Draped in a blanket of sparkling white snow, Acadia National Park’s natural beauty shines through in winter. Typically a summer destination, in winter, the park is a glorious showcase of cascading drifts, ice formations, and brilliant blue skies.
The highest rocky headlands on the Atlantic coastline with Cadillac Mountain checking in at 1,530 feet. The park showcases spectacular vistas, winter white scenic drives, adventurous hiking, cross-country skiing, ice fishing, birding, and waterfall climbing to satisfy your winter wonderland adventure getaway.
The park’s remoteness is evident during the winter when many shops are closed, but Mother Nature is open for business. Located mainly on picturesque Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park’s largest downtown area is Bar Harbor. The island is home to some of the most scenic vistas on the northeastern coastline and is awe-inspiring during the winter months.
1. See The Sunrise First On Cadillac Mountain Summit
Between October through early March, Cadillac Mountain's summit is the first spot in the country to see the sunrise. As the sun’s first rays peek over the Gulf of Maine, Frenchman Bay, and Bar Harbor, it displaces the dusky morning light with radiant hues. In the warmer months, there will be crowds of onlookers wrapped in blankets, sipping coffee, and taking copious photos of the rising red orb that creates a spectacular array of colors on the horizon. However, in the winter months, you can enjoy the spectacle in your own secluded viewing spot.
To reach the summit, typically, you would drive up Cadillac Mountain; however, it is closed during the snowy months. If you are a hardy hiker, make the trek up the 3.5-mile road either on foot, skis, snowshoes, or even a skimobile.
The sunrise is glorious, but you will find others have reached the summit for “first break,” which is when the light begins to change, and the stars fade away. If you opt to take the trip, be prepared for a drop of a minimum of 20 degrees at the summit.
Pro Tip: The sunrise on Cadillac Mountain is several minutes earlier than the forecasted sunrise. So as not to miss the spectacle, plan to arrive a little early.
2. Explore Park Loop Road
Beginning December 1st, the Park Loop Road is closed except for Ocean Drive and Jordan Pond Road.
Ocean Drive is one-way during the winter; one lane for the cars and the other for snowmobiles. Vehicles are required to stay in the right lane which runs from Schooner Head Road to Otter Cliff Road. The 2-mile drive takes you along the eastern part of the loop south of Bar Harbor for some breathtaking ocean views.
On the southern portion of Acadia, Jordan Pond Road is open just north of Seal Harbor and will take you to the Jordan Pond House Restaurant, where you can park and explore. The restaurant is closed for the season but still offers gorgeous views.
Snowmobiles are allowed to explore the 27-mile Park Loop Road, including the Cadillac Summit Road. They are not allowed to go off-roading, nor are they allowed on the hiking trails and carriage roads.
Pro Tip: Snowmobiles are not available to rent on Mount Desert Island.
3. Trek The Carriage Roads
Wide and flat, the carriage roads are perfect for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. With 45 miles of groomed trails and ungroomed areas, the Carriage Roads are at the heart of Acadia’s winter wonderland.
With any winter hiking, make sure to have crampons or yaktrax to help you keep your footing solid on the frozen surface. Hiking poles will also be a valuable tool for keeping upright. When hiking, keep to one side of the groomed cross country trails because footprints and snowshoe tracks cutting into the ski lanes is a no-no.
Cross country skiers will enjoy the wide glades and gentle slopes of the carriage roads. The exhilarating journey through the picture-perfect, tree-line paths is nothing short of magical.
Pro Tip: Information about groomed trails is available through the Acadia Winter Trails Association.
4. Venture Out To Jordan Pond
You might spy an ice fishing shack or two on Jordan Pond. Known for a generous stock of landlocked salmon and lake trout, the pond is accessible during the winter via the Park Loop Road, which terminates at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant, making it the perfect spot to drop your line. Unfortunately, the restaurant is not open in the winter, but the views of Jordan Pond are beautiful to behold.
Exploring the trails around Jordan Pond will get your heart pumping and fill your lungs with crisp mountain air. Plan to be well equipped to set out on the 3.4-mile Jordan Pond Full Loop Trail. In the summer, it is rated as moderate; in the winter, it is a good step up from moderate. For the snowshoeing and cross country enthusiast, the reward is a pond loop with beautiful views as you traverse the peaceful trail.
Pro Tip: Trails may not be groomed, and cell service is unreliable. Preplan your route and pack defensively.
5. Schoodic Point
One of Acadia National Park’s less-visited areas is Schoodic Point. This secluded area is best known for its crashing surf against the craggy, rugged shoreline. For the visitor in search of solitude and blazing their own backcountry trail, Schoodic has the answer to your adventure getaway.
The drive from Bar Harbor to Schoodic Peninsula is an hour-plus in good weather as you skirt around small coves and inlets. However, the scenic route offers beautiful vistas of the bay. At the tip of the Schoodic Peninsula, Schoodic Point is the best place to look west and view Cadillac Mountain.
The Schoodic Institute is dedicated to teaching the public about science and conservation. Through research programs and events, the institute is the leading partner in the study of ecology within Acadia National Park. They offer year-round events ranging from conditions affecting the National Parks to programs highlighting the local area.
Pro Tip: To research or post skiing information about the Schoodic area, use the #SkiAcadia hashtag on Twitter.
6. Climb A Waterfall
Experience the ultimate winter challenge, ice climbing. Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School is ready and waiting to teach you how to climb safely and have a fun experience. Their expertly trained guides offer an introductory ice climbing class where you will learn the basic techniques of waterfall climbing. Additionally, they offer half and full day climbs that will test your skills and pump up your adrenaline. If you are looking for that one-of-a-kind, Instagrammable moment, this adventure fits the bill.
Pro Tip: Up your waterfall climbing game with their 2-day introductory ice climbing adventure.
7. Visit Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is located on Mount Desert Island and is accessible to personal vehicles. The Bass Head Harbor Light Station is perched on the iconically rocky Maine coast. The Lighthouse provides a beautiful view of Bass Harbor and Blue Hill Bay while protecting seafaring vessels from her craggy shoreline.
Pro Tip: While the station is not open to visitors, you are invited to enjoy the grounds.
8. Thunder Hole
Thunder Hole is a semi-submerged cave that booms like a clap of thunder, typically an hour or two before high tide. From the overlook platform, you can see and hear the waves crashing against the rocks. During the summer months, the walk down to the caves is slippery and requires good agility. In the winter months, it can be dangerous. However, it is worth a stop as the views are beautiful.
Pro Tip: Thunder Hole is on the Ocean Drive section of the Park Loop Road and is open during the winter months.
9. Birding In Winter
Down East Nature Tours will personalize your snowshoeing or skiing nature and birding adventure. Traipsing through fresh snow in search of Acadia’s aviary population will have you spreading your wings with joy. A picture-perfect journey through the park where you may encounter Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Osprey, and other winged residents. Don’t be surprised if you spot a deer or two enjoying a little vegetation snack along your journey.
Pro Tip: Make sure to pack your binoculars; you won’t want to miss a thing.
10. Dine On East Coast Seafood
When you are in Maine, seafood, particularly Maine lobster, is what the locals call the daily catch. At Peekytoe Provision, you can happily munch on a Local Lobster Roll served in the classic, toasted split-top bun with either mayo or sauteed in butter -- your choice. Try the Fresh Haddock Sandwich, cooked to your specifications, served on a Challah bun with optional avocado or bacon. If you want to blend in with the locals, order your Lobstah roll with a New England accent.
A getaway in Acadia National Park in winter is a unique adventure. Many times you will feel all the surrounding beauty is for your eyes only. With good outdoor planning, you can enjoy this winter wonderland and peace in your pristine surroundings.