Planning a trip to Acadia in winter? Ask Acadia on My Mind!

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.

1) Planning a hike up Cadillac Mountain on New Year’s Day 2017. Can you recommend a trail to the top and accommodations near there this time of year? Thanks for any information you can provide. – Regards,Tom Campbell, Denver, North Carolina

Dear Tom,

Sounds like a great way to welcome the New Year, visiting Acadia in winter to hike up Cadillac, whether to see the first sunrise in the US or not!

Planning such a trip is not as difficult as you might think, especially since there are quite a number of year-round lodging and dining options in Bar Harbor and surrounding towns, as we’ve compiled in a series of handy pages on this blog.

winter in acadia

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

If you’re lucky, there may not be much snow and ice on Cadillac, making it an easier hike. But be sure to bring proper gear just in case, since conditions can change quickly, and can be very different at the top of the mountain compared with down at the start. Make sure you shop backpacking and hiking gear here if you don’t have the right equipment.

See a list of some favorite winter hiking gear, below, as well as a round-up of other activities in Acadia in winter. You might also want to post a question about current trail conditions on the Acadia National Park Hiking group page we created on Facebook, which a number of local hikers belong to.

You can check snow conditions by linking to Bar Harbor area live Webcams, and the park’s official winter activities page for additional information.

Acadia in winter offers hiking, cross-country skiing, other activities

There are 2 main options for hiking up Cadillac this time of year, Tom. As of Dec. 1, the Cadillac Summit Road closed to cars, as did much of the Park Loop Road. So one option is to walk the road. The other main option is to hike the Cadillac North Ridge Trail, which is a bit shorter and less exposed than walking the road.

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)

To access either of these options, you would park by the gate blocking the park’s Cadillac entrance off Eagle Lake Road (ME 233). You would then walk south along the Park Loop Road toward Cadillac about a mile before accessing either the summit road or Cadillac North Ridge Trail.

If you’re planning on hiking the 3.5-mile Cadillac Summit Road, just follow the Park Loop Road to the summit road, and turn left up the summit road and follow it to the top. (Be aware that snowmobiles are allowed on the Cadillac Summit Road and the entire Park Loop Road, if the conditions are right.)

If you’re hiking the 2.2-mile Cadillac North Ridge Trail, you have 2 choices off the Park Loop Road: Turn left at the Island Explorer’s North Ridge bus stop to follow the Kebo Brook Trail 0.3 mile to the Cadillac North Ridge Trailhead, or continue a bit further on the Park Loop Road and turn left onto the 1-way section of the Park Loop Road to reach the Cadillac North Ridge Trailhead (it’s about 0.4 mile longer to reach the trailhead via the 1-way section of the Park Loop Road, compared with taking the Kebo Brook Trail).

A 3rd option would be the Cadillac South Ridge Trail. One advantage of this route: The trailhead is easy to find because it is on ME 3, across from the Blackwoods Campground entrance. However, as of the winter of 2019 and 2020, offseason and winter camping are no longer allowed at Blackwoods Campground. The front gates will remain closed until the campground reopens on May 1.

The Cadillac South Ridge Trail is a bit of a trek at 3.5 miles, and more exposed than the Cadillac North Ridge Trail.

Cadillac isn’t the only hike to do in Acadia in winter

If conditions aren’t favorable for a Cadillac sunrise hike, there are plenty of other options, either to see the sunrise or for an easier trek.

Acadia National Park in winter

Acadia National Park in winter has its own special beauty. (NPS photo)

There’s a 1-mile stretch of the 1-way section of the Park Loop Road, accessed off Schooner Head Road, that is plowed and open year-round, allowing access to Ocean Path for an easier sunrise view. Some Acadia Centennial Partners actually welcomed the dawn of the 2016 Centennial year from this vantage point.

For easier hikes with views, try these: Low-tide walk to Bar Island Trail; Compass Harbor Trail; Sand Beach and Great Head Trail; Gorham Mountain Trail; Jordan Pond Path (accessible via another part of the Park Loop Road that’s open year-round, reached off ME 3 and Jordan Pond Road in Seal Harbor); Wonderland; and Ship Harbor Trail.

You can find out more about these easier hikes in either one of our Falcon guides, “Best Easy Day Hikes, Acadia National Park,” or “Hiking Acadia National Park” (which won the National Outdoor Book Award last month). (NOTE: Please see sidebar about links in this blog.)

Smorgasbord of things to see and do in Acadia in winter

Here’s a round-up of activities going on in Acadia in the winter, Tom, if you’re staying beyond the New Year’s Day hike up Cadillac, or planning other trips off-season:

acadia in winter

This oil painting by Seal Harbor resident Judy Taylor, entitled “The Skaters,” won the 2017 Acadia Winter Festival poster contest. (Image courtesy of Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park)

  • Annual Bar Harbor Winter Beer Fest – Held annually in mid-January at Atlantic Brewing Mid-town.
  • Acadia Winter Festival – Feb. 7 – Feb. 9, 2020
  • Cross-country skiing – Friends of Acadia volunteers with the Acadia Winter Trails Association groom and track the carriage roads for cross-country skiing if new snow is at least 6 inches and the road bed is frozen. Good cross country ski conditions may not last long, either, so be sure to check. Grooming started on Jan. 20 in 2020.
  • Snowmobiling – The park spells out the rules and regulations for snowmobiling on its winter activities page.There are no snowmobile rentals on Mount Desert Island. The park no longer allows dog sledding and skijoring, as a result of the 6-foot leash requirement.)

See the park’s official winter activities page for other tips for planning a trip, including information about winter camping in Acadia, and a recent prohibition against dog sledding and skijoring as a result of the 6-foot leash requirement. There are many other locations to enjoy this activity though, JugDog share their tips this winter on looking out for your dog!

Suggested outdoor gear for a trip to Acadia in winter

Below is a list of some gear that might come in handy for a trip to Acadia in winter, depending upon the conditions and the outdoor activity, some of which may be available at such local retailers as Cadillac Mountain Sports in Bar Harbor and Ellsworth; L.L. Bean Outlet in Ellsworth; or online via our affiliated partners REI or Amazon (NOTE: See sidebar about affiliated partner links in this blog):

  • Kahtoola MICROspikes(R)
  • Hillsound Trail Crampon
  • MSR Revo(TM) Ascent Snowshoe

Click on “Next” to see other gear from REI

9 thoughts on “Planning a trip to Acadia in winter? Ask Acadia on My Mind!

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  2. Brandon

    Hi i want to propose to my girlfriend on december 2nd. Insee that the road closes on december 1st. Is there another spot that has a beautiful sun rise in the morning than i can get to by car

    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Hi Brandon, what a great idea, to propose in Acadia! It’s certainly a romantic setting. One place you can get to by car in December, and see a beautiful sunrise: a 1-mile stretch of the 1-way section of the Park Loop Road that you can access off Schooner Head Road. It’s plowed (in case of snow) and provides access to Ocean Path, an easy hiking trail that faces east. There are various parking spots along that section of the Park Loop Road, by Thunder Hole, Sand Beach or Gorham Mount, for instance. Some members of the Acadia Centennial Task Force welcomed the dawn of the next 100 years of the park along Ocean Path. Also, you can stop in the winter park visitor center for more info, which is now over at the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce at the corner of Cottage and Main Streets. See details here: Wishing you clear skies on Dec. 2!

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  7. Jim Linnane

    Good advice. I love to hike up Cadillac in the winter and do it often. Crampons and hiking poles are an absolute must and snow shoes are not a bad idea. Stabilicers are OK for the road, but spikes should be worn on trails. Snow depths in open areas are quite variable. Some places are bare and some hollows are filled with waist-deep snow. Make sure to wear a hat and layers that are not cotton. On the way up you will break a sweat no matter how cold it is, but you will apreciate layers and a good windbreaker on the way down. Walking up the road, a round trip of about 9 miles, is exposed but safer than a trail. Even on the road you will encounter plenty of ice underfoot with deep snow drifts in places but the consequences of slipping and falling will not be severe. Once at the top have lunch at the picnic table behind the gift shop which provides shelter from northerly winds.

    Here is a secret for your readers “from away”. Most folks who walk along the Ocean Drive in winter park at Sand Beach, which has a pit toilet. Continue on to the Fabbri Picnic Area which has a heated restroom, including a hot air dryer for hands.

    1. Acadia on my mind Post author

      Dear Jim, invaluable tips from a true veteran of hiking Acadia – in all seasons! While we have been to Acadia in winter, it’s only been during very mild ones, when there hasn’t been snow on the ground. We especially appreciate the tips about the picnic table behind the Cadillac gift shop, and the heated restroom at the Fabbri picnic area! Have a wonderful winter!

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