You’ll take a step back in time when you walk, hike or bike the carriage roads of Mount Desert Island. Go by horse and carriage, the way John D. Rockefeller, Jr. intended when he built the 45 miles of crushed stone roads between 1913 and 1940. Some would say a visit to Acadia isn’t complete without a visit to the trails.
Though sometimes called carriage trails, the word trail is truly a misnomer. The roads are 15 feet wide with generous crowns that keep them well drained. Considered the best example of broken stone roads in the United States, they are, indeed, an engineering wonder. They swoop up the Mountains of Acadia gradually in one direction, then swing down the hill fast in the other direction.
The well-marked roads wander through Acadia National Park, covering long, shady stretches of woodland, views of peaceful lakes and ponds, circling mountain elevations, and showcasing breathtaking views of the Atlantic and nearby islands.
It was more than 60 years ago that Rockefeller donated 11,000 acres to Acadia National Park, complete with the road system he planned, funded, and constructed. The roads are lined with large granite boulders quarried right from the island. Today both visitors and locals enjoy the quiet beauty of Acadia’s beautiful carriage roads.
You will have a choice of bringing your own bike (recommended) or renting a mountain bike at one of three island bicycle shops. There is a bike shop in Southwest Harbor and two shops in Bar Harbor itself. Bicycle rental range between $22- $30 per day. All types and sizes are available. You can even rent bike racks and other accessories. Here is a link to all the shops.
Acadia Bike 48 Cottage Street, Bar Harbor Maine. One block from the Island Explorer Bus Shuttle at the Village Green. Also rents kayaks.
Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop. 141 Cottage Street, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
207-288-3886 At the far end of Cottage Street, closest to the bridge entrance to the carriage trails. Open all year, they have a variety of types of bikes to rent.
Southwest Cycle 370 Main Street, Southwest Harbor, ME 04679 Located on the west side of the Island. Open all year.
Groups with small children are encouraged to consider renting either trail-a-bike or a tag-along. Both are attached to the back of a bicycle for those ages 4-7 or rent an actual bike trailer that attaches behind a bike for kids from 1 year to 4 or 5. Customize your solution for your particular child.
There are a variety of routes for beginners, families, moderately fit and the most fit bikers. The carriage road have slow and fast climbs. Study the topography to choose the fast side of hills (best to climb on bicycles) as you swing around the “mountains” of Mount Desert Island. The highest elevation you will climb is about 1,000 foot and the average is about 500 foot. Walking up hills is always an option. Be sure to bring water as there is only one spot on all the trails with water (Jordan Pond House). There are rest rooms in three places, Eagle lake parking lot, Parkman mountain lower and upper parking lots and Jordon Pond house. This map is from SouthwestCycle’s website:
Here is a lovely video of a bike ride around the island from hipeaks2. I really do not recommend going hands free – this fellow was a very experienced rider who has done a lot of biking.
For beginners (and rides with multiple ages) the Eagle Lake Loop is a great first ride. There are two hills to climb on this loop and a 500 foot elevation change. Go counter clockwise around eagle lake for the fast rise uphill, and slower downhill. Clockwise for slow climb up and fast ride down. The Island Explorer has a special bike shuttle to take you to the small parking lot at Eagle lake. It leaves from the village green in the center of Bar Harbor. Do not bike the paved road from Bar Harbor to Eagle Lake. It is much too busy and has extra hills. Ask for an alternative internal route either from your bike shop or ask your hotel/ rental for some better routes.
For intermediate bikers, start with the Parkman Mountain trail. The parking lot for this trail is located on the road to Northeast Harbor. Go clockwise for the best experience.
For experienced bikers, the whole carriage trail system can be done in one day, a lovely and tiring day though. Plan to stop for a food/water and restroom break mid-island at the Jordan Pond House. Situated right in the middle of the park. There is a warning for bikers to not plan on getting their bicycles on the shuttle from the Jordan Pond Bus stop. There is limited room for bicycles, and that is often filled up at the Northeast Harbor beginning of the bus route.
The Acadia bus system Island Explorer has a bicycle shuttle on every bus, and special bike shuttles to Eagle Lake Parking lot. Transportation is free on the bus system (Thanks to LL Bean). That way, if you have larger plans than your legs can manage, you can grab one of the buses for a ride back to your car.
For bike riders wanting a unique experience, come to the park in May for this ride: Mount Desert Island Westside Ride. Competitive bike riders can come in August for the Mount Desert Island time trial sponsored by www.bikemaine.org.
From the Mountain Bike Trails in Maine website: The Acadia National Park Carriage Roads can be accessed at the following entrances:
Eagle Lake: This is one of the most popular starting points. The parking area, located east of Bar Harbor on the north side of Rt. 233 often overflows during peak season in July and August. Start your ride early, if possible. Eagle Lake, at 425 acres, is the largest fresh water lake in Acadia National Park. From the lot, there is easy access to the carriage roads that lead toward half Moon Pond, the Breakneck Ponds and Witch Hole Pond. You can also ride the carriage roads around Eagle Lake for a challenging 6.1 mile loop ride that includes a few steep ascents and descents. Expect some rough patches. There are incredible views overlooking the lake.
Paradise Hill: Enter at the northwest end of the Hills Cove Visitor Center parking lot. The 0.5 mile trail that connects to the Paradise Hill carriage road is narrow, step and surfaced with loose gravel. Slippery. Consider walking your bike up and down.
Upper Haddock Pond: The parking area is located just north of the Brown Mountain Gatehouse on the eastern side of Rt. 198.
Lower Haddock Pond: The parking area is located on the eastern side of Rt. 198 south of Upper Haddock. We like to park here as we usually find it quiet and uncrowded. It provides access to most of the major carriage trails, however the access requires some long climbs.
Parkman Mountain: Parking is 2.3 miles south from the intersection of Rt. 198 and Rt. 233 on the eastern side of 198.
Jordan Pond: Jordan Pond parking area (not the restaurant parking lot). The carriage road crosses the Park Loop Road south of the Jordan Pond Gatehouse. Do not park in front of the gates on the carriage road. Jordan Pond is a hub for several major carriage roads and hiking trails as well as the Jordan Pond House Restaurant. The carriage road follows along Jordan Pond’s western edge. There are several rocky sections.
Make reservations at the restaurant in advance (at least the day before your ride), and plan your bike tour of the carriage trails so you end up there just in time for a traditional cup of tea and crumpets on the lawn.
Bubble Pond: Parking is on the Park Loop Road. The carriage trail that travels along the west side of Bubble Pond is easily accessed from the parking area. Nestled between North and South Bubble mountains, just northeast of Jordan Pond is an easy ride with lots of places to stop and admire the views of the “bubble like” mountains.