A terrific aspect of hikes in Acadia National Park is that people can almost always get back to the start without retracing steps.
Acadia’s tight, carefully designed network of 150 miles of trails allow hikers to create a nearly countless number of loop trips.
There are many circular hikes in Acadia National Park, but perhaps none more spectacular than the “grand loop” from Jordan Cliffs to Sargent Mountain, the park’s second highest peak behind Cadillac, and then up Penobscot Mountain, the fifth highest summit, back to the Jordan Pond parking lot with a stop at lovely Sargent Mountain Pond along the way.
This 5-mile loop capped another banner hiking season for us in Acadia.
We walked it on a warm sunny day in October with the park displaying some astonishing autumn yellow, red and orange. Unlike the often-hectic summer, when parking is tight, we quickly found a space at the lot outside the Jordan Pond House, the park’s only restaurant.
The loop begins and ends near the southern end of Jordan Pond and launches from the historic 1.3-mile Spring Trail, which fully opened around 1917 after being built by Thomas McIntire, who used to own and operate the Jordan Pond House. The early hiking-book author, Benjamin F. DeCosta, described part of the Spring Trail in 1871 when he walked from Sargent Mountain to Jordan Pond, according to “Pathmakers,” a National Park Service book.
“Pathmakers” details history, craft of hikes in Acadia National Park
Unlike maybe any other publication, “Pathmakers” is vital for understanding the history of hikes in Acadia National Parks and the incredible trail work of various village improvement societies and park founder George B. Dorr , lawyer Waldron Bates, of the eponymous cairns, Princeton Professor Rudolph E. Brunnow and Andrew Liscombe, superintendent of the Bar Harbor VIA district tails, who did 40 years of trail work and was a contemporary of people such as Dorr, Bates and Brunnow.
“Pathmakers” describes the origin of many hikes in Acadia National Park including Jordan Cliffs, which soar above Jordan Pond and offer spectacular views of the pond and the Cranberry Isles. The cliffs are closed for several months during the nesting of Peregrine Falcons, but the trail opens by early August and allows people to negotiate a series of handrails, iron rungs and a special wooden bridge with notched steps to reach the eastern shoulder of Sargent.
Reached after a short walk on the Spring Trail, the Jordan Cliffs Trail is less treacherous than the nearby Precipice Trail, another with iron rungs and ladders that goes vertically on the east face of Champlain Mountain.
We connected with the Sargent East Cliffs Trail and ascended the 1,373-foot summit of Sargent, which provided us with unparalleled views of Cadillac Mountain, the Cranberry Isles, Long Pond, Somes Sound and Norumbega Mountain.
From the peak of Sargent, we traveled the historic Sargent South Ridge Trail, noted in a scramble in 1885 by Clara Barnes Martin in one of the earliest guides to hikes in Acadia National Park and appearing on maps by 1893.
We took a left off Sargent South Ridge, and headed on the Penobscot Mountain Trail toward Penobscot Mountain.
Sargent Pond possibly first lake created in Maine by receding glaciers
In a gap between Sargent and Penobscot, we paused at placid Sargent Mountain Pond, possibly the first lake created in Maine by the glaciers that retreated during the final Ice Age. And at about 1.25 acres, it is the smallest of 23 lakes and ponds in the Mount Desert Island section of the park, according to a study by the National Park Service. It is also a popular swimming spot during the summer and with the late October temperatures so comfortably high, we were also tempted to take a dip.
Instead, we sat on an old wooden bench along the pond and enjoyed the peace of the quiet time of year in Acadia.
Steeply from the pond’s shores, we headed to the peak of 1,194-foot Penobscot and took in great views of the Cranberry Isles to the south, Pemetic Mountain and Cadillac to the east, north to Sargent and Parkman Mountain and Bald Peak to the west.
From Penobscot, we descended the entire length of the Spring Trail, after hiking only a small portion at the start to reach the beginning of the Jordan Cliffs Trail.
The Spring Trail, which also has some iron rungs, boulders and ledges, is one of the more crowded hikes during the summer, but we saw no one else during our descent back to Jordan Pond. After it was constructed, the Spring Trail fast became the preferred route to Penobscot and it still includes an old granite bench with a nice view over the pond.
We’ve completed a lot of hikes in Acadia National Park, but perhaps few more memorable than the “grand loop” on the late October day.
What it’s like to hike Jordan Cliffs, as shown in video and photos