Acadia National Park is like no other place on Earth, people will tell you. From its mountaintops of rosy granite to its cobblestone beaches, everywhere you turn, you find beauty.
The most popular park in Maine, Acadia attracts an average of 2.4 million visitors to Mount Desert Island every year. People from all over the world wander the park’s historic footpaths, paddle its waters and climb its sea cliffs. Some visit only once, while others return year after year, exploring the park’s trails, uncovering its secrets.
At the cusp of the park’s busy season, here are a few things you might not know about Acadia, but should, if planning to visit this summer:
1. The park’s busy season starts Memorial Day weekend and continues through leaf peeping in the fall. To avoid the crowds during those months, you can visit the park early in the morning or in the late afternoon. According to Acadia’s chief ranger, Stuart West, the majority of people tend to visit the park from mid-morning to afternoon.
2. Park staff conducts an average of 38 technical rope rescues a year, which involves carrying someone off a trail with ropes and stretchers, and they respond to an average of 110 emergency medical calls.
“Primarily what we see in the summer, because we have a lot of exposed granite, when we get rain, it gets very slippery, and we see a lot of slips, trips and falls on those trails,” said Darren Belskis, supervisory park ranger at Acadia. “The proper footwear and just being aware of where you’re stepping will go a long way.”
“We respond to folks who twist an ankle or break a leg out on the trail,” Belskis said. “We’ll come get you, but it kind of ruins your vacation at that point.”
3. While the park employs about 80 people in the offseason, that number skyrockets to 250 employees in the summer, West said. In addition to rescuing people off mountains, these employees keep the park clean, the trails maintained and the beaches safe. They run nature programs, enforce park regulations and help people plan their adventures.
4. Acadia National Park is a dog-friendly place. Dogs are permitted on most trails, but they must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times. Dog owners are expected to pick up and dispose of their dogs’ waste, and they’re also expected to attend to their dogs at all times. Every summer, park rangers rescue dogs that are overheating in parked cars.
“Our goal is to keep Acadia National Park open to dogs, and we just ask that owners respect that regulation so that we can welcome dogs into the park in the future,” said Belskis.
5. There are no “free” trails or parking areas in Acadia National Park. If you plan to enter the park May through October, you need to pay for a park pass, regardless of whether you actually drive through a fee collection gate. This year, park passes have increased in price by $5, according to West. It will be $25 to purchase a 7-day pass for a private vehicle. Park passes are on sale at 13 locations throughout the island, and seven of those locations are in the park.
“Those fees are really instrumental to the park,” Belskis said. “We could use those fees, for example, to help fund lifeguard positions, or in the maintenance of the park and keeping it beautiful … so you’re paying $25 for a week in the park, but you’re getting back that money in other ways.”
6. Acadia trails are marked with blue paint and little rock piles called cairns. And for some odd reason, park visitors have a tendency to tamper with these cairns by removing rocks or adding rocks. Visitors even build their own cairns, especially near the top of mountains. This is a problem, Belskis said.
“They’re very important,” Belskis said. “If you make your own cairn, it leads people in the wrong direction, and it could get people in trouble. So come out and enjoy the cairns, find them all, but please don’t disturb them.”
Cool fact: Acadia trails are marked with special cairns designed by Waldron Bates, one of the park’s first trail blazers. A Bates cairn consists of two rock “legs” supporting a long flat rock, atop of which sits a smaller rock that points in the direction of the trail.
7. Many of the people who visit Acadia head for certain well-known spots — Sand Beach, the summit of Cadillac Mountain and the Jordan Pond House. But there are plenty of other beautiful places in the park to explore.
Acadia staff and volunteers from the nonprofit Friends of Acadia maintain more than 125 miles of hiking trails on Mount Desert Island, as well as 30 miles of trails on Isle au Haut and Schoodic Peninsula. The park is also home to about 40 miles of carriage roads, which are great for biking, walking, cross-country skiing and horseback riding. Explore these trails to discover ponds, peaks and beaches. You’ll be hard-pressed to learn about these lesser-known landmarks otherwise. Even Acadia rangers are tight-lipped when you ask them about their favorite places in the park.
“That’s part of the mystery,” Belskis said. “There’s tons of those places out there, you’ve just got to get off the beaten path to find them.”
8. One of the most spectacular annual events the park hosts is the Acadia Night Sky Festival, which is scheduled for Sept. 10-14.
And new this spring, Acadia is offering a car-free morning on the Park Loop Road for visitors from May 16, and the park is waiving the entrance fee for that time. Visitors will be able ride their bicycles and walk on the scenic Park Loop Road that morning without having to worry about vehicle traffic.
“It should be a unique opportunity for folks who want to get out and enjoy the spring weather,” Belskis said.
9. Acadia does feel the effects of mud season. That’s why, every spring, the park closes its carriage roads for a few weeks. When these historic gravel roads are wet, bicycles and even walkers can easily cause damage and erosion.
10. Like many parks, Acadia has a problem with people taking rocks and other natural objects from its beaches and woods.
“People want a souvenir,” Belskis said. “Our sea cobbles are a big one … and we already addressed that Acadia National Park sees 2.4 million visitors a season really, and if everybody took just one rock, that’s 2.4 million rocks that are leaving. That adds up over time. You can just imagine what it would be like today if no one had taken those rocks.”
“Take pictures, take memories, please don’t take rocks,” Belskis added.
The staff of Acadia asks that visitors practice Leave No Trace ethics, which includes respecting wildlife and the environment, hauling out trash and leaving the landscape in its natural state.
11. Have you ever arrived at a parking lot in Acadia to find it overflowing with vehicles? There’s a reason this happens. Originally, the park roads were built for much less traffic than the park sees today. And because these roads are considered historic, there’s little Acadia can do to change these roads or parking areas. After all, Acadia management strives to preserve the historic and natural features of the landscape.
If you do come to a full parking lot, study the park map and choose another spot to explore, West suggests. Try a different mountain or beach, and you might be pleasantly surprised.
Or, if you’re determined to visit popular landmarks in the park, consider traveling on the Island Explorer Shuttle Bus, which operates June 23 through Columbus Day.
If you are driving your vehicle in Acadia, stay alert and follow speed limits; the maximum speed in the park is 35 mph. Not only are park roads winding and narrow, they’re often used by walkers and bicyclists. In some places, parking is permitted in the righthand land. While it’s hard to ignore the park’s beautiful landscape, wait until you’ve found a parking spot.
To learn more about Acadia National Park, www.nps.gov/acad.