September 9, 2012

Carey Kish: Eliot Mountain provides a trove of trails and views

Eliot Mountain rises to about 450 feet above scenic Northeast Harbor just outside the southern boundary of Acadia National Park. The trails that crisscross the mountain -- named in honor of Charles W. Eliot, an early pioneer and advocate for the creation of the park -- are thought to be some of the oldest on Mount Desert Island, dating back to the late 1800s.

click image to enlarge

This view of Northeast Harbor, seen from Asticou Terraces Trail, is one of many that can be found along the trails of Eliot Mountain, at the southern end of Acadia National Park.

Carey Kish Photo

On the western slope of Eliot Mountain is Thuya Garden, a private 140-acre preserve featuring lovely flower gardens and native Maine woodlands as well as Thuya Lodge, the former home of Joseph H. Curtis, who summered here around the turn of the 20th century. Combine a walk through the gardens with your hike up the mountain for a very pleasant half-day outing.

The trailhead for your walk is at a spot known as Asticou Terraces, on Route 3, a half-mile south of its intersection with Route 198 in Northeast Harbor. Cross the road and climb the wide Asticou Terraces Trail, a well-constructed footpath built of cut pink granite and natural stone. Four switchbacks lead past a trailside shelter, a stone hut and a log gazebo, each providing nice views out over the compact harbor.

Where the angle eases, the trail crosses an old, grassy road and soon reaches Thuya Lodge. Stop in and take a look around the cozy rooms, browse the many bookshelves, and let the docent recount the interesting history of this special place.

Just ahead, next to the parking lot, are the beautiful wooden entrance gates of Thuya Garden, exhibiting 48 carved natural history images. Be sure to pick up a brochure guide and leave a small donation before entering (sorry, no pets allowed).

Once inside, wander the lawns and paths and enjoy the colorful and fragrant delights of more than 80 varieties of annual and perennial plants. Pause at the reflecting pool, toss a coin into the spring house and relax at one of the pavilions. When you're ready to continue on, find the Charles K. Savage Memorial -- Savage designed the garden in the 1930s -- and just beyond, swing through the gate in the fence.

The spur trail takes two left turns before joining Eliot Mountain Trail coming in from the right. Climb moderately up ledges into the semi-open to reach a large cairn at the Eliot Memorial (memorials appear plentiful around these parts, but then, it took some grand efforts by many dedicated people to preserve the wonders of Acadia, and worth honoring for sure).

Quickly you'll come to a signed junction and the wooded summit of Eliot Mountain. Straight ahead and to the right, paths lead to Jordan Pond House a couple miles to the east. To the left, Eliot Mountain Trail descends toward Asticou. (Note: The myriad trails in and around Northeast Harbor can be confusing, so a map is a handy item to have along. Maps are available at many locations on the island).

My hiking pal and I decided to continue north on Asticou Ridge Trail, a fine stretch with occasional viewpoints eastward. Intersecting Asticou & Jordan Pond Path, we turned west and a mile of easy striding landed us at the Map House, a pavilion with a table, bench, and yes, a framed map of the island.

To complete our loop hike we continued out to the gravel lane (Gatehouse Road) and followed if left to a four-way junction. We took the middle choice ahead of us, avoiding the downhill and uphill legs of Asticou Hill Road. Another mile on the contoured lane and we reentered Thuya Garden, then descended back to the car.

There are a number of other lightly-traveled hiking options on Eliot Mountain that make for a somewhat longer trek, so take your pick. And for more garden beauty, visit the nearby Asticou Azalea Garden. Thuya Garden (www.gardenpreserve.org) is open daily from May 1 to Oct. 31.

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow his hiking adventures at:

www.facebook.com/careykish

 

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