Hundreds of visitors flock to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park to watch the sunrise. At 1,530 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the tallest mountain along the Eastern Coast of the United States. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Planning ahead will soon be required to visit the most popular spots in Acadia National Park.

A vehicle reservation system to reduce severe traffic and parking congestion will be in place from Oct. 1-18 this year and serve as a pilot program to prepare for the 2021 season. Reservations will be required for vehicles going through the Sand Beach entrance and up the Cadillac Summit Road.

Vehicle reservations are available for purchase only online at recreation.gov for $2 each and will not be sold at the park.

“The majority of the park is open just as it has always been, including access to all of the carriage roads and all but a few hiking trails,” Superintendent Kevin Schneider said in a statement. “If you want to visit the park’s most popular areas during peak times with your vehicle, you now have the opportunity to guarantee access with a reservation. If you walk or bike into a vehicle reservation area, reservations are not required.”

The park has reported more than 3.5 million visitors during both 2017 and 2018. While figures fluctuate from year to year – depending on weather, the economy and other factors – the number of visitors has risen 60 to 70 percent over the past 10 to 15 years. But Acadia’s growing popularity is straining – and sometimes exceeding – the capacity of Acadia’s aging infrastructure as well as raising concerns about protecting the natural environment that draws visitors in the first place.

It is not uncommon, for instance, for a line of traffic to snake down the road from the summit of Cadillac Mountain during busy summer months as cars wait or circle for one of the 170 spots. That has prompted park rangers to close the road to new traffic, at times, in an attempt to regulate congestion on top. Similarly, the Ocean Drive section of Park Loop Road can also become clogged around Sand Beach and Thunder Hole, creating safety concerns for crossing pedestrians and resulting in damage to roadside vegetation from illegal parking.

“Friends of Acadia is very encouraged to see this first step toward a timed reservation system for vehicles to enter the busiest sites in the park during peak times,” FOA President David MacDonald said in a statement. “We have heard again and again from visitors about the frustration of being stuck in traffic or turned away when the Cadillac Summit Road or Sand Beach Entrance become gridlocked by over-crowding.

“Having the ability to pre-plan with a reservation, just as you would with a whale watch or a carriage ride or a dinner out, should provide more certainty and a better experience once in the park. ”

For the pilot program, Sand Beach vehicle reservations will be needed from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., while the Cadillac Summit Road reservations are needed from 4:30 am to 6:30 pm. All reservations provide a timed entry, but do not require a departure time.

A specific parking space is not guaranteed, and another reservation will be needed if. If you leave the area with your vehicle.

Commercial tour operators with a valid commercial use authorization and accredited school groups with an authorized entrance fee waiver do not require a vehicle reservation during the pilot program in October.

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