CAVES IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
THE SECRET CAVES OF ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
First off is why do I refer to the caves of acadia National Park as secret? Many of the cvaves of Acadia began as well marked caves with trails or paths leading to them, and promoted by the national Park Service. but the caves soon became too popular with the summer visitors and the National Park Service abandoned them, removing the trail signs, and disguising as best they could the location of these caves. The Park Service even approached the map makers and requested that they "Remove" the caves off their newer maps, which the map makers did.
This means in order to locate those old caves today you need to access old maps, and thankfully there are several websites today that have copies of old maps posted free for the public to access. One such site is "Old Maps of Acadia National Park" - a site dedicated to keeping lost and abandoned sites within Acadia National Park alive.
For this piece I will focus on what was once the three most popular caves in Acadia National Park, Anemone Cave, The Great Cave and the Bear Cave, There are other caves within the National Park here, such as the caves of Day Mountain, but other websites and blogs pretty much cover those caves. I will focus on the three major caves which all are well mapped out and fairly easy to find.
I will begin with anemone Cave - an ancient sea cave that can only be entered at low tide. If you go there at high tide, there will be nothing to see because at high tide the cave is well under water. This fact also means the inside of the cave, even at low tide, is extremely slippery, so good hiking boots are very helpful.
Anemone Cave was once one of the Acadia National Park's crown jewels, so much so it was at one time one of the most popular locations within the park. Anemone Cave was once listed on maps, and there was large signs directing visitors to it. Once you reached the Schooner Head Overlook parking lot, there was signs directing you to a paved path which ran through the woods to a high cliff over looking the sea, with more signs directing you to the right, where an iron railing helped safely guide visitors down the steep cliff to the mouth of the cave.
The National Park Service has sited different reasons why Anemone Cave was abandoned, one being that visitors to the cave were destroying the sea life that lived in the tide pools within the cave, including anemone, for which the cave was named after. Other reasons for abandoneding Anemone cave are that too many people were getting trapped in the cave as the tide rose, whcih meant the park Service had to dispatch its search and rescus teams to help safely remove people from the cave. And than there was the injures, common due to the fact the floor of the cave is extremely slippery.
I had always heard that there was yet another reason that anemone Cave ended up being abandoned by the National Park Service, and that was because people had drowned in the cave - how many people we don't know because the Park Service says it doesn't keep such figures. It seemed possible that people had drowned in the cave given the fact that you only have four hours in which to safely explore the cave. You have two hours before the low tide mark, and two hours after the low tide mark, that is when the cave is above water.
I have an online site listing the deaths which have taken place over the years in Acadia National Park - DEATHS IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, and of the deaths which have taken place in the park, I was only able to find one documented death which was directly connected to Anemone Cave.
One day two local college students spent much of the day rock climbing, using ropes to assist them. One of those young students was Douglas Rose. As evening came on, the two had made their way from Great Head to the area near Anemone Cave and were about to call it a day, when they decided to do one final climb down to the mouth of anemone Cave Once inside the cave the two rigged their gear in such a way as to allow them to be able to examine the ceiling of the cave when the weather outside the cave began to turn bad.
Clouds and rain approached the area and with it the sea became rougher, creating much larger waves.
Soon those larger waves began reaching into the cave and the two students began to take down their gear. But by the time they were ready to exit the cave, they were met with each attempt by large waves which tossed them back into the cave. The cave was filling rapidly with water and both students by than knew they were in for a life and death battle and one can only imagine what was going through their minds during those desperate moments.
Finally one student got free of the cave and was able to locate one of the ropes which led up tio the top of the cliff, and somehow he found the energy to climb that rope to safety, but for the friend still trapped below, there would be no happy ending.
The one who made it to safety made his way to get help for his friend, but the storm became worse and any rescue attempt would have to wait until after the sea calmeded down. The following day a search team went down to the cave and retrived the body of Douglas rose from inside the cave.
A full account of this tragic story can be found on DEATHS IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK.
In all likelihood the stories found in books that make mention of other deaths in the cave are most likely true, because it is highly likely that since the 1800's other deaths have also occurred in that ancient sea cave.
To locate Anemone Cave, you need to reach the Schooner Head Overlook parking area. You can reach that parking area by one of two ways, the first is to drive from Bar Harbor and follow route 3 in the direction of Otter Creek. As your leaving Bar Harbor, turn onto the Schooner Head Road, located just before Jackson Labs. Follow the Schooner Head Road until you come to a four way intersection and turn left into the Schooner Head Overlook parking area.
The other way is to follow the One Way section of the Park Loop road until you pass the large sign for the Precipice parking lot. Continue on a short ways and get into the left hand lane as you begin to see the Entrance Fee Station ahead. Do not drive through the fee station, instead take a left hand turn right before the fee station, this will lead to a four way intersection. Drive straight ahead into the Schooner Head Overlook parking area.
Now that you have reached the parking area, look for a narrow paved path which leads down through the woods. Today there is a short section of wood rail fence by the path but that may not always be there.
When the path comes out onto the cliff, you are standing on the roof of the cave. To the right there once was an iron railing which helped safely get people down to the mough of the cave.
Some approach the cave from the left by following a rough trail along the cliff to the left, and once you come to a gully which runs downward and back toward the cave, they follow the gully down to the cave entrance.
Keep in mind that Anemone Cave is today an abandoned site and you should wear a good pair of hiking boots when attempting to enter it, and take along a cell phone in case you should have an accident. One day I saw a young couple go down to the cave and move around inside it with ease, they were wearing a set of those ice grippers people wear on their boots in winter time so moving about on those slippery rocks was no problem for them.
Saving the best for last, the next cave is known as the Bear Cave, or the Bear's Den. This cave appears on old maps dating back to the 1800's and once had a hiking trail leading from town to the mouth of the cave. The majority of the trail today is gone and it took us some time to locate the location of this cave, in part because back than there was no National Park here, which means there was no Park Loop road. When the Park Loop road was constructed, a good section of the trail was destroyed.
After several attempts my oldest son located the location of this cave and told me i would not beleve how close to the Park Loop road it was. He said you could stand at the side of the roadway and look into the woods and see the openning of the cave. With his instructions, we went to the area and quickly located the old Bear Cave, and to my surprise I had biked and hiked right past it nurorus times and never saw it, but clearly others had since there was a well worn path leading from the roadside to the mouth of the cave.
To locate the Bear's Den, drive along the One Way Section of the Park Loop Road until you come to a large pond on the right. Just before the pond you will pass the turn off for the Sieur de Monts spring, Wild Gardens area - stay on the Park Loop road.
Once you come to the pond on the right, drive past it and pull into the pull over up ahead on the left by the curve in the road. Directly across from the pull over is a large wall of ledge, cross the road and walk in the same direction as the traffic until the wall of ledge lowers down to ground level and look into the woods. You will see a large dark area in the woods with a well worn path leading to it, that is the Bear Cave.
The cave is large enough to bend down and enter, and the cave itself enters a short ways to the right into the mountain side. One good photo from the cave is to enter it and take a photo looking outward toward the road.
So this brings us to The Great Cave, clearly the largest cave in Acadia national Park. People were hiking to the Great Cave as early as the mid 1800's, when two 12 year old school girls hiked up to that area. Just above the Great Cave the two girls stood upon a large boulder, when the boulder gave way, tossing one girl off to the side with minor injures and carrying the other 12 year old down the mountain side to her death. The full account of this tragic accident can be found in my blog DEATHS IN ACADIE NATIONAL PARK.
Old accounts found in old books stated that the Great Cave openning was 100 feet wide by 100 feet high, and that the cave itself ran about 100 feet back into the mountain side. When I first read of this cave I had to learn more about it and locate where it was. We knew by the stories that is was located on the side of Champlain Mountain, in an area known as the Precipice. Finding an old map with the Great Cave marked on it helped in our search, but it was not us who located its location but others who had followed my online posts about the cave that actually located it and took the first known photos of it.
What we have since learned is that the cave is truly a Great Cave, with about an openning about a 100 feet tall, but nowhere as wide, and the cave runs about a hundred feet back into the mountainside. And thanks to The GPS information submitted by Zhanna Galas and we are very thankful for this much needed .
Talus slope: 44.349697, -68.189670
Split with official Precipice trail: 44.349656, -68.189792
First sign of a trail in the woods: 44.349473, -68.190019
Steps to cave: 44.349164, -68.190296
Great Cave: 44.349101, -68.190362
We also have to thank Nick Thorndike for locating the second half of the Great Cave loop, without his discovery that half of the trail would still be lost.
So the Great Cave was always there, even when the famous trail builder, Rudolph Brunnow, built his popular Precipice trail up one side of champlain Mountain. But there were other trails within Acadia National Park that were much easier to reach back than, Brunnow needed to come up with a way to lure more hikers to his newly built trail up the Precipice. To do this, he built the Murry's Lane trail, as well as the Red Trail, today reopenned and renamed the Schooner Head trail. Brunnow also built the famous Hanging Steps, also abandoned today by the Park Service - a set of huge granite Steps held in place by iron pins in a way so that the steps appear to hang in mid air.
But Burnnow finally turned his attention to an area of the Precipice known as the Great Cave, because he knew by building a trail to the Great Cave would accomplish what he wanted to, luring large numbers to his Precipice master pieve. Once build, for years the great cave Loop off of the precipice trail served as a popular side trip, than one day the park service abandoned the Great cave loop and for many long years the location of the lost cave remained a mystery.
Today, with the use of old maps and research, we now know the exact location of the Great Cave. Once you arrive at the precipice parking lot, you hike up the Precipice trail until you come to an area of the trail known as the "Turn-a-round." The park service placed this area in the trail to encourage hikers with less experience to turn around and head back to the parking lot. There is good reason for doing this, as a number of people over the years have fallen from the narror cliffs of the Precipice to their deaths. Others have escaped death from their falls but ended up with very serious injures. In fact, most people that fall off the Precipice usually end up being carried off to a major hospital off the island in a helicopter, so this is truely a very dangerous trail.
But you do not have to go as far up the trail as those narrow dangerous cliffs in order to reach the Great Cave. Once you get over those first few iron rungs on the huge boulder at the Turn-a-round, you soon come to a large boulder field. At the boulder field, the offical Precipice trail goes right, and the old abandoned Great Cave Loop goes left, right up through the center of that boulder field.
You head upward along the boulder field heading toward a dark area in the woods above. Once at the woods, there is a well worn path heading upward to the mouth of the cave. Now if you want the safer route, return the way you came. This way you avoid all the very narrow cliffs where so many have been injured or killed. If you want to follow the rest of the Great cave Loop, look around the sides of the great cave for an almost hidden long series of stone steps. The steps lead upward and over the top of the great cave, before coming to a flattened area. A short ways ahead the path comes to an area where there is a metal bridge connecting two ledges together. Once you cross the bridge, the trail soon joins the official Precipice trail on the upper end, not far from the summit of champlain Mountain.
So the Turn-a-round is what gives many hikers a serious problem, those few iron rungs in that huge boulder where placed in a way to make many give up on hiking the Precipice. Buyt if you are looking for another route to reach the Great Cave and avoid the turn=a=round, you will need to hike the Black and Orange trail until it reaches the Precipice trail. Just below is the boulder field which leads up toward the Great Cave.
To find the Orange and Black Trail, begin at the Precipice parking lot. From there walk out to the Park Loop road and take a left, heading against traffic. Walk up along the left hand side of the road until you reach the trail head for the Orange and black trail. Taking this route to the Great cave will add some time to your hike, as this route rises and falls along a series of stone steps. This section of the Orange and black trail is an official trail, the other end of this trail, was abandoned by the Park service and is the section of the trail which has the famous Hanging Steps.
George B. dorr, whom many consider the Father of acadia National Park, was so impressed mwith the work Brunnow had done in building the precipice that Mr Dorr had a mini version of the Precipice built off Spring street, along a ledge wall across from the wading pool. Signs of the mini Precipice with its narrow ledge and iron rungs no longer exsist, most likely torn down many years ago. As far as the Great Cave goes, all who have hiked up to it all agree, it was a hike well worth taking and tjat the great cave truely is a Great cave.