Grand loop up Sargent Mountain tops hikes in Acadia National Park

A terrific aspect of hikes in Acadia National Park is that people can almost always get back to the start without retracing steps.

hikes in acadia national park

Brilliant foliage frames Jordan Pond, as seen from the Jordan Cliffs Trail, part of a grand loop up Sargent Mountain that is best done in late summer and fall.

Acadia’s tight, carefully designed network of 150 miles of trails allow hikers to create a  nearly countless number of loop trips.

There are many circular hikes in Acadia National Park, but perhaps none more spectacular than the “grand loop” from Jordan Cliffs to Sargent Mountain, the park’s second highest peak behind Cadillac, and then up Penobscot Mountain, the fifth highest summit, back to the Jordan Pond parking lot with a stop at lovely Sargent Mountain Pond along the way.

This 5-mile loop capped another banner hiking season for us in Acadia.

We walked it on a warm sunny day in October with the park displaying some astonishing autumn yellow, red and orange. Unlike the often-hectic summer, when parking is tight, we quickly found a space at the lot outside the Jordan Pond House, the park’s only restaurant.

The loop begins and ends near the southern end of Jordan Pond and launches from the historic 1.3-mile Spring Trail, which fully opened around 1917 after being built by Thomas McIntire, who used to own and operate the Jordan Pond House. The early hiking-book author, Benjamin F. DeCosta, described part of the Spring Trail in 1871 when he walked from Sargent Mountain to Jordan Pond, according to “Pathmakers,” a National Park Service book.

hikes in acadia national park

Sargent East Cliffs Trail aflame with the red of blueberry bushes in fall, on the loop up from Jordan Cliffs to the second highest peak in Acadia.

“Pathmakers” details history, craft of hikes in Acadia National Park

Unlike maybe any other publication, “Pathmakers” is vital for understanding the history of hikes in Acadia National Parks  and the incredible trail work of various village improvement societies and park founder George B. Dorr , lawyer Waldron Bates, of the eponymous cairns, Princeton Professor Rudolph E. Brunnow and Andrew Liscombe, superintendent of the Bar Harbor VIA district tails, who did 40 years of trail work and was a contemporary of people such as Dorr, Bates and Brunnow.

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Jordan Cliffs would be impossible without this handhewn log bridge.

“Pathmakers” describes the origin of many hikes in Acadia National Park including Jordan Cliffs, which soar above Jordan Pond and offer spectacular views of the pond and the Cranberry Isles. The cliffs are closed for several months during the nesting of Peregrine Falcons, but the trail opens by early August and allows people to negotiate a series of handrails, iron rungs and a special wooden bridge with notched steps to reach the eastern shoulder of Sargent.

Reached after a short walk on the Spring Trail, the Jordan Cliffs Trail is less treacherous than the nearby Precipice Trail, another with iron rungs and ladders that goes vertically on the east face of Champlain Mountain.

We connected with the Sargent East Cliffs Trail and ascended the 1,373-foot summit of Sargent, which provided us with unparalleled views of Cadillac Mountain, the Cranberry Isles, Long Pond, Somes Sound and Norumbega Mountain.

From the peak of Sargent, we traveled the historic Sargent South Ridge Trail, noted in a scramble in 1885 by Clara Barnes Martin in one of the earliest guides to hikes in Acadia National Park and appearing on maps by 1893.

We took a left off Sargent South Ridge, and headed on the Penobscot Mountain Trail toward Penobscot Mountain.

Sargent Pond possibly first lake created in Maine by receding glaciers

In a gap between Sargent and Penobscot, we paused at placid Sargent Mountain Pond, possibly the first lake created in Maine by the glaciers that retreated during the final Ice Age. And at about 1.25 acres,  it is the smallest of 23 lakes and ponds in the Mount Desert Island section of the park, according to a study by the National Park Service. It is also a popular swimming spot during the summer and with the late October temperatures so comfortably high, we were also tempted to take a dip.

sargent mountain pond

Sargent Mountain Pond is the only pond or lake in Acadia without any fish. The characteristics of its high elevation watershed may make it naturally fishless, although there are anecdotal reports of unauthorized fish introduction, according to the National Park Service.

Instead, we sat on an old wooden bench along the pond and enjoyed the peace of the quiet time of year in Acadia.

Steeply from the pond’s shores, we headed to the peak of 1,194-foot Penobscot and took in great views of the Cranberry Isles to the south, Pemetic Mountain and Cadillac to the east, north to Sargent and Parkman Mountain and Bald Peak to the west.

From Penobscot, we descended the entire length of the Spring Trail, after hiking only a small portion at the start to reach the beginning of the Jordan Cliffs Trail.

The Spring Trail, which also has some iron rungs, boulders and ledges, is one of the more crowded hikes during the summer, but we saw no one else during our descent back to Jordan Pond. After it was constructed, the Spring Trail fast became the preferred route to Penobscot and it still includes an old granite bench with a nice view over the pond.

We’ve completed a lot of hikes in Acadia National Park, but perhaps few more memorable than the “grand loop” on the late October day.

hikes in acadia national park

On the way down Penobscot Mountain Trail, to close the grand loop.

What it’s like to hike Jordan Cliffs, as shown in video and photos

hikes in acadia national park

Start of the Jordan Cliffs Trail features this warning, similar to those at the beginning of the Precipice, Beehive and other trails with fixed iron rungs.

mdi marathon

We enjoyed meeting Sarah Corson and Dick Atlee along the Jordan Cliffs Trail, which they hadn’t hiked in a number of years. At this relatively flat spot on the trail, Atlee mentioned to us that when he first saw the warning sign at the beginning, he hoped the iron rungs were, indeed, fixed.

hikes in acadia national park

South Bubble is hard to recognize from this angle, looking down from the Jordan Cliffs Trail.

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First set of fixed iron rungs to help you up the cliff face.

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This iron handrail helps you descend to the top of the sawtoothed log bridge.

hikes in acadia national park

You need to clamber down roots and rocks to get to the top of the unique log bridge of Jordan Cliffs.

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Looks scary, but if you hold onto both handrails, walk gingerly and don’t look down, you should be OK.

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Next set of iron rungs.

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Iron rungs are a good thing.

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A log helps bridge the gap along this narrow ledge of Jordan Cliffs, similar to a trail design up the Beehive.

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Getting near the last of the iron rungs.

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Long set of iron rungs helps get you up the final section of cliff face.

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Looking down upon a couple of hikers enjoying a peregrine-falcon’s view along the Jordan Cliffs Trail, before they clamber up that last set of iron rungs.


Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

About Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

Dolores Kong and Dan Ring are co-authors of the Falcon guides Hiking Acadia National Park and Best Easy Day Hikes Acadia National Park, and also blog at They’ve backpacked the 270-plus miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, and are members of the Northeast 111 Club, having hiked all major peaks of the Northeast. Dolores, a former staff reporter at The Boston Globe, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional and senior vice president with Winslow, Evans & Crocker, Inc. (member of FINRA/SIPC) in Boston. Dan, a journalist and former Statehouse bureau chief in Boston for the old Ottaway News Service and for The Republican, the daily newspaper for Springfield, Mass, is also an operations professional with Winslow, Evans & Crocker, Inc. (member of FINRA/SIPC), in Boston. They are married and live outside Boston.