Cadillac Mountain North Ridge – Dorr Mountain Loop – Acadia National Park
This 5.9 mile loop takes you over Cadillac and Dorr mountains – two of Acadia’s most prominent peaks. There is some very steep climbing along exposed granite on this hike, but the views are truly spectacular!
Tuesday morning started clear and sunny, so we decided to get an early start and tackle a loop hike that would take us across the summits of Cadillac, Dorr and Kebo mountains. After bagels, muffins, fruit and coffee (hooray for free hotel breakfasts!), we made the short drive from downtown Bar Harbor to the Cadillac North Ridge trailhead, which is located shortly after the Park Loop Road becomes one-way.
We’ve climbed the North Ridge Trail three or four times before, but this is the first time we combined it with other trails to create a loop. The North Ridge Trail is significantly shorter than the South Ridge, but still offers beautiful views of the ocean and offshore islands. When we arrived, we were able to get a parking spot at an overlook right across from the trailhead. Unless you get an early start, you’ll definitely want to use the Island Explorer bus to access this hike. It’s a popular route, and the overlook can only accommodate several cars.
As we started hiking uphill, we passed a family of four that had hiked up in the dark to arrive at the summit in time for sunrise. They looked exhausted but told us it was well worth the early start. After that group, we really didn’t see anyone else until we arrived on the summit. Even though it was early, the day was already really hot and humid. Not even a hint of breeze was blowing. I’m not used to sweltering in Maine (even in the summer), but I was so hot! My head was pouring sweat which soon washed all the ‘waterproof sport’ sunscreen off my face. Sometimes sunscreen seems like a losing battle!
Occasionally, the trail would duck into a small copse of pine trees. Momentarily, the heat would abate and I would feel comfortable for a few minutes. But the shade never lasted, and I continued to march up the mountain, behind Adam. Finally, I had to stop and pull my shirt up and across my face to dry off the sweat. Adam looked back at me and I told him I was hotter than I’d ever been in my entire life. And honestly, that wasn’t much of an exaggeration!
As we approached the summit, the trail followed closer to the auto road. We could see the roofs of passing cars and hear motorcycles rumbling nearby. Whenever the trail came close to the road, I noticed more trash littering the trail – bottle caps, candy wrappers, and so many cigarette butts. People driving up clearly throw stuff out their windows – how they can do that in Acadia is beyond me!
Soon, the parking lot at the summit of Cadillac came into view. It was still fairly early, so the summit wasn’t terribly crowded – one bus and a few dozen cars. We got cold drinks at the summit shop. Adam surprised me with a bandanna with a map of Mount Desert Island on it. He thought I could use it to mop sweat! I tied it onto the shoulder strap of my pack, and we headed off to explore the network of paved pathways around the summit.
We took a few photos and then worked on finding the Gorge Path. Basically, we just had to find cairns heading down Cadillac and in the general direction of Dorr Mountain. There were no signs or markers telling us we were going the right direction (all blazes in Acadia are blue and trail names are only identified at junctions). Pretty soon, we were all but certain that we were going the right way. The steep, boulder-strewn face of the mountain matched the description we had read of the Gorge Path. I put my trekking poles away, so I could have both hands free to climb. I also stowed my dSLR and got my inexpensive point-and-shoot out to document the climb down.
The climb down went pretty quickly. Though, all the while we were looking at the face of Dorr. I asked Adam if we were going to be climbing up that cliff face. He said ‘I don’t see how the trail would go… but maybe?’. Around that time, we spotted two colorful specks making their way down the mountain – other hikers. They confirmed the trajectory of our upcoming climb.
At the junction in the saddle between Dorr and Cadillac, we took a break. I actually changed out of my heavy Oboz hiking boots and back into my Montrail trail runners. Initially, I thought the Oboz would be better on this ankle-turning terrain, but really they just made me feel clumsy and heavy-footed. I think I might have taken my final step (pun intended) in my transition to trail runners.
The climb up Dorr ended up being much easier than I expected. From the shoulder of Cadillac, it looked steep and slick and scary. But once we were actually there, the climbing was really fun! I enjoyed looked back at the tiny, ant-like people atop the Cadillac summit. Once we finished the initial climb up the face of Dorr, the walking was fairly gradual and moderate along a ridgeline. The summit was marked in traditional Acadia-fashion – with a large pile of stone with an elevation/summit marker in the middle. There were a few groups of hikers atop the summit of Dorr, but nowhere near the crowds on Cadillac.
There were several routes down Dorr, so Adam consulted out map and hiking guide to make sure we found the right one. On most Acadia hikes, you get views in nearly every direction, so we stopped frequently to admire the beauty around us. The climb down Dorr turned out to be tough – steep and knee-grinding. Granite is always jarring and unforgiving on your joints. I could see Adam starting to grimace in pain along the descent.
Once we were back in the woods and the views were gone, we still had a couple more miles to go, so we focused on covering the terrain as quickly as safety would allow. Most of the return arm of the loop was downhill, with one short uphill climb over the summit of Kebo mountain. Kebo is short and tree-covered, and offers no open views. After the summit of Kebo, the remainder of the hike passed through forest before eventually coming back out on the Park Loop Road. From the end of the trail, we still had about a mile of road walking to get back to our car.
The road was really crowded and the shoulder was narrow. I practically jogged to get the road-walking portion of the hike completed as quickly as possible. I got back to the car a little before Adam. I found a ranger writing parking tickets for all the cars that had overflowed the North Ridge parking area. There were probably about a dozen cars people had just left sitting in the middle of the road. Someone had parked on either side of our Subaru, allowing just inches in front and behind. It took me about ten minutes to rock the car out of the spot. By the time I got the car out, Adam was making the final uphill push along the road. I picked him up and we headed back into town to get a big lunch with my parents.
The Cadillac-Dorr loop was an ideal way to bag these two Acadia summits in a single hike! I think I still like the South Ridge Trail up Cadillac a little prettier, but this was a fantastic hike, too.
When we were deciding which hikes that we would like to have accomplished for the week, we both knew we wanted to hike up Cadillac Mountain. On our last trip, we hiked up the south ridge of Cadillac Mountain. But our first time hiking up Cadillac Mountain was taking this route up the north ridge and we were excited to cover it on the blog. Christine has been mentioning the last few trips to Acadia that she wanted to hike up Dorr Mountain. My memory of hiking up Dorr Mountain (via the East Face Trail) included visions of hiking up seemingly endless rock stairs and I was not excited to do this again. So, I consulted my map and came up with a way that we could combine the two and also bag another peak, Kebo Mountain. The great thing about Acadia National Park is that so many of the trails intersect, so you can be quite creative with how you approach different hikes.
We started our hike from the Park Loop Road at the trail marker for the Cadillac North Ridge Trail. Climbing up a few quick steps, we started to ascend the granite path that makes up the entire park. In a short distance, the blue-blazed trail then turns right and you entire a wooded area of evergreens and birches. As you approach .6 miles, the trail begins to draw close to the Cadillac Summit Road and you may hear cars and motorcycles nearby but the road is not visible for much of the hike. The trail continues through the forested area, but occasionally will open up to some views. At 1.1 miles, you reach a section of over 100 steps built into the trail. Once you feel tired of the steps, the trail comes above the treeline and begins to open up to gorgeous views behind you. The trail becomes a little trickier at this point as you have to focus more on following the blue blazes marked on the rock or cairns that lead you along the trail. A few times, you will come closer to the road and may even see some cars parked at pullouts enjoying the views. Keep following the trail and you will reach the top of Cadillac Mountain (at a parking lot) at 2.2 miles.
Many of the summits of the mountains are marked by tall cairns and signs marking the summit. For Cadillac Mountain, the 1,532 foot summit is marked simply with a USGS summit marker, which is located behind the gift shop at the top. On a clear day, you will likely see a full parking lot and a ton of people climbing around the rocks of Cadillac Mountain taking photos. But, instead of driving up to the top, you have earned it by hiking up.
At the top of Cadillac Mountain, there is a .5 mile Cadillac Summit Trail which is a loop around the top of the mountain giving you great views along the way. We took this trail around for .3 miles and on the Northeast side you will begin to see some cairns that marks the Gorge Path. Follow this trail down the mountain which starts to quickly go steeply down the side of Cadillac Mountain. I would only recommend this trail if you feel like you have good balance and knees as you are climbing down a steep rocky path, often requiring you to crab crawl down the trail on all fours in some spots. It is called the Gorge Path for a definite reason and you will soon see that this path cuts sharply between Cadillac and Dorr Mountains. I kept trying to look ahead to see if the path leveled off to join Dorr Mountain, but you do have to go to the bottom of the gorge before you climb up on the other side. At 2.9 miles, just .4 miles and 500 feet down from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, you reach the bottom of the gorge and will see a sign marking the intersection of several trails. We went straight across to begin climbing up to the summit of Dorr Mountain. This part of the trail was not as bad as it appeared as we were descending Cadillac Mountain, but it does require some rock scrambling to make your way up. At 3.1 miles, we were finished with the scrambling and reached another intersection sign post. Heading to the right following the Dorr South Ridge Trail, we hiked another .1 mile, following cairns along the way, until we reached the summit post of Dorr Mountain at 1,270 feet.
Once you are finished enjoying the summit, we retraced our steps back to the intersection sign at the top of Dorr to follow the Dorr North Ridge Trail at 3.3 miles. This trail is extremely steep downhill, descending 900 feet over the next mile, but we were glad we were hiking down instead of up even though it is hard on the knees. At 4.2 miles, you come to an intersection with the Hemlock Trail, but stay straight. The trail then begins to go up and down as you crest some small hills until you make another climb up to Kebo Mountain. At 4.8 miles, you reach the summit also marked by a summit post, but there are not great views from here. Once we reached the summit, it was another downhill hike until we reached the Park Loop Road at 5.1 miles. Take a left here, ascending slightly up the road until you return to your vehicle at 5.9 miles.
While I do think you earn some respect by hiking up Cadillac Mountain, I’m always impressed with the people that bike up the Cadillac Summit Road. While I was drinking a Gatorade while resting outside the gift shop, I struck up a conversation with a man in his upper 50s that had just biked up. When I asked him how long of a ride it was, he laughed and said that he just knew that it was 1150 feet up. As I researched later, it looks to be a 3.5 mile ride, but that is some decent elevation to gain in that distance on bike. I’m sure the ride down is more fun, but this could be tough on your brakes.
I did cover some of the interesting history behind Cadillac Mountain on our South Ridge post, so I thought it would be interesting to talk about the history behind the naming of Dorr Mountain. George Dorr was the man that is often credited as being the father of Acadia National Park. Hailing from Boston originally, he first came to visit Mount Desert Island in 1868. He decided to make his permanent home here on the island. He worked on convincing others that protecting this area was important and acquired much of the land through the Hancock County Trustees by purchasing it or receiving it in donations. While the trustees were being threatened with having their ownership revoked, Dorr worked with lobbying the government to help protect the land. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson created the 6,600 acre Sieur De Monts National Monument. In 1919, the area expanded to become Lafayette National Park, later changed to Acadia National Park in 1929. George Dorr became the first director of the National Monument and the director of Acadia National Park. He swam daily from his home on the coast, even chipping through the ice in the winters. He suffered a heart attack after a morning swim in 1934 and was told he had six months to live. But, he survived for 10 more years before dying on 8/5/44. Dorr Mountain was once known as Dry Mountain. George Dorr named the mountain Flying Squadron Mountain to honor French pilots from World War I.
As the photos clearly demonstrate, the views from both Cadillac and Dorr Mountains are truly breathtaking. I’m glad we took the path that we did to combine the summits of these three mountains. We often felt as people were climbing up Cadillac Mountain from the Gorge Path or climbing up Dorr Mountain from the North Ridge Trail, that we were taking this trail the easiest way possible. If you were to do this in reverse, you would be up for some brutal climbing. I do agree with Christine in that I prefer the south ridge overall as a way to just hike up Cadillac Mountain. Part of the reason for this is that the south ridge doesn’t get close to the park road and the other is that most of the views along the way are behind you. But this does give you a great opportunity to stop and enjoy the views frequently. However, I do think this is the best way to enjoy both Cadillac and Dorr Mountains and I will gladly do this again.
- Distance – 5.9 miles
(Check out the stats from MapMyHike)*
- Elevation Change – About 1130 feet
- Difficulty – 3.5. The initial climb up Cadillac Mountain is steady, but gradual. The downhill climbing is actually the tougher part of this hike – it’s steep and across unforgiving granite.
- Trail Conditions – 3. The trail is rooty, rocky and crosses a lot of bare granite. It’s very typical Acadia terrain.
- Views– 5. There are spectacular views all along this hike.
- Streams/Waterfalls –0. No streams or waterfalls.
- Wildlife – 2. Other than occasional birds and chattering red squirrels, you won’t see much.
- Ease to Navigate – 3. The cairns and blazes are pretty easy to follow. The only tricky spot is finding the Gorge Path at the summit of Cadillac.
- Solitude – 1. The summit of Cadillac is crawling with tourists that have driven up the auto road. You’ll see fewer people on the trails, but Acadia is too small and popular to offer real solitude.
Directions to trailhead: From Bar Harbor, head west on US-233 for about a mile. Enter Acadia National Park on the left and take another left onto the Park Loop Road. Travel for about .5 mile and park on the left side of the road at a pullout. The trailhead is on the opposite side of the road from the pullout.
* MapMyHike is not necessarily accurate, as the GPS signal fades in and out – but it still provides some fun and interesting information.