Hope springs eternal for springtime in Acadia

Deep snow may still cover parts of Acadia National Park as the first day of spring approaches, but surely it can’t be long before birdsong fills the air, flowers and trees bud and the park rouses from its wintry slumber.

Jesup Path in acadia national park

Apple blossoms frame a view of Champlain Mountain along Jesup Path during in springtime in Acadia.

Springtime in Acadia is an uncrowded paradise, perfect for hikers, birders, plant aficionados, bicyclists, runners, photographers, or anyone who enjoys the outdoors and magnificent scenery without the summer and fall foliage season throngs.

Maybe you can’t get into the water at Sand Beach – but who can even in summer? – or dine alfresco in Bar Harbor or at the Jordan Pond House. Maybe you can’t hop on the Island Explorer bus shuttle over to Northeast Harbor and anywhere else on Mount Desert Island, or around Schoodic Peninsula. And maybe you can’t take the Isle au Haut mail boat directly to Duck Harbor.

Sand Beach in Acadia National Park in spring

Sand Beach in spring shows the effects of winter storms, with the rocks to eventually be covered by sand again. (NPS photo)

But what you get instead during this season of rebirth: Roads less traveled, so you can more safely run and bike around the Park Loop Road – and maybe even up the 3.5-mile Cadillac Summit Road if you’re in great shape; plenty of parking at trailheads or carriage road parking lots; and as much solitude and communing with nature as you would like, whether you hike, bike or run, or watch for flora and fauna.

Here’s a guide to springtime in Acadia, including basics about visiting the park and activities to explore, to help you plan your trip.

Off-season lodging, dining, activities available during springtime in Acadia

There are enough year-round businesses open in area communities, that you can find plenty of places to stay and eat, whether you’re visiting the main part of the park on Mount Desert Island, the mainland section on Schoodic Peninsula, or even far-flung Isle au Haut. (Check out our Acadia National Park year-round lodging and dining pages.)

While spring runs from March 20 through June 20 this year, the best time to visit may be in May, when temperatures have warmed, the days are longer, and the peak season hasn’t begun yet. May is also when many of the peak-season businesses start opening their doors.

But some years, when the winter hasn’t been as snowy as this one, we’ve gotten plenty of hiking and running in during March and April, including a 2014 Easter run at low tide to Bar Island, and a hike later that same Sunday up to Champlain along Orange & Black Path, which ended with a memorable encounter with wild turkeys.

Basics for first-time visitors during springtime in Acadia National Park

Here’s some general information to help plan your trip. Check the park Web site for details and the latest info. You can also call the park at (207) 288-3338 during normal business hours:

  • Hulls Cove Visitors Center opens April 15, with a daily schedule of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through mid-June, then 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for peak summer months.
  • The park headquarters on ME 233, which serves as the winter visitor center, is open daily until April 14, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., then only Monday through Friday.
  • Thompson Island Information Center opens mid-May, hours vary.
  • Village Green Information Center opens late May, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Entrance fees aren’t charged until May, and the 7-day pass is $25 for a car, $20 for a motorcyclist, and $12 for a bicyclist or pedestrian. Year-round passes are $50, and there are free or discounted passes for seniors, the disabled, active duty military personnel or park volunteers.
  • The main part of the Park Loop Road, including the Cadillac Summit Road, normally opens April 15, conditions permitting. Two short sections, Ocean Drive between Schooner Head Road and Otter Cliff Road, and a spur to Jordan Pond, accessible from Seal Harbor via ME 3 and Jordan Pond Road, are open year-round, conditions permitting. Other paved roads and parking areas in the park that normally open on April 15, conditions permitting: Beech Mountain Road Parking Area and the southern end of Schooner Head Road. Unpaved roads that usually open by May 15, conditions permitting: Long Pond Road, Western Mountain Road and Schoodic Head Road (on Schoodic Peninsula).
Cobblestone Bridge in Acadia National Park

Cobblestone Bridge can be found along the 45 miles of carriage roads built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in Acadia. Carriage roads usually closed for 2 weeks during mud season.

  • Carriage roads, which have been groomed for some great cross-country skiing this winter, are usually closed for at least a couple of weeks during “mud season,” so that the roads can sufficiently recover from spring thawing to avoid damage by bikers, walkers or horses. Check with the park for carriage road opening.
  • Sieur de Monts Nature Center opens for the weekends in May, and daily in June, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Isleford Historical Museum opens late May, hours vary.
  • Blackwoods Campground is open year-round with reservations recommended from May through October. Seawall Campground opens late May, and Duck Harbor Campground on Isle au Haut opens May 15 (by permit only). Schoodic Woods Campground on Schoodic Peninsula opens late May. More information about reservations can be found on the park’s camping page. New for 2017, group camping reservations must be made online.

Things to see and do in springtime in Acadia National Park

  • Hiking
    Lady slippers at Acadia National Park.

    A secret colony of pink lady slippers blooms each spring in the shadow of a granite rock near the peak of a mountain in Acadia National Park.

    Every spring, we have a ritual, to hike and visit a secret colony of pink lady slippers. While we won’t reveal where that is here, we’ll share a couple of other favorite springtime hikes, all of which are featured in our 3rd edition of our book, “Best Easy Day Hikes, Acadia National Park.” (NOTE: See sidebar about Amazon.com links on this Web site)
    o Great Meadow Loop to Jesup Path, ending at the Wild Gardens of Acadia, for the birdsong and blooming trees and flowers. You can see yellow lady slippers at the Wild Gardens, and that’s no secret.
    o Wonderland Trail, an easy hike that brings you down to the dramatic rocky coast for some tidepool exploration, but also features skunk cabbage sprouting with its purplish-red leaves and yellow flowers in springtime, near the start.

  • Biking – If the carriage roads are closed during the spring thaw, you can bike the Park Loop Road or, if you dare, up the Cadillac Summit Road. Follow the rules of the road, and bike in the direction of traffic, even on the one-way section of the Park Loop Road.

    Acadia Half Marathon lobster

    This year’s running of MDI YMCA’s Acadia Half Marathon in springtime may feature a cheerleading lobster, as in 2014.

  • Running – The MDI YMCA’s Acadia Half Marathon, the nonprofit’s springtime fundraiser, is June 4 this year, and includes a part of the Park Loop Road in its route.
  • Birdwatching – At the base of the Precipice Trail, which is closed in spring and early summer for nesting peregrine falcons, rangers or park volunteers may have a spotting scope set up for visitors to view the raptors; you can check the park’s online calendar of events for PeregrineWatch hours. You can download the Acadia bird checklist for birding on your own, participate in the Acadia Birding Festival from June 1-4 this year, or sign up with one of the local birding and nature tours.
  • Visiting gardens – The Wild Gardens of Acadia, a partnership of the Friends of Acadia and Acadia National Park, is the only garden within the boundaries of the park, at the Sieur de Monts entrance. Here, you can see a microcosm of Acadia’s plant habitats, from mixed woods to meadows, beach to mountain. The best time to visit the garden is after the plant labels are put up in May, to help identify the flora. Other gardens in area communities include Asticou Azalea Garden, open May 1, and Thuya Garden, open late May, in Northeast Harbor; and Charlotte Rhoades Park and Butterfly Garden, with volunteers available Thursday mornings, beginning in mid-April, to share information about the garden and butterfly activity, in Southwest Harbor. And if you want to head off searching for plants on your own, an invaluable field guide is “The Plants of Acadia National Park,” by Glen Mittelhauser, Linda Gregory, Sally Rooney, and Jill Weber. (NOTE: See sidebar for information about Amazon.com links on this Web site)

As the snow melts, the days get longer and the temperatures rise, hope springs eternal for springtime in Acadia National Park.

To be there in the season of nature’s rebirth, is to be renewed yourself.

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.