Sweeping views. Wild berries. Steep stone steps and pushing your heart rate to its max.
And all within a one mile trail.
This is what Dorr Mountain in Acadia National Park has to offer. It's been on my bucket list since we moved to Maine, so when Shaun (The Bearded Mainer) asked if I'd help him with a surprise proposal he was photographing, I was all too happy to say yes.
And since all I knew about the ladder trail--his planned route--was that it was pretty strenuous, I wanted to get familiar with the trail before doing it for a job. I packed snacks, promised my kids ice cream, and off to MDI we went.
The Ladder Trail
There are about a dozen ways to climb Dorr--it's one of the reasons I had yet to hike this mountain. Agreeing to help Shaun gave me a specific route up--the ladder trail, which is the shortest, if not most challenging way up. And there are still several places you can park, depending on how much length you want to add to the front or back end of the hike.
On our scouting adventure, I chose the parking lot on the north end of the Tarn, and we took the Kane path behind the lake.
The Tarn is half a mile point to point, and the Kane path is basically one big rock scramble behind it. There were areas that the lake had flooded over parts of the trail. There were places where we couldn't entirely tell where the trail was and just climbed over boulders that seemed to be going in the right direction. My kids wanted to stop for lunch on several of the "picnic rocks." We saw spiders, frogs, and fish, and honestly starting with this path was one of the best choices we made. It's just fun. And knowing what's ahead, my kids needed fun to remind them of why they enjoy hiking, before we hit the steps leading up the mountain.
At that half mile point the path enters the forest, and intersects with the ladder trail--to the left, a short set of steps to roadside parking. To the right...The Ladder.
I can divide this trail into four sections:
The first 1/4 mile: this is the hardest part. The trail starts vertical. Stone steps, carved from local granite, rising nearly from sea level. The grade hits up to 72% in places, and averages 50% overall. This is a mental climb. The trail has just started, there aren't a lot of views, it's steep, narrow, and hard.
At the 1/4 mile point, you get to the first ladder. Now the trail is still steep, and more technically difficult, weaving in very narrow crevices and up ladders bolted into the rocks--but the mental challenge eases up a bit. There's variety. There are breaks in the trees, where you can look down and see Rt 3, so far below you. The Jackson Lab, and and the ocean in the distance. You've made visible progress!
At half a mile, you've completed about 75% of the total climb. The steps are over, and while there are still steep sections to come, there's a slight break in ascent, and most importantly...blueberries! If you make it here during blueberry season, at this point the trail rewards you with endless lowbush blueberries, right on the trail, and on the rock face just off the trail.
In Acadia, it's legal to forage berries, provided you are only using them for personal consumption, and don't take more than a dry half-gallon per person, per day.
When I say these blueberries saved our hike, I am in no way exaggerating. We went through almost all of our water in that first half a mile. We had snacks, but hadn't brought anything sweet since we knew we'd be getting ice cream afterwards. Those first few blueberries were ambrosia. Sweet and hydrating, but the dopamine boost of finding wild food just when you needed it most? I've read a lot of memoirs from AT thru-hikers, and I suddenly, truly understood why in every one the author points out their excitement every time they find wild fruit to snack on.
We took at least a half hour stop, if not longer, collecting berries and generally just exclaiming with excitement every time we found a new patch. We left plenty for the deer and other critters and were still able to stuff ourselves silly, all while sticking to the trail and the rock faces.
Which brings me to the fourth part of the trail, which is the last half mile. Even without a stop for berries, this half feels easy compared to the first half. More views of the Mt. Desert Narrows, of the Porcupine Islands, and of Bar Harbor peek out. Cairns mark the trail alongside blue blazes painted onto the rocks. And finally, you're at the top.
Well, almost--to truly hit the summit you need to turn left an continue for another .1 mile, but this is an easy stretch, and ends with a large rock pile and a sign marking the summit, with 270 views, and a large panorama of Cadillac Mountain to the west.
To come down Dorr, there are options. Retrace your steps, if you think your knees can handle it. With the kids, we went halfway down and connected with the Schiff Trail, to the Kurt Dietrich which led us almost to the parking lot on the north side of the Tarn. Or you can keep going, to the Wild Gardens of Acadia. With Shaun, we took the North Ridge trail which allows for almost constant views towards Bar Harbor and the Schoodic Peninsula, connecting eventually to the Hemlock Path which gives more options in the Sieurs de Monts area of the park. Or, if you haven't had enough climbing, you can head down the west side and then back up Cadillac for a double summit day.
After doing this trail twice in one week, I joked and said I was good for awhile--but honestly I'd do it again today if I had the chance. It's hard. The first time I went up, I thought my periodic nausea was because of the spicy chicken sandwich I'd had for lunch, and that I needed more water. But four days later I did it again first thing in the morning, after stretching, hydrating, and fueling my body with some of my most tried and true performance foods. So really, it's just a hard trail. It was hot that second day, and I struggle with heat exhaustion--yes, something that can still occur in Maine. And the mental challenge in that first quarter mile really can't be overstated. I want to try it in the fall, when it's cooler and some of the leaves have started to fall so there are even more chances to take in the scenery, but before snow and ice start to settle in. And would do it again next summer during blueberry season for sure.
But it's a fun trail. And because it's so difficult, it's so rewarding when you reach the top.
Overall Family-Friendly Rating: 2/5
If you're going with kids, I recommend this one for babies in carriers, or for kids who are old enough and experienced enough to handle tough terrain. As I mentioned before, it's a mental challenge as much as physical. It's hard, and if kids are likely to wear out quickly it's not a trail that's going to be easy to carry them up if you aren't prepared, or if they are too big for a carrier. There are a lot of steep places--thankfully not many drop-offs, but the steps themselves are a hazard if you lose your balance, or if they are wet and definitely if there is any ice.
That said, if you can make it during blueberry season, it's really exciting. The Kane path was really fun and a great way for my kids to start this trail. I wanted to combine it with the Wild Gardens and the Sieurs de Monts spring, which didn't happen thanks to a 7 year old who was desperate for ice cream, but offers a nice easy end to the trail if you're able to.
In summary: It's hard. But it's doable, and so, so worth it.