Hiking Maine: Climbing up the Beehive and Champlain Mountain, Acadia National Park

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Halfway up the Beehive looking down at Sand Beach.
When friends and I started talking about a trip to Acadia National Park to escape the madness associated with a special event at home at the end of September, I already knew there were a handful of hikes on beautiful Mount Desert Island I wanted to do. 

After visiting Acadia four years ago with my family, instead of driving to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, I wanted to get up there on my own two feet. We accomplished that goal on the first day of the trip. Next on my list? Climbing the Beehive again.

One of my favorite parts about my first trip to Acadia was the opportunity explore the park's trails with my mother and brother; experiencing the outdoors in Maine as a family was incredibly special. But my trip up the Beehive with my brother stands out in my memory not only because it was a gorgeous hike, but also because it was one of the most terrifying trails I've done. And I couldn't wait to share the same experience with friends.

Climbing the Beehive en Route to the Summit of Champlain Mountain

The Beehive is described as one of the most difficult trails in Acadia, but it's tough to understand why until you see it first-hand. The Beehive itself is just over 500 feet tall and the Beehive Cliffs Trail is only 0.8 miles long, but it's no ordinary footpath. The route weaves through the trees up exposed cliffs, along sloped granite faces, across ledges, and up iron rung ladders. It's not for the faint of heart, and the first time I did it, my fear of heights made the trail particularly challenging. But with the views in Acadia, dealing with a little fear is absolutely worth it.

Ascending the Beehive Cliffs Trail takes some
serious concentration and fear management.
The group of us staying at Blackwoods Campground agreed the Beehive would be one of our objectives on our second day of hiking in Acadia. We located the Beehive Cliffs Trailhead on our map, which is just north of Sand Beach, which is where we'd discussed parking to start the day. However, that day also happened to be one of the park's car-free mornings. It's a chance for cyclists and pedestrians to share sections Park Loop Road without worrying about private vehicles, which I love, thought it meant we had to get creative with transportation. We found an alternate driving route out of the campground north along Route 3, drove back south along Schooner Head Road, parked in an overlook parking lot, and walked west to Park Loop Road. We walked south along Park Loop Road until we found the Beehive Cliffs Trail to start the climb.

The beginning of the Beehive Cliffs Trail looks like most other Acadia trails - wide, steep, rocky, and sheltered by both coniferous and deciduous trees. Frequent blue blazes and clear signage made the trail easy to find and follow. We could see tiny figured picking their way up the cliffs high above us if we peeked through the trees.

Then, after about 15 minutes of hiking, things started to get interesting. We found our first exposed ledge, and shortly after, several of trail's trademark iron rungs drilled strategically into the side of the Beehive to give hikers something to hang on to in an effort to avoid tumbling over the cliffs. Comments like, "I can't believe they let people do this hike!" and, "it's like via feratta without the harness!" echoed among members of our group as we picked our way up the mountain. Every once in a while, I'd look back to catch a glimpse of Sand Beach on another beautiful bluebird day in Acadia.

I battled my fear of heights the entire way up, but unlike the majority of the group, I already knew what I was getting into! I was so impressed by how even those in the group who were scared managed to make it up without any trouble.

We made it to the top after about 45 minutes of hiking, including stops to make sure we were on the right route and to take a look around. The true summit lies a bit past the end of the heart-stopping iron-rung-climbing portion of the trail, and it's a great lunch spot as well. After a quick stop for snacks, we dropped down the back side of the Beehive toward the Bowl, a beautiful clear pond, to continue our hike. (If you're not interested in climbing Champlain Mountain like we were, the Bowl Trail descends gradually down the Beehive and can be used as an alternate route back to Sand Beach.)

Climbing Champlain Mountain and a Trip to Bar Harbor on the Island Explorer

After descending all the way down the Beehive to the Bowl, we picked up the Bear Brook Trail and headed north toward the summit of Champlain Mountain. The Bear Brook Trail climbs gradually up 600 vertical feet over flat exposed granite faces, through small stands of shrubs and coniferous trees, and generally provides hikers with incredible views the entire way up. 

All of Acadia's cairns look like the one in the center of the photo, marking trails for hikers when blue blazes are tough to see.
About 1.5 miles into our route up Champlain Mountain,  we found the summit and stopped for lunch. At that point, half the group decided to continue another 1-1.5 miles down the Bear Brook Trail to Park Loop Road while the other half planned to split off at the intersection with the Champlain East Face Trail. They'd continue down to Park Loop Road, walk along the road to the Precipice trailhead, and climb Champlain Mountain on a trail similar to what we'd confronted on the Beehive Cliffs Trail - exposed ledges, iron rungs, and steep cliffs - only steeper and longer.

I opted to join the group heading straight down from Champlain Mountain's 1,058' summit. After another hour or so of hiking, we found ourselves walking along Park Loop Road toward the entrance to Sieur de Monts in search of the Route 3 Island Explorer bus, which we'd take into Bar Harbor. We looked carefully at the bus schedule and found a bus that made it to the Sieur de Monts entrance with time enough to explore the nature center.

Heading down Champlain Mountain. Yes, this picture is of a real place. Beautiful, no?
After the bus ride into Bar Harbor, some chowder at Geddy's (highly recommended), and some souvenir shopping, we hopped the Route 3 Island Explorer bus back along Park Loop Road to the overlook to pick up our cars, then headed back to the campground to meet up with the rest of the group.

Our day of hiking up the Beehive and Champlain Mountain took us up one of Acadia's best known and most terrifying trails, and it was a blast. Take a look at our entire 4.65 mile route here. The Beehive Cliffs trail certainly isn't for the faint of heart and the right shoes are a must, as is taking your time along the more difficult sections. But the views from the top along with the views along the entire Bear Brook Trail are absolutely worth it.  And as we discovered again on our second day, the Island Explorer bus is an ideal way to get anywhere on the island. It's free, comes often, and you won't have to deal with the traffic jams Acadia is known for during the busy season.

Have you been to Acadia National Park? Have you done the Beehive before, or climbed Champlain Mountain? We'd love to hear from you in the comments! And be sure to grab a map and guidebook if you're planning on hiking in Acadia.

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