the South Ridge Trail.
From then onward, you’ll spend most of the rest of the South Ridge Trail in open, rocky terrain. Another point of interest located about halfway up the exposed section is the Featherbed. This peaceful pond is a great spot to take a break.
Like its name clearly indicates, the trail runs along the South Ridge of Cadillac Mountain. This is an exposed granite ridgeline with basically no vegetation cover.
Since it’s also a more or less straight trail, you’ll be able to look up at the mountain at all times. I suggest, however, to look back behind you, too. The views are panoramic and only get more spectacular as you make your way up the mountain.
The South Ridge Trail is categorized as difficult or strenuous. It’s just over 3.5 miles one way with an elevation change of about 1,350 feet. The ascent is really gradual, though.
There are no particularly easy or steep sections—you’ll climb steadily the whole way. This Acadia National Park day hike is about persistence. The fantastic vistas will definitely help you on the way up!
There are also plenty of spots all along the ridge to sit down, rest and take in the landscape, which includes a part of Mount Desert Island below, the Atlantic Ocean and outlying islands.
After exploring the summit area—stay within the designated viewing areas!—return the way you came. Even though it’s an out-and-back hike, you do get to enjoy those epic views a second time, now actually facing them.
Alternative Hike: Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail
For an alternative to the popular Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail, you can choose the North Ridge Trail. As you might expect, this trail climbs a ridgeline on the northern side of the mountain. It’s much shorter than the South Ridge Trail, but also significantly steeper—climbing 1,086 feet in just 2.1 miles.
Similarly, though, the views are spectacular. From the North Ridge Trail, you’ll look down on the north side of Mount Desert Island and have a clear view of Bar Harbor and Frenchman Bay. While the upside is that hiker traffic is less, the downside is that the trail runs along the busy Park Loop Road in places.
Cadillac Mountain Sunrise
With its height of 1,530 feet, Cadillac Mountain is not only the highest mountain in Acadia National Park but also on the entire U.S. East Coast. From October 7 through March 6, the summit is the first place where the sun rises in the U.S.
Viewing the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain is a super-popular thing to do in Acadia National Park. As such, it does get quite busy at the summit early in the morning.
Whether you’re staying in Bar Harbor or camping at one of the many campgrounds on Mount Desert Island, you should arrive at the summit, well before sunrise to grab a good spot.
Very few people make the effort to hike the South Ridge Trail in the dark to catch the Cadillac Mountain sunrise at the top since this hike is all about the views on the way.
As memorable as the sunrise may be, a Cadillac Mountain sunset is equally as beautiful. And although still crowded, the sunsets are often less busy than the popular “once-in-a-lifetime” sunrises.
Cadillac Mountain Hike FAQs
How Long Is the South Ridge Trail on Cadillac Mountain?
The total round-trip hike is 7 miles long, or a 3.5-mile one-way trip. You should count on 4-6 hours to complete it, depending on your fitness level and the amount of time you spend enjoying the views.
What Is the South Ridge Trail Elevation Change?
From the trailhead to the summit, the trail ascends 1,350 feet.
What Is the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail Difficulty?
Because the trail climbs more than 500 feet every mile, and the total length is over 7 miles, it’s considered to be a difficult, challenging or strenuous hike.
Additionally, it’s definitely not a hike you want to do if the weather’s not looking great. Remember that most of the trail is on exposed granite, so don’t do if there’s a chance of thunderstorms. Also, in wet weather or in winter, water and ice can make certain sections rather slippery. Be aware and prepared.
Where Is the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trailhead?
The trailhead is along Maine Route 3. It’s about 100 feet to the south of the entrance to the Blackwoods Campground. Alternatively, if you’re actually staying at the campground, you can get to the trailhead via a short connector trail on the campground’s west side.
Detailed directions are as follows:
- Start at the Hull’s Cove Visitor Center northwest of Bar Harbor.
- Enter Acadia National Park via the Hull’s Cove Entrance, the start of Paradise Hill Road.
- Follow this road for about 2.8 miles until you get to the one-way section of the Park Loop Road toward Sand Beach. Turn left.
- Follow the Park Loop Road for a short while to Sieur de Monts. Turn right onto Maine Route 3.
- Continue on Maine Route 3 through the village of Otter Creek and past the Blackwoods Campground.
- The trailhead is 100 feet past the campground on the right side of the road. Note that it’s unmarked.
Is There Parking at the Trailhead?
There is no designated parking lot at the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trailhead. Additionally, there’s not even a road sign pointing out the trailhead! You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see a bunch of cars lining the road just south of the Blackwoods Campground.
Parking is available only on the shoulder of the road and is quite limited. Especially in the busy summer season, a parking spot is very hard to come by between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. A good alternative is taking the free Island Explorer Shuttle, which can drop you off and pick you back up right at the trailhead.
Are Dogs Allowed on the Trail?
Yes, Acadia National Park is one of the most dog-friendly national parks in America. It allows pets on many of its trails and iconic carriage roads. This includes the South Ridge Trail on Cadillac Mountain. Note, however, that all pets must be on a leash that’s no longer than 6 feet.
Do I Have to Pay a Fee to Hike Cadillac Mountain?
Yes, there is a fee to enter Acadia National Park and, therefore, also to hike Cadillac Mountain. At the time of writing, those fees are $30 per vehicle, $25 for motorcycles and $15 for visitors without a vehicle (hikers and cyclists). Check up-to-date entrance fees at the official Acadia National Park website.
Where Can I Find a Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail Map?
As is the case in all American national parks, the visitor centers are the best place to get information. From park movies and rangers-on-duty to brochures, newspaper and hiking maps, they’ll have it all. You can pick up a map of Acadia National Park and its trails at the Hull’s Cove Visitor Center.
Are There Any Restrooms on the Trail?
There are seasonal restrooms at the summit of Cadillac Mountain. However, there are no restrooms at the trailhead or on the actual trail.
What Are Some Other Great Day Hikes in Acadia National Park?
Numerous great trails crisscross the Acadia landscape, from coastal and lakeside strolls to strenuous climbs. My personal favorite other day hikes in Acadia National Park are the following:
- Precipice Trail
- Great Head Trail
- Jordan Pond Path
- North Bubble Loop
The Precipice Trail is especially worthwhile for thrill-seekers. It’s the steepest and most dangerous trail in the park, featuring iron rungs, ladder and sheer drop-offs. Generally speaking, though, in my opinion, nothing beats the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail. It’s challenging and rewarding, and the views are to die for.
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