Here’s Why Gorham Mountain Trail In Acadia Is Even Better In The Winter

Here’s Why Gorham Mountain Trail In Acadia Is Even Better In The Winter

With its proximity to the famous, pink-glowing Ocean Path trail and the lovely day trip destination of Bar Harbor, Gorham Mountain counts itself among the many must-visit places on the East Coast — but more specifically, it’s a popular peak for hikers. True, it isn’t the tallest mountain in Acadia National Park, nor is it the most noteworthy.

However, this is a pretty Acadia trail — located in one of the top states with the best hiking — showcasing all the park’s signature sensational scenery for which it’s globally famed is a serious treat for the senses — in every sense of the word “serious.”

As one of Maine’s most beautiful hiking spots, the Gorham Mountain Trail (and its connecting Cadillac Cliffs Trail, which is fun but considerably more challenging) is as picturesque as it is fear-of-heights-inducing in some parts and can be strenuous for some with less stamina and reduced physical ability. Nevertheless, the Gorham Mountain Loop beckons and never fails to bring in some of the most avid hikers in the United States and beyond.

Related: The Ultimate Walking Guide For Bar Harbor, Maine

In peak season (spring and summer), the Gorham Mountain Loop trail and its nearby treks are hiking fan favorites. Why wouldn’t they be? The weather is inviting, the forests are evergreen and lush, and the sun is shining. However, the chill of winter is also an appealing climate in which to attempt this stunning trail — when the ice forms, the snow falls, and the landscapes transform into a wintry, fantasy wonderland.

Still, there are certain tips to kind in mind when trying this trek in the chillier months. The following guide divulges some of these, as well as details on how to hike to Gorham Mountain and back via the main loop and various other trails.

When Is The Best Time To Hike Gorham Mountain?

Of course, spring and summer are popular months to hike in Acadia and tackle Gorham Mountain, as the weather is sunnier and warmer — all the more pleasant overall.

Plus, as one of the most beautiful spots for fall foliage in the US, the autumnal time of year also comes top when hikers are hunting for the best months to hike Gorham Mountain.

However, wintertime in Acadia is truly magnificent and unique, with white-blanketed lands, extraordinary views, and exceptional experiences unavailable throughout the rest of the year.

Related: See The Best Of Bar Harbor By Visiting Off-Season

With crisp, wintry, white-blanketed forests and icy paths, this hike is one of the many reasons why Maine is a winter paradise — but it does become somewhat more challenging in the chillier months.

Still, the extra effort is worth the stunning scenery that this hike provides to those believing they’re up for the test. What’s more, there are no Acadia park fees in winter (between November and April), granting another reason to try this world-class hike that exhibits some of the most breathtaking sights in Maine — earning the destination a rightful place on the list of the most attractive US states in winter.

Gorham Mountain Trail Acadia National Park: What To Know Before Hiking Gorham Mountain

  • Gorham Mountain Trail Difficulty Level: Moderately strenuous day hike
  • Access: Gorham Mountain Parking Lot (the parking lot located just after Thunder Hole)
  • Time To Hike: 1-2 hours
  • Hike Length: 2 miles (round trip from Gorham Mountain Parking Lot to the summit and back)
  • Elevation: 500 feet gradual ascent to the summit of Acadia’s Gorham Mountain
  • Park Fees: No park fees are applicable in winter. However, from May to October, entrance fees are payable. Check the Acadia National Park Service’s Fees & Passes page for up-to-date pricing and rules on park entrance.

The Gorham Mountain Loop trail is frequently rated as a moderate hike. It’s only around 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers) as a round-trip, but some segments of the trek up to the 525 namesake mountain peak can be difficult for hikers with less experience.

The trail up to Gorham Mountain poses a relatively modest elevation gain and is a fairly doable family-friendly hike, although it is not easily accessible to those with physical limitations. The trail has uneven footing and a few places where scrambling over rocks is required.

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Some say this route is easy; others claim it’s strenuous – reviews appear to be mixed. Whatever the case, it’s worth every step; other than nearby Cadillac Mountain, Gorham Mountain’s summit and the journey toward it offers some of the most spectacular spots on the eastern side of Mount Desert Island from which to take in some seriously stunning views.

Hikers are rewarded for their efforts with breathtaking scenes from the summit; vistas of the iconic Beehive to the north, Sand Beach to the east, and Otter Point to the south is the gift that this Acadia hike delivers, among many others along the way and back down again.

How To Hike The Gorham Mountain Trail In Acadia National Park

This guide to the Gorham Mountain Trail in Acadia is useful for any time of the year. However, the focus is on hiking it in winter, as doing so is a unique experience and differs from tackling the route in the more popular months from spring to the end of summer.

The Gorham Mountain Trailhead

The trailhead for Gorham Mountain is located at the southwest corner of the Gorham Mountain parking lot, which is found one lot past Thunder Hole along the main Park Loop Road.

These roads and parking areas can be quite slippy due to ice in the winter, so care is advised when driving and walking.

When it gets super busy during peak summer months, hikers arriving in a vehicle may need to find alternate parking; the lots fill up – fast. That’s why it might be a better idea to use the free Island Explorer shuttle bus service during busy times.

The beginning of the hiking trail may lull walkers into a sense of ease since it starts off with a gentle, steady climb north through a pretty spruce forest. In season, this forest is laden with picturesque blueberry bushes; however, in winter, it may be powdered with snow or be icy.

As pretty as it is in the colder months, it’s important to tread carefully so as not to slip, especially when the route turns into more rugged territory as it opens to a granite ascent — which can be rather slippery in winter.

The Trail Split: The Gorham Mountain Trail To The Cadillac Mountain Trail (Optional)

Not long after the start point, hikers arrive at a scenic area where the trail splits. At this part, a memorial plaque honoring Waldron Bates can be seen, which has been placed on a large granite slab.

Waldron Bates played an integral role in many of Acadia National Park’s routes, creating the style of cairn utilized to blaze the trails.

He was also the first to use iron-rung ladders and stone stairways along the trails to help hikers traverse steep and treacherous areas, such as cliffs and talus slopes — the sloping rocky masses at cliff bases.

The Gorham Mountain Cadillac Cliffs Trail juts off to the right at the point where the trail splits (where the memorial plaque is located). This 0.3-mile-long section showcases good examples of Waldron Bates’s work, featuring rungs and ladders along the trail’s old sea cliffs.

Exploring the base of these cliffs is an amazing experience and also takes hikers past an ancient cave that was once on the edge of the ocean. In addition, this short section takes hikers through a small tunnel in the granite, which is fun for photo ops.

However, the Cadillac Cliffs Trail can be difficult in places, with numerous outcroppings where rocks jut out overhead.

Although this optional trail segment does have rungs and ladders to help hikers over rock scrambles, it isn’t for those with physical limitations and minimal hiking experience. As such, it’s better to take the left trail at the split point instead if visitors don’t feel able or confident enough — using one’s own judgment is necessary when deciding which direction to go when the trail splits.

Additionally, in winter especially, this part is even more challenging, as the trail and the ladders and rungs become icy and slippy. Hence, thinking twice about taking the Cadillac route in the cold season is wise.

Skipping the Cadillac Cliff trail section doesn’t really detract from the experience; it doesn’t change the distance, only the hike’s difficulty level. Still, hikers who do opt to head along this tricky trail will return to the main Gorham Mountain Loop Trail after ending the Cadillac Cliff section with a steep granite stair climb.

Those who prefer to skip the Cadillac Cliff Trail should turn left where the trail splits and continue along the easier Gorham Mountain Trail.

The False Summit Of Gorham Mountain

The trail gently ascends up the mountain further — a section including several sets of beautifully laid steps. Again, when it’s cold and icy, treading carefully is advised; these stairs are easy to slip on when the ground freezes or is wet.

After the first band of cliffs, adventurers arrive at the mountain’s famous false summit, where wide-open views of the surrounding areas of Otter Cliff and Otter Point, Baker Island, and the Cranberry Islands can be soaked up.

Interestingly, the false summit area of the trail was scorched in 1947 the infamous fire that destroyed a significant part of Mount Desert Island. Sometimes, it’s still possible to see evidence of the fire and remnants of its devastation in some areas.

Related: Acadia In Fall: What To Know When Visiting This Maine Park

Despite being beautiful, hikers mustn’t stop at the false summit — it’s not the end, after all. There are blue trail markers and cairns to guide hikers in the right direction toward the real peak.

Heading higher up the trail sees people arrive at the true Gorham Mountain summit, which provides even better views.

The Summit Of Gorham Mountain

Continuing north along the pink granite ridge line takes hikers to the top of the true peak – a marker points out the tip.

From the summit, adventurers can enjoy extraordinary panoramic scenes of Sand Beach, Great Head, and Thunder Hole to the east, Otter Point to the southeast, Otter Point to the South, the extensive Cadillac Mountain ridge line out in the distance to the west, and the famous Acadia Beehive to the north.

While these views are epic in peak season — spring and summer, namely — they can be truly magical in winter when the landscapes are sprinkled with snow and glassed over by ice, if it’s cold enough.

Returning From Gorham Mountain Peak

Many hikers return the way they came, completing the Gorham Mountain Trail Loop. As mentioned, the round-trip is around 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers), but some prefer to turn the trek into a longer adventure by taking the Gorham Mountain Trail all the way to the Bowl Trail under the Beehive before returning via the Ocean Path.

The Beehive is one of the most popular hikes in Acadia but not for beginners.

Not for the faint of heart, this short but steep journey entails plenty of hair-raising heights and scrambling on iron-rung ladders. However, hikers can completely avoid the rungs and the ladders by taking the Bowl Trail.

Returning Via The Bowl Trail

Hikers selecting to return via the Bowl Trail can go past the Gorham Mountain summit, after which the trail descends rocky terrain for around half a mile until it meets the Bowl trail.

Walkers can head right on the Bowl Trail and continue for half a mile before it delivers hikers at the entrance to Sand Beach. There, they can cross the crosswalk and saunter to the end of the upper Sand Beach parking lot. At this point, the Ocean Path Trail follows the coastline for approximately 0.7 miles toward Thunder Hole.

Upon reaching Thunder Hole, hikers can stay on the Ocean Path trail for another 0.3 miles until they come across a carved stump saying “Gorham Mountain.” This might be a little harder to find if the ground is coated in snow, so keep a keen lookout when hiking in winter.

At this point, hikers can the crosswalk to the Gorham Mountain parking lot, which signals the end of the hike. Again, stepping cautiously on crosswalks and in the parking lot is crucial to avoid slipping on any potential snow or ice.

Hiking this trail around the end of July and all of August offers the chance to sample the wild Maine blueberries that grow annually along this mountainous route’s beautiful blueberry bushes.

Returning Via The Cadillac Cliffs Trail

To mix things up, hikers may wish to take the Cadillac Cliffs Trail to sample some alternative views — if they didn’t go down this route on the way up to Gorham Mountain.

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On the way back, this short, steep spur rejoins the main Gorham Mountain Trail where the trail split originally on the way up — at the Waldron Bates memorial plaque.

Still, care is advised, particularly in winter when this section may be icier and more treacherous.

Gorham Mountain Hiking Safety Tips

Thanks to its breathtaking beauty (especially when ice and snow have graced Acadia National Park), the Gorham Mountain hike easily deserves a place among the top hiking trails with the best winter views.

Still, letting the natural splendor this trek overwhelm and get ahead of oneself is a recipe for disaster — as is being unprepared. With that in mind, to ensure the best possible (and safest) experience hiking this top Acadia trail, consider the following safety tips:

  • Hikers are advised to check the trail’s elevation profile or a topographic map before tackling this adventure to ensure they understand the stamina required for its completion
  • Don’t forget to bring a phone in case of emergency
  • Hikers should always inform family and friends before going hiking so that someone knows their whereabouts
  • Bringing a GPS device is always a good idea (phones aren’t always reliable!)
  • Pack hiking essentials in a suitable bag for the trip. This should include plenty of water, energy-restoring foods, and snacks for the hike, as well as a compass
  • Closed-toe shoes with strong grip and traction are recommended due to uneven surfaces throughout the trail
  • Warm clothing is advised when hiking Gorham Mountain in winter. Plus, bringing additional clothing layers is ideal because the weather in these parts can sometimes be unpredictable
  • Although ticks are less of an issue in winter, hikers can reduce the chance of picking them up by staying in the center of the trail while avoiding the brush and not stepping in soil
  • Always perform a tick-check on oneself and any family members after visiting Acadia National Park
  • As mentioned, the Gorham Mountain Loop is not one of the most accessible hikes in Acadia. The trail has uneven footing in many areas, along with a few sections where rock scrambling is needed
  • Last but not least, remember that the optional Cadillac Cliff Trail section of the hike involve rungs and ladders. This segment is entirely doable, but it isn’t easy for inexperienced hikers and those with less able bodies