This story was originally published in January 2021.
With its granite peaks covered in snow and its cliffs adorned with icicles, Acadia National Park is of special beauty in winter. And even though some roads are closed, much of the park remains easily accessible for a variety of outdoor activities such as cross-country skiing, ice skating, and snowshoeing.
Acadia has been designated as one of the Top 20 of America’s most beautiful national parks in winter by the Wilderness Society. And he did so on several similar lists of destinations to visit in winter. However, Acadia’s attendance is much lower in winter than at any other time of the year. So if you are looking to avoid the crowds, now is a great time to visit.
“Winter in Acadia is magical,” said Lisa Horsch Clark, Director of Development and Donor Relations for the Friends of Acadia. “It’s good that people still come here in the winter because they can see it in a much less crowded weather, and I feel like you get a deeper connection to the park when you don’t. so many people around. There is only you, the mountains, the trees and the sky.
To start, here are some easy winter adventures in Acadia on Mount Desert Island.
Skiing around the ponds
If there is sufficient snow and the ground is frozen, cross-country skiing is permitted on Acadia’s 45 miles of smooth motorable roads. Approximately 32 miles of these motorable roads are maintained by volunteers from the Acadia Winter Trails Association. For the most up-to-date information on maintained trails, visit Friends of Acadia website at friendsofacadia.org.
Some sections of motorable roads are rougher and more difficult than others. For beginners, the motorable roads that circle Eagle Lake are a good option and are easily accessible from a parking lot at the north end of the lake, off Eagle Lake Road. To circle the entire lake, it is 3.6 miles.
Another popular loop is the 3.1 mile Witch Hole Pond Loop, but this adventure begins with a fairly steep hill that can be difficult for beginners. To ski this loop, start at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center and ski a 0.7 mile access trail. Considering this distance, the route is 4.5 miles.
Snowshoeing is also permitted on groomed motorable roads, provided that you avoid walking on parallel ski slopes. If you are walking with a dog, make sure the dog also stays off the beaten track.
Snowmobile on Park Loop Road
When there is sufficient snow on the ground, snowmobile travel is permitted on the 27-mile Park Loop Road network, including the road up Cadillac Mountain. Snowmobiling is also permitted on most fire roads. The trick is to hit the park when the conditions are right. Keep in mind that Mount Desert Island often receives much less snow than other areas of Maine. If you are unsure whether or not the island has snow, check out the Snow depth map in Maine updated daily by the National Weather Service.
Snowmobilers are encouraged to use the parking lot at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center to access the winter snowmobile routes. Before you visit, be sure to review park guidelines for snowmobiling at nps.gov/acad. Snowmobiling is not permitted on hiking trails or motorable roads (except on the east side of Eagle Lake to connect with Park Loop Road). The Park Loop Road and Cadillac Summit Road offer plenty of breathtaking views of the island and the ocean.
Walk along the shore
Several easy hiking trails in Acadia are accessible in winter, but keep in mind that ice crampons or snowshoes may be necessary, depending on the conditions.
On the southwest side of the island, the Wonderland Trail (1.4 miles, round trip) and Ship Harbor Nature Trail (a 1.3-mile figure-eight trail) will take you to views of the ocean and rocky beaches. Located off Seawall Road, their trailheads are close together, so if you want to extend your outing you can do both.
On the east side of the island, the Great Head Trail forms a 1.4 mile loop that follows the rocky shore and is a bit more difficult, with many ups and downs and especially rocky sections. The trail leads to the highest point of Great Head, a bluff that rises 145 feet above sea level, and the ruins of a teahouse built around 1920.
This adventure will also give you the chance to visit the famous sandy beach, which is much less crowded in the winter than in the warmer months. And nearby, you can walk from Sand Beach to Otter Point on the Easy Ocean Trail for another fun winter adventure.
Ice skating on ponds and lakes
Wild ice skating is a popular activity in Acadia, when the conditions are right. It is extremely important to check the thickness and quality of the ice to make sure it is safe enough for skating. This can be done by drilling a hole in the ice or consulting with local fishermen (you can see some when you get to a pond or lake).
A helpful resource for staying up to date on the ice in Maine is an online map created by Lake Stewards of Maine which shows the ice entry and exit dates for various lakes and ponds in Maine. However, this map does not indicate whether or not the ice is safe for ice skating or other activities such as ice fishing.
While people ice skate on many of Acadian lakes and ponds, some of the most accessible places to skate in the park are Eagle Lake, Long Pond, Echo Lake, and Seal Cove Pond. However, some of the most popular places to ice skate on MDI are just outside the park, in Somes Pond and Little Long Pond (which is in the Land and Garden Preserve).
Keep in mind that larger, deeper bodies of water tend to take longer to form safe ice for recreation. In addition, ice usually thins or disappears in inlets, outlets and other areas of running water. Wearing ice safety spikes (or punches), carrying a rope, and always skating with a friend can also improve your safety when on the ice.
Hike a small mountain
If you’re looking for an easy mountain hike, try Flying Mountain. At 284 feet above sea level, it’s one of the lowest peaks in Acadia National Park, but from the exposed bedrock at its summit, hikers are rewarded with great views of the ‘ocean. The climb to the top is only 0.3 mile, but you can lengthen the hike by continuing past the summit and down to scenic Valley Cove. The loop is 1.4 km long.
Another relatively easy mountain in Acadia is Day Mountain, which rises to 583 feet and offers a 1.6 mile round trip hike. The hike goes through a beautiful evergreen forest and gets more rocky with altitude. The overhangs near the top provide a clear view of the ocean.
Depending on the conditions, snowshoes or ice crampons may be necessary to navigate these trails safely.
Cycling on the roads
Winter is a great opportunity to cycle most of Acadia’s scenic Park Loop Road without having to worry about motor vehicles. Depending on the snow and ice conditions, you may want to ride a fat tire bike – which has wide tires that help you stay afloat on snow – or a bike with studded tires.
Keep in mind that two sections of the Park Loop Road remain open to motor vehicles all winter. A short section leads to the south end of Jordan Pond from Jordan Pond Road. And the other open section connects Schooner Head Road and Otter Cliff Road, allowing vehicles to access Sand Beach and Thunder Hole.
Whatever winter adventure you choose, plan ahead and be prepared for the cold. Although Acadia National Park is close to civilization, it is still a piece of wilderness where people can get lost or hurt themselves. Minimize your risk by taking the necessary equipment, including a detailed trail map, and consider going on an adventure with one or two companions for added safety and fun.
Prepare a delicious lunch and grilled drinks, bundle up and experience the magic of winter in Acadia, whether on foot, by bike, on ski, on snowshoes or on skates.