It won’t be winter until Dec. 21, but it already feels like winter in Acadia National Park. The summer crowds are long gone, the entrance fees are no longer charged, the Park Loop Road is mostly closed to automobiles, and it’s too chilly for a picnic. Still, the Ocean Drive portion remains open past Thunder Hole, and it’s a great place for a drive or a hike.
Among the many trails in the park, the one along Ocean Drive is a special treat. To get there from Bar Harbor, drive out Main Street toward The Jackson Laboratory, turn left at the closed little restaurant just short of the lab, turn right at the first stop sign, and proceed into the park.
The trail along the shore provides wonderful sights and sounds. You get continual views of the ocean, with ducks and geese diving for fish as the winter sun glitters on the waves. Look closely and you may spot lobster boats, some appearing as tiny dots on the horizon, as the lobstermen extend a tough season to make a living against costly bait and fuel and a record low boat price for their catch.
As for sounds, there’s the crash of the surf, the tap-tap-tap of the woodpeckers, and the guttural knock-knock-knock of the rocks as the rush of the waves rolls them against one another to make new round popplestones.
The trail is an easy one, except for a stretch where a storm has eroded the otherwise smooth gravel. Park maintenance workers will fix it in the spring, just as they repaired another section last year, digging a trench alongside and some “thank you ma’ams,” dips and mounds to divert runoff water and prevent erosion of the trail.
If there are wet spots, remember a park trail specialist’s advice to slog right through without tramping on the grass growing at the trailside.
After a mile or so, you will climb to Otter Cliff, a favorite lookout spot. The trail goes on until it joins the closed Loop Road and continues to a parking lot with year-round restrooms. It’s a short walk back past Thunder Hole to your car.
When snow comes, the trail will be covered, but that part of Ocean Drive will remain open, and the park keeps it plowed and thoughtfully sands icy stretches. It nudges the snow onto the ocean side of the pavement to make a path for snowmobilers.
That’s for later, when the real winter sets in. Then the carriage roads will remain open for hikers, and they will be groomed for skiers.
Year-round, Acadia is worth a visit.