The hikes described here are not the most challenging nor the longest that one can take in Acadia National Park. They are ones that to me offer changing and beautiful scenery, interesting habitats, and diverse landforms.
Some advice. Do not attempt these hikes in sneakers or boat shoes. Good-quality hiking boots are a must because there are streches on nearly all but the easiest trails that are steep, rocky, or have numerous exposed roots. Take along lots of water and some sort of energy source. How about carrying (and using) an adjustable walking stick. Also, in planning and making any hike, good trail guides/maps are essential. Try A Walk in the Park by Tom St. Germaine, available at bookstores and outdoor shops on the island; and the Map Adventures LLC, map of Acadia National Park, also available on the island or at www.mapadventures.com . Tip: use the first for planning and reading some of the details of the route and carry the second with you.
Penobscot Mountain Last year, the park reopened the original Penobscot trail that ascends the south ridge. This trail is a significant improvement on what had been the south ridge approach (now titled the Spring Trail); it has a somewhat more gradual ascent and more spots where it is easy to stop and enjoy the view southward over Little Long Pond, Bracy Cove, and the Cranberry Island group. There are several ways to access the Penobscot Trail: the carriage road from Jordan Pond, an approximate one-mile walk; Asticou Trail, from Jordan Pond, about the same length and a lovely, easy trail to warm up on; or from near Asticou Inn at Northeast Harbor by taking Atsticou Trail from its other terminus, a slightly longer way and a greater workout.
Once on the exposed rock of Penobscot Mountain, this is not a hike to be pushed. Stop and enjoy the view, look back southward for the ever-changing perspective, look westward to the sheer bluffs of Sargent and Cedar Swamp mountains, and keep watch for your first glimpse of Jordan Pond House to the southeast.
At the summit, there are several alternatives, one of which (Deer Brook Trail) I do not recommend for any but the most masochistic. You can take a break, then head back down Penobscot Trail, with all of that great scenery ahead. Another option is to continue on to Sargent Pond---a lovely place to take a break---and then descend via the Sargent Mt. South Ridge Trail, staying with it or cutting off on the Amphitheatre Trail. Either route will take you back to the carriage roads.
If you are here when the Island Explorer shuttle system is operating (usually the last weekend in June trhough Columbus Day), you can take the Sargent South Ridge to Asticou Trail, that to Asticou Inn, and wait for the bus.
Hadlock Pond Loop This is a combination carriage road and trail hike, although the entire loop can be done via the carriage roads.
The loop is accessed from combined Rtes. 3 and 198 at Brown Mountain Gate, about 1.6 miles north of the end of 198 at Northeast Harbor. At the first carriage road intersection (#18) bear left and walk the road as it passes above Upper Hadlock Pond and crosses Hadlock Brook bridge. Shortly after that bridge, you'll see the trail marker for Hadlock Brook Trail. The trail will fork, the left fork going on as Maple Spring Trail, the right fork remaining Hadlock Brook Trail. As you near the upper crossing of the carriage road at Waterfall Bridge, you'll see an interesting feature of the design of the bridge. John D. Rockeller, Jr. specified that the arch of the bridge be oriented not parallel with the roadbed above, but rather at right angles to the brook and trail, so that hikers could have a clear view of the waterfall. Unfortunately, during the drier parts of our summer---July and August---most of the scant water coming down from the upper mountains, only trickles over and through rocks of the waterfall. If you are fortunate enough to be here in the spring, or right after a heavy storm, or in winter when it is frozen, it is a lovely sight.
Coming down after Waterfall Bridge, the choice is yours. To the left, the carriage road winds past another great bridge---Hemlock---then down a steep section of the road and back past the trailhead you took on the way up. To the right, the road descends more gradually and offers nice views of Norumbega Mountain to the west. At intersection #19, bear to right and you'll soon be back at Brown Mountain Gate.
Cadillac South Ridge This trail can be classed as "strenuous" or "moderate" depending on how one accesses it and whether one heads south (downslope) or north (upslope) on it. There are many ways to access it; instead of trying to list them all, on your hiking map, find the summit of Cadillac and then choose your alternative. Unfortunately, the Island Explorer does not run to the summit. One possibility is to have someone drop you off at the summit, take the trail down to Rte. 3 at Blackwoods campground, and then catch the Island Explorer back to Bar Harbor.
The south Rige trail is especially beautiful in the spring when the hardwoods below are in their flowering or early leafing stages, and in the autumn when the combination of the autumnal colors of the Rhodora and other vegetation on the slope and those of the forests all around can be stunning.
There are two unique features along this trail. The first, as you descend, is the Featherbed ("featherbed" is a colloquial term for a quaking bog). The Featherbed of Cadillac Mountain lies at the foot of a rather steep wall. It is heart-shaped, although in mid-summer when it is nearly dry, this maybe difficult to see (for how it looks when water-filled, go to the MDI Spring 2006, volume 2 album at the above photo link).
The other outstanding feature is Eagles Crag, which is reached on a spur of the main trail. The Crag offers an excellent panorama of the Otter Creek and Otter Cove area as well as the mountains and ocean to the east.