Explore the Sieur de Monts Historic Trails in Acadia National Park
Hemmed in golden ferns and fiery foliage, the historic Jesup Path boardwalk stretched out in front of us. Maples, birches, and aspens towered overhead, their leaves turning from green to crimson, peach, and countless shades of orange and yellow.
Fall had arrived in Acadia National Park.
To take advantage of the magnificent but fleeting palette of colors, my husband and I decided to visit Sieur de Monts, a place known as the birthplace of the park. Situated at the foot of Dorr Mountain, the region includes the Sieur de Monts spring, a nature center, the Acadian wild gardens and the historic Abbe museum. It is also a starting point for some of the oldest trails and memorial trails in the park, which feature remarkable stones.
A short drive from downtown Bar Harbor, Sieur de Monts is located at one of the park entrances. It’s a popular spot, and in the height of the fall foliage season, I knew it would be crowded. So we arrived in the afternoon, well after the morning rush of visitors.
Sometimes this trick works, sometimes it doesn’t. In this case we found a free parking space so I judged it to be a success.
The Jesup Trail runs along the edge of the Great Meadow, which is a 116-acre wetland that surrounds a section of Cromwell Creek. The western part of the wetland is dominated by red maples, which are among the most colorful trees in fall. Plus, white birch stands offer yellow foliage, while tall grasses, sedges, and prairie ferns take on lovely shades of burnt orange and gold.
The trail, which is wheelchair accessible, stretches from the northern edge of the Grande Prairie to the shore of the Tarn, a picturesque pond at the foot of Dorr Mountain. Much of it is an elevated boardwalk, which allows water from the Great Meadow wetland to flow freely below, while keeping hikers dry.
Jesup Road intersects with Hemlock Road, forming a figure eight about 1.5 miles long and fairly smooth and flat.
During our walk, we stopped to chat with a group of women. I think our dog, Juno, caught their attention. One of them noticed my camera and suggested that I find some great photo opportunities on nearby Homans Road. Sometimes suggestions from others lead to the best adventures, so I referenced my trail map (made by Maine-based company Map Adventures) and changed our route to follow Hemlock Road to Homans Road.
Climbing the rugged northeast slope of Dorr Mountain, the Homans Trail is constructed from hundreds of granite boulders, which form fanciful stairs, paths, and tunnels. Just 0.3 mile long, the steep path climbs halfway up the mountain to join Emery Path, which we followed even further up the mountain.
Along the way, on both Homans Path and Emery Path, we enjoyed a clear view that included The Great Meadow, with Cromwell Creek meandering through the center. Beyond the prairie, the Porcupine Islands dotted the ocean. And to the southeast, Huguenot Head and Mont Champlain blocked the view.
As we walked I told my husband Derek that we were hiking some of the oldest trails in Acadia. (I had just read about this not too long ago while researching the park.) George Dorr, one of Acadia’s founders and the park’s first director, oversaw the construction of six trails leading from Sieur de Monts Spring to the top of Dorr Mountain from 1913 to 1916. Homans, Emery and Jesup are among the six.
The six trails are known as Memorial Trails because they are named after a person. Dorr, who credited Andrew Liscomb for the development and construction of the trails in Sieur de Monts, used the concept of memorial trails as a means of funding trail construction. People who funded a trail could name it after someone they chose.
“So all of these trails are named after the rich – or someone the rich cared about a lot,” I explained to Derek as we huffed and puffed up a stone staircase.
The Jesup Path, for example, was named after Morris and Maria Jesup, philanthropists who supported projects across Mount Desert Island. Morris was one of the founders of the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association. After her death, Maria provided money to build the Jesup Memorial Library, which was dedicated in 1911 in memory of her husband.
Homans Path was named after Eliza Lothrop Homans for her significant donations of land to Acadia, including the Beehive and Bowl area, while Lela Emery provided the funds to build the Emery Path, which was completed in 1916 in memory of her husband John Josiah Emery.
From Emery Path we could have taken the Schiff Path to the top of Dorr Mountain, but we didn’t feel the need. We had already enjoyed some great views and dinner time was approaching. Also, we should have turned around as dogs are not allowed on the Ladder Trail. (Dogs can’t climb ladders, after all.)
I think this little adventure brings home the importance of carrying a detailed trail map in Acadia National Park, as well as doing some research ahead of time. There are a handful of no-dog trails, and for good reason. Plus, a map makes it easy to change your route for any reason.
So we chose to descend the mountain on the Kurt Diederich climb, another historic commemorative trail. The 0.4 mile steep trail led to the Tarn, where we hopped onto the Jesup Path, making a full circle. The winding hike was about 2.5 miles long and gave us plenty of opportunities to admire the vibrant foliage and enchanting stone of Acadia National Park.