Off Season Splendor

The Best Time to Go to Acadia National Park

Picture this: Acadia’s iconic Park Loop Road padded with a few inches of bright snow and patterned with cross country ski tracks and snowshoe prints. Freshly formed icicles glisten on the pink granite cliffs. A white-tailed deer steps carefully through the quiet forest among pine boughs weighed down under their white blankets. And the best part? You have it almost entirely to yourself.

There’s something truly magical about winter in Acadia National Park and we invite you to join us and experience its quiet splendor. Read our suggestions for how to spend the off season on Mount Desert Island and you too might be convinced that winter is the best season to visit Acadia National Park. Just grab your puffy, mittens and Bean boots.

Winter in Acadia National Park & Bar Harbor

By the end of October, Bar Harbor’s riot of colorful fall foliage has faded, and Mount Desert Island returns to its true form: a small, waterfront town of only about 5,000 year-round residents who fiercely love their little slice of Maine’s coast. Winter in Bar Harbor gives visitors of glimpse of our town’s quirky traditions, access to Acadia’s sweeping views and winding carriage roads, and a chance to rest, relax and absorb the quiet beauty and slow pace of the season. Whether you’re looking for a winter workout, some holiday shopping, or a relaxing dip in a hot tub, we’ve got plenty of great suggestions for how to spend winter in Bar Harbor.

Book Your Winter Lodging

One of the few year-round lodgings in Bar Harbor, you couldn’t pick a better place to spend your winter nights than the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel. Each room boasts uninterrupted views of Frenchman Bay so every morning can be spent sipping hot coffee in front of your French doors, with a slow sunrise over the snow dotted beach.

Our indoor pool and hot tub stay open throughout the year, where you might bump into locals using their pool passes to get in a few laps under the greenhouse style roof.

The Bistro is a popular winter meeting spot for residents and visitors alike, where seasonal cocktails, craft beers and a locally inspired menu can be enjoyed beside floor to ceiling windows overlooking the water. On special winter nights, The Bistro also hosts local music, open mics, and the occasional comedy set. You can always give us a ring to see what’s on deck.

The Atlantic Oceanside is also home to an event center, Bar Harbor’s go-to spot for meetings, conferences, private celebrations and more. With options for full-service catering, presentation technology and anything else you might need to make your event perfect, we’re prepared to welcome your group to Bar Harbor any time of year. You can also follow the Atlantic Oceanside on Facebook or Instagram to see announcements about public events like lobster bakes and film screenings.

With a cozy bed squared away, you’re ready for some winter adventures.

First Sunrise in the US at Cadillac Mountain

A sunrise hike up Cadillac Mountain is always a good idea, but it takes on a special quality between October and March of each year. Starting on October 7th, Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the United States that the sun touches so a hike to the summit during these months means you’ll be welcoming the day before anyone else in the country. You can take one of three routes up Acadia’s tallest peak or walk the curving summit road. In winter, it’s not uncommon to arrive at the trailhead and find the path ahead untouched by people, ready for you to make the first tracks through the snow.

If you’re looking for a truly exceptional winter hiking experience, we suggest a full moon hike of Cadillac. The snowy path practically glows in the light of a winter moon, and patches of exposed granite sparkle along the way. You’ll be rewarded at the summit with a serene landscape of frozen lakes, islands like cupcakes frosted with snow, and the sense that you could reach up and touch the moon. There are a few opportunities throughout winter in Acadia National Park to experience this wonder but our favorite is the Wolf Moon on January 25th of 2024 which reaches peak brightness just past midnight.

Cross Country Skiing, Snowshoeing & More

Winter in Acadia national park makes road access by car limited, but that doesn’t mean trails are closed! Just as the carriage roads are perfect for biking in the summer months, they make ideal cross country ski and snowshoe trails when snow coats the ground. Volunteers set tracks and groom sections of the carriage roads to make these 45 miles of scenic trails even more perfect for winter recreation. Spend early mornings gliding around Eagle Lake alongside residents or bring the whole family for afternoons passing under stone bridges or pausing for a snowball fight in the amphitheater. You can bring your own equipment or rent from a local shop like Cadillac Mountain Sports or Alpenglow Adventure Sports.

Some of Acadia’s lakes and ponds also freeze during the winter and, for savvy skaters, can make beautiful spots to ice skate. Just make sure to check the depth of the ice and be prepared for the uneven surfaces that come with ungroomed, natural skating.

Ice climbers also flock to Acadia in winter, eager to try their skills on frozen waterfalls and columns of clear blue ice that form on our granite cliffs. There are a number of guide services that welcome beginners to this winter sport, like Equinox and Acadia Mountain Guides.

Pajama Sale? Bed Races? Say What?

For more than 25 years, the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce has organized an event wholly unique to our Mount Desert Island community: the Early Bird Pajama Sale. In mid-November, the town rolls out of bed and hits the streets of Bar Harbor in their pajamas to score deals on holiday gifts and more from 30+ participating local businesses. When else will you find people shopping in slippers and long johns than winter in Bar Harbor?

By mid-morning, the second Mount Desert Island winter tradition kicks off. Local businesses and organizations form teams to build and decorate souped up bed frames, some elaborate enough to rival Macy’s parade floats. They race through downtown, pajama-clad crowds cheering them on to win first place and bragging rights for the year. The fun isn’t over yet!

In early December, Santa Claus makes his appearance in Bar Harbor for the Village Holidays celebration. Neighbors pass around free hot cocoa, the YMCA hosts kid friendly activities like ornament making and cookie decorating, and the town tree is lit for the first time as the sun sets. The holiday season truly shifts into high gear with the start of the Midnight Madness sale where local shops keep their doors open late into the night for shoppers to find their perfect presents and grab a few discounts along the way.

When the streets are cleared of tourists, Bar Harbor’s shenanigans come out, celebrating the success of another busy summer concluded and adding a sparkle to everyone’s eye before we settle in to rest and recuperate for the coming spring. Exhilarating and silly, these unique winter traditions keep the community connected and help support local businesses in the dark months.

A Magical Winter Sabbatical

The truth is you don’t need an activity to bring you to Bar Harbor in winter. We might be biased but we think Mount Desert Island is the perfect place for a sabbatical. From your room at the AO, you can enjoy the quiet winter landscape while you work on a novel, research paper, or just get away for a bit. Visit the public library to pick up new reading material or attend an author talk. Bundle up and stroll the shore path, watching the lobstermen still hard at work pulling traps from the deep waters where crustaceans hang out in this season. Or enjoy views of Somes Sound and the Bass Harbor lighthouse along Sargent Drive, from the safety of a heated car. Hungry? In the winter, local restaurants often rotate which days they open so there’s always somewhere to grab a hot bowl of chowder and a beer.

Winter Wonder Awaits

As snow dusts the rugged landscape of Mount Desert Island, there lies a secret waiting to be discovered by those who dare to venture to Downeast Maine in winter: Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park at their most serene. Days spent tracing the cross-country ski trails, winter hiking to watch the first rays of the sun grace America atop Cadillac or sharing in the cheer of Bar Harbor’s quirky winter traditions; this off-season haven is full of memories waiting to be made.

Full time residents cherish this quiet time of year on Mount Desert Island. By letting you in on the best time to visit Bar Harbor, Maine, we’re trusting you to maintain the beautiful, peaceful nature of our little island. We welcome you to join us for winter in Acadia—just don’t tell too many friends!