A ranger at Acadia National Park asks to see a visitor's pass while directing traffic Sunday at the park's entrance station on Park Loop Road, where vehicles were backed up for roughly a mile waiting to get through. Visitation to the park was down by nearly 60 percent in June, but has picked up in recent weeks as more tourists from the Northeast come to Maine, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Bill Trotter | BDN

Acadia National Park will require all motorists using the Sand Beach park entrance and Cadillac Summit Road to use a new vehicle registration program starting in October that could reduce traffic and parking congestion at these heavily-trafficked locations.

The idea of the pilot program, park Superintendent Kevin Schneider said, is to guarantee access to people at peak times in highly congested areas ― the Sand Beach park entrance and the Cadillac Summit Road ― from Oct. 1-18.

“The majority of the park is open just as it has always been, including access to all of the carriage roads and all but a few hiking trails,” Schneider said in a statement released Tuesday. “If you want to visit the park’s most popular areas during peak times with your vehicle, you now have the opportunity to guarantee access with a reservation. If you walk or bike into a vehicle reservation area, reservations are not required.”

Reservations are available for purchase only online at recreation.gov. All reservations provide a timed entry on those days, but do not require a departure time, with visitors at Sand Beach required to make reservations from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors to the Cadillac Summit Road will require vehicle reservations from 4:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., according to the statement.

Reservations do not guarantee a specific parking space. If you leave the area with your vehicle, you need another reservation to re-enter. In addition to having a valid entrance pass, reservations must be purchased for $2 each online; reservations will not be sold at the park. Commercial tour operators with a valid Commercial Use Authorization and accredited school groups with an authorized entrance fee waiver do not require a vehicle reservation during the pilot in October.

The vehicle reservation system’s launch in October will help the park prepare a full season of vehicle reservations in 2021. Friends of Acadia President David MacDonald said the system should help make the park more enjoyable.

“We have heard again and again from visitors about the frustration of being stuck in traffic or turned away when the Cadillac Summit Road or Sand Beach Entrance become gridlocked by overcrowding,” MacDonald said. ”Having the ability to pre-plan with a reservation, just as you would with a whale watch or a carriage ride or a dinner out, should provide more certainty and a better experience once in the park. ”