Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Van Santvoord Trail - a Hiking Enigma

It is not often that you can be hiking on one trail but then reach a sign that says you are on another trail. This can be confusing, maybe even frightening, yet this is precisely what a hiker experiences in Acadia National Park when hiking on the Triad Trail. The name of the trail relates to the three peaks in a scenic section of the Park south of Pemetic Mountain that is known simply as The Triad.

Van Santvoord memorial
On a granite ledge near the East Triad peak there is a 22x5-inch bronze memorial plaque that identifies the trail, however, as "The Van Santvoord Trail."*1  The plaque was placed there and dedicated in 1916 following completion of the trail's construction.

The trail honors John V. Van Santvoord, who, as Path Committee chairman of the Seal Harbor Village Improvement Society, laid out the route in 1912. Construction of this loop trail started in 1915. The trailhead was in a valley off the old Wildwood Farm Road west of today's Wildwood Stables and ascended the West Triad peak. It continued across the Middle and East Triad peaks. Beyond the latter it descended to its origin in the valley for a total distance of 1.4 miles.*2  A section of the subsequently built carriage road running between the Wildwood Stables and the Jordan Pond House cut the trail in two spots near its southern end. Steps, overhung and obscured by dense pines, continue down from the carriage road.

John Van Santvoord, born in New Jersey about 1844, was one of four sons of admiralty lawyer Cornelius Van Santvoord. A banker, an owner of the Hudson River Day Line boat company and a resident of New York City, he summered in Seal Harbor on Mount Desert Island and was the second chairman of its Village Improvement Society path committee (1907 -1913).

Lake Mohonk Mountain House
Detroit Pub. Co - Library of Congress
Tragically in 1913 servants found him drowned in his bathtub, apparently of a heart attack, at the Lake Mohonk Mountain House, a resort hotel 90 miles north of NYC. He had gone to this scenic Hudson Valley spot to relax following the death of his sole remaining brother.

Van Santvoord Trail staircase
The Van Santvoord Trail does not exist in the Park's path and trail inventory. It is no longer shown by this name on trail maps. In fact, a .35-mile section of it south of the East Triad to its terminus in the valley has been missing from maps for 70 years. The last map on which the entire trail appears is the 1942 Topographic Map of Acadia National Park and Vicinity. The missing section nebulously reappears 29 years later on the 1971 Appalachian Mountain Club Map of Mount Desert Island - Acadia National Park where it is described as "trail-condition unknown or abandoned." This missing trail section was intricately constructed, with numerous steps and four winding staircases shaping its way south from near the East Triad summit. For reasons not known the Park chose not to maintain this section. Instead, it connected the remaining sections of the Van Santvoord Trail to two other trails, renamed them the Hunters Brook Trail and the Triad Trail, and dissolved the Van Santvoord name. Fortunately the memorial plaque was left in place.

The Van Santvoord Trail (red)
Will the Park reopen the Van Santvoord Trail? Those who have hiked it in its entirety would strongly recommend the Park seriously consider it. Not only would a historic trail with skillful stone craftsmanship and spectacular views be reinstated for the pleasure of Park visitors, but also the hiking enigma would be solved.

* Footnotes:
1  Memorial GPS coordinates:  N44° 19.198'  W068° 14.220'
2 All distances are computed from the 1942 map referred to above.


  1. Glad I found you! :-)
    Laurie Cote

    1. I'm happy you did, too! I'm glad you enjoy these articles and I hope you're able to get out and discover the things I write about.

  2. Yes, we are going to find this trail today! Thanks Don!

    1. Happy to hear you're going to give it a try. Be careful. Let me know how you make out.

  3. Don, we finally made it...three times look for the Van Santvoord trail. The first time we started from Wildwood and couldn't find the entrance you mention. We found the trailhead #17, near the bridge intersection (carriage road/ loop road) and the Triad Pass trailhead further up on the carriage road. We weren't into big hiking that day, so we decided to try again. The next time we decided to do the Pemetic Northwest Trail to the Pemetic East Cliff Trail and on to the Triad. We found the East Triad, we found the plaque and then continued on the trail just below the plaque that leads down the #17, the intersection. No staircases.
    Today, we started from Jordan Pond, followed the pond trail to the interesection with the Triad Pass trail and followed the Triad Pass Trail to the wierd intersection with two signposts. We DID find staircases in this section. We took a right which took us up to the East Triad Summit and the plaque. We doubled back the same way we came. We found beautiful winding section was tumbled quite a bit near a ledge, and we took photos which I am happy to share. I know we have missed a large portion of the trail and I wonder how many staircases have we missed? Can you give us some direction for our next time out? We would love to find the rest of the trail.
    Thanks Don! Laurie

    1. Congrats, Laurie! I really admire your perseverance -- it's a tough trail to find, esp. at its north end. The south end has visible steps on both sides of the Wildwood Stables-Jordan Pond carriage road. It's a wonderful trail and the staircases and steps are marvelous. Too bad it's hidden away. I haven't heard of any Park plans to reopen it. In the early fall, if you can wait, why not hike it with us? A GPS unit makes it a lot easier to find thru the trees and bushes.