We have been together for almost seven years, and during our time together our relationship has grown and matured. When we first started dating, birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays were special occasions for gift giving. Each of us would head to Amazon or go the the mall and get that new pair of shoes the other had been eyeing, or a special trinket to show how much we love each other. These days, we are all about giving experiences that we can cherish together. One of our gifts this past year was an annual pass to all of the National Parks. This gift served as a way to force ourselves to travel to locations we wouldn’t necessarily consider and to experience the grandeur this amazing county has to offer.
The closest Park to Boston is Acadia National Park. Located on Mount Desert Island on the Atlantic coast of Maine, this 47,000 acre park offers a wide range of activities in warmer weather: rock climbing, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, swimming, bicycling, fishing. In the winter, most of the park shuts down. The majority of the park roads aren’t plowed and many of the information centers lockup and move to downtown Bar Harbor, a close town near by. But this didn’t stop us from heading up there for a long weekend in March.
Let us first say that when heading to this National Park in the winter, you actually don’t need to pay or use passes to enter the parks; that’s right, this park is free. This meant that many of the key locations in the winter were unoccupied and allowed us to experience their beauty without crowds and tourists. We also familiarized ourselves with the area so we could be intentional with how we spent out time when everything did reopen in early Summer/Fall. We stayed in Bar Harbor, and the majority of the eateries, shops, restaurants, and hotels were closed – this town is definitely a sleeper town in the winter. However, there was enough open in to satisfy our adventures for the two nights we were there.
A five hour drive from Boston, we headed out on a Friday at about 1pm, allowing ourselves some time to relax, settle in, do some basic exploring when arriving in Bar Harbor. This is probably the most convenient place to stay in the winter. The rates of most hotels are slashed in half during the off-season (officially any time between October and May), so it was a great way to experience the luxury accommodations for less money. We woke up early on Saturday ready to fuel ourselves up for the day and see the sights. After chatting with a Park Ranger about what was actually open and what the recent trail conditions were like, we took our marked-up map and headed into the park.
Keep reading for our itinerary of how to spend 48 Wintry Hours in Acadia National Park. You won’t be disappointed!
48 Wintry Hours in Acadia National Park, Maine
- Bring layers and comfortable hiking shoes or winter boots. As we like to say in the Northeast, if you don’t like the weather, just wait 10 minutes. Be sure to bring a winter jacket, a knit sweater, and winter accessories like a hat and gloves. The trail conditions when we went were decent, a little icy at times but definitely not unpassible. But a day that started out bright and sunny with clear blue skies, turned gloomy and dark in the afternoon – normal for this area.
- A car is needed during the winter. Since most of the bike rentals establishments close up in winter, it’s best to have a car to get from one island to the next. There is also a small airport in Bar Harbor, but none of the major airlines fly here even in the summer. It’s best to drive in the off-season.
- Don’t expect the most popular establishments to be open. In fact, some of the major year-round businesses were closed when we went to do some needed renovations. This is definitely a sleeper town, so take advantage of the less crowded park and try not to be picky.
Where to stay: The Acadia Hotel in downtown Bar Harbor, Maine was amazing. The staff and other guests were friendly and willing to give recommendations for activities and restaurants upon request. The room we were placed in was exactly what we needed, a large king bed, compact shower, a mini fridge, and even a balcony (though we didn’t use it due to the foot of snow piled up outside). They even had outdoor heaters with wicker chairs and a hot tub to warm yourself after a day of outdoor fun. The rates were reasonable, during this time of year, but probably would’ve been over our budget if we were to stay in the summer.
Where to eat, drink, and be merry:
- Everyday Joes: Looking for flapjacks and burrito bowls? Head to this eatery/convenience store to order a big breakfast before heading out for some winter activities. Locals and tourists alike head here for their morning cup of coffee – it’s a family friendly option any time of year.
- Choco-Latte: If homemade bagels, speciality drinks, and creative sandwiches are more your cup of tea, head to Choco-Latte. Great coffee and a great takeout option if you’re looking to eat on the trails or on the road.
- Side Street Cafe: This place has it all. From salads to burgers, ribs, and lobster, head to this eatery. It even has a bar and family-friendly seating in the back. It was exactly what we needed after our drive from Boston.
- Atlantic Beer Company: This brewery is technically closed to the public during the winter months, but luckily for us, the have a downtown location serving up their hoppy concoctions year-round. This two-story joint has ping pong tables, delicious bar eats, and merchandise to commemorate your time here.
- Siam Orchid: If looking for an authentic Asian option, stop in to Siam Orchid for some Thai tea and dumplings. Their food is served fresh and has pleasant staff to make your time enjoyable.
What to do:
- Bird Watch at Schooner Head Overlook: If looking for a great view of a sunrise or Schooner Head lighthouse, head no further than Overlook. It offers great views of the ocean as well as dozens of bird species. In the off-season, this snow packed hill is as picturesque as it gets.
- Explore Sand Beach: One of the most popular locations on Mount Desert Island, Sand Beach is approximately 300 yards of tan sand in between massive granite mountains. Heading here in the winter means considerably less people and enough room to explore the icicle covered sea rocks. It felt like a private park all to ourselves for hours.
- Hear Thunder Hole: Though the waves weren’t strong enough to cause powerful sea spray over the stairs like during the summer months, the thunderous sound still shook the ground beneath our feet. The ‘thunder’ is caused by a naturally carved inlet in the rocks – when waves rush into the inlet, the air is quickly and roughly forced out causing the sound. In the winter, there is almost no one looking at this phenomenon, compared to dozens of adventurers lining the stairs in the summer months.
- Discover Otter Point and Otter Cliff: Otter Point is a mile long trail through tree-lined coastlines leading to Otter Cliff, a large granite stone rock formation. The rough rocks create alluring formations that can be carefully climbed. In the winter, there are less crowds which allows for additional exploring between crevices.
- Snowshoe around Jordan Pond: The Jordan House restaurant, which overlooks the clear blue Jordan Pond, is brimming with people in summer months, with tourists flocking to eat a delicious dinner among an incredible view of the 150-foot deep pond. However, in the winter this location is closed, but the land surrounding it offers great snowshoeing opportunities. When we hiked down the short path to what is typically the shoreline, we were greeted by the complete silence of a frozen, snow-covered pond. It was completely, and we mean completely quiet. It was extremely peaceful here in the winter.
- Walk around Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse: The most popular lighthouse in Acadia, this structure is operated by the United States Coast Guard. The summer does allow for more hiking around the lighthouse, but it is still eerily beautiful in the winter months.
- View the teal waters at Ship Harbor: This path winds around small harbors and bays of teal waters. In the winter, the contrast created between the waters and the snowy landscape is something that you can only experience for yourselves.
- Hike through the tree-lined paths at Wonderland: Similar to the Ship Harbor trails, Wonderland winds through tall pines surrounded by teal pools of ocean water. Leading to the Atlantic ocean, this path creates intense splashes of ocean water against scenic rocks.