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Updated: July 9, 2021

Acadia National Park sees big jump in visits, even compared to pre-pandemic levels

Courtesy / Acadia National Park A ranger checks the reservation of a visitor at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. The reservation system is designed to reduce traffic congestion in response to Acadia’s surging popularity.

It’s no surprise that visitation to Acadia National Park during May was up 230% over the same month last year, in the early days of the pandemic.

But the numbers of recent visitors also represent a big increase over levels in 2019.

This May, Acadia hosted 324,654 recreational visitors across its Mount Desert Island, Schoodic and Isle au Haut districts, with commercial bus passengers accounting for a small fraction of that total.

That’s up 45% from May 2019’s total of 226,156, which included visitors to the three districts plus Island Explorer and commercial bus passengers.

For the five-month period from January through May this year, Acadia hosted 509,201 visitors, an increase of nearly 180,000, or 55%, over the same period in 2019, which saw 332,049 park-goers.

2020 numbers

In May 2020, Acadia hosted 103,120 visitors. Park closures and the state’s quarantine requirements were in effect at the time, but the park was easily accessible to day-trippers.

May 2020’s year-to-date figure was 213,471. 

Mount Desert Island is by far Acadia’s biggest district.

Reservation system

The increase comes as the park rolls out its new vehicle reservation system at Cadillac Mountain, one of Acadia's most popular destinations.

Acadia tested the system for two weeks last October at Cadillac and at the entrance station leading to Sand Beach, another popular spot.

The system is one component of a transportation plan developed by the National Park Service in recent years to mitigate traffic congestion caused by Acadia’s rising popularity. 

After some glitches with the Sand Beach test, the park decided to focus on the Cadillac Mountain system this summer. Vehicle reservations are required for Cadillac Summit Road from May 26 through October 19. Vehicle reservations are not required for any other areas of the park, or for visitors who enter the area by foot, bike or taxi. 

The park is getting word out about the reservation system through social media, websites, visitors centers, rack cards, signage and partner organizations, Management Assistant John Kelly recently reported to the Acadia Advisory Commission.

Acadia is among the top 10 most popular national parks in the United States, with more than 3.5 million visits a year. Visitation has surged almost 60% in a decade, leading to severe crowding at many park destinations. In 2019, the National Park Service completed a five-year process to approve a comprehensive transportation plan that may take a decade or longer to implement fully. 

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