Distance: 2.2 Miles
Elevation Gain: 875 Feet
Location: Southwest Harbor, ME
I wanted to start our Acadia National Park Hiking Guide with the Mansell Mountain Loop trail because I have hiked Mansell more than any other mountain this year - at least a dozen times, and the Mansell Mountain Loop Trail has become a model for how I think about hiking.
The trail starts at the southern tip of Long Pond with Mansell Mountain rising from the west and Beech Hill from the east. After a brief walk along the pond, the trailhead for the Perpendicular Trail appears on the left. Perpendicular represents the first half of the Loop Trail and consists of an enormous stone staircase with labyrinthine switchbacks up the side of the mountain. The second half is mostly rock scramble.
Perpendicular feels more human-made, more constructed than almost any hike in Acadia. Usually, I find that off-putting, but I like it here. I feel almost as though I'm hiking up to some Greek monastery. Its constructed nature calls no attention to itself. Instead, it nearly conceals itself into the rockslide.
The steps don't make the trail any easier. Perpendicular gets a "Hard" rating on AllTrails (which I'm not sure I understand), so while there is a loss of wildness in the staircase, equally it doesn't feel domesticated either.
Hiking the Mansell Mountain Loop Trail over and over and over again has revealed to me what I love about hiking these trails. I realized that experiencing the granite stairs as monastic is maybe truer than I first thought.
Every trail is a meandering teleological journey that transforms us. What we perceive each hike changes us, no matter how many times we've done it before, and none of us are the same for what we put our bodies through. And there is something about being in the natural world that always feels like a return.