Friday, May 30, 2014

Cycling the Carriage Roads of Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park is a great destination for outdoor recreation.  Each year I visit the park a handful of times to hike, cycle, and cross country ski.  The scenery is quite unique for New England.  The park is full of mountains but surrounded by the ocean, providing wonderful vistas.

It has been a wet and dreary spring in Maine this year so I didn't get to the mountains nearly as much as I would have liked.  Most of my recreation has been limited to running, just to keep in shape.  With a decent Sunday forecast, I headed to Acadia with the J Man to cycle the Carriage Roads.  With most trails that allow cycling still quite muddy, this was my first ride of any length this year.

There are nearly 50 miles of Carriage Roads in the park.  While not technical, the Carriage Roads provide the opportunity for a nice mountain bike excursion.  The roads are dirt and gravel but very well maintained, similar to a rail trail.  Because of the coastal location and regular maintenance, Acadia is the first place in Maine that is suitable for mountain biking in the spring.  Despite the smooth surface, there are some routes that provide long windy climbs and descents that require some caution.  With numerous trailheads, sections can be quite busy on summer weekends with bikes and foot traffic.  Even horses are allowed on portions of the Carriage Roads.

When J Man and I ride Acadia, we normally start at the Park Visitor Center.  This is at the northern end of the Carriage Road system and allows us to ride a long loop with minimal retracing of our route.  There are many options for rides of all lengths.  We ride the outer perimeter of roads until we reach the Parkman Mountain trailhead, passing many small ponds and bogs along the way including Witch Hole and Aunt Betty Ponds. 

Sargent Mountain overlooking what I believe is Gilmore Meadow

From the Parkman Mountain trailhead we head to the Upper Around The Mountain Loop.  This loop is probably the most challenging section of Carriage Road in the Park.  The road climbs and winds high on the shoulder of the park's second highest summit, Sargent Mountain.  Along the way, views are far reaching.  Somes Sound, the Atlantic Ocean, sections of coast, and portions of the mainland all come into view.  From the high point of the road, there is a long windy decent all the way to Jordan Pond.  Fine views continue along the decent.  Frenchman Bay, the Bubbles, rock slides, and Jordan Pond are among the highlights of scenery.
Somes Sound

Shoulder of Sargent Mountain on Around the Mountain Loop

Eagle Lake with Frenchman Bay in the distance

Waterfall on Deer Brook

Deer Brook below Carriage Road Bridge

From the Jordan Pond House, the roads cross the park loop road and continue to Bubbles Pond.  We decided to take a short diversion and ride to the top of Day Mountain  The mile and a half trail to the top of Day Mountain is the only Carriage Road that climbs a summit.  At only 583 feet, Day Mountain isn't that high but several nice views of the Atlantic and surrounding mountains can be seen as you approach its summit.  The descent back down from the summit provides a nice change of pace from the climb.

Penobscot and Sargent Mountains from Day Mountain

Atlantic Ocean from Day Mountain

After our climb of Day Mountain, we returned to the main Carriage Road that left Jordan Pond.  We traveled along the base of Pemetic Mountain before reaching Bubble Pond.  Nestled between Cadillac and Pemetic Mountains, the view across the pond is reminiscent of Jordan Pond.  The last stretch of Carriage Road took us along Eagle Lake before retracing our last few miles to the Park Visitor Center. 
Bubble Pond

Eagle Lake with North Bubble and Sargent Mountain 

We rode just over 30 miles on our trip.  Of that 30 miles, only about 3 of it did we retrace our path.  With the scenery of Acadia National Park however, there tends to be crowds.  We were riding on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend and the park was quite busy.  We got a relatively early start however and most of the crowds were encountered during the last five miles of our ride.  The only other downside to this ride was a mechanical problem on my bike.  A spring broke on my rear brake causing my brake pad to lock onto my rim.  I rode most of the last ten miles or so without my rear brakes.  I reconnected the dragging brake pad for the last half mile down a relatively steep section near the trailhead which tends to be crowded.

If you are looking for a technical mountain bike adventure, Acadia is not the place for you.  If you are looking for a scenic ride with nearly 50 miles of trails, Acadia National Park's Carriage Roads are a good deal.  This is often the first and last place I ride each season since they are drier than most areas in Maine.  Outside of the summer season, you see very few people. 

This was probably my last time riding the Carriage Roads of Acadia National Park as I am moving to Colorado in about two weeks.  I look forward to more adventurous mountain biking opportunities in Colorado.  However I am glad I got to experience Acadia National Park though over the past several years.  I have ridden nearly all of the Carriage Roads by bike and have cross country skied on them as well a few times.  Acadia is also a great hiking destination that I have had the opportunity to explore many times over the years and have never been disappointed. 


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