One in a series of historic hiking trail highlights in honor of the Acadia Centennial
Most people who hike Beech Mountain in Acadia National Park may not be aware of a rare opportunity that could await them at the peak.
The National Park Service has begun opening the top platform of the steel fire tower on the peak of Beech Mountain, giving people spectacular, unfettered 360-degree views of landmarks such as Echo Lake and the Cranberry Isles. Previously, only a lower platform was open for viewing. The park service calls the opening of the top platform an open house at the fire tower.
During a recent visit on a clear day, we enjoyed the views from the tower’s top platform for the first time, even though we have been hiking in Acadia for nearly 20 years including many trips up Beech.
In an interview, Gary Stellpflug, trails foreman at Acadia National Park, said he is pleased to see the top catwalk open. “It should be,” he said. “It is a wonderful place. Everyone wants to go up there. It’s just cool. You see fewer and fewer fire towers that you can safely go up and down.”
The fire tower’s cabin, however, remains closed. The cabin has a wooden floor, unlike the steel grating on the platforms.
Mary Downey, a ranger who was staffing the fire tower during our recent visit, said she didn’t believe most hikers were aware it was unusual for the top platform to be open.
Beech is a popular hike. Many people likely put it on their agenda without checking the park’s calendar for the open house or even realizing that the top platform is normally closed.
“On a clear day, it’s great,” Downey said.
Beech Mountain fire tower in Acadia National Park has rich history
The fire tower is on the National Historic Lookout Register, as indicated by a sign on the door of the fire tower cabin.
The fire tower was originally wooden, built around 1939 to 1941 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was replaced around 1960 to 1962 with a prefabricated steel tower flown in by helicopter and assembled on-site as part of the “Mission 66,” an overhaul effort by the park service to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in 1966, according to information provided by Ranger Anne Warner.
Beech Mountain is a must hike in Acadia. The mountain rises from a thin peninsula-like ridge of land sandwiched between Long Pond and Echo Lake, providing views all around.
The trail begins off the parking lot and quickly leads to a loop at 0.1 mile. The western half of this loop was carved in the 1960s as part of Mission 66. The trail’s eastern section is much older, appearing on a 1906 map.
Bear right (northwest) at the fork to head along the easier Mission 66 way (counterclockwise) around the loop up to the summit. You will soon get spectacular views of Long Pond to the right (west) of the wide-open trail. At 0.6 mile reach the junction with the Beech West Ridge Trail. Bear left (east). A series of log stairs leads to the summit.
At 0.7 mile reach the steel fire tower atop Beech Mountain.
From the first platform of the fire tower, you can enjoy nearly 360-degree views of the ocean and surrounding mountains. Echo Lake, Acadia Mountain, and St. Sauveur Mountain are to the east, as are Cadillac and Sargent; Southwest Harbor, Northeast Harbor, and the Cranberry Isles are to the southeast; and Long Pond is to the west.
Beech Mountain is also good for bird watching.
Even if you don’t happen to climb Beech Mountain during a fire tower open house, this historic hike is special. If you can’t get to the top catwalk, the first platform that is always open still provides plenty of spectacular views.
And if you happen to hike Beech Mountain late one afternoon, you may be treated to a sunset that rivals the one you can get from Cadillac.