If you are heading to Acadia National Park you most likely will drive around and explore the area around Park Loop Road first. If you continue to the Southwest Harbor area you will be undoubtably heading to the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. While in the area there is a trail you need to check out the Ship Harbor Trail.
This trail, while sometimes not the first hike that people think of when visiting the park, is a must do while you are taking in the sites near Bass Harbor. It is an easy 1.3 miles (round-trip) and has an elevation gain of only 60 feet. This trail takes usually around an hour to complete with a little exploring. With its great views of the Atlantic Ocean and Ship Harbor, this trail can be great place to get amazing photos of the beauty of Acadia.
Don’t be afraid to give this trail a go while you are in Acadia, you will not be disappointed!
The Ship Harbor Trail is a small part of what there is to see and do in Acadia National Park. In our downloadable itinerary for Acadia National Park we also cover the best hikes, recommendations on where to stay, what to pack and what else to do in the area. Be sure to download it ahead of your trip!
PARKING AND TRAILHEAD FOR SHIP HARBOR TRAIL
Ship Harbor Trail Parking area, courtesy of the National Park Service
The trailhead for the Ship Harbor Loop Trail is located off Route 102A, which is the southernmost road on Mount Desert Island. Being quite close to the Bass Harbor Lighthouse, it attracts crowds when it is close to sunset. The parking is right of the road, so it is easy to find.
- Directions from Acadia National Park Visitor Center to Ship Harbor trailhead. This drive should take right around 35 minutes.
- Directions from Bar Harbor to Ship Harbor Trailhead. This drive is also 35 minutes but traffic in Bar Harbor area could increase time of travel by five to ten minutes.
The parking lot for the Ship Harbor trailhead has enough spots for 20 cars. There is also more parking on the right side of the road that can hold oversized vehicles. The parking lot can easily fill up on a busy day, but with the length of the trail being short spots should open up regularly.
Restrooms (pit toilets) are available at the trailhead but there are none on the trail.
SHIP HARBOR TRAIL: TRAIL SURFACE AND ACCESSIBILITY
- Trail surface. This trail has boardwalks and shallow steps, but otherwise from that, the trail is a nice walking surface with packed dirt. There are places to leave the trail and explore tidepools which include very rocky and slippery surfaces.
- Accessibility. The trail is not wheelchair accessible, but for people in good physical condition the trail should be a breeze having an elevation gain of only 60 feet.
PREPARATION FOR HIKING THE SHIP HARBOR LOOP TRAIL
This hike is short, and it is well shaded so there is very little in the way of things you need to pack. Here are some things that we would recommend:
- Water. It never hurts to bring water along with you on a hike and especially on a hot humid day.
- Sun Protection. While the trail is mostly shaded, the tidal pools and the seashore are not, so if you plan on exploring a little bit, we recommend using sunblock.
- Shoes. The trail itself is nice and flat so any footwear works. If planning on going into the tidal pool area it is recommended to use footwear with good grip like hiking sandals or hiking boots because a slip onto barnacles is very much not enjoyable.
- Field Guide. This trail is full of wildlife. Our family personally has seen many animals like loons, bald eagles, deer, turkeys, etc. and if you struggle in wildlife identification a field guide for the area can help in identifying everything from the wildflowers growing on the side of the trail to the shore birds picking crabs from the water.
HIKING THE SHIP HARBOR LOOP TRAIL FROM THE TRAILHEAD
Ship Harbor Trail Map courtesy of the National Park Service
Once parked and prepared to hike, the trailhead entrance to the right off the lot. There you will see the trial information sign.
The trail first goes through a grassy area, which is teeming with birds and wildflowers in the summertime. It continues to the right when you reach the Y-branch, which is about 0.1 miles down the trail. On this section of the trail after the Y-branch you will be able to get views of Ship Harbor. While there are spots to access the water, we would recommend continuing to the access spot near the bottleneck of the harbor.
When you reach the 4-way intersection of the trail you can continue to the right or left due to it being a loop trail. The flow of the trail usually goes counterclockwise so it might be best to take a right and follow the waterside trail. Soon you will reach a little peninsula along the harbor which is a great spot to view the wildlife along the rocky shore. By carefully flipping over small rocks in the water you might see a crab or two scuttle away. It is also quite common to see seagulls using the rocks as a method to break open any clams, urchins or crabs they find. Look closely in the sky to see the seabirds quickly gain altitude then drop their prey onto the rocks below. You will be able to find many parts and pieces of crabs and urchins around the area.
Continue on the trail for about 0.3 miles to reach the mouth of Ship Harbor. Here you will find tidepools during low tide. While these tidepools look like a cool place to dip your feet in, remember these are fragile ecosystems that fight the trouble of the ocean every day, the last thing they want is to be picked up and taken out of their habitat or stepped on. The best way to enjoy tidepools is to just look at them.
After the tidal pool area, the trail will then continue around with the direction facing back to the parking lot. Here there are boardwalks for a short distance. Be careful not to slip off these because the wood gets quite slick after some rain. This trail continues for 0.3 miles until you hit the four-way intersection again. While you can go either way, we would recommend continuing to the right here. Keep your eyes peeled because the woods along this section often hold white-tailed deer.
Keep going straight for the next 0.3 miles and you will reach the parking lot.
This hike is amazing and is a great hike for keeping the kids entertained. This is a hike that you should do on your trip to Acadia.
SHIP HARBOR LOOP TRAIL: TOP LIKES AND DISLIKES
- Great Views of the Ocean. This trail has some amazing views of the ocean and the harbor. While not anything like the views of the Beehive Trail, this view area won't have the crowds.
- Quick and Easy. If hiking at a fast pace and with taking very short stops this hike can easily be done in 30 minutes. Usually plan for this hike taking around an hour if you plan on exploring around the shorelines.
- Wildlife. This trail having so many different ecosystems around it attracts a variety of different animals, and it is quite common to see wildlife on this trail.
- We really have none, this trail is just wonderful!
THINGS TO DO NEAR THE SHIP HARBOR LOOP TRAIL
Many of the things to do in this park are right along park loop road and are easy to walk to. Here are a few things nearby we would recommend checking out.
- Wonderland Trail. This trail receives a decent amount of traffic in the summer and being a two-way trail there it feels like there is a lot more people on it compared to a loop trail. Besides that, this trail is quite easy and can be completed in around an hour. This is a great hike to check out for hikers of all skill levels.
- Bass Harbor Lighthouse. This lighthouse is probably one of the most well-known parts of Acadia National Park. If you want to able to view the sunset from the lighthouse, we recommend getting there anywhere from half an hour to an hour early. Just a fair warning this area is flocked by photographers and many are easily angered if you get in the way of their shot!
FURTHER INFORMATION ON ACADIA NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Don’t forget to take a look at our most popular blogs on Acadia, including Cadillac Mountain Sunrise and What to See and Do in Acadia National Park.
- We have gone to Acadia a handful of times now and we have hiked many of the various trails in Acadia. You can read our blog 12 best hikes in Acadia National Park to learn more about what our favorites hikes were. You can also check out another easy and flat hike in our blog, Hiking the Jordan Pond Trail. You can also find out how to fly into Acadia in our blog, the Best Airports for Acadia National Park.
- If you love Acadia in the summer, you'll love it even more in the winter. Read our blog Winter in Acadia National Park to learn more about this.
- After your trip, send us a photos and we’ll create a vintage-style travel poster from one or more of your photos. If you love remembering your trips, this is a great way to do so forever!