Great Head Trail
The 1.4 mile (2.2 km) Great Head Trail is rated as “moderate” and loops around the perimeter of the small peninsula called Great Head located on the east side of Sand Beach in Acadia National Park. This is a great early morning hike, or afternoon for that matter, and one that the whole family can experience (with caution of course).
Park in the lower Sand Beach parking area located on the left of the Park Loop Road on the east side of Mount Desert Island. (This trail may also be accessed from the Schooner Head Road out of Bar Harbor.) Granite steps lead down to the beautiful Sand Beach. Straight ahead to the east on the far end of the beach, you will see the cliffs. Depending on the tide, you may want to walk on the compressed sand next to the shore for an easier walk. Note the fence to your left which is there to protect the grass on the sand dunes.
What is Here
Just before the base of the headland at the far eastern side of Sand Beach, look to your left for a stunning view of The Beehive. On calm mornings, you will often see the mountain reflected in a large tidal pool. It's 520 foot (158 m) summit is often visited by hikers. Depending upon the time of day, you may have already noticed people on its trails going along its face when you arrived earlier. If not, be sure to look up when you return to your vehicle. If you have a good telephoto lens, you should be able to capture images of some climbers going up the face of the cliffs.
Close to this spot at the base of the headland you will see a small sign leading to steps where you will begin your ascent. This starts as a leisurely climb leading to some beautiful pink granite cliffs. The pink is more apparent on wet misty mornings before the granite dries out. Follow the blue trail lines to be sure to stay on the best route up as it can be steep at times. Pause to look back at Sand Beach, The Beehive, and other sights when you are in a safe and well balanced position.
Once on top of the headland, the hike is fairly easy and goes fast. A sign points the way to the right leading to the southern end of Great Head where you will have wonderful panoramic views of the rocky eastern coast of Mount Desert Island including Otter Cliff, Thunder Hole, Gorham Mountain, and the churning ocean below. There are ample spots for you to relax and have a picnic, or just sit and reflect on the power of this place as you smell the salty coastal air and hear the seagulls overhead.
As you continue on the loop back, you will go through a beautiful pathway through a section of grey birch trees. Up ahead, there will be a path split. Take the left up the granite, following the markers, to return to Sand Beach. Watch for signs. There is one that you will not see the front of until you look back at it as you pass. If you continued straight, it would lead to the Schooner Head Road in Bar Harbor.
By now, the daylight has changed somewhat and many of the sights will have changed, also. Have your camera ready because there is much beauty here. Take your time and enjoy!
(Refer to the Hiking Trails and Safety Tips pages for suggestions and rules while trekking in the park. Always wear the appropriate attire such as hiking shoes, let others know where you will be, and exercise caution!)
Unique Vantage Point
Going on the Great Head Trail is like adding a whole new dimension to the experience of Acadia National Park, especially for those who have visited the park before. Most people are not even aware that the trail exists, or that there are steps leading to it that begin at the headland’s base at the far end of the beach. What the trail mainly does is provide us with a new vantage point to view the eastern coast of Mount Desert Island than experienced before, and what a view it is, especially of Sand beach and The Beehive! This is a great trail for the family but caution must be used at all times.