Rugged coastal landscapes, over a hundred miles of hiking trails and stunning sunrises draw crowds of people to Acadia National Park every summer and fall. However, winter in Acadia National Park is an entirely different experience.
Enjoy all the beauty coated in a blanket of snow minus the people. During the busy summer season, the park can see over 25,000 visitors in a single day. One park ranger told us that a typical winter day brings only a few hundred visitors to the park. We saw far less than that during our December visit and enjoyed every peaceful minute!
In the winter, you cannot drive the entire length of Park Loop Road or up Cadillac Mountain and many businesses in Bar Harbor close for the season. However, for the lucky few who are willing to bundle up and visit the park in the off-season, the rewards are great! Enjoy the slower pace in Bar Harbor and winter’s peace inside the park. With so many options for hikes and other outdoor activities, you’ll wish you had allotted more time for a winter visit. Trust us—winter in Acadia is magical!
If you are planning a winter trip to Acadia National Park, check out our travel tips and ideas for winter activities!
Things to do in Acadia National Park, what to pack and useful links are covered in our 15+ page itinerary for Acadia National Park. NOTE: This itinerary is especially useful for a summer or fall trip to Acadia.
PREPARING FOR A TRIP TO ACADIA NATIONAL PARK IN THE WINTER
HOW TO GET INTO AND AROUND ACADIA NATIONAL PARK IN THE WINTER
Open roads and entrance stations in Acadia National Park, courtesy of the National Park Service
In the winter, the only way to access Ocean Drive is via Schooner Head Road. Pass through the village of Bar Harbor on ME-3S and take a left onto Schooner Head Road. Travel through a residential area and follow signs to the park and Sand Beach Entrance Station.
To skip Ocean Drive and head directly to Jordan Pond from Bar Harbor, take ME-233W/Eagle Lake Road to ME-198S/ME-3W into Seal Harbor. Take a left onto Jordan Pond Road and travel through a residential area to meet Park Loop Road just south of Jordan Pond.
Areas of the park south of Somesville and closest to Southwest Harbor and Bass Harbor can still be accessed as normal via ME-102 and ME-102A.
VISITOR SERVICES AT ACADIA NATIONAL PARK IN THE WINTER
During winter, the Hulls Cove Visitor Center is closed, and no park entrance fee applies. Make sure to stop in at the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce (located at 2 Cottage Street in the center of Bar Harbor) for visitor services. From November to April, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce (open 8 am to 4 pm daily) shares its downtown location with the National Park Service.
Pick up maps for winter-access and carriage roads (for walking, fat biking and cross-country skiing) here. Talk with a ranger about current conditions on trails or ask chamber staff about local dining options and other in-town services.
WHAT TO BRING FOR A TRIP TO ACADIA NATIONAL PARK IN THE WINTER
With temperatures commonly dipping below freezing and winter storms that bring snow and ice to Mount Desert Island, you’ll want to make sure you are properly equipped for ice, snow and cold. We’ve included a list of some helpful gear so you can make the most of a winter visit to Acadia!
- Warm clothing. It is important to dress in layers and wear a moisture-wicking base layer if you are planning on doing any physical activities like cross-country skiing, hiking or snowshoeing.
- Waterproof outer layer. You never know what the weather will bring in the winter in New England. A water- and wind-proof outer layer is a good thing to have in your pack!
- Warm hat and gloves/mittens. I am a little obsessed with Skida hats since they come in so many cool patterns!
- Winter boots. Warm and waterproof footwear with good tread is essential for outdoor activities.
- Wool socks. Darn tough socks are our family’s go-to socks for hiking year-round.
- Gaiters or snow pants. Some like to wear snow pants for warmth, but I prefer hiking pants or fleece lined leggings worn with my Outdoor Research gaiters to keep the snow out of my boots.
- Trail crampons. If you are considering winter hiking in Acadia, crampons or microspikes provide traction to prevent falls when travelling on icy trails, and most trails in Acadia will have some ice in winter! I highly recommend Hillsound Trail Crampons! Everyone in our family has a pair and wore them during our December trip.
- Hiking poles. Trekking poles provide stability when hiking on frozen or wet trails.
- Snowshoes. For snowy hikes with little elevation gain, most basic snowshoes will work.
- Backpack. Bring a pack that is large enough to carry layers, a water bottle and other hiking gear.
- Headlamp. If you plan to be out in the evening or rise early for a sunrise hike to the summit of Cadillac Mountain, a headlamp is necessary. The sun sets early in the winter, so I would also recommend having a headlamp on hand if you will plan a long afternoon hike.
- Water bottle and snacks. For extended hikes, consider using an insulated sleeve for your Nalgene to prevent water from freezing on frigid days.
- Acadia National Park Waterproof Trail Map.
- Basic survival items (especially when attempting challenging hikes at higher elevations): First aid kit, extra batteries for headlamp, emergency bivy sack, matches, whistle, compass, and a pocketknife.
Check the Bar Harbor weather forecast before setting out for any winter activities in the park.
THINGS TO DO IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK IN THE WINTER
TAKE A SCENIC DRIVE
If you prefer to enjoy the snowy scenery from the warm comfort of a car or are looking for easily accessible spots for winter photography, Mount Desert Island offers a few popular winter driving routes. Although much of the scenic 27-mile Park Loop Road (including Cadillac Summit Road) is closed to cars for winter, a couple sections remain open (weather permitting). Beyond Park Loop Road, Mount Desert Island is home to some great little towns and villages that beg to be explored!
- OCEAN DRIVE. Access this open portion of Park Loop Road via Schooner Head Road since the Hulls Cove entrance at the start of the loop is closed in the winter. Stop at Schooner Head Overlook before entering Park Loop Road. Then, follow signs to the Sand Beach entrance station and enjoy a 2-mile stretch of Park Loop Road between Schooner Head and Otter Cliff Road. Popular coastal sites include Sand Beach and Thunder Hole. Winter is the best time to stroll along the deserted beach and view the crashing waves at Thunder Hole without any company!
This stretch of road also provides access to Ocean Path, Great Head Trail, The Bowl and the Gorham Mountain Trail, if you are looking to do some winter hiking. Keep in mind that Park Loop Road is one-way and one-lane only. The other lane is unplowed and for snowmobilers.
- JORDAN POND. The Stanley Brook entrance is gated for the winter, but drivers can access Jordan Pond via Jordan Pond Road in Seal Harbor. Even if you don’t plan to hike the loop around the lake, a short walk down to the picturesque, mountain-ringed lake is highly worthwhile!
- NORTHEAST HARBOR. From Route 3, take Sargeant Drive along Sommes Sound to enjoy wintery views of Northeast Harbor, Acadia Mountain across the sound and ice formations along the road’s rock walls.
- SOUTHWEST AND BASS HARBORS. The southwestern part of Mount Desert Island includes some popular photo spots such as the arched, wooden footbridge in Sommesville, the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse and the natural seawall in Southwest Harbor. Follow ME-102S to Southwest Harbor. ME-102A provides access to Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, Seawall and a couple great short hikes, if you have the proper winter gear. (See our section on winter hiking for more details.)
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is such a popular place during the summer months that it can be hard, if not impossible, to find parking, especially during sunset. Winter is an amazing time to visit since we arrived at an empty parking lot and had the lighthouse to ourselves! For the best views of the lighthouse, take the Bass Harbor Head Trail which includes steps and can be very slippery in winter. We recommend traction if you are hoping to get some great shots of the lighthouse in the winter; and, as always, use caution when climbing over rocks at the base of the stairs.
GO CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING
Acadia National Park is home to some of the best cross-country skiing in the country. When the conditions are right and Acadia is coated in snow, more than 25 miles of the park’s carriage roads are groomed for cross-country skiing—thanks to volunteers with the Acadia Winter Trails Association (part of Friends of Acadia). A wide corduroy path is groomed for skate-style skiing and traditional tracks are set for classic Nordic skiing. Many skiers access the carriage roads via the parking lot on ME-233 at the north end of Eagle Lake—to ski the Witch Hole Pond and the Aunt Betty Loops. Another good spot to park is the Brown Mountain Gatehouse off ME-3/198—providing access to the Hadlock Pond and Amphitheater Loops.
- Be sure to follow carriage road rules for winter use. Signs indicate where skiers, snowshoers, booted hikers and dogs all belong.
- You can find a map of the groomed trails and check on current snow and trail conditions on the Friends of Acadia website.
- If you’re new to cross-country skiing, Cadillac Mountain Sports in Bar Harbor and Ellsworth offers winter gear rentals.
- Not sure which trails are best for you? Down East Magazine provides some great options for ski routes in its Ski Supreme section. Or see Nicole Oullette’s Complete Guide to Cross-Country Skiing on MDI.
Another great spot for cross-country skiing is on Acadia’s largely unplowed Park Loop Road. On the 2-mile portion that is open to traffic, the left lane remains unplowed. However, use caution since the unplowed park road is shared with snowmobilers.
TAKE A WINTER HIKE (OR SNOWSHOE)
Hiking is a great way to take in the beautiful, winter scenery! Although winter conditions require extra caution (since trails can become icy and snow packed in the winter), many of Acadia’s hiking trails remain open year-round. The National Park Service advises strongly against taking on the park’s most challenging and steep trails in the winter. It is best to skip trails like the Beehive and Precipice which are challenging even in the best of conditions!
Instead, we recommend the following hikes (with proper gear and traction when trails are covered in ice and/or snow):
BEST EASY WINTER HIKES WITH VIEWS:
- OCEAN PATH. Park your car at Sand Beach or any of the parking lots along the open portion of Park Loop Road to walk along the Ocean Path Trail.
- BAR ISLAND TRAIL. Park in downtown Bar Harbor and take a low tide walk out to Bar Island in Frenchman Bay. Explore tide pools or hike about a mile to the high point on the island for views of Bar Harbor against a mountainous backdrop.
- SHIP HARBOR TRAIL. This short hike near Bass Harbor was one of our winter favorites! Follow a winding 1.3-mile trail through the woods to access mudflats, tidepools and views of the ocean.
- WONDERLAND TRAIL. For another family-friendly winter hike, check out the 1.4-mile Wonderland Trail, located halfway between Bass Harbor and Seawall. This trail starts in a pine forest and ends at the ocean, where kids will love exploring tide pools at low tide.
- JORDAN POND LOOP TRAIL. No matter the time of year, the Jordan Pond Loop is one of our favorite easy hikes at Acadia. However, the 3.4-mile loop is peaceful and magical in the winter! Whether the shoreline and rocks are coated in a layer of ice or the entire lake is frozen over, Jordan Pond is a treat for the eyes! You can learn more about the Jordan Pond Loop in our blog, hiking the Jordan Pond Trail.
- CARRIAGE ROADS. If you are looking for a longer hike without the technical terrain of the surrounding mountains, the 6-mile loop around Eagle Lake may be perfect! Just be sure to avoid the groomed section for cross-country skiers.
BEST MODERATE WINTER HIKES:
- GREAT HEAD TRAIL. Although the 1.8-mile Great Head Loop Trail has some elevation gain and requires a bit of rock scrambling, it is a great option if you are looking for a moderate hike with incredible views. The best way to access the trail is from Sand Beach; however, be sure to depart Sand Beach at low tide or you may have to walk through several inches of water to get to the trailhead. We also highly recommend microspikes or trail crampons since many of the rocky portions of this hike were covered in ice during our December visit.
- DAY MOUNTAIN TRAIL. We haven’t hiked this one ourselves yet. However, if you are up for a bit of a climb, we hear it is great for snowshoeing in the winter since it has a carriage road going straight to the top!
- GORHAM MOUNTAIN TRAIL. We’ve only hiked Gorham Mountain in the fall but have heard it is a great moderate winter hike or snowshoe due to its gradual incline. Start from the parking area just beyond Thunder Hole. The summit yields impressive views of Frenchman Bay, Sand Beach and neighboring mountains. Coupled with the Bowl Trail and a walk back along Ocean Path, this is one of our favorite trails in the park! Be prepared for icy conditions and follow the cairns when underfoot trail blazes are covered by snow near the summit.
CHALLENGING WINTER HIKES (for experienced winter hikers only):
CADILLAC SOUTH RIDGE TRAIL. Since Cadillac Summit Road is closed to traffic in the winter, the only way to see a Cadillac Mountain sunrise is to hike or snowshoe it! For experienced hikers, prepared for winter hiking conditions, wind and frigid summit temperatures, there are a few routes to the summit. However, the Cadillac South Ridge Trail, which begins across from Blackwoods Campground, is the most gradual way to the summit and about 7 miles roundtrip.
For additional information the easy and moderate hikes, check out our blog the Best Hikes in Acadia National Park.
The Facebook group Acadia National Park Hiking is a great resource for hiking ideas and current conditions in the park.
Acadia National Park allows snowmobiling on the 27-mile Park Loop Road and up the Cadillac Summit Road. Snowmobiles are NOT ALLOWED off-road, on hiking trails or carriage roads, except the east side of Eagle Lake to make the connection to the Park Loop Road at Bubble Road. Snowmobilers are encouraged to use the Hulls Cove Visitor Center parking lot to access snowmobile routes.
All Maine state snowmobile laws are enforced in Acadia National Park. See the NPS Winter Activities page for other snowmobile regulations and a road map for winter recreational use. Snow mobile rentals are not available on Mount Desert Island.
TAKE A GUIDED HIKING OR ICE-CLIMBING TRIP
Have you always wanted to give ice climbing a try? Acadia Mountain Guides are experienced mountaineers and climbers offering guided winter adventures inside the park.
ICE FISHING OR ICE SKATING
When the ice freezes over, many larger ponds and lakes in the park are popular locations for ice fishing ice skating. Lakes generally freeze over January through March but temperatures and ice thickness vary by year. Always take caution on frozen bodies of water and check the thickness.
Cadillac Mountain Sports in Bar Harbor and Ellsworth rents ice skates.
THINGS THAT ARE SHUT DOWN IN THE WINTER IN ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
- Park Loop Road (all by a couple small sections)
- Cadillac Summit Road
- Island Explorer
- Visitor Centers
- Jordan Pond house (no popovers)
LODGING AND RESTAURANTS OPEN IN THE WINTER NEAR ACADIA NATIONAL PARK
While Bar Harbor and surrounding communities are cetainly quieter in the winter, there are still plenty of great places to stay and eat! Another incentive to visit Acadia National Park in the winter—rates at hotels and inns are drastically reduced! The Bar Harbor Chamber Merchants Association provides a directory of business open in the wintertime. However, this list only reflects chamber members and we found that some of the businesses we visited in December were not on this list, including the inn where we stayed.
We stayed at The Inn on Mount Desert and loved it! The rooms were comfortable, clean and decorated with nautical theme. We enjoyed the hot breakfast and coffee served in the lounge in the morning and playing pool in the rec room in the evening. The best part was the location. We enjoyed being able to walk to dinner in the evening—two blocks to the town green area. Highly recommended!
More information on businesses open year-round can be found on the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce website. Of course, hours and days open are subject to change, so call to confirm.
Camping in Acadia National Park in the winter is no longer allowed.
WINTER HAPPENINGS ON MOUNT DESERT ISLAND IN THE WINTER
Here’s a round-up of activities going on in Acadia in the winter:
- See the NPS website for more information on Winter Activities in Acadia National Park.
- The Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park offers winter programs including the Acadia Winter Festival typically early February.
- The Bar Harbor Winter Beer Fest typically happens each year in mid-January
FURTHER INFORMATION ON ACADIA NATIONAL PARK FROM JUST GO TRAVEL STUDIOS
- Our 15+ page itinerary for Acadia National Park is especially useful if you are visiting in the summertime. We recommend checking out and downloading it, as cell service in the park is non-existent and you’ll appreciate having a great reference with you.
- We have a ton of information on hiking in Acadia National Park, and you can find all of our blogs on Acadia National Park here.
- If you loved your time in Acadia, then perhaps you’d be interested in one of our Acadia National Park vintage posters.
- After your trip, be sure to send us a photo so we can work with you to create one of our unique, custom, vintage-style travel posters. We’d love to work with you!