Have you ever been to one of those cool speakeasy style bars? We went to one in Denver that had a bookstore front and a secret entrance. I loved how unique and mischievous it was. That’s how getting to the Great Head Trail in Acadia National Park felt. But, the views on this hike far exceeded the happiness any cocktail could bring – even in the most wonderfully moody setting.
Finding the Trailhead
To enjoy the rewards of this trail, first you have to weave through the many tourists lounging on the extremely popular Sand Beach. Even on chillier days, this place is packed with people craving some beach time in the summer. Kids and adults alike scream as they brave the frigid water, then they lay on the short strip of sand hoping the sun will warm up their cold skin. Not the type of beach I’m used to from my childhood in Florida, but I must respect their dedication.
Honestly, even if you aren’t typically a beach-goer, this spot is worth a visit. And if it happened to be void of people, you may even mistake it for paradise. The rocky, tree-lined cliffs give way to this small alcove with beautiful beige sand and a mild surf – much safer than the powerful waves found elsewhere on the island.
Since we were seeking more peace and views, we opted for hiking the Great Head Trail instead of lounging with the masses. So, we headed for the cliffs on the other side of the beach.
After crunching through the sand in our hiking shoes for about a quarter mile, dodging clouds of sunscreen and laughing at all the kids having a blast, we arrived at some barely-noticeable stone stairs peeking through the trees. We may have missed them had another couple not emerged as we reached the end of the beach.
We veered left at the top after climbing the stairs and enjoyed the change in temperature in the cool, lush forest. Eventually we took a right to stay on the trail and began to climb until the trail opened up to ocean views. The only thing separating us from the cold, crashing waves below us was about a 50-ft fall.
There was a small lighthouse on Egg Rock Island, far off the coast in Frenchman Bay. At first, we thought the bell we were hearing was coming from that same small piece of land, but it was actually a buoy in the water below us. It let out a chime with each watery hill it ascended. That day its music was peaceful, but we wondered what kind of clanging mess it would play during a storm.
We moved on around the small peninsula, back into the trees, before finding another overlook a few moments later. The trail went on like that for the remainder. The tree cover gave just enough respite from the sun before we were gawking at another amazing view.
Each time we ventured out on the pink granite of the cliffside, we of course checked the water for whales, puffins and seals. But each time we thought we saw one, it was just the bobber of a lobster trap!
My favorite thing about coastal hikes is getting to look off into the ocean as far as the eye can see. There is something so calming about seeing that horizon line and knowing, although it seems like the end of the Earth, there is so much more on the other side.
However, this time my go-to view had some competition. Looking back at Sand Beach with The Beehive mountain behind it was a beautiful sight as well. It was funny that you couldn’t even tell how busy it was from so far above. As much as I love people, it is nice to at least have the illusion that you are far away from civilization when off on these types of trails. And the Great Head Trail thankfully provided us with that.
Know Before You Go
The park is extremely busy in the summer, and the Sand Beach parking lot is one of the worst. Even on weekdays, cars were lined up along the side of the road about a mile from the entrance because the lot was so packed.
Although, it might add a little time to your commute, using the free Island Explorer Shuttle will save you the headache of dealing with traffic and parking. They also drop off at many other popular destinations in Acadia and Bar Harbor.
The trail is a 1.4-mile loop that involves some elevation gain and maneuvering over rocks. It isn’t extremely easy, but this hike shouldn’t be a problem for most people – we even saw some young kids on it. You may just have to take a few breaks on the way up depending on your fitness level. The only big consideration is the rocky portions. Follow the blue lines on the trail in these areas to follow the easiest path.
What to Bring
Have bug spray! This area has ticks, mosquitoes and flies. We didn’t have too many issues because we covered ourselves in spray before our walk. But, I heard many others complaining. Sunscreen is key as well, since you will be exposed to direct sun in many of the areas.
A light jacket is also a good idea if it is a cooler day, since the ocean breeze can be a little chilly. And, of course, never forget your water, snacks and camera. Hanger is the enemy to any good day of adventure!
Other Nearby Hikes
After we completed the Great Head hike, we went back across Sand Beach and took the Ocean Path Trail to Thunder Hole. We highly suggest it!
After walking along the tops of the cliffs, you will arrive at the iconic Thunder Hole. This spot gets you right next to the ocean, making the platform rumble when the waves are really powerful. Although, the waves weren’t crashing as much as we’d have liked during our visit, this was still a beautiful area. We were told that the best time to go is two hours before high tide.
You can also continue on to Otter Cliffs for more ocean-side hiking with great views. This area is way less busy than the more-popular Thunder Hole and gives similar views, just at a slightly higher elevation.
However, this is only a small fraction of the hiking available in Acadia National Park. You can trek to the top of the iconic Cadillac Mountain, take a carriage road to a serene lake, or climb rungs to the top of one of the other great viewpoints. And the nearby town of Bar Harbor has some great places to explore as well, plus some equally stunning sunsets!