Cars back up on the Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park in this August 2020 file photo as visitors wait in line to drive through the fee station near Sand Beach. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

As of the end of August, the number of people visiting Acadia National Park this year surpassed the total from 2020, according to park officials. And the year isn’t done yet.

The park had roughly 800,000 visits in August, according to Adam Gibson, a social scientist for Acadia, which is more than 17 percent higher than the estimated number of visits the park had in August 2020. Acadia has had an estimated 2.75 million visits so far in 2021, which is about 84,000 more visits than it had all of last year.

Kevin Schneider, Acadia’s superintendent, said that the park expects it will continue to be especially busy in September and October– which is typical — and perhaps after Halloween, too.

“We’re likely to go over 4 million visits this year,” Schneider told the Acadia Advisory Commission on Monday.

If that happens, it will set a new record for visitors to Acadia. The park’s busiest year on record — so far — was 2018, when it had 3.54 million visits. The park had more than 3.3 million annual visits for four straight years, from 2016 through 2019.

Visitation to Acadia in 2020 was abnormally low, thanks to a slow summer caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused many people to not travel for several months out of fear of spreading or coming into contact with the disease. The 2.67 million visits Acadia had in 2020 is the lowest annual count the park has had since 2014, when it had 2.56 million visits. 

Visitation picked up significantly last fall, however, as more people sought to travel but to avoid close contact with other people. Getting outside, and visiting national parks, became one of the more popular ways people adjusted to the ongoing pandemic.

Since October 2020, “every single month has been a record month” for visitation to the park, Gibson said. The past 11 months have had on average 22 percent more visitors than the same period from late 2019 through the summer of 2020, he said.

The jump for visits was especially busy in May and June, each of which had three times as many visits than the corresponding months in 2020.

“And we still have the fall to go through,” Gibson said. “Fall is big in Acadia.”

The congestion and the decreased volume this summer of the free Island Explorer bus system — which has cut some routes, reduced the passenger capacity of its buses and grappled with difficulty hiring drivers — has exacerbated the number of vehicles in some places in the park including Jordan Pond, Ocean Drive and Bass Harbor Light. However the new car reservation system for driving up Cadillac Mountain has reduced congestion there, park officials said. 

Therese Picard, the park’s chief ranger, said that the volume of people in the park also has resulted in more rescues in the park. The park typically handles two dozen rescues through August of each year, she said, but so far in 2021 has handled about double that — 50. Most of the rescues involve leg injuries of some sort, which usually require park staff and responders from MDI Search & Rescue to carry the injured person on a litter to a waiting ambulance.

Sometimes, Picard said, the park has had to handle multiple rescues at the same time, which can put a strain on park staff and qualified volunteers, she said, and can inflate overtime costs.

“It doesn’t really show any sign of slowing down for the fall,” Picard said.

The park’s exact visitation estimate for August was not released on Monday. The specific estimate for the number of visits to Acadia last month is expected to be released by the National Park Service within the next week or so.

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....