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A Cold and Miserable Day: Climbing Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

Climbing Cadillac Mountain With Kids on the South Ridge Trail

Total Miles: 8.4 miles round trip

Trails: South Ridge Trail

Elevation Gain: 1350 feet

Date: July, 2013

Trail Head: Blackwoods Campground- Rear of A Loop.  You can also pick up the trail from the parking area just past Blackwoods Campground on Otter Creek Road which cuts 1.4 miles from the hike.

At 1530 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain along the eastern seaboard.  At certain times of the year it is also where the first sunlight lands in the United States which encourages many pre-dawn hikers to make the trek up the mountain to be there in time for sunrise. While this had been my original goal when planning our hikes, I came to realize that no one else in the family cared if we were there for sunrise, so we instead ate a leisurely breakfast at our campsite well after dawn in Blackwoods Campground, and then began climbing Cadillac Mountain with kids along the South Ridge Trail in the late morning. I actually am very glad we ended up hiking this in full light as the trail does get confusing in the higher elevations where it leads over exposed granite. While there are numerous cairns to lead the way, I think doing this hike in the dark with my sleepy kids would have been a mistake.

With multiple trails to the summit, it is a popular mountain to hike in Acadia National Park.  Since we were camping nearby, we chose to hike the South Ridge Trail to the top which is the longest direct route to the summit and allows for slow elevation gain. Since we were climbing Cadillac Mountain with kids, we wanted to make sure we weren’t picking too strenuous a route. Starting in the woods, the sun was shining bright and the trail was moderate and was absolutely gorgeous.  We made quick time in this section as we were enjoying the shade and the easy hiking.

As we were hiking, and we came to the exposed granite ridge of the mountain, we started to notice fog coming coming in over the trail as the sky became more overcast.  Even though this obscured our views, it made the ridge seem eerie in a beautiful way.  The hiking along this section is still moderate with only a few short climbs over large rocks and we all were really enjoying it.  Sophie even decided to run up the trail to get her cross country training in for the day.

By the time we got to the summit, the views were completely obscured with the fog and the temperature had significantly dropped.  And then it started drizzling. Since there is a road up to the top of the mountain with a gift shop and restrooms, it was crowded when we reached the summit. Filling our water bottles, we ate a quick snack of cliff bars I had carried in my pack.  Not thinking of the gift shop, I had left my wallet back at camp so we didn’t get to indulge in hot coffee to warm us up. Woefully unprepared for the cold rain, we headed back down the trail and it was pretty miserable as the rain was coming down pretty hard by this point.  Looking back, we should have hung out on the summit until the rain passed, but since we didn’t know how long it was supposed to last, we headed out.

Since the trail in this section is exposed granite, it gets pretty treacherous when wet so we all tried to be careful while we hiked down. Even with us being careful, it wasn’t long before we had our first casualty as Garrett slipped and fell, gashing his knee. He was pretty shaken up but the rain was coming down so hard at this point, there was nothing we could do but keep hiking. I was the next one to fall and cut my hands and jammed my finger. About a mile into our hike, we came upon a group where one woman had fallen on the slippery granite and had broken her ankle. They had already reached the ranger station with their cell phones and a rescue crew was on their way.  She was in pain as they had been waiting an hour at this point, so we gave her some Advil before continuing on. We later passed several people heading up the mountain to help her. This was turning out to be a miserable hike as we were cold, wet, hurting and shaken up. This slowed our speed considerably which made us get even colder and we just wanted it to be over!

Dave hiked on with the other kids as he planned to get our car at the campsite and pick us up as we got to Otter Creek Road and Garrett and I continued on slowly. Right as we were entering the forest section of the hike, the rain slowed and then stopped.  It’s amazing how much better we felt as our footing became more stable and we were able to pick up our speed and make it to the road in no time where Dave was waiting with the car with warm jackets and Snicker bars. If that wouldn’t cheer us up, nothing would!  We went straight to the shower house nearby and all took hot showers and then bandaged our cuts and scrapes which made us feel much better.

While we were miserable at the time, we laugh about it now.  Isn’t that the way it usually is? All in all this was a beautiful hike, but one I would try to avoid in rainy weather as the slick granite near the summit was very slippery.  We used National Geographic Maps: Acadia as our tail map and it served us well.

Have you ever had a hike you just wanted to be over but later look back on it as a positive memory? That’s how I feel about climbing Cadillac Mountain with kids.

Happy Travels!

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