UPDATED 5/3/15: Added two new pages, for year-round dining and other services in the 6 villages of the Town of Mount Desert, including Northeast Harbor and Somesville, and for year-round services on Isle au Haut and nearby Stonington.
UPDATED 3/16/15: Acadia National Park today announced some delays to usual springtime schedule because of this winter’s record snow, see below section on Park Loop Road, carriage roads and camping. Here’s the official news release.
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.
Acadia in springtime 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.
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 near Acadia National Park
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, which we’ll be adding to shortly with businesses open off-season in Northeast Harbor, and on and near Isle au Haut.)
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 last Easter’s 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.
Acadia National Park basics for first-time visitors in springtime
From the Acadia National Park Web site, here’s some information to help plan your trip:
- Hulls Cove Visitors Center opens April 15, with a daily schedule of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through June, then longer hours 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 4:30 p.m., then only Monday through Friday.
- Thompson Island Information Center opens mid-May, hours vary.
- 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 Park Loop Road, including the Cadillac Summit Road, which normally fully opens April 15, will open as soon as possible after then, once it’s clear of snow and ice. The two short sections that are normally open year-round, 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, will continue to be open, conditions permitting. You may want to check with the park on whether other paved roads and parking areas in the park that normally open on April 15, such as Beech Mountain Road Parking Area and the southern end of Schooner Head Road, will open on schedule. Same for checking on unpaved roads that usually open by May 15, including Long Pond Road, Western Mountain Road and Schoodic Head Road (on Schoodic Peninsula).
- 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 by calling (207) 288-3338 and press “0,” or check the park Web site for alerts. The park service announced on March 16 that the carriage roads may open later than usual because of the later mud season, to prevent damage.
- 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 June 16, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
- Blackwoods Campground is open year-round although water won’t be available until May 1 because of this record winter, Seawall Campground opens late May, and Duck Harbor Campground on Isle au Haut opens May 15 (by permit only).
Springtime activities to consider in Acadia National Park
- Hiking –
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 the new 3rd edition of our book, “Best Easy Day Hikes, Acadia National Park,” coming out April 1. (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.
- Running – The MDI YMCA’s Acadia Half Marathon, the nonprofit’s springtime fundraiser, is June 7 this year, and includes a part of the Park Loop Road in its route. On the last day of spring, June 20, Crow Athletics – the same group that hosts the Mount Desert Island Marathon in October – is hosting the inaugural Great Run on Great Cranberry Island, featuring a marathon, and a 6-hour ultramarathon and relay, all happening on the island’s only road, all 2 miles of it. While Great Cranberry Island isn’t within Acadia’s borders, it offers an amazing perspective back to the park.
- 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. In fact, watching for peregrine falcons in Acadia is one of the “mud season” activities featured in National Parks Traveler’s Spring 2015 Essential Park Guide.
You can also download the Acadia bird checklist for birding on your own, participate in the Acadia Birding Festival from May 28-31 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.