Winter Harbor Maine is the anchor city for the Schoodic Peninsula, collectively known as the “Quiet Side of Acadia.” This mainland location isn’t a backup plan or “settling.”
Visiting Acadia National Park is too often focused on Mount Desert Island, but there’s a world of secrets, exploration, and social distancing long before it was a common thing waiting for you in Winter Harbor.
This town is just across the bay from Bar Harbor but might as well be across the pond for the different aesthetics you get. It’s a town trapped in time for all the right reasons, and it offers all the right things for a vacation to be relaxing and not relegated to a place in line for dinner.
Instead of touristy, you get timeless. Instead of long lines, you get long walks on less crowded shorelines. This magical place brings just as much romance, allure, and history as Mount Desert Island.
About Winter Harbor Maine
Winter Harbor has long been the quiet side of this region — the same appeal it brings today was initially a deterrent to explorers. The renowned Samuel Champlain, who named and explored Mount Desert Island, dismissed the peninsula across the bay, using words like “undesirable for permanent settlement.”
More than 150 years later, “Musquito Harbor” was settled in 1762. As a noted point in African-American history, Thomas Frazier lived here in 1780 before disappearing from the history books.
A Retreat for the Wealthy
In a great PR move, 1854 saw the town renamed Winter Harbor because the waters never froze over (though the “musquitos” remain). Then and now, it’s a selling point for the vast array of fishing activity through all seasons.
What Champlain didn’t see, several upper-echelon society members did. Even in 1889, the wealthy “rusticators” wanted to get away from the commercialized Bar Harbor and have a respite.
Through a series of events (and legal wrangling), Winter Harbor separated from Gouldsboro to give a tax shelter to the wealthy. Grindstone Neck in Winter Harbor is still a wealthy retreat with homes the size of resorts.
“Rusticators” definition: Families in the 1800s who came to spend long summers in Maine.
Part of the National Park
Every plan to build Winter Harbor into a major resort destination to rival Bar Harbor met with demise, including the untimely death of financier John G. Moore and his bold dreams. His land would eventually become part of Acadia National Park.
Even today, many tourists scoff at the solace of Schoodic and Winter Harbor, and that’s just the way the residents and park service like it.
Given the lack of development on the peninsula over the centuries, it’s still a preserved piece of land that doesn’t look much different today than it did 400 years ago when Champlain snubbed it.
Winter Harbor vs. Bar Harbor
Just about every review of Winter Harbor states “getting away from the crowds” as the reason to seek out the Schoodic Peninsula and Winter Harbor.
Winter Harbor also holds two important points — Grindstone Point and Schoodic Point, each offering an amphitheater with a layered, dynamic rocky shoreline and pounding waves that mist saltwater magic over guests. Additionally, there are the alleged healing powers of the water at Blueberry Hill.
Top that with a downtown so trapped in a time capsule that the 5&10 store is still open and a community so tight-knit they’ll know your name by the second cup of coffee. Also, there’s the other section of Acadia to explore with the infamous traffic jams of Mount Desert Island.
Outdoor Things to Do in Winter Harbor Maine
As you enter Winter Harbor’s town center, you’ll be greeted with one of many amazing water views. You will be amazed at what else lies ahead.
Winter Harbor Downtown
Walk the streets of downtown and explore the old-fashioned Winter Harbor 5&10 store with modern amenities. Or, get a bike or kayak rental at Sea Schoodic, or explore the Town Harbor as boats flow in and out during a busy day of fishing.
Whether you’re cloaked in fog or being sprayed by sea mist, this is yet another idyllic Maine feature of Winter Harbor.
Scenic Boat Rides
With smaller crowds, you’ll have smaller groups on tour boats, or you can charter your own. Puffin cruises, lighthouse tours of Egg Rock and Winter Harbor lighthouses in the distance, and lobster tours are available with Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines.
NOTE: Check the port for any scenic cruise you book. Some will depart from Bar Harbor. Also keep in mind that neither lighthouse is open to the public, so a boat tour is the best way to get a closer look.
Get to the Point
Move over Otter Cliffs, there are a couple of dynamic destinations in Winter Harbor that are well worth the trip. Grab a picnic basket and head down to Grindstone Neck.
As you drive on Grindstone Ave, remember that this is where the massive resort town was going to be situated and where the richest of the rich once summered (and some still do!)
At the end of the road is Grindstone Point, with shelves of rocks to soak in the sea. Watching the waves crash against the rocks is stunning. Islands dot the landscape, and you can see Mount Desert Island across the water.
Your Acadia National Park pass gets you access to Schoodic Point, another dynamic blending of water, waves, and wonderful views. Watch your step as you walk along the long stretch of rocks that step down closer to the churning waters.
Another option is to watch the sunrise over Blueberry Hill. Here, you get a mix of plants, blooming flowers, rocks, fog, and scenic views. This is also the start of several trailheads.
The Frazer Point Picnic Area brings tourists and anglers to enjoy the rocky coastline with a fishing pier, beautiful seasonal blooms, and a piece of history.
This is where the first documented free African-American in this region lived. He earned a good living selling salt to boats on the way in and out of the harbor.
Take a Hike
The Winter Harbor portion of the Schoodic Peninsula has seven hiking trails and more than 8 miles of gravel biking trails. Grab a map at the park office to see which trails connect to make for longer and more scenic routes:
- Alder Trail — This easy grassy path leads you from the Blueberry Hill parking area to the Schoodic Head Trail.
- Anvil Trail — This moderate trail takes you to the rocky “Anvil” milestone summit at Schoodic Head.
- Buck Cove Mountain Trail — Take the longest and most challenging trail through 3 miles of Birch Harbor and another path to the summit 440 feet above Acadia.
- East Trail — Take the fast track to Schoodic Head with a challenging climb and switchbacks.
- Lower Harbor Trail — Walk along more than 1 mile of shoreline for beautiful views and minimal effort.
- Schoodic Head — Following this trail gives you heavenly views in all directions.
TICK CHECK: After every hike, do a full body scan for ticks. They are prominent and persistent throughout Acadia and all of Maine’s preserved areas.
Golfing With Great Views
Grindstone Neck Golf Course is one of the oldest and most storied courses in America, with a rare spot along the jagged and pink-hued coastline.
“Founded in 1891, it is a classic, rustic 9 holes, the way golf was intended to be played. Each hole offers a stunning salt water view. The second hole plays downhill to a green on the shore looking across the bay to the mountains of Mt. Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park.”Grindstone Neck Golf Course website
Indoor Things to Do in Winter Harbor Maine
Even indoor activities in Winter Harbor blend the beauty of the outside. The town is designed to keep your mind on the outdoors, but here are some options for staying in climate control.
The Schoodic Institute is a nonprofit research and education center near Schoodic Point. It provides a wide range of programs, services, and facilities to support scientific research, environmental education, and community engagement.
This was once a Navy Base that was given to Acadia in 2002. In Rockefeller Hall, you’ll find a museum, visitor’s center, and gift shop. Look for the latest public activity to join researchers on a unique journey.
Take the Scenic Route
While technically it’s inside your car, the Schoodic National Scenic Byway is a great trip any time of the year (assuming the roads are plowed in winter). Kids will stop asking, “Are we there yet?” with the Kids Quest activities along the 29-mile road.
Winter Harbor Public Library
Instead of scouring Amazon for a book to read on your trip, stop by the architecture-rich Winter Harbor Public Library. Paperback, hardback, and e-reader books are available, and there’s a special children’s corner and year-round activities.
Note the beautiful stonework of the exterior and the mahogany inside with spectacular stained-glass windows.
FAQs About Winter Harbor Maine
Is there a ferry between Winter Harbor and Bar Harbor?
The year-round Downeast Windjammer Cruise Lines ferry between the two harbors runs anywhere from five to 10 routes a day. It’s a 45-minute trip and a sightseeing adventure in one.
Can I take my car to Winter Harbor from Bar Harbor?
You can’t ferry a car between the two towns, but you can take a drive to Winter Harbor. It’s 41 miles between the two, and the ride takes about an hour. Once you pass Hancock, you’re on the Schoodic National Scenic Byway.
If you choose to take the ferry anyway, you are allowed to bring a bicycle. For the Island Explorer free bus system, a route covers Winter Harbor, the Schoodic Loop, Birch Harbor, and Prospect Harbor.
Is Winter Harbor open in winter?
While Winter Harbor appreciates the tourist boom, it’s still a working fishing harbor throughout the year (remember, the harbor doesn’t freeze).
While other parts of Acadia National Park close down, the Schoodic Loop is open, and the popular places to visit are accessible.
Additional Attractions Near Winter Harbor Maine
To get the most out of your Winter Harbor adventure, explore the other communities on the Schoodic Peninsula. They are all unique and uncrowded without taking up too much time in your day.
Gouldsboro also includes the villages of Corea, Prospect Harbor, Birch Harbor, South Gouldsboro, and West Gouldsboro.
When you really, REALLY want to get away from the crowds, head about 14 miles northeast to Steuben for Downeast on the down low. Acadia Puffin Cruises won’t have the lines of the Bar Harbor variety.
Stand atop Pigeon Hill and explore trails that have glacier features from the Ice Age, a piece of mining history hidden among the trees, and the best view of Mount Desert Island and Schoodic you can find on land.
You likely won’t be missing Acadia National Park at all when venturing through the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
For those who love a good ghost story, take the 24-mile trip to Black Woods Road near Catherine Hill in Cherryfield Maine, where a grieving bride is said to walk the street.
If you stop to help her, she spares you. If you drive by, legend has it that she’ll make sure you get into an untimely accident, which was her fate.
Restaurants In & Near Winter Harbor Maine
Since this is the quieter side of Acadia, you won’t have a mind-boggling list of restaurants to choose from. However, the quality of the food is just as good!
The Pickled Wrinkle is in Birch Harbor just 2 miles from Winter Harbor and is a culinary tradition in this community. There’s a robust menu of sea and land-loving options, including cocktails to go. Buy some Pickled Wrinkle swag as a great conversation starter when you get home.
“Pickled Wrinkles are an old Downeast Maine Delicacy. They are large carnivorous sea snails, or whelks, which are pickled and marketed locally as Pickled Wrinkles.”The Pickled Wrinkle management
You could pick up some fresh lobster or other seafood options at the Lobstore in Winter Harbor and cook it yourself at a campsite, vacation rental, or picnic area.
Fisherman’s Galley in Winter Harbor has one of the top-awarded lobster rolls in the state but includes a seafood menu that rivals any Bar Harbor location and makes the hallmark Maine blueberry pie. Also, there’s a popular hot dog cart for those on the go.
Or, check the schedule for the Winter Harbor Masonic Lodge’s public suppers, which are a great way to support the community while getting expert local guides for your trip.
Upscale isn’t really the vibe of Winter Harbor, but you’ll get one great opportunity at The Gallery Restaurant and Bar with creative dish presentations and colorful cocktails. Chase’s Restaurant makes a great date place for breakfast, lunch, or an early dinner.
Winter Harbor Lobster Co-Op offers lobster meals to-go and party packages for those who want to take a fancy meal on a romantic sunset viewing. Winter Harbor Provisions has ready-to-go meals for romantic picnics or fancy dinners without messing up the kitchen.
Coffee & Ice Cream Shops
J.M. Gerrish Cafe in Winter Harbor has been feeding, caffeinating, and scooping for more than 100 years and is still going strong. In Birch Harbor, Me & Ben’s Dairy Creme offers many textures of ice cream with shakes, sundaes, floats, and banana boats.
The Downeaster Coffee Shop mixes a fresh brew with art and the art of conversation. Look for this newest restaurant in Winter Harbor, and let us know what you think!
Wineries & Breweries
You’ll have to make a short drive to get to Catherine Hill Winery in Cherryfield Maine because this dog-friendly, locally-owned winery is located in the beautiful Maine countryside.
If you’re wondering who Catherine Hill is, watch this ghostly story about her ghost walking the road to the winery. Grapes, ghosts, and a good time? Who can resist?
“The story of Catherine’s Hill is one of the most witnessed and famous ghost stories from Maine. It’s a very remote and twisted section of the (Black Woods) road, and it’s haunted by a young woman who died here. The oldest account is that she died on her wedding night in a carriage accident and her husband was decapitated. Her spirit stalks the roads.”Marcus LiBrizzi, Author, Dark Woods, Chill Waters: Ghost Tales from Down East Maine
Bartlett Maine Estate Winery & Bartlett Spirits of Maine Distillery is a less haunted option, serving wines and oak-aged rum. Known as Maine’s first winery, it’s worth calling ahead to make sure that you have the right directions.
Hotels in Winter Harbor Maine & Other Lodging
There may be fewer hotels in Winter Harbor than in other parts of Downeast Maine, but there are plenty of inns, vacation rentals, and camping options around the area. Here are a few stand-out places.
Bluff House Inn
It will be hard to beat the sunsets at Gouldsboro’s Bluff House Inn, which spans 22 acres facing Frenchman’s Bay. Log cabin homes and rooms are among the offerings here. All cabins have a sunset view. This pet-friendly location offers a continental breakfast for a small surcharge.
MainStay Cottages & RV Park
The MainStay Cottages & RV Park blends privacy with quick access to the town of Winter Harbor and the dock to the islands. You’ll get the vibe of an early 19th-century fishing village while still having Wi-Fi and free bus service to Acadia National Park.
Ocean Views for Rent
Your ship has come in at the Boathouse on the Ocean. This unique location might convince you to go to Maine, but Maine comes to you with the great location near the Winter Harbor Town Wharf. The interior is decorated in a way that makes you feel like you’re on a ship already.
Guptill Cottage is on this same stretch of desirable land with a large deck for watching lobster boats or scanning the impeccable night skies.
Or, choose a tiny house with big views and larger benefits as you’re on private land with your own path to the beach. No crowds abound at Winter Harbor Oceanside Cabin.
Camping in Winter Harbor
Schoodic Woods Campground is one of the camping areas in Acadia National Park. This is the newest and least crowded campground in the park with RV and tent campsites.
Get closer to all the villages of Schoodic at West Bay Acadia RV Campground, where everything from small tents to large RVs is welcome. This park prides itself on natural amenities instead — like playing on the water instead of playgrounds and starry skies instead of social events.
Discover Winter Harbor Maine & Acadia National Park
Winter Harbor is a simpler way of life with a lot of special places that shouldn’t be overlooked. But, a trip to Winter Harbor isn’t just about going to a “Quieter Side.” It’s also about getting the full experience of Acadia National Park and the communities that support year-round tourism.
Enjoy your Downeast adventure, and tell us about it in the comments below!