Nestled in a nice little cove protected from the Atlantic Ocean, Sand Beach is Acadia's only sandy beach and is a popular spot for people to relax and play along the shore, despite the usually frigid water temperatures. Just to the east is the Great Head peninsula, and while it may look rather insignificant from the beach, the far side of the peninsula has sheer cliffs that tower 100 feet above the ocean. Before or after enjoying some leisurely time on the beach, a hike around Great Head is a great 1-2 hour diversion to see some of Mount Desert Island's most impressive sections coastline.
The most obvious starting point for a hike to Great Head is from the Sand Beach parking lot, located along the Park Loop Road less than half a mile south of the NPS entrance booths. During the summer months, this lot always fills up, but you can also park along the road or in one of the lots located half a mile down the road. (An alternative starting point is the parking lot at the end of Schooner Head Road.)
|Rating:||Fairly easy family-friendly hike with minimal scrambling|
|Access:||Sand Beach parking lot, Great Head parking lot|
|Time Required:||1-2 hours|
|Length:||Roughly 2 miles for the complete loop|
|Elevation Change:||150-foot elevation gain from Sand Beach to Great Head|
|Seasons:||Spring through fall|
From the Sand Beach parking lot, hike east across Sand Beach. On the east side of the beach, a small pond and stream drain into the ocean and you may need to briefly get your feet wet depending on conditions. Hike north a bit to find the start of the Great Head Trail. (Please stick to the trail and obey any "do not hike here" signs.)
The start of the hike involves a short bit of scrambling as the Great Head Trail makes its way up the initial cliffs. Once on top of the formations, the trail levels out and loops around the coastline of the peninsula. Similar to Ocean Path, there are many spots where you can leave the trail for a bit to explore or relax on the rock formations. At the easternmost part of the trail is the highpoint of Great Head, where the tall cliffs offer amazing views of the ocean below. (This is a popular spot for climbers who want to experience the ocean pounding just beneath them.) WARNING: While it is exciting to explore the area, keep young children away from the edges as there are many exposed downward slabs.
Continuing along the trail, you soon hit a junction where you can choose the shortcut trail back to Sand Beach or the longer loop that continues up the coastline. The longer loop offers a few more spots where you can leave the trail and enjoy random exploration of the rugged coastline. The final stretch of trail follows an old dirt road south back to Sand Beach.
The loop hike around Great Head is a great little diversion from a day of lounging at Sand Beach. The trail is mostly easy and family-friendly, although the initial scramble up takes a bit of effort. And please take care with children exploring the tall and exposed cliffs around the Great Head highpoint.