Carey Kish enjoys the island and ocean views on the Wonderland Trail in Acadia National Park. Carey Kish photo


The Wonderland Trail is one of the sweetest short hikes in Acadia National Park, leading a scant 3/4-mile stroll to a fabulous vista. Beyond the conifers, massive slabs of pink granite buttress the rugged shoreline, the only natural defense against the ever-powerful ocean surf.

Pull up a rock, relax and drink in the scene on the southern margin of the west side of Mount Desert Island. That’s Great Gott Island off to your right, Great Cranberry Island to your left, and further out in the center, Great and Little Duck islands. Eighteen nautical miles out, unseen, is Mount Desert Rock, its lighthouse the most remote and exposed on the East Coast.

Acadia’s Wonderland Trail is the first in an alphabetical list of Natural Heritage Hikes, a series of unique trail guides developed by the Maine Natural Areas Program, part of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. These narratives describe in rich detail the important ecological, geological and cultural features found along some of Maine’s most popular hiking trails.

“If you’ve read about Alice, you’ll know that Wonderland is filled with variety and mystery. The Wonderland Trail is no exception. In a short jaunt, you will encounter a tree that loves fire, a flower that escaped captivity, and a forest that never grows old. You will shrink to the size of a beetle and travel back in time. Along the trail, riddles will guide you to the next chapter.”

So goes the enticing introduction to the Wonderland Trail, and with its pages in hand, I struck off to visit and explore the trail, as if for the first time, even though I’d been down this path countless times before. My goal was to really see and not just look at my surroundings, to consciously refrain from outside distractions, to slow the pace, to focus.


The normally 30-minute walk took more than an hour, and following the numbered points of the guide sheet, I observed the mosses and lichens, the scraggly pitch pine woodlands, the wild roses, the stand of red and white spruce and balsam fir, and the ancient magma invasion turned granite. Delight ran through my being, and for once, instead of miles, my reward was simply a huge gratified smile.

Guide books are often, by nature, a little on the cut-and-dried side with their trail descriptions, mostly due to space considerations, which makes the Natural Heritage Hikes narratives great companions for many of Maine’s most prized hiking locales. The series launched in 2016 with 25 hikes and was expanded last year to include 11 more, with out-and-back and loop hikes ranging from 1-1/2 miles to 10-1/2 miles. They are rated easy, moderate and strenuous.

“After seeing the interesting material produced by the Maine Geological Survey for their ‘Geologic Site of the Month’ series, we were inspired to find a way to make ecological information more accessible to people who spend time outdoors,” said Don Cameron, an ecologist and botanist with the Maine Natural Areas Program.

Staff at MNAP developed a list of 18 ecological themes to be considered, like Alpine environments, old growth forests, beaver activity, land use history, ferns and fern biology and carnivorous plants. The hikes were researched and selected from around the state to ensure a wide geographic coverage on both public and private conservation lands, for their value as interesting and/or intact habitats and for their popularity. Kelly Finan, a student naturalist from the University of Vermont, developed the hike narratives as part of her graduate degree project.

The Natural Heritage Hikes are designed to “get you to look at things you’ve never seen before or might have overlooked,” said Cameron. “They’re to get people to start really noticing things out there on the trail. The harder you look, the more you see.”

Beautifully crafted narratives for the Big Chief Trail on Black Mountain, Gulf Hagas, the Grassy Pond Trail in Baxter State Park, Cranberry Peak in the Bigelow Range, Quaggy Jo Mountain in Aroostook State Park and the Smith Trail on Sawyer Mountain make me ache to get out there this year and discover anew these and so many other wonderful places around our state. Find all the Natural Heritage Hikes at under “Maps, Data, and Technical Assistance.”

Carey Kish of Mt. Desert Island is the author of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Along the Maine Coast and editor of the AMC Maine Mountain Guide. Follow Carey’s adventures on Facebook @CareyKish

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