Overview: Acadia National Park, Maine
The climbing on ‘the island’ (aka Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor, or Acadia) is anywhere from ‘easily accessible’ (South Wall, Great Head, South Bubble) to ‘ridiculously easily accessible’ (Otter Cliffs, Canada Cliffs). Most areas will have a few other parties whenever you go out, but Otter Cliffs is almost guaranteed to be packed.
The beauty of this is that you’re able to choose the kind of climbing experience you desire. Looking for seclusion? That’s easy. Want to feel like you’re at a gym? Go to Otter.
All of the climbing is on granite, but the composition varies across the island. The rock can roughly be divided into three types:
- fine-grained metamorphic (Great Head, Otter Cliffs),
- coarser-grained, square-cut edges (Canada Cliffs),
- and the picturesque pinkish/orangey granite the island is known for (all other areas).
Possibly the best part about climbing on the island is that with few exceptions, you are either on the ocean, or within sight of the ocean.
Specific description of climbing style
Acadia is most widely known as a top-roping destination thanks to the scenery and ease of access to Otter Cliffs. However, it is more of a trad climbing area, with sport and bouldering thrown in for good measure.
The climbing varies in character depending on the crag you visit. The South Wall is the trad climber’s and aspiring multi-pitch climber’s haven, with a wide selection of routes from 1-3 pitches in length. The climbing is a pretty equal mix of corner systems, straight-in jam cracks, and face/friction. Everything at the South Wall requires you to be proficient at leading; there is no easy access to the anchors other than leading if you want to set up top-ropes.
Canada Cliffs is the sport-climber’s hangout, with a handful of bolted routes from 11b-12a on dead-vertical, square edges.
Otter Cliffs is the busiest crag in the park. With a 7-minute approach that puts you on the top of the cliff (for easy top-rope set-up), a range of routes from 5.4-5.12, and some of the best sea-cliff climbing in the East, it’s easy to see why it’s so popular. Be warned though; it’s often a zoo, and many people climbing there have little to no experience building gear anchors or belaying from the top, so consider avoiding Otter if you have a low tolerance for stress and sketchy techniques.
There’s also a bunch of bouldering dispersed throughout the island, mostly in the v4-v9 range.
If the weather cooperates, April and May can be good. However, it’s often rainy (and buggy) April-June. The good news is that most crags dry out very quickly after a light/moderate rain, and with a gentle breeze the bugs at Otter, Great Head, and the South Wall are tolerable until dusk.
For the most consistent good weather, July through September presents the best window. Clear, sunny days, cool nights, and few bugs characterize the high season (July & August), with September bringing a respite from the crowds (and equally good weather).
Climbing grade range
The routes are mostly 5.7-5.11.
The bouldering is mainly V5-V9, with a handful of easier problems, and the potential to establish much harder lines.
This is New England, and the bulk of the routes were established in the 70’s and 80’s. The grades are a little stiffer, but completely reasonable.
Best local spots
Top climbs in area
- The Flake (5.7 or 5.9): Fun laybacking up a long, detached flake. Finish over the tiny roof when the flake ends (5.9) or cut left on face holds (5.7)
- Yellow Wall (5.8): Work your way up an arete covered in bright yellow lichen to face/crack moves at the top.
- Guillotine (5.10-): Moderate crack climbing (over a huge tide pool!!) to a short facey/roofy crux.
- A Dare by The Sea (5.10+): Some broken face climbing gets you into a long fingertips layback/jam crack, with a steeper juggy finish.
- Wafer Step (5.6): Wicked fun low angle layback/smear crack. I’ve climbed this route well over a hundred times, and I smile every time I’m on it.
- Chicken of the Sea (5.9-): Face climbing to steeper jugs, to a slab crux, to a short crack finish.
- Return to Forever (5.9): A beautiful layback/stem crack that takes you to one of my favorite ledges to relax on.
- Sea Gypsy (5.9+): A varied 3-pitch route. First pitch is some wide crack groveling. Second pitch is delicate, smeary, balance climbing. Third pitch has some more delicate face climbing into a fingers layback-to-undercling-to-jam-crack finish.
- Emigrant Crack (5.10): 80 feet of wonderful fingertips crack climbing. One of the longer ‘pure’ crack pitches on the island.
- Connecticut Cracks (5.11a): The short crux will make you think, and force you to trust your footwork.
- Pipe Dreams (5.12b): Just left of Chicken of the Sea, this is a face climb masquerading as a crack climb. Good pins (they’re newer than they look), good rock, just the right amount of weirdness.
- Commander Salamander (5.10+): Powerful (and slick) face climbing to two pins leads into an easy jam-crack finish. The climbing down low is serious and poorly protected, so don’t take this one for granted.
- Garret’s Arete (5.11): One of the few fully bolted routes on the island. Good holds on rock that’s just steep enough to give you a pump.
- House of Detention (5.11d): The route to climb at Canada Cliffs. Hardish moves at the bottom to a hand jam/undercling rest just before the crux.
Best kept secret
Hahaha. This is New England. We don’t give out our secrets 😉
Seriously though, the bouldering here is really good, provided you go to the right areas. Great Head and the Precipice Boulders are the best, with Beech Mountain and the 45-degree Wall coming in close. If all you’ve done is boulder at Monument Cove, or the Champlain Wall, or you ‘bouldered’ along the coastline near Sand Beach, you missed all the solid rock and fun movement.
Where to stay
Unfortunately, this is a huge tourist destination. If you come during prime climbing season (which is also prime tourist season) it will be busy. Couple that with no legal backcountry camping, and there’s not really any place to stay where you can avoid crowds. Let’s say that again: it is illegal to camp in Acadia outside of a designated campsite.
The campgrounds (two run by the NPS, and many privately owned) are your best bet for low-cost accommodations, albeit with no frills.
Buy a guidebook! Don’t just buy any one though, buy the best: Rock Climbs of Acadia by Grant Simmons. This book fills the hole left when Jeff Butterfield’s guide went out of print in 2009. Updated info, color pictures, clear descriptions.
Now to you
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Photos in this posts have been sourced from Flickr, with usage under Creative Commons.