While most tourists take the easy way to the summit of Cadillac Mountain by driving their vehicles up the access road, the highest peak on Mount Desert Island has several hiking trails that lead to the summit. The Cadillac South Ridge Trail is arguably the most interesting route and is one of the longest straight stretches of trail in the park. Starting near the Blackwoods Campground on the south side of the island, the trail makes a long and steady ascent through some beautiful scenery to end at the popular summit. Yes, it definitely is rewarding to hike to the top even though you can drive!
The trailhead for the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail can be found along Route 3 just west of the town of Otter Creek. Roadside parking is available and the trailhead marker should be easy enough to spot on the north side of the road. Alternatively, if you are staying at the Blackwoods Campground, a .7-mile access trail on the west side of the A Loop will take you to the trailhead at Route 3.
|Rating:||Fairly strenuous day hike|
|Access:||Roadside trailhead along Route 3 near Blackwoods Campground|
|Time Required:||2-4 hours (one way)|
|Length:||3.5 miles (one way)|
|Elevation Change:||1350-foot steady ascent to the summit of Cadillac Mountain|
|Seasons:||Spring through fall|
Starting roughly only 180 feet above sea level, the Cadillac South Ridge Trail heads north through pleasant forest scenery, making a gradual yet steady ascent. At the 1-mile mark is the Eagles Crag, a small summit of sorts along the Cadillac ridgeline, that gives us our first teaser view of the mountains in the distance. Take the loop to the east for the best views. Continuing north along the trail, the vegetation starts to clear and the pink granite becomes more prominent as the trail gains elevation. One interesting spot is a little marsh where glaciers have carved out a trough-like pool that holds plants, flowers, and even frogs. (Similar pools can be found on Penobscot Mountain.)
The trail then descends a bit to an idyllic isolated pond known as the Featherbed. Once past the intersection with the Bubble and Jordan Ponds Path and Canon Brook Trail, the South Ridge Trail continues its ascent up the now barren granite ridgeline with cairns and blue markers leading the way. Less than a mile from the summit, you will pass the junction with the Cadillac West Face Trail and also skirt alongside the access road for a brief stint.
Soon enough, you will arrive at the south side of the Cadillac Mountain parking lot with great views to be had in all directions along the little Summit Loop path. After a few hours of hiking along the relatively isolated South Ridge Trail, the summit may be a bit of a culture shock with many cars, people, and even a gift shop to greet you. To complete the hike, you could return down the South Ridge Trail or have somebody pick you up at the summit. Alternatively, you could also continue down the Cadillac North Ridge Trail if you have a carspot or have a timetable for the Island Explorer bus system.
The Cadillac Mountain South Ridge Trail is a great hike through some diverse scenery that takes you to the summit of Acadia's most famous mountain. While it is obviously much quicker and easier to drive to the summit, it is quite a rewarding experience to do it the hard way and see all of the beautiful spots along the way!