Wednesday, November 19, 2014



The story of the Great Cave begins with the building of the Precipice Trail, designed and built by Rudolph Brunnow, a man who was famous for constructing difficult and challenging trails.  When faced with the prospect of constructing a trail up the side of it, he was faced with a real challenge, but one he readily took on.
But once the precipice was constructed, Rudolph Brunnow was faced with perhaps as big of a challenge as the building of the trail itself - how does one attract people to a trail that was on a less popular area of the Park?  The task now facing him was coming up with a way to do just that, and his plan involved building a series of trails in the area of the Precipice.

Acadia National Park Trail Map
 The map above not only shows the loop trail that  Rudolph Brunnow constructed to the Great Cave, it also has listed a second trail he built, the Hanging steps trail.  Below is a close up of the Great cave loop, with an arrow pointing to it.  It was not the main trail, but served its purpose back than to lure more hikers to the Precipice.  Once you enlarge the photo above you can better see the loop trail that Rudolph Brunno's constructed.

Map of The Great Cave - Acadia National Park
If you look at modern maps you will quickly see that the area around the Precipice has but one official trail today, the Orange and Black Trail, also designed and  built by Rudolph Brunnow.  There is a story in and of itself concerning the Orange and Black Trail, but I will get to that in the next piece.  Let's just say for now that the official orange and Black Trail that is there today is only half of what use to be there.
Great Cave Steps, submitted by Nick Thorndike
The problem still facing Rudolph Brunnow was that he didn't need another trail as much as he needed a main attraction, a show piece to drive people into the area, and for that Mr. Brunnow turned his attention to a spot on the side of the Precipice where locals had been hiking up to since the 1800's, a location known as the Great Cave.  He first had to get permission to construct a trail to the cave, once he laid out his plans and the reasons why he needed to add the cave to the main Precipice Trail, he was granted permission to go ahead with the project.

The Great Cave - Acadia National Park
Rudolph Brunnow wasted no time in rolling up his sleeves and getting to work on what must of been a sheer joy, he, Mr. Brunnow, would have his name forever attached to the Great Cave.  He carefully selected the route his newest path would take, leading off of the Precipice trail in an area close to where the official Orange and Black trail joins the Precipice, his path would follow up through the center of a boulder field.  I know, by now you have pulled out your modern trail map of Acadia National Park and can find no such Great Cave, and that is for good reason.  Many years ago - with no real treason behind it, the Park Service closed and abandoned the Great Cave Trail.  When they did so, they asked the map makers to remove it from future maps, so the words Cave or Great Cave can only be found on older maps.

The above photo was submitted to one of my sites on the Great Cave by David Schortmann.

Today, as you stand at the beginning of the boulder field and look upward at the woods above, you can see a dark area, that is where the trail turns into dirt and is fairly easy to see.  It makes its way up through the tree's, ending at the entrance to the Great Cave.   
In an old account of the Great Cave I found in an old book, it states that the Great Cave is right up there with one of the World's great wonders.  It went on to say the opening to the Great Cave was 100 feet wide by 100 feet high and that the cave extended back into the mountain side another 100 feet.  The writer said that the cave was so large a small plane could fit inside it, and that locals made their way up to the cave on weekends carrying a picnic lunch with them.
Clearly the cave is nowhere as magnificent as the writer are told it, he was clearly "Puffing up" his story, but why?  You have to go back to the reason behind building a loop to the cave in the first place - it was to attract a large amount of people to the area of the precipice, and it worked, perhaps too well, because years later the loop was abandoned by the Park Service.
But make no mistake about it, the Great Cave is a very impressive cave, one you have to see in person to gain the full depth of just how Great the Great Cave is.
So I spoke of a loop, and in deed, Mr. Brunnow did construct a loop to the cave.  But where is the other half of the loop?   We all can give a big thank you to Nice Thorndike for uncovering the second half of this lost loop.  Stand to the left of the cave and look toward it, but off to the side to find an almost hidden set of stone steps.  These stone steps go on a ways, leading upward and passing ofer the top of the cave.  When the stone steps end the trail turns to dirt and you can follow it to the cliffs up ahead.  There is a narrow metal bridge which connects one ledge to the next which you have to pass over before the trail connects to the official Precipice trail on the upper end.  Nick's work and the photos he sent along to me helped complete the entire Great Cave Loop.

The above photo was submitted to one of my sites on the Great Cave by David Schortmann.

But the real work of locating the Great Cave took years in the making.  Remember, I had said the Park Service abandoned the Great Cave loop and had it removed from future maps, that is only part of the story.  I have been told by people who have worked for the Park Service that they themselves were told of the Great Cave, along with other secret sites within the Park, but that they had to take an oath not to reveal any of this to anyone.  As far as the Park Service was concerned, these sites were to remain secret and lost indefinitely, to be visited only by a select few.  If you work for the park, or do volunteer work there, chances are you took such an oath and have been taken  to some of these locations.  One Park worker told me a very popular spot that ridge runners go to on their lunch break was the stone arches of Eagle lake, some sites have named this the Lost house and I will get into that location latter on, because that site really earns the name The Lost House.
When I lerarned that the Ridge runners often stop there for their lunch breaks, that really got under my skin.  Why should these abandoned and hidden places within the park be a playground for them and their families, after all, does the park not belong to all of us?  and I was told the same secret oath had to be taken for park workers to be told of the location of the Great Cave.  Today, for a growing number of these hidden gems, there no longer is a need for secret oaths, they are there and documented for anyone to locate.
But because of that secret oath, and because the word "cave" on the old maps was written away from the area that the Great Cave was actually located in, it took years of researching and visits to the area to unravel the mystery.  Over those years I kept updating my blog on any new information I came across, hoping all the while that some one would come along to help in the effort to locate the lost cave.  I had narrowed my search down to two sites, but faced a huge problem, I was afraid of heights, and getting to those two locations required hiking beyond my comfort level.
Zhanna Galas  submitted the GPS numbers for us for which we are very grateful for as it was much needed.  I don't have a GPS device and encourage those who do to please get that information to me, I will give you credit by adding your name to the posting of the numbers.  We really would like GPS numbers for the start of some of these trails, such as the Hanging Steps, Compass Harbor, the Dorr bike path, Anemone Cave, the Bears Den, the lost house of Eagle Lake and the Stone tower...all much needed.  My email is fendermail56@yahoo,com if you can't reach me on here.

Thankfully Matthew Marchon came along and siad he would find the cave.  Wow, an answer to my prayers had come out of nowhere.  The day I heard back from Matt on his finding the cave, I also heard from David Schortmann,  who said he had hiked up into the area and had located the Great Cave.  So we went from one day not knowing its location to the next day having two parties locating it.  And both had the photos to back up their finds, and those photos remain to the best of my knowledge the very first photos made available to the public.  For years I had searched for a photo of the cave and come up empty.  So the real hero's of locating the Great Cave and helping document it was these folks, and Nick Thorndike did sealed the deal.  So as you can see, it was a team effort which yielded  the largest find as far as abandoned trails go, to date.  Without the efforts of these folks the Great cave would still remain a mystery but to a lucky few.

To learn more about the Great cave, visit one of the links below.





  1. wow, great information on the great cave and precipice trail! thanks for sharing all this research!

  2. And a big thank you to Nick Thorndike for locating the second half of this historic loop.