Acadia: Beech Cliff Trail & Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

Acadia: Beech Cliff Trail & Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

The west side of Mt. Desert Island doesn’t have as many hikes as the east side, and overall the hikes didn’t interest us as much.  The one trail that we decided to do on the west side was Beech Cliff Trail.  It interested us because, like the Beehive on the east side, this trail features some unique obstacles.  In this case, multiple iron ladders.  So we woke up in Seawall Campground on our second to last day in Maine, and headed out to the 2.3 mile loop trail.  But first we had to make a quick stop at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

The lighthouse is iconic.  It’s featured prominently on art and souvenirs from Acadia, so we had to check it out.  The lighthouse is an easy 5-minute drive from Seawall.  The parking lot is small, so be prepared to wait during the summer.  But it doesn’t take long to view the lighthouse, so visitors will come and go pretty fast.  We got lucky, and found a parking spot right away.

Built in 1858, the lighthouse marks the entrance to Bass Harbor.  It’s the only lighthouse on Mt. Desert Island, and in 1988, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  Today, the lighthouse is a private residence for the commander of the local Coast Guard unit, according to the Acadia NP website.  So naturally, visitors can’t go inside.  I would imagine the residents would get tired of visitors coming at all hours of the day, so be respectful, as always!

Once parked, we noticed two paths on either side of the lighthouse.  First, we went down the path to the right, which led directly to the lighthouse, and gave us great views of the ocean and surrounding area.  We got a few nice closeup photos of the lighthouse.

Acadia: Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse Closeup
A close-up of Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse (take the path to the right)

We headed back the parking lot, and went to the left of the lighthouse.  This path is the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse Trail, which first leads into the forest.  We then descended a steep wooden staircase to the rocky coastline.  From there, we scrambled around to get photos of the lighthouse, ocean, and cliffs all in one shot.  There were a lot of people doing the same thing, so be patient!  We think we got some pretty good photos, not to mention memories!  This spot was where we attempted to recreate those scenic lighthouse photos that had inspired us.

Acadia: Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
The iconic shot of the lighthouse (take the path to the left)

Beech Cliff Trail

After getting our iconic photo of Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, we drove to the Beech Cliff trail.  The trailhead is located next to Echo Lake, a popular swimming spot.  The lake boasts the only other sandy beach in the park aside from the appropriately named Sand Beach.  We easily found a parking spot, and started on the trail.

Initially, Beech Cliff is pretty easy going, but the trail quickly start gaining elevation.  We noticed signs and tools around that indicated that the trail was currently being maintained.  On trips, we often wonder how long has each trail been around, and hypothesize (and later, research) about the history of the trails we’re hiking on.  A Google search generally doesn’t bring up a lot of historical information, unless it’s a big name trail.  How long has the Beech Cliff Trail been in Acadia?  Who built it?  For the moment, it’s nice to know that it’s being taken care of, and not to take it for granted.  When we got home, a quick Google search did turn up that the Beech Cliff trail was built by the CCC in the 1930’s.

Acadia: Beech Cliffs Trailhead Sign
The trailhead for Beech Cliff Trail.  There also seemed to be a private house next to it… maybe a ranger residence?

Before too long, our hike led us to a nice viewpoint of Echo Lake beach.  K suggested visiting the beach after our hike.  We took a short break, snapped some pictures, grabbed an energy bar, and continued on.  Soon, we came to our first iron ladder.  K went up first, and let out a yelp!  Worried, I ask if she was okay.  Laughing, she explained that a red squirrel, which had been sitting at the top of the ladder, had jumped and scared her.  Not quite what I was expecting!

Acadia: Beech Cliffs Trail Ladder
More hikes need fun obstacles!
Acadia: Beech Cliff Trails Ladders
Ladders are fun to climb, especially when there are multiple
Acadia: Red Squirrel
We managed to get a decent shot of a Red Squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)!

We went up a few more ladders and stone steps until we reached the end of the trail.  It is a unique trail, particularly because of the iron features.  At the top, we opted to do the 0.4 mile Beech Cliff Loop Trail, which offered impressive views of Echo Lake and the surrounding area.  We also ran into some workers doing trail maintenance, and we made sure to thank them.  A lot of time and effort goes into maintaining the trails we use.

Canada Cliff Trail

We don’t recommend taking Beech Cliff trail back down, since you could run into people climbing up the ladders. Instead, we made a loop with the Canada Cliff Trail.  I wish I knew why the trail was named that.  Regardless, we made our way down the mountain, hiking over roots and rocks.  Along the way, we ran into a couple looking for a fire tower.  Not having seen a fire tower in the area, we took out our maps.

Turns out there was a fire tower, but it was at the summit of Beech Mountain – which was the opposite direction from where the couple was headed.  They turned around and headed back up the trail – both Beech Mountain Trail and Beach Mountain Valley Trail lead there.  Hopefully next time we’ll get to see the tower, which was also built by the CCC.  Acadia has so much to discover, even if you’ve already done a lot of research.

Acadia: Canada Cliffs Trailhead Sign
I wonder how “NEW” the Canada Cliff Trail is?  It seems counter-productive to mark a hiking trail in wood like that.  I’m overthinking things.

Soon we were back at the parking lot.  But before we left, we wanted to check out Echo Lake!  It’s hard for us to relax sometimes, since there’s so much we want to do when we’re on vacation.  Echo Lake provided an opportunity to relax, enjoy the view, and discuss our dinner plans.  We chatted about either going back to Bar Harbor, or checking out Southwest Harbor.  A girl nearby overheard us and chimed in that Southwest Harbor didn’t offer too much in the way of restaurants.  We took her suggestion and went to Bar Harbor, for the last time on our trip, and ate at Finback Alehouse.  We would still go to Southwest Harbor, but it would be for breakfast the next day instead!

This was a nice hike, highlighted by the views and ladders.  We wished the trail was a bit longer, but it was okay since we were pretty tired that day.  Plus, that gave us some time to hang out on the beach and grab some great food and drink in Bar Harbor.

Beech Cliff Trail
Distance: 2.2 miles / 3.7 kilometers roundtrip
Type: Loop
Elevation Gain: 720 feet / 220 meters
Difficulty: Moderate, mainly for the metal ladders, easy otherwise
Crowds: We didn’t see anyone else on the ladders, but ran into a couple groups at the top and on the Canada Cliff Trail
Water: A couple of easy stream crossings near the end of the Canada Cliff Trail
Directions to Parking at Echo Lake Beach: Google Maps Directions
Trail Directions: 

  • Mile 0.0 – From the Echo Lake Parking lot, head north to the trailhead.  You should see a building/house on your right.  Start ascending the trail through switchbacks, and eventually ladders.
  • Mile 0.4 – You’ve climbed all the ladders (sad) and are at the top of Beech Cliff.  Turn right to go onto the Beech Cliff Loop Trail.  At a fork in the road, you can choose to go counterclockwise or clockwise on the loop – both are good options.
  • Mile 0.9 – You’ve completed the loop; head straight onto Canada Cliff Trail, which will descend the mountain
  • Mile 1.5 – The trail intersects with the Valley Trail, but bear left to continue on the Canada Cliff Trail
  • Mile 2.1 – The trail will end on the road.  Take a short walk back to the Echo Lake Beach Parking Lot
  • Mile 2.2 – Back at the parking lot.  Check out the lake if you haven’t already!

Highlights: Iron ladders, views, Echo Lake Beach

Places:
Seawall Campground668 Seawall Rd, Southwest Harbor, ME 04679
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse | Bass Harbor, ME 04653 | Open daily, 9am – sunset
Echo Lake Beach | 44.3149522, -68.3366646

Maps:
Beech Cliff Trail Map (KTNPBlog)

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