Known as a top summer and fall destination in Maine, as well as being the gateway to the stunning Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor is one of New England’s most charming coastal towns. But are you contemplating a winter visit and aren’t sure what to expect? Well, I’m glad you’ve found this post! Having been myself this time of the year, I’m excited to share what Bar Harbor, Maine in the winter is really like.
This post is all about fun ideas for things to do during a winter visit, what the town is like, tips for visiting, and also what to expect when visiting Acadia National Park in the winter. And with that, let’s get started!
So, Is Bar Harbor, Maine Really Worth Visiting In The Winter?
Yes and no – allow me to explain 😉
Bar Harbor is very much a seasonal town, and a lot of it does close down in the winter, including shops, restaurants, and tours. In fact, you’ll find no tours operating in town this season, and I would say about 60% of the businesses close down in the winter.
That said, you’ll find super low rates at the hotels, and pretty much everything all to yourself, as you’ll likely only run into year-round residents during your winter visit. Acadia National Park is practically deserted it terms of people around, and the town is very quiet.
Because there is a year-round resident community, though, there are still some shops and restaurants open. So basically, this is a nice time of year to visit if you’re looking for the best deal, fewest people, and don’t mind business and attraction closures.
I absolutely loved visiting Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park in the winter, but that’s also because I’ve been to this area so many times in other seasons. So, my winter visit was really a really fun experience, and I loved how quiet it was. I found there was still a good amount of things to do to stay entertained for a long weekend getaway, and it was a nice way to slow down and enjoy everything in the off season.
However, for first-time visitors, I would say this isn’t the best season to experience everything Bar Harbor has to offer. While you’ll get a taste of what the town is all about, you’ll miss out on a lot, too. For first-timers, I would recommend a visit May-October to really experience Bar Harbor when everything is open and ready for tourists.
Is Acadia National Park Open In The Winter?
Yes! And while some things are harder or not possible to see in the winter, there’s still quite a bit to do. If you’re an advanced hiker and know how to stay safe in snow and ice, many of the trails are open. But even if you’re not an experiences hiker, there are some great easy hikes, scenic walks, and carriage roads open for those who don’t want a challenging winter hike.
Part of Park Loop Road is also still open, which is where you’ll find some of the most iconic views of the park that you often see in post cards. The part of Park Loop Road that remains open in the winter takes you along Ocean Drive, so you can see Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, Monument Beach, and views of Otter Cliffs (although, the Otter Cliff lookout will be closed).
The other, lesser-known part of Acadia is also open in the winter – Schoodic Peninsula, which I’ll get into later in the post.
It’s good to know that severe weather will close down Park Loop Road entirely in the winter, though. I recommend checking the Acadia Park website for updates, as they post regularly on conditions in the winter, as well as any closures.
Later in the post, I go into all the most fun things to do in the park in the winter season, so stay tuned if you’re looking for ideas!
Bar Harbor Winter Weather
Bar Harbor winter weather is pretty much what you’d expect – cold and snowy. That said, it still follows New England winter weather trends, and it’s also possible you’ll have sunny and more mild days in the winter.
One thing to note that I’ve been letting people know about in all my winter posts is that New England has been impacted by global warming, and the winter season has been the most affected in recent years. Experts are saying that these new weather patterns in the winter are here to stay, and that means more dramatic swings in temperature. Often, very cold and snow days are followed by warm(er) and sunny days in the 40s°F.
Average daily temperatures in Bar Harbor in January: 30°F/12°F
Average daily temperatures in Bar Harbor in February: 33°F/15°F
Average daily temperatures in Bar Harbor in March: 42°F/25°F
Where To Stay In Bar Harbor In The Winter
Many of the hotels in Bar Harbor close down for the season, but there are still some really great hotels open in the winter! Here are my suggestions:
❄︎ Inn On Mount Desert: A very cozy inn that serves up a made-to-order breakfast, is a short walk to Main Street, and also has smart TVs for streaming your shows and movies at night.
❄︎ Little Fig Hotel: Another cute and cozy little place that also has smart TV’s, modern decor, and is also a short walk to town.
❄︎ Elmhurst Inn: A homey New England-style inn that serves a full breakfast included with your stay, has smart TVs in the rooms, and has a wonderfully cozy fireplace in their common area, which is perfect in the winter! Some of their rooms also have fireplace options.
Things To Do In Bar Harbor In The Winter
1. Walk Shore Path
Open year-round, this lovely pedestrian path that follows the coastline offers amazing views of Frenchman Bay, and is walkable from downtown. The path is also very easy and flat, making this ideal in the winter season. For very little effort, you get some of the best views in town!
Shore Path is less than a mile long, too, so it’s the perfect way to start your day in town to get your blood flowing, but you don’t need to be outside in the cold for too long, either. This is always one of my favorite things to do in Bar Harbor during every visit, no matter the season.
Editor’s Note: Shore Path is currently closed for repair during the winter of 2024. I’m keeping my eye on updates, though, and will update once it’s back open for the year!
2. Explore The Cute Shops Downtown
I’ll be honest, most of the shops are closed in the winter season, but a few remain open, so it’s definitely worth strolling up and down Main Street during your winter visit to support the local small businesses!
One of my favorite shops that stays open year-round is Sherman’s Bookshop. This is especially perfect for a winter visit – take your time finding your next great read, and then cozy up with it at night in your hotel room after a day of exploring outdoors.
Also, the cute little pet shop, Bark Harbor, is open year-round, and this is such a fun place to visit and shop for your furry friends waiting for you at home.
There are a few other places open in the winter, but it’s good to know that they may have limited hours, or may be open only on weekends, so you’ll want to stay flexible during your visit when it comes to shopping. You’ll find more cafés and eateries open than actual shops.
3. Warm Up At Choco-Latte Café
Speaking of cafés, Choco-Latté Café is a wonderful place to visit year-round, but even more so in the winter! Specializing in seasonal drinks and homemade bagels, I loved starting my mornings here with a latté and a bagel before heading into Acadia.
Their seasonal winter drinks change up frequently, but they offer the standard coffee and tea drinks, and then a very fun menu of seasonal offerings. I especially love their chai latté, which is an in-house blend that was fantastic. Overall, it’s a very cozy little place to begin your day during your winter visit.
4. Relax At A Spa
One of the best things about traveling in the winter season (at least for me 😉) is allowing time to slow down and relax, and that’s very easy to do at Tree of Life Day Spa in Bar Harbor. Located right downtown, and very close to the Inn on Mount Desert and the Little Fig hotel, this lovely spa offers massages, facials, body wraps, and scrubs.
While this spa doesn’t have the fancier amenities like a steam room or relaxation area, their focus is 100% on their service. Massages last for the full hour (or longer, depending on which you choose), and they strive for attention to detail with each service you book with them. It’s continually rated as one of the top things to do in town for a very good reason!
It’s good to note that in the winter, they do have limited hours, and are typically open weekends and select weekdays only. However, they have a very easy-to-use online booking system to help you plan accordingly and check availability.
5. Enjoy Deliciously Fresh Seafood
One of the best things to do in any season in Maine is indulge in the incredible, fresh seafood, and Bar Harbor is no exception. While the popular seafood shacks are closed in the winter, there are still some really great places open serving all kinds of awesome seafood dishes.
Here are some places to check out in the winter:
The Stadium – Best for breakfast or lunch, they serve an incredible lobster roll year-round! But you should also get their popovers 😉
Thirsty Whale – A cozy tavern that also has a great lobster roll, plus traditional New England menu items.
Havana – Latin-inspired menu with lobster and seafood dishes.
6. Have An Old-Fashioned Dinner & A Movie Night Out
For something really cool to do at night, Reel Pizza Cinema is a fun option in the winter! This funky movie theater has just one screen, and seating is a mix of comfy sofas and traditional theater-style chairs.
They show the latest new release movies, and also have a great food menu with pizzas, nachos, popcorn, beer, and wine. And I know what you’re probably thinking – is the food even good, though? Actually, it is! This isn’t your average movie theater fast food – everything is cooked to order, and is actually rather delicious!
I also like that you can pick your seats when you reserve your tickets, so hopefully, you can snatch up those comfy couch seats on your next visit.
7. Sip On Local Brews
Also open in the winter season is Fogtown Brewing Company, which is a really fun place to spend a chilly evening. Offering a variety of different brews, including IPAs, stouts, lagers, and saisons, there’s a little something for everything on tap. They even offer cider, wine, and seltzer.
Fogtown also has a pretty nice food menu with appetizers, salads, and sandwiches, making it a great place for dinner.
Things To Do In Acadia National Park In The Winter
Before getting into all the best spots to visit inside Acadia in the winter, you should know that the park still charges their normal entrance fee to visit this time of the year.
The gate heading onto Park Loop Road is usually open with a ranger, but I would highly recommend purchasing your ticket online in advance to save time. Some gates close in the winter, and you’ll need to leave your pass on your dashboard to show that you’ve paid to enter.
8. Take A Scenic Drive On Park Loop Road
As mentioned earlier in the post, part of Park Loop Road is typically open in the winter season, and this is one of the most scenic drives you can take in the park!
Along the portion that’s open in the winter, you can visit Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, and enjoy views of both Monument Cove and the Otter Cliffs. These sites are honestly some of the best to see in the park any time of the year, so even if a winter visit is your very first, you’ll be able to check some of the bigger attractions off your list.
This part of Park Loop Road is called Ocean Road, and you’re also able to park and walk along the pedestrian path in this section of the park to get closer looks at the sites mentioned above. This is still pretty easy to do in the winter, but I would come prepared, and know that snow and ice are on the path, so crampons or microspikes are recommended.
That said, it’s a relaxing and wonderful coastal walk inside the park in the winter season!
9. Visit Thunder Hole
Thunder Hole is one of the top sites to see in the park, and it was made famous when it was discovered that the crashing waves on this inlet can create a noise that sounds like cracking thunder.
Now, I’ll be honest with you – in all my years of visiting the park, I’ve never once heard it 😂 You do really need to visit on a windy day when the surf is rough for a chance at hearing the sound. And if you do happen to visit on such a day, you’ll want to practice caution, as the waves will splash around the area a lot, and you’ll likely get wet.
That said, even if you don’t get to hear the infamous noise on a windy day, it’s still worth a visit, even in the winter. You can enjoy some nice coastal views from the lookout. And while part of the normal access to closed off in the winter because of icy conditions, it’s so easy to visit while driving along Ocean Road that’s most definitely worth stopping for.
Pro Tip: Thunder Hole has its own parking lot on the right side of Ocean Road just across the street, which makes it especially easy to visit.
10. Take A Winter Hike
Unless there are treacherous conditions, the park keeps almost all the hiking trails open in the winter season, and there are tons of options ranging from very easy to challenging.
As mentioned, you’ll want to be an experienced hiker if you tackle any trails that are labeled as moderate or challenging, as the park is prone to ice in the winter, and you’ll want to be extra cautious. Microspokes, poles, and other equipment are a good idea in the winter to keep safe.
For easy trails in the winter with nice views, I really like the carriage road by Eagle Lake, the Jessup trail, and the Wonderland trail.
If you’re looking for something a bit more moderate, the Great Head trail is usually easy enough in the winter, unless conditions are especially snowy and icy. This trail offers amazing coastline views, and really great views of Sand Beach. It does require some rock scrambling at the beginning, though, so come prepared.
Curious if any trails are closed during your winter visit? Head on over to the park’s website, which they update regularly, and make it very easy to check.
11. Enjoy A Winter Sunset
Did you know that winter sunsets are different? Because of the cold air, the sky usually turns more pink than orange in the winter, making them very special to see. You can catch nice sunset views from Ocean Path and Sand Beach inside the park (although, the sun will set behind the mountains, so you’ll really just get the effect of the pink sky, which is still beautiful!).
For a more clear sunset, you can head over to Bass Harbor Lighthouse, which is about 30 minutes from Bar Harbor, and that’s next on my list 😉
12. Visit Bass Harbor Lighthouse
Speaking of Bass Harbor Lighthouse, this is definitely something you should see in the winter any time of the day (although, sunset is really nice!). Even though it’s a 30-minute drive in the opposite direction of most everything mentioned above, this iconic lighthouse is so worth seeing – it’s one of the most photographed in all of New England for a reason!
Sitting perched over granite cliffs overlooking the ocean, one thing to note about this lighthouse is that you can’t really get a good view of it unless you walk out onto the rocks at the shoreline, and this is best done at low tide. In the winter, with snow and ice, you’ll definitely need crampons or microspikes, and you’ll want to avoid this is it’s especially icy.
But fear not! If you happen to visit on a day that’s not safe enough to walk out onto the rocks, you can still walk an easy path down to the actual lighthouse itself. You’ll be able to get right up to the lighthouse itself and enjoy the awesome views from there, but you don’t won’t get the full effect of seeing it from the water.
The path down to the rocks is also beautiful, and offers really amazing coastal views. They winter afternoon I went there, I wasn’t comfortable climbing out onto the rocks, but I loved enjoying the view from the staircase leading down to the shore, and also, walking over to the actual lighthouse.
Pro Tip: The parking lot for the lighthouse is always icy in the winter if it’s been consistently cold, as is the path to the lighthouse. Please be careful, and wear those crampons/microspikes even if you don’t plan to climb the rocks!
Psst! I have a detailed post on the most epic Maine lighthouse road trip itinerary, if you want to check that out!
13. Spend The Day On Schoodic Peninsula
Lastly, you also have the option to visit Schoodic Peninsula, which is the lesser-known part of the park that’s located on the mainland. It’s about an hour from Bar Harbor, but if you’re planning a longer visit to the area in the winter, I highly recommend making the drive!
The main loop around the peninsula is typically open in the winter, and there are lots of beautiful overlooks and scenic areas to enjoy along the loop drive. My favorite is Schoodic Point, which is the biggest overlook area, and offers amazing coastal views.
Much like the rest of Acadia, it’s always possible they’ll close down Schoodic Peninsula if there’s severe weather, so be sure to check the park’s website before making the trip out.
Psst! I have an entire post on a detailed Acadia National Park itinerary, if you’re planning a visit in the spring, summer, or fall!
Can You Camp In Acadia In The Winter?
No! I’ve seen some other websites say camping is allowed in Acadia in the winter, and I really want to clarify that it’s 100% prohibited inside the park this time of the year. This includes the popular Blackwood Camping area. Click here to find this information on the park’s website.
What To Pack For Your Winter Trip To Bar Harbor
As always, check the weather forecasts a few days before leaving to see what’s predicted during your visit, but generally, you can expect to pack the followings things:
- A good winter parka to stay warm
- Base layers to stay warm for longer hikes
- Good winter boots
- Merino wool socks
- Crampons or microspikes to stay safe on the ice (the park is very icy in the winter since it’s coastal!)
- Warm hats, gloves/mittens, and scarves
- Jeans and sweaters for going out in town at night
- Day pack and a reusable water bottle
- Your camera, of course!
Tips For Visiting In The Winter
Offline maps. Cell service in the park is actually pretty good, but not always reliable. I have Verizon and have lost service a few times on pretty much all my Acadia visits, including my winter trip.
Allow for flexibility with weather. As mentioned, severe weather can cause additional closures in Acadia, and if that’s your primary reason for visiting, you’ll want to allow some flexibility in case your itinerary is derailed due to snow or ice. The park website is regularly updated in the winter, so keep checking weather forecasts, as well as the park website, and stay flexible if severe weather is planned.
Practice caution in winter weather. This goes without saying, but you’ll want to be extra cautious in the winter season. Drive very carefully, as this area (especially Acadia!) is prone to ice. You should only tackle hikes if you’re expereinced with winter hiking, and pack all the gear you need to stay safe in winter conditions.
And don’t feel bad about skipping a hike to stay safe! I planned to do one of my favorite hikes in the park – Great Head – during my winter visit, and I decided not to once I arrived. I saw a lot of ice on the trail head, and while I had crampons, I was alone, and didn’t think it was worth the risk. Always play it safe in the winter!
Allow some time to just relax. Bar Harbor and Acadia both have a slower pace in the winter, and that’s part of the fun! Allow time to relax and enjoy what winter’s all about – hibernating. Take a bath, go to the spa, cozy up with a good book, or take a night to watch your favorite movie with some great snacks.
More of my Maine travel guides:
- Fun Things To Do In Maine In The Winter
- Portland, Maine In The Winter Guide
- My Unforgettable Boston To Bar Harbor, Maine Road Trip Itinerary
- Incredible Stops To Make Driving From Portland, Maine To Acadia National Park
- Maine In The Spring
- Christmas In Maine
- Maine In October
- Maine In November
More posts you may enjoy:
- The Best New England Winter Getaways (Even If You Don’t Ski!)
- Best Lighthouses To See In New England
- Fun Stops To Make Driving From Boston To Portland, Maine
That’s A Wrap On Bar Harbor, Maine In The Winter!
And there you have it! The inside scoop on what Bar Harbor, Maine is like in the winter. If you’re looking for the most affordable time to go, and don’t mind the wintery weather and having a flexible itinerary, then this is a very cool (pun intended 😉) time to visit. But if you’re looking for the quintessential Bar Harbor and Acadia experience, you’ll probably want to consider a visit in the spring, summer, or fall. Whatever season you visit, I hope you’ve found this, and my other Maine guides, helpful. Happy planning!