I have a confession: I take Acadia National Park for granted. There, I’ve admitted it. The rest of the Down East editorial staff makes multiple visits a year — I’m forever walking in on conversations about weekend exploits on Acadia’s trails or stellar meals from around Mount Desert Island — but I’ve been to the park fewer than a half-dozen times in my life. I can point to reasons for this: Growing up in Yarmouth, I always went on more “exotic” family vacations (or so they struck me) to New York City or Florida, where our extended family lived. Now that I’m an adult, there’s the whole “too busy” thing. I’ve had three kids in 10 years, leaving too little time for leisure.
But really, I have no good excuse for my paltry visitation. And my hunch is that I’m not alone among Mainers. For those of you who live here, when was the last time you saw the sunrise from Cadillac, dipped your toes in the ocean at Sand Beach, or braved the Beehive Trail?
Don’t beat yourself up if you’re like me — a lot of us have conditioned ourselves to avoid summer tourism hotpots. I catch myself griping every summer about the traffic in my hometown of Camden, and looking at the line of cars heading up Route 1, I can talk myself right out of the two-hour drive to MDI.
Part of my reflexive reaction comes from thinking about how popular Acadia has become during the height of summer. In 1954, when Down East was founded, the park saw 553,800 visitors. Last year, it welcomed 3.5 million. In one sense, that growth is great: Maine’s economy (and consequently, many of us who live here) depends on tourism. But Acadia’s popularity has consequences, both ecological and experiential, and it can deter some of us during high season. Traffic can be intense, parking a challenge, restaurant waits demoralizing. On a peak-season weekend in Acadia — as at many of Maine’s most popular summer destinations — it’s possible to feel the kind of hassle that many of us live in Maine in order to escape.
But you can avoid this! The truth is, there’s plenty of Acadia — and plenty of Maine — to go around if you travel savvily. Beginning on page 82, we have some great advice about how to make the most of Acadia at the height of tourist season. Here, for example, are some numbers that jumped out at me: Last August, Acadia saw 762,436 visitors. Of those, fewer than 70,000 made it to the Schoodic Peninsula unit of the park, which even I know to be breathtaking. Acadia’s greatest hits are indeed great, but there’s a lot to explore off the beaten path.
Earlier this summer, I came home from a trip abroad and felt like I was seeing Maine anew. Sometimes, it takes getting away for a while to remind us of just how extraordinary our home is. My reentry inspired me to stop taking Acadia — and all of Maine — for granted. I hope you’ll join me this month in exploring our state with fresh and grateful eyes.
In summer, Maine’s marquee national park is at its best — and unignorably its busiest. From town to trail, here’s how to avoid the crowds, find the park’s secret gems, and make your Acadia adventure unforgettable.