This story was originally published in April 2017.
If you’ve ever turned onto the one-way section of the Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park, only to realize that the parking lot you were aiming for is in the opposite direction, you’re not alone. Acadia can be a tricky place to navigate, especially at the height of summer, when thousands of people are moving around the park, slowing down to take in the stunning views, then darting after empty parking spots. But don’t let that intimidate you. The following are a few tips for visiting Acadia during the summer and fall, when traffic is wild but the weather can’t be beat.
1. Try visiting early in the morning or in the afternoon. Typically the park is busiest from late morning until just before dinner time. You’ll likely avoid a lot of traffic if you get up early to visit the park, or you can pack a picnic dinner and enjoy the trails and scenery during the late afternoon. Just remember to pick up after yourself, respect other visitors and wildlife, and bring a headlamp or flashlight for each person, just in case you get caught outside after dark. Another advantage to visiting the park during this time is the lighting, which will be great for photos. A disadvantage is the bugs. Mosquitos and blackflies tend to be more active during early morning and evening time than they are in the middle of the day, so be sure to wear plenty of insect repellent.
2. Be flexible about where within the park you explore. Certain parking lots fill up quickly during the park’s busy season, including the parking lot on top of Cadillac Mountain, the Sand Beach Parking Lot and the Bubbles Parking Lot. If a parking lot is full, don’t sweat it, just continue to explore the park by vehicle until you find an empty space in another parking lot. There is no ugly place in Acadia. You’ll find natural and historic treasures no matter what trail, carriage road, viewpoint, beach or picnic spot you end up at.
3. Invest in a weather-resistant, detailed trail map. The free park trail map that is handed out at visitor centers throughout the park is not very detailed. It does not include trail names or mileages. So spend $9.95 and purchase a more detailed park map, which are available in many places throughout Mount Desert Island, including the park’s Hulls Cove Visitor Center, park headquarters off Eagle Lake Road and the Visitor Center in downtown Bar Harbor. There are also maps available for purchase at the Visitor Center in the park’s mainland section in Winter Harbor on the Schoodic Peninsula.
4. Try using the Island Explorer bus system rather than driving a private vehicle. With a schedule posted online, the Island Explorer is a great way to get around the park during busy season without adding to the congestion of park roads and parking lots. In fact, the bus system will save you the stress of getting to a trailhead and finding no empty parking spaces. The bus also enables you to start a hike in one location and end it in another. Learn more about the bus schedule and rates at exploreacadia.com.
5. If parts of the park are closed, it’s for good reasons. During mud season, prepare for the park’s network of carriage roads to be closed. The wet conditions make the carriage roads especially unstable. In fact, the rut from a bike tire could cause the formation of a gully if followed by a heavy spring rain, pointed out Acadia National Park management assistant John Kelly. “It’s amazing what one bike rider can do,” he said. In addition, certain trails are closed during the spring and summer to protect nesting peregrins, a bird species that is protected under the Maine Endangered Species Act. This bird nests in cliffs near certain trails in the park, and it has been determined that people hiking on these trails might disturb the birds and lessen their chance of successful reproduction and survival. And lastly, sometimes places in the park are closed for habitat restoration or construction. For example, a 1-mile section of the carriage road system will be closed between Jordan Pond Gatehouse and Wildwood Stables this year, Kelly said. Part of the carriage road in that section recently collapsed and needs to be repaired.
6. Dogs are welcome in most places in the park, but not all places, and only under certain circumstances. Acadia is one of the few national parks that allows dogs, but the park has some very specific rules that dog owners are expected to follow. Within the park, dogs must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times, and they cannot be left unattended — that includes leaving them in vehicles. And pet owners are responsible for removing pet waste from campgrounds, picnic areas, parking lots, roads and other developed areas within the park. These rules are enforced by park rangers. Also, there are places in the park where dogs are not permitted. Dogs are prohibited from swimming in most lakes in the park because they’re public water supplies. They are also prohibited from public buildings, the Wild Gardens of Acadia, Duck Harbor Campground, Precipice Trail, Beehive Trail, Ladder Trail on Dorr Mountain, Beech Cliffs Trail, Perpendicular Trail on Mansell Mountain, Jordan Cliffs Trail, Sand Beach from June 15 through Sept. 8, Echo Lake from May 15 through Sept. 15. There are also a whole list of trails that are not recommended for pets because of their difficulty or challenges listed at nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/pets.htm.