Favorite Acadia winter hiking trails, from easy to more challenging

ask acadia on my mind

Ask Acadia on My Mind!

Another in a series of “Ask Acadia on My Mind!” Q&As

If you have a question about Acadia National Park on your mind, whether you’re a first-time visitor or long-time fan, leave a comment below, or contact us through the About us page. We may not be able to answer every question, or respond right away, but we’ll do our best. See our page linking in one place all the Q&As.

I am coming to Acadia next week and would like some advice on hiking trails. It will be me, my wife and 18-year-old son. I watched videos of the Beehive Trail and it looks nice but how would I get back to my car after hiking up? What trails would you recommend in December? There is no ice or snow forecast for when I’m going but the island hopper bus is not running either. Thanks, Steve

Dear Steve,

Good to hear you’re doing some research in advance of your off-season trip to Acadia, and checking the weather. And you’re right to ask about how to get off the Beehive, as it’s not recommended to go back down the same way, as the cliff face is best hiked up, not down.

Acadia National Park Sand Beach Beehive wilderness

The Beehive as seen from the Great Head Trail, during March in a light snow year.

The Beehive is one of Acadia’s toughest climbs, featuring iron rungs and ladders. It’s not recommended for people who are afraid of heights, out of shape or unprepared, but we know that many people make it a tradition to climb it, especially in the summer.

For example, Martha Stewart has blogged about climbing Beehive with family or friends, most recently this past August. She includes a couple of videos on her Web site of her and Charlie Jacobi, Acadia natural resource and visitor use specialist, hiking the Beehive together a number of years ago. (She owns a home in Seal Harbor, and is a big supporter of Friends of Acadia and other area charities.)

But you wouldn’t want to do the Beehive in bad weather, whether during Acadia winter hiking or summer seasons.

We happened to be in touch last week with Gary Stellpflug, Acadia trails foreman, and asked him about the trail conditions. While there is some snow or ice, he wrote us in an e-mail, the trails are “still quite passable.”

To see if there might be any visible snow, check out the live Acadia air pollution monitoring webcam that overlooks Frenchman Bay, or a series of Bar Harbor area webcams. The park Web site features a winter activities page with links to local weather and other useful information.

If you, your wife and son are experienced and well-equipped hikers, then the Beehive can certainly be a fun family challenge, especially since there’s little or no snow or ice so far this December, and it won’t be an ice-climbing expedition. But if it’s beyond your comfort level, there are plenty of other Acadia winter hiking trails to consider, from easy to more difficult.

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)

Acadia winter hiking can include Beehive under right conditions

acadia winter hiking

Acadia National Park winter access map shows what roads are open, closed during the winter. (NPS map)

Here’s how to get to the Beehive, and off it, no matter what the season:

From the Sand Beach parking lot, which is along the approximately 2-mile portion of the one-way Park Loop Road that did not close for the off-season on Dec. 1:

  • Cross the Park Loop Road and take the Bowl Trail for 0.2 mile to the base of the Beehive
  • Turn right onto the Beehive trail and climb carefully to the top, reached in another 0.3 mile
  • Continue down the backside of the Beehive to circle down to the Bowl Trail, to loop back to the trailhead and the Sand Beach parking lot.
  • You can either turn left on a spur to the Bowl Trail, reached about 0.1 below the Beehive summit, and turn left again to circle back. Or you can continue straight another 0.4 mile all the way to the mountain pond known as the Bowl, bear left along the Bowl, and then turn left to follow the Bowl Trail back to the trailhead, for a 1.9-mile loop.

The Beehive Trail is a chapter in our Falcon guide, Hiking Acadia National Park, which includes more detailed directions and a map. Autographed copies of the book are usually available locally at Sherman’s bookstore in Bar Harbor, or you can buy it online on Amazon or through our online shop. (PLEASE NOTE: See sidebar about Amazon links in this blog)

If the Beehive is too tricky, and you’re looking for easier hikes to do in December, here are some favorites, all of which are featured in Hiking Acadia, as well as in a slimmer volume of ours, Best Easy Day Hikes, Acadia National Park. With little or no snow, these are easy to moderate trails. But if there is significant snowfall or ice, you will want to be sure to have the right equipment for the conditions, as we wrote about in an earlier Acadia winter hiking post. (PLEASE NOTE: See sidebar about Amazon links in this blog)

  • Ship Harbor Trail or Wonderland, on the “Quietside” of Mount Desert Island – easy, ranging from 1.3 to 1.4 miles
  • Ocean Path, which also begins from the Sand Beach parking lot – easy, taking you by Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff, 4 miles round trip
  • Sand Beach and Great Head – moderate, 1.7 miles

    winter in acadia

    Winter in Acadia, as seen from Cadillac. (NPS photo)

  • Jordan Pond Path – easy, 3.3 miles
  • Bar Island Trail, accessible only at low tide – easy, 2 miles round trip
  • Cadillac Mountain, which can be hiked via the Cadillac Summit Road since the summit is closed to cars as of Dec. 1, or the Cadillac North Ridge Trail – moderate, more than 8 miles round trip
  • Carriage roads – The network of 45 miles of carriage roads in Acadia can be accessed during the winter at a number of places, whether for hiking, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, depending upon the conditions: On ME 233 at the Eagle Lake parking lot; at the Jordan Pond House, accessible from the 2-way section of the Park Loop Road via the park’s Stanley Brook Entrance in Seal Harbor; Brown Mountain Gatehouse on ME 198 in Northeast Harbor; and other spots.
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)

Visiting in December and the rest of the Acadia winter hiking season can be a delight, even if it’s cold, it gets dark early, and there’s the possibility of snow and ice.

You might get the chance to see a Snowy owl. You won’t have to fight the crowds. Plus there are year-round places to stay and dine on Mount Desert Island, and you don’t have to pay an entrance fee.

One change this winter: To get basic information about visiting the park, instead of stopping by the Acadia National Park headquarters on ME 233, you should stop by the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce at the corner of Main and Cottage Streets, where a ranger is now stationed.

Other links that may be helpful in planning an off-season trip to the Acadia region:

Enjoy your off-season hiking trip in Acadia, Steve. Thanks for asking Acadia on My Mind!

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, a former staff reporter at The Boston Globe, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional and senior vice president with Winslow, Evans & Crocker, Inc. (member of FINRA/SIPC) in Boston. Dan, 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, is also an operations professional with Winslow, Evans & Crocker, Inc. (member of FINRA/SIPC), in Boston. They are married and live outside Boston.