30 Tough Miles of Beauty and Bliss in Acadia National Park

Article by Abigail McIntosh

30 Tough Miles of Beauty and Bliss in Acadia National Park

The daylight woke me up — soft morning light streaming into our tent, making everything look tinted blue. It was time. I had planned, I had trained, I had been excited about doing something like this for a long time. My partner dropped me off at a narrow trailhead on the side of Route Three on Maine's treasured Mount Desert Island.

“Are you ready?” he asked, hanging out of the window. I looked toward where I was going.

The classic coastal fog of Acadia National Park had rolled in, coating the tops of trees in a frothy white.

“Never been more psyched,” I replied, grinning, and disappeared into the trees.

Running in Acadia first picture There is nothing like disappearing into the thick Acadia fog.

I had set out on a quest to run as much of the Carriage Trail System of Acadia National Park as I could in 2 days. I had never run such long distances alone.

I had been captivated by the Carriage Roads for months. Created by the Rockefeller family in the 1920s, the Carriage Roads wind and weave around and through the park for 45 miles, veined through with dozens of smaller footpaths and hiking trails.

The road is consistently about 16 feet wide, covered in gravel, and (in my opinion) one of the best ways to become acquainted with the park. Visitors can walk, hike, run, bike, or horseback ride on the network. The accessibility (fairly flat, wide, and free of roots) makes it a great way for all folks to get out into the woods.

During my visit to Acadia in August, 35 miles of the Carriage Roads were open. I had plotted the most continuous routes around the trail system as I possibly could. It ended up breaking down into two days and 30 miles.

Planning the route Plotting my course for the solo Carriage Road run.

Day 1 brought me from the Day Mountain Trail Head at the southern edge of the island all the way up to Eagle Lake. I passed 14 signposts and took only one wrong turn — it brought me up a mountain and I had to haul myself all the way back down to get to the place I wanted to be!

I passed a few other runners and what felt like hundreds of groups on bikes. I alternated between listening to a book on tape to keep me company, and the sounds of the park when I needed a break.

If you happen to find yourself at Acadia National Park, I highly recommend looking at the map and picking out some of the smaller parking areas at the fringes of the Carriage Roads. These access points are connected to some of my favorite stretches of trail: wide, airy, and filled with the feeling that you have suddenly entered into a hidden forest world.

I emerged at Eagle Lake at lunchtime on Day 1 feeling as though I had won the lottery. What a way to see a place! Running with the intention of seeing things — not just getting from point A to point B — had made me feel connected to myself and the park in an entirely new and unexpected way.

All throughout my first day's run, I found myself wondering what things were like in the park back when the trails were first made. I bought a book in Bar Harbor that night all about Acadia in the Roaring ’20s, and after a planning session for the next day’s run, settled into my sleeping bag to read.

sleeping bag Getting cozy in my sleeping bag.

The trails that I was running on were planned in response to the rising popularity of the automobile. John D. Rockefeller sought to create an oasis from the busy and noisy auto roads cropping up around the island, and so the Carriage Roads were born as an ode to quieter times and an escape from the quickly industrializing world outside.

inside of tent A peaceful reading spot before a long day of running.

I hit the Carriage Roads on Day 2 with a fresh dose of excitement — and knowledge. Dropped on the side of park loop road near Bubble Pond, I jumped onto the nearest Carriage Road access point and headed south. The final route would take me past Bubble Pond to Jordan Pond and then cut through the stretch of Carriage Road that ran right through the middle of the whole system.

Rain was in the forecast that day, and I had written out a route with a considerable amount of elevation gain (relative to the general flatness of the rest of the system). It became very apparent that it is difficult to have a bad day on the Carriage Roads. The misty rain made the dense trees, pond views, and surrounding mountains even more beautiful.

misty cliff image Beauty in Acadia's mist.

I highly recommend the Jordan Pond area of the Carriage Roads. There are many twists and turns, lots of stretches with trees arching over the trail, and a general feeling of magic in the air. The Jordan Pond visitor’s center is also a wonderful stop, but it is super busy in the summer season. There are plenty of other access points that allow visitors to find parking in less-frequented spots with a short walk to the Jordan Pond area.

After passing Jordan Pond, I zoomed through the heart of the Carriage Road system and emerged once again at Eagle Lake. One final loop around the Witch’s Hole loop, and my run would be complete.

running portrait The blissful feeling of completing my planned route of 30 miles along these historic roads.

Coming out of the woods after the Witch's Hole loop on Day 2 was the best feeling. I may well have won a marathon; my smile was that wide.

Two days of solo running through 30 miles of the Carriage Roads was behind me, and I had never felt so confident in my endurance. It is adventures like this one that change the way I think about what is possible.

GEAR List:

  • Aurora™ Highrise 4P - new, to be released in 2022, I had the pleasure of doing some field testing and it was perfectly dry even with the humidity and fog, and the roominess created a perfect home base after long days in the park.

  • Jazz™ Double - an update also to be released in 2022, the Jazz™ Double sleeping bag and Roamer™ Double sleeping pad made all the difference in the world on this trip. Not only did we feel at home, it was great for recovery after my long runs.

  • Roamer™ Double - this pad felt like sleeping in my bed at home, it was the perfect camp mattress to keep me fresh for trail running.

  • Puffin™ 2P - I never adventure without it!

The NEMO GOFAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures, and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it. Abigail McIntosh is a Customer Service Guide at NEMO and loves to trail run, to explore all that the New England seacoast has to offer, and to take camp adventures with her partner.