Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous. The loop hike is little less than 3 miles and visits two mountain peaks that rise over 900 feet above sea level. The trails that form the route include some short, steep sections that require hand-over-foot climbing. You will need to lift your knees high and hold onto rocks with your hands on occassion. You should also expect to navigate over exposed tree roots and rocky terrain. Agile dogs that aren’t afraid of jumping up rocks should be able to complete this hike.
How to get there: Drive onto Mount Desert Island on Route 3 (Bar Harbor Road). At the intersection after the causeway, veer right onto Route 198 and drive 4.3 miles; veer left onto Route 198-Route 3 and drive 4.1 miles and park in the small Norumbega Mountain parking area on your left, which is about 0.1 mile past the larger Parkman Mountain parking area, on the right.
The trailhead you want to start at is marked with a cedar post sign and is located across the road from the Norumbega Mountain parking area. The trailhead sign reads “Hadlock Brook Trail, Parkman Mtn., Sargent Mtn. & Pond, Penobscot Mtn. and Bald Peak.” And yes, you can start at this trailhead to reach all of these landmarks. The Acadia National Park trail system is vast, that’s why it is wise to carry a detailed trail map.
Information: Both rising over 900 feet above sea level, Parkman Mountain and Bald Peak stand side by side on Mount Desert Island, east of Somes Sound, and their summits are so close together that hikers usually visit both in one outing. Located in Acadia National Park, the mountains both provide panoramic views of the stunning landscape of MDI and the nearby ocean, dotted with smaller islands.
Well-maintained park trails climb both mountains and span between their peaks, allowing for a loop hike that is a little less than 3 miles long.
Starting at the Norumbega Mountain parking area, carefully cross the busy Route 3 to reach the trailhead. The trail plunges into a beautiful shaded forest filled with balsam, cedar and spruce trees and soon meets an intersection, where you should turn left onto the Parkman Mountain Trail. From there, it’s a 0.5-mile climb to the summit of Parkman Mountain.
As the trail gradually climbs the south ridge of the mountain, it crosses three historic carriage roads — wide, scenic recreational paths used by walkers, bicyclists, horseback riders, runners, and in the winter, skiers and snowshoers. Simply cross each carriage road and pick up the hiking trail on the opposite side.
The trail is marked with blue blazes that are painted on tree trunks in the forest. In the absence of trees, the blazes are painted on bedrock, and rock piles called cairns are also used to mark the trail. Acadia management asks that park visitors not tamper with cairns or build additional cairns, which could easily confuse hikers. The cairns are actually a specific design — two base rocks holding up a table rock topped with a directional rock — developed by Waldron Bates, who developed many of the original trails of Acadia in the early 1900s.
After crossing the three carriage roads, Parkman Mountain Trail becomes more open, crossing stretches of exposed granite and passing through low-lying bushes. This is also where the steepest sections of the trail are, including a granite slope where an iron rung has been strategically placed for hikers to use. (While I used this rung, my dog, Oreo, scrambled up the granite slope without using it.)
Near the top of the mountain, you’ll come to a trail intersection. Turn left to hike 0.1 mile to the bald peak of Parkman Mountain, which provides a 360-degree view of the area. A large rock pile holds up a sign at the top, and from that sign, you can see the blue stretch of Somes Sound to the west, and beyond it, lakes, ponds and mountains of MDI.
Parkman Mountain used to be called Little Brown Mountain. George B. Dorr (1855–1944), the park’s first superintendent, renamed it Parkman Mountain in the early 1900s after Francis Parkman (1823-1893), a famous historian and author, according to the National Park Service.
From the summit of Parkman Mountain, backtrack 0.1 mile to the trail intersection, then head west on the 0.2-mile trail that leads to Bald Peak. On the way to the peak, the trail dips down into a shaded forest, then climbs steeply over rocks to emerge onto exposed bedrock. The peak — which is 974 feet above sea level — is completely open, with an interesting view of Gilmore Peak, Sargent Mountain and Cedar Swamp Mountain to the west; Upper and Lower Hadlock ponds and the Cranberry Isles to the south, and Parkman Mountain to the northwest.
To complete the loop, descend the mountain on the Bald Peak Trail, which includes a few steep areas. After crossing a carriage road, the trail follows along the banks of a beautiful, bubbling brook, which forms tiny waterfalls over pink granite as it flows downhill to Upper Hadlock Pond. The trail then crosses one more carriage road before meeting a trail intersection. Turn right and hike a little over 0.2 mile to end the hike at the trailhead on Route 3.
All visitors to Acadia National Park are required to pay an entrance fee upon entry May through October. Passes vary in price. To learn more about the park, including places where you can purchase a park pass, visit nps.gov/acad/.
Personal note: I first tried to hike to the summit of Parkman Mountain on March 3, 2015, in the midst of a particularly snowy season, and I failed. I made it over halfway up the Parkman Mountain Trail on snowshoes — my dog, Oreo, trailing behind me — before I was forced to turn around because I’d lost the trail. The trees had disappeared, so the blue painted blazes marking the trail were on the bedrock, beneath the snow. The cairns were also buried. I wandered a bit, trying to figure it out, but after sinking into snowdrifts up to my waist twice, I called it quits. At that point, we were already enjoying some amazing views of the snowy park and the deep blue ocean, so I felt like the hike was a success in some respects.
Nevertheless, it was great to return to the mountain on Sunday with my husband and Oreo to hike all the way to its top and visit its neighbor, Bald Peak. Without any snow on the ground to hide the trail, I knew we’d successfully reach the top.
While the views atop both peaks were incredible, we couldn’t linger long because the wind whipping over the mountains was so cold — especially on Bald Peak, where we tucked ourselves against a granite ledge to eat a quick snack while facing west, at hills of granite and evergreens.
One of my favorite parts of the hike was the stretch of Bald Peak Trail that travels along the brook in the forest not far from the trailhead. On April 10, sunlight snuck through evergreen branches overhead, lighting the forest floor in patches and sparkling off the water. I stopped multiple times to take photos of the brook while enjoying the combination of birdsong, the sound of flowing water and the scent of evergreens.
More photos from the hike: