Bubble Mountain-Acadia-SS

Hike the Bubbles in Acadia National Park

The Bubbles of Acadia National Park have nothing to do with water or sea foam. They are glacially carved mountains, though geologists would be quick to correct that phrase by saying they are roche moutonnée formations, meaning “sheepback rock.”

I was eating the famous popover at Jordan Pond House, enjoying the view of The Bubbles. A boy, about middle school age, proclaimed loudly through giggles, “Look! The BOOBles.”

We’re all adults here, but the boy was right – these glacier works of natural art bear a striking resemblance to a woman’s chest far more so than “Trois Tetons,” or the Grand Tetons as we know them now. That literally translated to “Three Breasts” by (apparently) lonely French fur traders more than a century ago.

How history missed naming these “Petite Tetons” by the French explorers is beyond me. Today, we know them as North Bubble and South Bubble, two of the most famous trails in Acadia National Park.

But there’s more to these trails than just epic views, and I’m going to help you see more natural beauty and nature’s wrath in The Bubbles.

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Bubble Mountain I photo credit: Jon Bilous / Shutterstock

What Are The Bubbles?

Maine’s mountains (and shoreline, for that matter) were the result of glacier activity. The Laurentide Ice Sheet covered a large chunk of what we now know as Canada and the northern U.S., going as far south as the Ohio Valley. Between 85,000 and 11,000 years ago, the planet warmed, and the ice sheet retreated.

It was the same ice sheet that created:

  • “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” in Minnesota
  • The Great Lakes
  • The “Driftless Area” of the Midwest

The ice was up to two miles thick, pushing the land down under its massive weight. The slow melting created a glacier retreat from south to north. Rounded mounds like The Bubbles form through a combination of rising bedrock and ice melt.

The ice sheet erodes the top of the bedrock while retreating, with a pressure-induced watery base moving things along. Once the ice reaches the top of a formation, less energy means the meltwater freezes into the bedrock. Yet, the ice sheet needs to keep moving. This causes “plucking” in the freeze-thaw cycle, much like the same force that creates potholes.

Bottom line – the Bubbles are shaped smooth on one side where the ice sheet rose up, and then have a “plucked” backside with jagged edges and steeper slopes. The Beehive of Acadia National Park is one of the most dramatic examples of glacial plucking.

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Bubble Mountain | photo via enasinska

Where Are The Bubbles?

The Bubbles get one of the best seats in the house of Acadia. They sit on the east side of Mount Desert Island, overlooking Jordan Pond, with three of Acadia’s highest peaks surrounding them.

Their pole position in the park offers short trails for those who just want to bag some peaks and a spiderweb of connecting trails for those who want a longer hike with more peaks or a cocktail mix of peaks and Bubble Pond or Eagle Lake.

The most commonly used access point is at the Bubbles Divide Trail parking area, right off Park Loop Road, 5.1 miles from Bar Harbor. Another potential access point, with much more parking, is at the south end of Jordan Pond.

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Bubble Mountain | photo via 2.2.2.hope

What Is So Special About The Bubbles?

First-time visitors might wonder why these trails are so popular, often ranking as a favorite spot for hikers.

First, there’s the view of Jordan Pond and the ocean beyond. Second, the granite top and minimal vegetation mean 360° views combined with a “plucked” rocky amphitheater of sorts to soak in those views.

You’ll spend a lot of time on The Bubbles hike looking down to watch your footing, and while you’re doing so, look for the striations on the rock – a literal scar of ice vs bedrock. In the forested parts of the trail, look at the landscape. Small rocks and soil that are more like clay or sand than dirt are glacial till – like the “sawdust” of glaciers rubbing against bedrock

Finally, there’s Bubble Rock on South Bubble, precariously perched at the edge of a cliff, dropped by a glacier 17,000 years or so ago. Most theories stick to this “glacier erratic” being carried by the advancing glacier from at least 30 miles inland but too large to be carried back when the glacier was melting. Be sure to notice the difference between bubble rock and granite bedrock. One of these things just doesn’t belong.

GO AHEAD, PUSH IT: Anyone who has hiked South Bubble has tried to “push” the rock off the ledge. It’s okay if you do. You aren’t going to be the “final straw” that plummets a 10-ton boulder the size of a minivan 766 feet down the mountain… ARE YOU?

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Bubble Mountain | photo via johnnys212

The Bubbles Trail Details

  • Length: 1.6 Miles from Bubble Divide Trail, 4 Miles from Jordan Pond (both out & back)
  • Time: 60-90 Minutes from Bubble Divide, 2-3 hours from Jordan Pond
  • Elevation: North Bubble is 872 feet. South Bubble is 766 feet.
  • Difficulty: Moderate side of easy to moderate, potentially strenuous in wet or snowy conditions
  • Parking: Yes, 20-25 spots at the Bubbles Divide Trail. Also, look at the free shuttle Island Explorer options.
  • Amenities: None. The closest public restrooms and clean water are at Jordan Pond. Large parking lot at Jordan Pond

The Bubble Divide trailhead parking lot fills up quickly. This is also a part of the park where you cannot park on the side of the road when the lot is at capacity. Get there early.

From Bubble Divide’s parking lot, you’ll walk a slow incline about one-third of a mile to the trail split. I recommend tackling Bubble North first since it has the highest elevation gain. At the split, the trails both ascend through rocky conditions, some with stone stairs and others requiring a hefty scramble.

The views are arguably better at North Bubble, but South Bubble has Bubble Rock. I love that both have the plucked side lined with rock ledges, where you can get as close to the edge as you are comfortable with. A few sections of the trails aren’t ideal for those with a fear of heights, but it’s nothing like the intimidating Precipice Trail.

Jordan Pond Hike to The Bubbles

For those starting the hike at Jordan Pond, the trail lines the shoreline of the lake for the first mile or so. It quickly ascends through a boulder field, with one tight squeeze on the way. If this looks intimidating or too physically challenging, stick with the Bubble Divide Trail.

Level up with a more moderate to strenuous hike by circling Jordan Pond through Jordan Cliffs, around the north edge of the lake to tackle the Bubbles, and then back around the eastern edge of the pond.

Other Trails to Access The Bubbles

As mentioned earlier, North and South Bubble sit in the perfect location to explore more than just these rounded tops. Mix hikes in with various locations like Pemetic Mountain, Sargent Peak, Penobscot Peak, Eagle Lake, Bubble Lake, and Conners Nubble.

Since the lakes and ponds in this part of Acadia are used as drinking water for the communities, no swimming is allowed. Echo Lake is the only freshwater swimming hole parkwide.

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Bubble Mountain | photo via rooke.cassie

When Is the Best Time to Hike The Bubbles?

Leaf-peepers want to tackle this in the fall, with peak colors in Acadia National Park happening historically between late September and mid-October. The state of Maine tracks fall foliage each week during the season.

Summer (June through August) is another great season for those who like the lush greenery, with a bonus in late summer of Maine’s famous wild blueberries growing along the trail.

Winter hikes are an option, but Park Loop Road closes to vehicles from early December to mid-April. Access to The Bubbles is possible for those on skis or using snowshoes, but it will add several miles to the trek.

Expect snow and ice, which will make any hike slippery or treacherous depending on recent weather conditions.

Also, March and April are “Mud Season” in Maine, which is a pretty descriptive way to warn you about the possibility of mud on the trails. Carriage roads will close during this time, but the main hike up The Bubbles doesn’t require using those. Always check Park Conditions before you go.

How Hard Is It to Hike The Bubbles?

I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but don’t let the under 900 feet elevation and 1.6-mile hike make you think this is an easy walk in the park. The Bubbles provide a family-friendly yet moderate challenge most days, thanks to the mix of wet rocks, snow/ice, or leaves.

I’m also going to give you an option for a more strenuous, scrambling route from Jordan Pond up The Bubbles if you’re down for that kind of excitement.

Rock Climbing South Bubble

If you enjoy the thrill of rock climbing, you can scale South Bubbler on one of three routes. This climbing path is also not usually impacted by the nesting peregrine falcons like you’ll find at Precipice and Jordan Cliffs.

South Bubble is a perfect place for beginning rock climbers, and several vendors in Bar Harbor can help you plan the perfect trip.

Bubble Mountain | photo via traveling_hop_hunters

Is Hiking The Bubbles Worth It?

These two rounded domes bring the best of Maine’s wild spirit without being too far off the beaten path. Again, these trails are much tougher than they look, thanks to the scrambling and climbing required on many of the steep inclines – a challenge that usually is more intense on the way down, especially if your knees aren’t in the best shape. Use trekking poles and take your time.

This is one of the dog-friendly trails in the park, but a leash is required. With some of the steep inclines, you’ll be thankful that rule is in place. I wouldn’t take my dogs there, but that’s because I have lunatic dogs. Plenty of well-behaved dogs have passed me on this trail.

Finally, check the weather and fog forecast before you go. The best experience hiking The Bubbles is when the skies are clear. Otherwise, you might end up with limited views across what should be a 360° view.

And believe me, you WANT to see the views here. Pure coastal wilderness beauty awaits.

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