The east face of Penobscot Mountain has some of the most impressive and steep cliffs in Acadia National Park. Known as the "Jordan Cliffs," these scenic cliffs offer spectacular views of Jordan Pond far below to the east. While a more traditional hike to the top of Penobscot Mountain would be via the Spring Trail and Penobscot Mountain Trail, the Jordan Cliffs Trail is a strenuous route that takes hikers on an amazing traverse through the exposed cliff bands. Although not as treacherous as the Beehive Trail or Precipice Trail, this route has several sections of handrails and aides and is considered one of the classic iron rung routes of the park, offering up fantastic views along the way.
WARNING: This hike is not suitable for small children or anybody who has a fear of heights or who isn't steady on their feet.
IMPORTANT: This trail is usually closed between March 15 and August 15 for peregrine falcon nesting. (Closure signs are posted at the trailhead.) Please respect these closures and check trail status with the National Park Service.
|Rating:||Fairly strenuous and exposed day hike with a few iron aides and scrambling obstacles.|
|Access:||Jordan Pond North parking lot or Jordan Pond House (limited parking)|
|Time Required:||2-3 hours for Jordan Cliffs Trail to summit of Penobscot Mountain; 4-6 hours for a complete loop hike|
|Length:||1.6 miles for Jordan Cliffs Trail to summit of Penobscot Mountain; 3.5-5 miles for a complete loop hike (depending on return route)|
|Elevation Change:||940-ft elevation gain up Penobscot Mountain.|
|Seasons:||Late summer to fall. (closed in spring and early summer for peregrine falcon nesting)|
The best place to start this hike is near the Jordan Pond House. Park at the Jordan Pond North parking lot, located along the Park Loop Road roughly 3.7 miles south of the turnoff for the Cadillac Mountain Summit Road. (This section of the road is two-way.) Limited parking is also available in the smaller Jordan Pond House parking lot. (Both lots tend to fill up and be quite crowded on summer afternoons.) From the Jordan Pond North lot, walk northwest to the boat launch and then turn left and follow the shoreline path to the southwest corner of the pond.
The quickest way to get to the start of the Jordan Cliffs Trail is to hike the carriage road north for .2 miles and then turn left (west) at Post 14. You will see the Jordan Cliffs Trailhead on the right (north). (Alternatively, you can hike the Spring Trail to the trailhead.) If you are a carriage-road bridge hunter, keep an eye out for the West Branch Bridge which is right near the start of the trail.
As the Jordan Cliffs Trail heads north away from the carriage roads, it makes a moderate but steady ascent up the east shoulder of Penobscot Mountain. Soon enough, the trail gets more difficult and exposed as it heads up through the forested cliff bands offering good teaser views of Jordan Pond below. Watch your footing as there are several sections of loose rocks and even an amazing section of tree roots to hike over.
Roughly half-way through the trail, you will encounter one of the more unique and elaborate Acadia constructions: a narrow old wooden staircase with handrails that takes you down a 10-foot cliff band. After descending a few sets of steps, the last part of the trail is the most interesting as the trail works its way past several several irregular breaks in the cliffs. A few spots are narrow and exposed, but occasional handrails offer support. The grand finale is an iron rung ladder that leads up a steep outcropping. At the top of the ladder is the junction with the Penobscot East Trail. Turn left (southwest) up the final stretch of trail that offers wonderful views from the edge of the cliffs. Soon enough, you will be at the summit of Penobscot Mountain with beautiful views in all directions.
To return back to the Jordan Pond parking area, there are several interesting options for doing a loop hike, all equally interesting and scenic:
If you are a fan of Acadia's "iron rung" routes, this is a great hike along a clever trail that wanders through fantastic scenery. Though not as stunning or exposed as the Beehive Trail or Precepice Trail, the Jordan Cliffs Trail should still be taken seriously as there are numerous steep sections with tricky footing and the trail is located in some fairly remote forested territory.