The Carriage Roads of Acadia National Park are the best bike trail rides in Maine. At least that’s my opinion and a sentiment shared by many of my outdoor friends.
Built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in the early part of the 20th century, the Carriage Roads consist of 46 miles of trails on a broken stone surface. Originally intended for horse and carriage, they are reputedly the best remaining examples of broken stone roads in the United States and include 16 architecturally remarkable stone-faced bridges that span roads, streams and waterfalls throughout the trail system. Instrumental in formation of Acadia National Park, Rockefeller subsequently donated the Carriage Roads to it.
With evocative names like Witch Hole, Paradise Hill and Aunt Betty Pond, the trails weave around lakes, ponds and mountains, one rising to the summit of Day Mountain. There are no bad choices as each offers a serene picturesque escape from busy Mount Desert Island roads with ubiquitous scenic vistas. My favorite is Around the Mountain Trail. Actually, Around the Mountain circumnavigates Sargent, Parkman and Penobscot Mountains and Bald and Gilmore Peaks. The entire ride is about twelve miles in distance.
Hiking trails intersect the Carriage Roads in numerous locations. About two decades ago while completing a solo ride on Around the Mountain I found the North Sargent Trail crossing high on the northwest shoulder of Sargent Mountain. Noting that it was less than a mile to the summit, I left my bike and ascended to the top. At an elevation of 1,373 feet, Sargent is the second highest peak in Acadia and offers breathtaking 360 degree views of the park, surrounding mountains and offshore islands. Descending on the North Sargent Trail, hikers are compensated with a spectacular panorama of Somes Sound.
Recently, I announced an Around the Mountain Bike and Hike Trip as part of the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society annual Columbus Day Weekend outdoor extravaganza on Mount Desert Island. While none of the younger members were interested in the ambitious excursion, three elderly Chowderheads signed on. Our median age was a youthful 68.
Assembling at Lower Hadlock Pond Trailhead on Route 3 near Northeast Harbor on a gorgeous sunny fall day, all of us were equipped with trail bikes. While a few cyclists use road bikes on the Carriage Trails, the rocky surface punishes thin narrow tires increasing the risk of flats. Having never met a flat tire that I liked, I’ve converted both of my bikes to tubeless tires with sealant injected and have been flat free for over five thousand miles.
I chose the Lower Hadlock Pond Trailhead for the starting point with the intent of accomplishing most of the climb at the beginning of the trip. Shifting into low gear, we began a steady ascent on the twisting trail. After about a mile, one of the riders in the group noticed something unusual on a tree branch above us. It turned out to be a porcupine hanging ominously over the trail. After taking a quick photo, we guardedly left the prickly critter with the hope that he wouldn’t fall on an unsuspecting cyclist.
Continuing our arduous climb, we passed a view of distinctive Bald Peak. Turning north, sporadic glimpses of Somes Sound appeared while pedaling steeply along the west side of Parkman Mountain. Soon after the gradient leveled off and we arrived at North Sargent Trail. We had been biking steadily uphill for four miles and it was another five hundred feet of elevation gain for our hike to the summit. Concerned that a tired walker or runner might opt for a speedy descent on one of our bikes, we cabled them to trees.
While the hike on Sargent is precipitous, the trail quickly rises above tree line and marvelous views monopolize the senses. Lunch at the summit was a delight with calm winds and almost limitless views. Observing a large ring of surf around distant Baker Island resulting from an offshore storm, we unanimously concluded ours had been a better choice than sea kayaking. Suffering a collective senior moment we initially stumbled down the wrong trail until someone noted that the scenery looked unfamiliar. Rectifying the blunder, the remainder of our descent to the Carriage Road was trouble free with wondrous views of Somes Sound, the only fjord on the eastern shore of the United States. My advice, ignore the recent absurd designation of fjard.
The reward for our uphill bicycle trek was a glorious downhill ride for about four miles to the foot of stunning Jordan Pond. From there, the trail traveled circuitously west for another four miles to the starting point. Arriving after several hours of cycling and hiking, we had experienced a truly exceptional day in paradise.