When a new friend of mine suggested we hike a loop that visits six peaks in Acadia National Park, my first thought was: “Oh, she must think I’m in much better shape than I actually am.”
Then she explained that the hike was only about 6 miles long. That’s a peak per mile. Not bad. I didn’t know that type of route existed in Acadia, even though I’ve been exploring the park for several years.
For me, 6 miles is a fairly long hike, but it’s not an insurmountable challenge. So, confident that I wouldn’t sputter to a stop midtrek, I met my adventurous friend, Julianne, at the trailhead at 8 in the morning.
The “Six Summits” route visits the following summits, in order: Cedar Swamp Mountain (elevation: 942 feet above sea level), Penobscot Mountain (1,194 feet), Sargent Mountain (1,373 feet), Gilmore Peak (1,036 feet), Parkman Mountain (941 feet) and Bald Peak (974 feet). Each summit offers open views of the area.
Our adventure began at a trailhead on Route 3 in the town of Mount Desert, just north of Upper Hadlock Pond. In a shaded forest filled with twisting tree roots, we hiked to the haunting trill of a hermit thrush. The cool morning air was quickly warming as we took a tiny detour to hike underneath Waterfall Bridge, one of the several scenic stone bridges on Acadia’s carriage roads. With it being so dry lately, the waterfall was but a trickle.
Cedar Swamp Mountain, the first peak on our trek, is a lesser-known destination in the park. However, from its summit, we enjoyed nice views of the region. I’m surprised that I’ve never heard anyone suggest it or talk about hiking it.
Following the route involved navigating many trail intersections. We often referred to the trail map to make sure we didn’t veer off in the wrong direction. It’s easy to get turned around in the vast network of Acadia trails, even if you’re familiar with the park.
Left to right: Rock piles called cairns mark the South Ridge Trail up Sargent Mountain on July 31 in Acadia National Park. A rock pile called a cairn marks the trail descending from Bald Peak on July 31 in Acadia National Park. The view includes the Cranberry Isles and the hump of nearby Norumbega Mountain. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki
The route was made a bit more complicated because it featured two side trips, where we left the loop to bag a summit. The first side trip was Cedar Swamp Mountain, which was just two-tenths of a mile out and back. And the second side trip was the second peak, Penobscot Mountain. That was an 0.6-mile out-and-back trip.
From that point on, the summits were all located on the loop, but we still had to stay vigilant about directions to avoid heading down the wrong side of a mountain.
Along the way, we stopped a few times to pick and snack on wild blueberries, both lowbush and highbush. I also sampled a few black huckleberries, which are sweet with a milder taste than blueberries, plus a bit of a crunch due to the larger seeds inside.
Water lilies and lilypads floated on the surface of Sargent Pond, which is thought to be Maine’s oldest lake. Sitting in a granite bowl between Penobscot and Sargent mountains, it’s a small body of water. Our route led to viewpoints along its shore, where a group of fellow hikers were marveling at “huge tadpoles.”
The long south ridge of Sargent Mountain was my favorite stretch of the hike. The Alpine terrain reminded me a bit of Katahdin’s Tableland, with an abundance of low lying plants. It was there that Julianne noticed that wood lilies were in bloom. Their spotted, orange petals stood out against the mostly green flora.
Left to right: The bright petals of a wood lily stand out against the greenery atop Sargent Mountain on July 31 in Acadia National Park. A mountain holly bush is filled with red berries on Penobscot Mountain on July 31 in Acadia National Park. Credit: Courtesy of Aislinn Sarnacki
We also noticed a few mountain holly bushes throughout the trek. This time of year, they display bright, velvety red berries, which aren’t edible but sure are pretty.
From one of the peaks, we spotted a bald eagle wheeling over Somes Sound. Its white head and tail flashed in the sun. Beyond, we identified the lone hump of Blue Hill Mountain, and at the horizon, the Camden Hills, painted blue by the atmosphere.
A red squirrel entertained us in the forest. Sitting on a tree root, it nibbled the seeds out of a pine cone, seemingly unbothered by our presence.
At the last summit, Bald Peak, I noticed a small jumping spider crouched in the carved letters of the summit sign. I spent a few minutes photographing the spider as it darted around on the weathered wood, all the while explaining to Julianne why I think jumping spiders are actually quite cute. I’m not sure she was convinced.
We completed our hike around 1 p.m., which means the loop took us about five hours, with a few snack breaks. I would absolutely hike it again. It was a great workout and each summit provided new and awesome views of the island and beyond.
Correction: A previous version of this story contained the incorrect distance of this part of the hike.
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