(Moderate hiking, 1.6-mile loop)
At the east end of Sand Beach, a large peninsula of land composed of granite, basalt, and sedimentary rocks known as Great Head juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Cliffs as high as 145 feet tower over the pounding surf and offer dramatic viewpoints for watching the wildlife on the ocean waters below.
The Great Head Trail makes a lovely loop hike up and around the peninsula, taking in all the sights of Sand Beach, The Beehive, Gorham Mountain, and even Otter Cliff a few miles south along Ocean Drive.
Start from the upper Sand Beach parking lot on the Park Loop Road, a half-mile south of the Acadia National Park Sand Beach Entrance Station and about nine miles from the Hulls Cove Visitor Center. The Island Explorer shuttle bus also serves Sand Beach and many other park trailheads.
Descend the granite steps to Sand Beach, then wander east over the beach toward the pink cliffs at its far end. Along the way, grab a handful of the fine sand and take a close look. The beach sand is an interesting mixture of tiny grains of quartz rock, and the shells of clams, mussels, and sea urchins.
Cross the outlet of the freshwater pond that runs from behind the beach dunes. It may be dry or you may get your feet, so be prepared. Beyond, climb the granite steps to an old millstone, then begin to scramble up the ledges with good views of the beach and the colorful crowds enjoying the warm sun, the deep green waters of Newport Cove, and the steep pink cliffs of The Beehive looming high above.
The trail follows along the cliffs above the cove before climbing again to reach the high point of Great Head marked by the stone foundation of an old teahouse. Wide open views here include Schooner Head and the entrance to Anemone Cave to the north, Schoodic Peninsula to the east on the far side of Frenchman Bay, and Ocean Drive and Otter Cliff to the south. It’s a great spot to relax and enjoy a picnic amid the incredible scenery.
From the top of Great Head, continue north and descend into the forest. In about a half-mile you’ll arrive at a junction with an old fire road. Take a left here and follow the old road on a contour back to the millstone above Sand Beach. Descend and cross the beach to complete this wonderful walk.