If you’re planning a trip to Acadia, you’ve probably considered catching a sunrise at Cadillac Mountain, and for good reason! Not only is Cadillac the highest peak in the park, it’s also the highest point on the eastern seaboard and provides visitors with magnificent, sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean, glacial coastline, and island landscape.
Homeland of the Wabanaki and key viewpoint for 17th century European cartographers, Cadillac has been summited by people for thousands of years. Its pink granite surface is speckled with foamy green lichen and punctuated with alpine blueberries and wind-swept pine trees. But perhaps the most stunning sight is the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain. From October to March, the 1530 ft peak is the first place in the United States for the sun to touch, but sunrise views are spectacular no matter the time of year.
Hiking Cadillac Mountain
There are three routes for hiking Cadillac Mountain, ranging from 2.5 miles to 7.1 miles roundtrip:
- North Ridge Trail: Beginning at the Park Loop Road, this 4.4 mile trail begins up stone stairs through the woods but quickly opens up, providing hikers with frequent vistas and granite slopes. It takes an average of 2-4 hours to complete out and back and is the most popular route for hiking Cadillac Mountain.
- South Ridge Trail: This 7.1 mile route begins at the Backwoods Campground in the southern end of the island and takes a gradual ascent up Cadillac. The first half of the climb is in forest, passing the Featherbed Pond while the second portion follows an exposed granite ridge. It takes a total of 3-6 hours to complete.
- Gorge Path to Summit Loop: The shortest path up Cadillac, this 2.5 mile trail begins off the Park Loop Road—note limited parking. The trail heads into a forested area with a boardwalk and small streams before reaching the junction with the Dorr Mountain summit trail. It is a rocky and steeper ascent to Cadillac summit and takes an average of 1-2 hours to complete.
Planning Your Cadillac Mountain Sunrise Hike
While every trail is wonderful in its own right, our plan for an Acadia sunrise hike takes the convenient North Ridge Trail, perfect for hikers of all skill levels. The journey begins not at the trailhead, but in your warm and cozy bed at the Bar Harbor Motel. The motel property offers direct access to Acadia’s trails via the Duck Brook path. Departing for your Cadillac Mountain sunrise hike from your room at the motel eliminates the struggle of trailhead parking and summit road fees. You can prepare for hiking Cadillac Mountain in the comfort of your room, eat or pack a quick breakfast, and even borrow hiking gear from the front desk.
Your Route From the Bar Harbor Motel Up Cadillac Mountain North Ridge TrailOut & Back Length: 7.5 miles
Approximate Time: 3-6 hours
- Follow the road through the motel property until you reach the back where you’ll see signs for the path into Acadia National Park on your right. It can be helpful to scope out the trail entrance the day before as you’ll be approaching it in the dark for your Cadillac Mountain sunrise hike. You can ask a staff member to point it out if you’re having trouble finding it.
- The motel connects with Duck Brook Path, an easy-going packed dirt and wood chip path entering the park. Follow for .3 miles where the path intersects with Paradise Hill Road.
- Rather than passing under the bridge, climb the bank onto Paradise Hill Road and turn left to continue.
- Follow the paved road for a little under 1 mile, staying aware of passing vehicles. After eight tenths of a mile, you will pass the intersection with Cadillac Entrance Road. Keep right and follow signs for Cadillac Mountain. You’ll pass another bridge going over Eagle Lake Road shortly before coming upon the North Ridge trailhead. There is limited vehicle parking on both sides of the road.
- The trail begins on the left with a gravel path through the woods bridging Paradise Hill Road and Park Loop Road. Cross Park Loop Road and continue up the trail, beginning with a set of stone steps. Watch your footing on the first 1.5 miles as the wooded section of the trail is rocky. After that, the path becomes steeper but enjoy Cadillac’s flat granite slabs like sidewalks on your journey.
- Continue to follow blue blazes and cairns and enjoy swaths of night sky as the trail becomes more exposed. At the fork shortly before the summit, keep right. The Cadillac North Ridge trail ends on the north side of the summit parking lot. You can take in additional vistas by walking the paved summit loop, grab a hot coffee in the gift store, or just head toward the south side to claim your spot and watch the sunrise.
Ensuring You Make it for Cadillac Mountain Sunrise Time
Sunrise in Acadia National Park is different depending on the time of year and hikers of differing experience levels will take different lengths of time to complete their Cadillac Mountain sunrise hike, so you will need to plan your departure time accordingly.
The sunrise itself typically lasts an hour and half with the most brilliant colors often revealing themselves in the middle. It’s up to you how long you would like to watch the sunrise, but the following table can be helpful in planning your estimated arrival time.
|Time of Year||Start of Sunrise||End of Sunrise|
|May 24 – July||4 am||5:30 am|
|August||4:30 am||6 am|
|September||5 am||6:30 am|
|October 1-15||5:30 am||7 am|
|October 15-22||6 am||7:30 am|
The full hike up this route from the Bar Harbor Motel to the summit takes anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours so budget according to your typical hiking speed. Keep in mind that hiking in the dark can require you to slow down and pay more attention to the placement of your feet to avoid injury. You can use your preferred weather app, like AccuWeather, to check the Cadillac Mountain sunrise time on the specific day of your hike.
What to Bring on Your Acadia Sunrise Hike
At more than 7 miles, this route for hiking Cadillac Mountain is no walk in the park—pun intended. You should be prepared for your Acadia sunrise hike so that you can fully enjoy the beauty and walk away ready for another day of Acadia adventures.
What you wear is incredibly important! The Cadillac Mountain North Ridge trail is exposed and windy, and can often be 20+ degrees cooler at night than your daytime experience of Acadia National Park. Yet hiking is hard work that can quickly get you sweaty! It’s best to wear layers, including a wind breaker that you can add or remove as you climb. A small daypack can be useful for holding extra clothes.
You should also plan on wearing durable hiking boots with a decent tread to help you stay on your feet across the rocky terrain. Ensuring your boots are properly fitted and laced tightly to keep your ankles secure is key to avoiding injury.
Headlamps or flashlights are a must and other helpful items like trekking poles can make going in the dark easier. Talk to the front desk staff of the Bar Harbor Motel to see what hiking equipment we have available for guests to borrow.
Plan on bringing water and easy trail snacks like granola bars, dried fruit, jerky and trail mix. You may not be hungry at 3am when you get started but we bet you will be when you reach the summit! The Cadillac Mountain Eco Store gift shop also offers some grab and go food, cold beverages, and coffee. There’s nothing quite like munching on a pop tart and sipping hot coffee while you watch the sun raise its head above the Atlantic horizon.
The Return From Cadillac Mountain Summit
When you’ve had your fill of blazing sunrise or the chill atop Cadillac has gotten to you, it’s time to head back down. This is secretly our favorite part. On your way up, darkness hid most of the landscape and your motivation to arrive in time for sunrise kept your focus away from all the interesting details. But on the way down, you can take it slow and marvel at Maine’s coastal ecosystem spread out before you. And if you’re already antsy to explore more of Acadia National Park, consider heading down one of the other two trails to continue your adventures.
You’ll be back at your room by 9 am and hey, we won’t judge if you want to crawl back into bed and recover some of those lost hours of sleep. Or you can head to continental breakfast for fresh muffins, bagels, fruit and more to fuel your expeditions back into Acadia.
Driving to the Top of Cadillac
A road was constructed to the summit in 1931 and since then, sunrise at Cadillac Mountain has become an ever more popular attraction for visitors to Mount Desert Island. To help minimize the impact of vehicles on the Summit Road, a vehicle reservation is required to drive to the summit of Cadillac Mountain.