Acadia in winter a wonderland, with plenty of things to see and do

Snow falling on pink granite shores, sea smoke rising from Frenchman Bay, cross-country skiers gliding along freshly groomed trails: It’s Acadia in winter, the quiet season.

sea smoke

Sea smoke on a winter’s morning in Acadia National Park, taken by Vincent Lawrence of Acadia Images (Photo courtesy of Acadia Images)

You may not be able to drive up Cadillac Mountain or around the entire length of the Park Loop Road this time of year, or enjoy a popover on the lawn of the Jordan Pond House.

But the rewards for the hardy and adventurous soul are plenty: Solitude, winter’s beauty and such activities as cross-country skiing, winter hiking or watching for Snowy Owls and other migratory birds.

Winter is a secret wonderland in Acadia National Park. It’s not a time to hibernate.

With this being Acadia’s Centennial year, there’s even more to do in winter than usual. On Monday, Jan. 25, the official Centennial kick-off happens, during the Mount Desert Island Historical Society’s annual bean supper. A winter’s worth of activities can be searched on the official Acadia Centennial calendar of events.

There’s also an Acadia Winter Festival at Acadia’s Schoodic Institute and Camp Beech Cliff on Mount Desert Island, from Feb. 26 – March 6, featuring dozens of events, including art and fun outdoor activities for kids and adults, lectures and exhibits. Among the highlights: Cross-country ski with Acadia’s new superintendent Kevin Schneider on Schoodic; learn how to carve a wood feather pin with award-winning bird carver Ed Hawkes; and go ice fishing on Echo Lake.

cadillac in winter

To get this view from Cadillac in winter, you can hike the summit road or trails, but be sure to be properly equipped for snow, ice and cold. (NPS photo)

Beginning Jan. 17, for the first time this winter, conditions were right for volunteers with the Acadia Winter Trails Association to groom and track some of the carriage roads for cross-country skiing. This weekend, the conditions are perfect, with Witch Hole Pond Loop, Paradise Hill, Aunt Betty Pond, the west side of Eagle Lake and the section north of Parkman Mountain freshy groomed on Friday, according to the Friends of Acadia.

And so far this winter, serious birders have reported 11 separate sightings of Snowy Owls in Acadia to eBird.org, which offers an online bird checklist.

Here are some ideas and resources to plan your trip to Acadia in winter. The winter visitor center at park headquarters on ME 233 is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during January and February, and the same hours 7 days a week from March through April 14, except closed during President’s Day. No park entrance fee applies this time of year.

You can check snow conditions by linking to live Webcams at the Web site of local radio station 93.7 FM, “The Wave.”

Winter in Acadia National Park a time to get outdoors

Take a scenic drive – Though much of the Park Loop Road and the road to Cadillac are closed to cars, a couple of sections of the loop road are open: Ocean Drive accessible off Schooner Head Road, to Otter Cliff, and off Jordan Pond Road in Seal Harbor, to Jordan Pond House. Other picturesque routes: Sargeant Drive along Somes Sound with a view to Acadia Mountain, and ME 102A to Bass Harbor Head Light, where the grounds are open to visitors year-round.

cross-country skiing in Acadia National Park

Even if there isn’t enough snow for the carriage roads to be groomed for cross-country skiing, you can break your own trail. (NPS photo)

Cross-country ski – When the conditions are right, volunteers with the Acadia Winter Trails Association groom and track some of the carriage roads for classic and skate-style cross-country skiing. The Acadia Winter Trails Association, partly funded by the Elizabeth R. Bright Endowment, works in partnership with the Friends of Acadia and the park. To check on conditions, bookmark this page, or check the park Twitter feed @AcadiaNPS or the park’s winter activities Web page. If you’re new to cross-country skiing in Acadia, the Friends of Acadia posted this helpful article on elevation gain and views at different spots along the carriage roads. Cadillac Mountain Sports in Bar Harbor and Ellsworth rents cross-country skis and offers other winter gear. You can also buy gear at the L.L. Bean Outlet in Ellsworth.

Take a winter hike – If there’s not too much snow or any ice, flat easy hikes such as Ocean Path, Compass Harbor Trail, Wonderland Trail, Ship Harbor Trail or the low-tide walk to Bar Island may be done without special gear. (Check out our book “Best Easy Day Hikes, Acadia National Park,” for other easy trail ideas.) Other easy walks can be taken along the carriage roads, but please avoid the groomed and tracked cross-country ski trails. If you’re tackling a summit, such as Cadillac to catch the first US sunrise, you may want to invest in something like Kahtoola MICROspikes(R), Hillsound Trail Crampons, or snowshoes, depending upon conditions. Or sign up with a guided snowshoeing or ice climbing course through the Atlantic Climbing School. The park offers winter hiking tips here(See note below about Amazon.com links in this blog.)

sea smoke in acadia national park

Sea smoke may get in your eyes during winter in Acadia National Park. Very cold air over warmer water creates this phenomenon in winter. (NPS photo)

Go snowmobiling – No snowmobile rentals are available locally, but the park allows snowmobiling on the Park Loop Road, most fire roads and up the Cadillac Summit Road. The park lists snowmobile routes and rules and regulations here.

Go birdwatching – There’s a winter birding and brunch event on Schoodic Peninsula on Feb. 6, led by the Schoodic Institute Bird Ecology Program.  You can also check local nature tour companies, such as Down East Nature Tours and The Natural History Center, to see what trips they’re doing this time of year. Michael J. Good, a Registered Maine Guide and owner of Down East Nature Tours, and Rich MacDonald, naturalist and co-owner of The Natural History Center, are responsible for many of the Snowy Owl sightings in Acadia reported on eBird.org.

Where to find out more about places to stay, eat and recreate

– The park offers a Winter in Acadia brochure and a Web page listing winter activities, including information about primitive winter camping in Blackwoods Campground

Bass Harbor Head Light in winter

You can get these views in winter off Bass Harbor Head Light. Wear the proper gear for snow, ice and cold. (NPS photo)

– Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park offers a full calendar of activities this time of year, including the Acadia Winter Festival

The Bar Harbor Merchants Association is made up of businesses and cultural institutions that are open four seasons, and features a handy calendar of current events on its home page. It also has a page featuring member lodging establishments that are open year round.

– Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce lists more than a dozen businesses in the search results for the phrase “open year round”

– Bar Harbor Bed and Breakfast Association lists member B&Bs that are open year round.

– Southwest Harbor and Tremont Chamber of Commerce offers a handy “Who is Open When?” on its Web site

For your convenience, we’ve compiled year-round business listings from Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Tremont, town of Mount Desert, Schoodic Peninsula and Isle au Haut and Stonington, in a series of evolving pages.

Other local chambers of commerce may not be open full-time during the winter, but you may still be able to leave a message, request information or check out their Web sites for winter events.

DownEast and Acadia Regional Tourism
Schoodic Chamber of Commerce

The secret is out: Acadia is a winter wonderland, and there are plenty of activities, indoors and out, to keep you busy, and enough businesses and cultural institutions open to cater to your needs.

But don’t worry. There will still be far fewer crowds than in the traditional peak month of August, or the record-setting leaf-peeping month of October 2015.

(NOTES: Original version of this post published in acadiaonmyind.com. Amazon.com is an affiliated partner of this blog. Any purchases made through links on this blog are same price as if you bought directly via partner’s Web site. Small affiliate partner fee helps cover cost of blog.)

Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

About Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

Dolores Kong and Dan Ring are co-authors of the Falcon guides Hiking Acadia National Park and Best Easy Day Hikes Acadia National Park, and also blog at acadiaonmymind.com. They’ve backpacked the 270-plus miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, and are members of the Northeast 111 Club, having hiked all major peaks of the Northeast. Dolores is a former staff reporter at The Boston Globe. Dan is a journalist and former Statehouse bureau chief in Boston for the old Ottaway News Service and for The Republican, the daily newspaper for Springfield, Mass. They are married and live outside Boston.