5 tips to beat the crowds while visiting Acadia National Park

With this being the park’s Centennial year, more crowds than usual are expected to be visiting Acadia National Park in 2016 – possibly even more than last year’s 2.8 million visitors.

crowds in acadia

Crowds in Acadia can make for an unpleasant experience as seen here on the Park Loop Road and Ocean Path. (NPS photo)

Here are 5 tips to avoid long lines, frustration of finding parking, and other aspects of what can be a maddening crowd. Yes, visiting Acadia National Park during peak times can be stress-free. Why line up behind dozens of other people to pay for a pass, or ask a ranger “Where’s a good place to hike?”

1) Buy your Acadia National Park pass online, go early or late to the main Hulls Cove Visitor Center, or get the pass at one of the other local sites. This is the first year that visitors can buy the usual 7-day pass – and even the annual pass – online. If you’re age 62 or older, you can buy the lifetime Senior Pass for $10 in advance at a participating federal recreation site near home, or via mail. Hulls Cove is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in May, June, September and October, and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. July and August. And there are plenty of other local sites you can buy a pass at, as listed on the park’s Web site:

acadia national park pass

For the first time this year you can buy Acadia National Park passes online, whether the  annual pass for $50, or the 7-day passenger vehicle pass for $25. If you buy online, the pass is e-mailed to you for printout. (NPS image)

  • Park headquarters – ME 233 (Eagle Lake Road) – passes sold 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Bar Harbor Village Green Information Center – late May to Columbus Day, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Thompson Island Information Center – early May to mid-October, hours vary
  • Sand Beach Entrance Station
  • Blackwoods Campground
  • Schoodic Woods Campground
  • Seawall Campground
  • Cadillac Mountain Gift Shop
  • Jordan Pond Gift Shop
  • Mount Desert Town Office
  • Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce
  • Southwest Harbor / Tremont Chamber of Commerce
  • L. L. Bean in Freeport, ME

Tips for visiting Acadia National Park

Island Explorer bus in Acadia National Park

While the Island Explorer bus is fare-free, be sure to get an Acadia National Park visitor pass to help support that and other park services. (NPS photo)

2) Take the fare-free Island Explorer bus if you’re visiting Acadia National Park between late June and Columbus Day, to avoid the frustration of trying to find parking at some of the more popular trailheads and sites. A direct bus route goes from Hulls Cove Visitor Center to the Jordan Pond House, making it that much easier to have tea and popovers or get to the trails near the pond. Bus stops were recently added at Acadia Mountain, Bubble Rock, Parkman Mountain and the Cadillac North Ridge Trail. Some stops may not be marked on the bus map available for free at local businesses or online, but you can ask the bus driver to let you off, even if it’s not an official stop (as long as it’s safe). Be sure to buy a park pass at the Bar Harbor Village Green Information Center across from the Island Explorer hub. And if you’re visiting in May and early June, before the Island Explorer starts up, minimize the frustration of circling around looking for parking at peak times by entering Acadia early or late, or even by walking from downtown Bar Harbor to the park, via the Great Meadow Loop to Sieur de Monts Spring, or via Schooner Head Path to Schooner Head Overlook or Sand Beach and the Great Head Trail.

A view toward Cadillac from Schoodic Head

An early evening view toward Cadillac Mountain from Schoodic Head on the Schoodic Peninsula, the quieter side of Acadia.

3) Head to less-traveled park trails, whether on the “quiet side” of Mount Desert Island west of Somes Sound, the quieter side of Schoodic Peninsula on the mainland, or the quietest side of Isle au Haut, accessible only by mail boat. West of Somes Sound, try out St. Sauveur Mountain, Beech Cliff Loop or Bernard Mountain Loop. Or try out the new hiking trails over on Schoodic, about 1 hour’s drive from Bar Harbor (or a 1 hour ferry and Island Explorer ride from Bar Harbor during the peak season). All these trails, and more, are included in the new 3rd edition of our Hiking Acadia National Park, available at the Eastern National bookstore in the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, Sherman’s Books and Stationery on Main Street in Bar Harbor, and on Amazon.com.

4) Hike the most popular trails and visit the most popular sites early or late. Not only will you avoid the crowds that way, you also increase the chance of seeing wildlife. For instance, coming down from the Beehive one early morning, we came face to face with a barred owl. And if you’re driving to the top of Cadillac, do so either before 11 a.m. or after 4 p.m., to avoid peak crowds (although the Cadillac sunrise and sunset have attracted so many people, the park has had to close the summit road a number of times).

Beehive Trail in Acadia National Park

Early morning is the best time to hike the Beehive Trail if you want to avoid the crowds in summer. It’s a most difficult trail, so hike it only if you are well-prepared.

5) Do a little research in advance, to avoid getting in line to ask basic questions about things to see and do while visiting Acadia National Park. Like to hike? Aside from buying a hiking guide, whether one of ours or someone else’s, or bookmarking this blog, you can download the park’s list of suggested hikes. There’s also a free app by Chimani for Acadia, with lots of hiking information. Looking for ranger-led activities? There’s a handy online calendar for that. Want to attend a special Centennial event? There’s an official Centennial calendar of events searchable by date or key word too. Want a park map? Looking for places to stay or eat? You may also find a series of blog posts we’ve done of the top 5 things to see and do for first-time and long-time visitors to Acadia National Park to be helpful.

The more time you invest up front, the less time you need to spend in line getting basic information. Plus planning the trip is half the fun!

Whether it’s your first time visiting Acadia National Park, or your umpteenth, whether you’re coming Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day or Columbus Day weekends, or during any other busy time this Centennial year, these 5 tips to beat the crowds will come in handy.

Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

About Dolores Kong & Dan Ring

Dolores Kong and Dan Ring are co-authors of the Falcon guides Hiking Acadia National Park and Best Easy Day Hikes Acadia National Park, and also blog at acadiaonmymind.com. They’ve backpacked the 270-plus miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, and are members of the Northeast 111 Club, having hiked all major peaks of the Northeast. Dolores, a former staff reporter at The Boston Globe, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional and senior vice president with Winslow, Evans & Crocker, Inc. (member of FINRA/SIPC) in Boston. Dan, a journalist and former Statehouse bureau chief in Boston for the old Ottaway News Service and for The Republican, the daily newspaper for Springfield, Mass, is also an operations professional with Winslow, Evans & Crocker, Inc. (member of FINRA/SIPC), in Boston. They are married and live outside Boston.