Spectacular views of eastern Penobscot Bay can be seen from South Ridge Trail on Cadillac Mountain. Ron Chase photos

Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island is the source of many superlatives. At an elevation of 1,532 feet, it is the tallest mountain along the eastern seaboard of the United States. According to Wikipedia, the commanding prominence is the highest point within 25 miles of the shoreline of the North American continent between Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia and Mexican peaks south of the Texas border. During fall and winter, the crest of Cadillac is first to see the nation’s sunrise.

Rugged majestic beauty and incredible views make Cadillac one of the premiere New England mountain hikes. However, for mountaineering purists there is a dark side: a paved road to the top. After an arduous ascent, weary hikers are often greeted by a carnival-like atmosphere when completing the climb. If one wants to avoid the incongruous environment, a winter expedition when the road is closed is an alternative. An interesting snippet of Cadillac history: A cog railway took visitors to a hotel at the summit in the late 19th century. The hotel burned and the train was sold and transported to another consequential New England peak — Mount Washington.

Three major hiking routes lead to the crown of Cadillac: North and South Ridge Trails and Gorge Path. Numerous additional passageways interconnect with these. All provide remarkable panoramic vistas of the 16 nearby granite-dominated peaks, surrounding islands and the glaciated, coastal landscape.

For many years, the Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society has held a fall gathering on Mount Desert Island. While the underlying purpose is to conduct its annual business meeting, the location is chosen because it offers a multitude of exceptional outdoor activities that include mountain hiking, biking, sea kayaking, flatwater paddling, canoe races and more.

Again this year, the PPCS scheduled its annual meeting and several outdoor events on Mount Desert Island over a three-day period in early October. I announced a climb of Cadillac Mountain via the South Ridge Trail on the first day of activities.

Hikers stop at Eagle’s Crag on South Ridge Trail.

A few days before the planned events, a complication arose. Tropical storm Phillippe was hurtling north off the coast of the eastern United States and predicted to make landfall in Maine on the day of my planned Cadillac Mountain hike. I rescheduled the outing for the day after the storm.


Phillippe was late arriving. Many of us found entertaining abbreviated activities to fill the time. I completed a bike ride on the Acadia National Park Carriage Roads, and then my wife, Nancy, and I went for walks in Asticou Gardens and on the Carriage Roads. When Phillippe finally appeared, it struck with a vengeance. Heavy rains and winds caused power outages on much of the island.

By midmorning the following day, the rain had subsided. The hike was on.

Eight of us met at the South Ridge Trailhead on Route 3 near the entrance to Blackwoods Campground. Although the rain had ended, thick clouds, dense fog and strong winds lingered. My promised non-stop spectacular views during the hike did not appear likely. I was concerned about a possible mutiny.

Dressed for damp, windy weather, we departed on a wet trail in a heavily wooded area. As we ascended, the clouds and fog diminished. Partial views were available as we progressed over ledges on Eagle’s Crag. From this point on, most of the trail to the summit is an exposed granite ridgeline. When clear, the path offers marvelous views.

After about a mile, we dropped steeply to Featherbed, a tiny, scenic mountain tarn. The gusty winds increased as we climbed precipitous ledges back onto the ridgeline. The skies partially cleared, the sun came out and the views were spectacular.

Shortly after passing West Face Trail entering from the west, we advanced close to Cadillac Mountain Road. Angling northeasterly into a wooded area, the most rugged terrain of the day was ahead. Soon emerging into the open where crowds of tourists were exploring the summit, we joined them to embrace the phenomenal vistas.

Our return on the South Ridge Trail was a delight. We benefited from glorious panoramic views of the islands of eastern Penobscot Bay for much of the descent. Despite an inauspicious beginning, the trek lived up to our high expectations.

My book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine,” relates nine more mountain hikes, including several winter ascents.

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco or in bookstores and through online retailers. His previous books are “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals — New England.” Visit his website at ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at ronchaseoutdoors@comcast.net.

Crowds embrace the views at the summit of Cadillac Mountain. Ron Chase photo

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