6 insider tips for visiting Acadia National Park during peak season

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This story was originally published in April 2017.

If you’ve ever turned onto the one-way section of 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 in the height of summer, when thousands of people mill through the park, slow down to take in the stunning views, then rush after empty parking spots. But don’t be intimidated. Here are some tips for visiting Acadia during the summer and fall, when traffic is heavy but the weather is unbeatable.

Try to visit early in the morning or in the afternoon.

Generally, the park is busiest from late morning until just before dinnertime. You’ll likely avoid a lot of traffic if you get up early to visit the park, or you can pack a picnic and enjoy the trails and scenery in the late afternoon. 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 of visiting the park during this time is the lighting, which will be ideal for photos. One downside is the bugs. Mosquitoes and black flies tend to be more active in the early morning and evening than they are in the middle of the day, so be sure to carry plenty of insect repellent.

Be flexible about where in the park you explore.

Some parking lots fill up quickly during the park’s peak season, including Sand Beach Parking Lot and Bubbles Parking Lot. If a parking lot is full, don’t worry, just keep exploring the park by vehicle until you find an empty spot in another parking lot. There is no ugly place in Acadie. You’ll find natural and historic treasures no matter which trail, motorable road, viewpoint, beach or picnic spot you find yourself on.

Invest in a detailed, weatherproof trail map.

The free park trail map that is distributed at park visitor centers is not very detailed. It does not include trail names or mileages. So purchase a more detailed park map, which is available at many locations on Mount Desert Island, including the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, park headquarters near Eagle Lake Road, and the Visitor Center from downtown Bar Harbor. Maps are also available for purchase at the visitor center in the mainland section of the park at Winter Harbor on the Schoodic Peninsula.

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 peak season without adding congestion to park roads and parking lots. In fact, the bus system will save you the stress of getting to a trailhead and not finding an empty parking spot. The bus also allows you to start a hike in one place and end it in another. Learn more about bus schedules and fares at exploreacadia.com.

If parts of the park are closed, it’s for good reason.

During mud season, be prepared for the closure of the park’s vehicular road network. Wet conditions make motorable roads particularly unstable. In fact, rutting on a bicycle tire could cause a gully to form if it’s followed by heavy spring rain, said Acadia National Park assistant superintendent John Kelly. “It’s amazing what a cyclist can do,” he said. Additionally, some trails are closed in the spring and summer to protect nesting peregrines, a bird species protected under Maine’s Endangered Species Act. This bird nests in the cliffs near some trails in the park, and it has been determined that people walking on these trails could disturb the birds and reduce their chances of breeding and survival. And finally, sometimes parts of the park are closed for restoration or construction of habitats. For example, a 1-mile section of the motorable road system will be closed this year between Jordan Pond Gatehouse and Wildwood Stables, Kelly said. Part of the carriage road in this section has recently collapsed and needs to be repaired.

Dogs are welcome in most areas of the park, but not everywhere, and only in certain circumstances.

Acadie is one of the few national parks that allows dogs, but the park has very specific rules that dog owners must follow. In the park, dogs must be kept on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times, and they cannot be left unsupervised, which 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 of the park. These rules are enforced by park rangers. Also, there are places in the park where dogs are not allowed. Dogs are prohibited from swimming in most park lakes as they are public water sources. They are also prohibited in public buildings, Acadian Wild Gardens, 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 June 15-September 8, Echo Lake May 15-September 15. There is also a whole list of trails that are not recommended for pets due to difficulty or challenge listed at nps.gov/acad/planyourvisit/pets.htm.

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