Want to watch the sunrise on Acadia National Park’s Cadillac Mountain? Try hiking the Cadillac North Ridge Trail for gorgeous views without a crowd.
One of the most popular things to do in Acadia National Park is to watch the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain.
Is it worth the hype?
Should you really get up that early?
What’s So Special About Cadillac Mountain?
First of all, it’s got a fantastic view of the sunrise. Your views won’t be blocked by trees or rocks.
But more famously, Cadillac Mountain rises to 1,532 feet and (for at least part of the year) is the first place to watch the sunrise in the continental Eastern United States.
That’s why it’s among my top 10 things to do in Acadia.
It probably goes without saying, but try to watch the sunrise on a day with a sunny, clear weather forecast. You won’t see a thing if it’s very cloudy or raining.
Should You Hike to the Summit or Drive?
There is a parking lot at the top of Cadillac Mountain. From the parking lot, you can easily stroll over to a viewpoint.
Clearly, driving is the easier way to go.
If driving is your preference, you’ll need a $6 vehicle pass if you’re visiting between May 26 and October 19.
Obviously though, we opted to hike. And that means hiking almost the entire path in the dark.
Is the Summit Crowded?
It can be. Because there’s a parking lot!
The good news is, if you hike up, it’s easy to find a gorgeous lookout just before the official summit area and watch the sunrise without a crowd. That’s what we did.
Trails to Cadillac Mountain
However, I’d seen firsthand how intimidating some of Acadia’s rung and ladder trails could be (such as the Beehive). So I wanted to make sure that we’d be hiking on trail with wide paths.
I wanted the type of trail that you can hike in the dark with a flashlight or head lamp and feel good about, without worrying about rock scrambles or cliffs.
There are lots of trail options to reach the Cadillac Mountain summit.
We opted to hike the Cadillac North Ridge Trail and it was a perfect choice.
Alternate Routes to the Summit
The Cadillac West Face Trail is another option, but reviews for this trail indicated that there are some steep drop-offs and that it’s not a good trail if you’re afraid of heights. That’s not what I wanted for a hike in the dark.
You could also hike to Cadillac Mountain via the Ladder Trail, but this trail includes rock scrambling and (presumably) ladders. Again, not my first choice for a hike in the dark.
The Cadillac South Ridge Trail was tempting, because it’s a slower incline than the North trail and the trailhead was within walking distance from our campsite. But at 6.7 miles total, this trail is much longer than the other options, and I was worried we’d miss the sunrise.
I’m happy we opted for the North Ridge Trail.
Is The Cadillac North Ridge a Difficult Trail?
Yes, it’s rated as a difficult trail.
This trail is 4.4 miles long (round-trip) with an elevation gain of 1,095 feet.
The trail is made up of lots of uneven, rocky path, but it’s always a fairly wide path. There were no steep drop-offs or cliff edges to navigate, so if you’re scared of heights, this trail probably won’t worry you.
What Equipment Should I Bring?
I recommend bringing your trekking pole if you normally use one.
Bring lots of water, and maybe a few snacks! I carried my Rupumpack daypack.
And of course, if you’ll be hiking in the dark, bring a way to light the path!
Don’t rely on your phone’s flashlight, you’ll probably want something brighter. I own this Black Diamond headlamp.
Getting to the Trailhead
There is a parking area near the trailhead. There were also quite a few areas where you could park alongside the road for this trail.
Hiking the Cadillac North Ridge Trail
Note that these photos were taken during the day so that you could see the trail better!
Start at the trailhead and then follow the blue trail blazes.
Expect to be going up, up and up some more.
Note that the trail blazes (generally) indicate the direction that the trail goes. That’s especially helpful if you’re hiking in the dark.
As you hike, watch your footing.
This trail has lots of uneven rocks and tree roots to step over.
This is a steep trail that just keeps going up.
Eventually, you’ll exit the forested area.
From this point on, you’ll also see rock cairns to indicate which way the trail goes.
Sunrise on the Cadillac North Ridge
If you’re doing a sunrise hike, you’ll start to see the sky changing colors long before the sun actually rises.
When you get close to the summit, I recommend finding a good view and stopping there.
The top will be crowded, and this way you can have the views all to yourself!
And on a clear day, the sunrise here is spectacular.
Take your time and enjoy it.
When you’re ready, continue on to the actual summit.
Or if you’re totally satisfied, you could just go ahead and head back down. We wanted to see the summit, though!
When you reach a set of stone stairs, you’re almost to the parking lot.
There will probably be quite a few people still there, even though some probably drove away as soon as the sun came up.
Continue following the trail until you reach the summit.
The summit marker is on the rock pictured below.
At this point, we turned around and went back down the way we came.
On the way down, we got to see everything we hiked past in the dark! There were lots of gorgeous wildflowers.
When you reach the trailhead, go back towards your car and enjoy the rest of your stay in Acadia!