How to Navigate Acadia National Park’s Vehicle Reservations System
If staying at Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina or West Street Hotel between the months of May through October and hoping to bring a vehicle up Cadillac Mountain’s famous Summit Road, you’ll need more than just a park pass, but an advance vehicle reservation. Here’s what you need to know about how to book online, common questions about the reservation process answered, plus other easily accessible sites you can check out via the Park Loop Road beyond just the classic to-do of Cadillac Mountain.
Mention “Acadia National Park” and the words “Cadillac Mountain” are usually not far behind. That’s because this popular 1,530-foot peak – the highest point along the North Atlantic Seaboard – is synonymous with the 47,000-acre park, much like how the Statue of Liberty is to New York City, deep dish-pizza is to Chicago, or Mickey Mouse is to Disney.
Part of the reason it’s one of the park’s most popular attractions is its uncanny level of accessibility. While many opt to hike to the summit via the mountain’s North Ridge Trail or South Ridge Trail, a drive up the 3.5-mile Summit Road (which opened back in 1931) makes the peak – and its sweeping 360-degree views of the Gulf of Maine – all the easier for a wider audience to enjoy. But therein lies the rub: During peak season, particularly for those seeking to experience the summit at sunrise, the level of traffic often exceeds the legal amount permitted in its summit parking lot. For that reason, from May 24 through October 22, 2023, the National Park Service is requiring advanced vehicle reservations to access the Cadillac Summit Road (more on how to do this below).
But it’s important to note right off the bat: For now, this vehicle reservation only applies to this core landmark of the park. There are hundreds of other equally worthy attractions you can still access without a reservation, whether by car, on foot, or via bike. We’re talking Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, Jordon Pond, and 120 miles of amazing trails weaving through mountains, forests, and fields and along rocky coastlines, ponds, and marshlands. So even if you came to Acadia for the experience atop Cadillac, it’s only a tiny fraction of what makes this park so special and the eighth most-visited national park in the country.
Still, if you’re looking to book a reservation to the summit, here’s what you need to know to do so, some of the most common questions about the booking process answered, plus a few of the other easily accessible sites you can check out via the Park Loop Road beyond just the classic to-do of Cadillac Mountain.
WHY THE NEED FOR ADVANCED RESERVATIONS FOR VEHICLES TO ACCESS CADILLAC’S SUMMIT?
Visitation rates to the park have soared in recent years, resulting in the highest vehicle traffic this attraction has ever seen. No, it’s certainly nothing like sitting on the 405 in LA, but, given that so many people flock to Cadillac – especially during sunrise as it’s the first point that the sunlight hits on the Eastern Seaboard – it can cause overcrowding that is unsafe and, well, a bit frustrating. Previously, during a peak summer visit, you might have seen as many as 450 cars competing for one of the 150 parking spots, resulting in 300 cars parking illegally. This also negatively impacts the local plant life (as much as 16 percent of the summit’s vegetation and soil has been damaged over the years), so the reservation system is a much-needed way to tackle these congestion issues related to both visitors and the health of the park.
HOW DO I MAKE A RESERVATION TO ACESS CADILLAC MOUNTAIN?
1. First, Book Your Vehicle Reservation. Head to Recreaction.gov, search the destination of “Acadia National Park” within the main search bar, and, click the result titled “Cadillac Summit Road Vehicle Reservations” under the “Activities & Experiences” section. It will bring you to this page, where you can book a reservation to take the Summit Road to the top of Cadillac at either sunrise (4:30 a.m.) or one of the various daytime slots (available times are every half-hour from 6:30 a.m. until 8 p.m.). The total cost is $6 ($4 per vehicle, plus a $2 reservation fee). Once you book, be sure to save your confirmation code.
2. Next, Buy a Park Entrance Pass. You still need to purchase a pass to enter the park and access the summit. You can also do this at Recreation.gov, under the results titled “Acadia National Park” where it says “Buy a Pass.” It will take you to this page, where you can select your pass type. In your case, since you are arriving via vehicle, you will want to purchase one of the options below:
- Private Vehicle Pass – Allowing your vehicle access to the park for a total of seven consecutive days for a fee of $35.
- Acadia Annual Pass – Allowing your vehicle access to the park for a total of 12 consecutive months for a fee of $70 (a worthy deal if you plan to return at any point during the year).
There is also an option to purchase a pass for motorcycles if that is your mode of transportation. Make sure the “start date” info for your pass is entered correctly in conjunction with the date of your visit.
3. Prior to Arrival, Print Your Park Pass & Have Your Vehicle Reservation Confirmation Code Handy. All vehicles must display an entrance pass on their dash while in the park. Connectivity can also be spotty when approaching the check-in station, so you should also have a printed version or a screenshot of your vehicle’s reservation confirmation code saved to your phone.
WHEN SHOULD I TRY TO BOOK?
For visitors who prefer to plan far in advance, 30 percent of available vehicle reservations are released 90 days ahead of each calendar date on a rolling basis. The remaining 70 percent are released at 10 a.m. EST two days ahead of each date to allow visitors a bit more trip spontaneity. So while you can book during a shorter window, we still suggest trying to book as far ahead in advance as you can. If you don’t get a spot in advance right away, check back at 10 a.m. EST two days prior to your planned visit. A helpful hint: The reservations can sometimes sell out as quickly as they become available, so try to already be logged into your Recreation.gov account ahead of time (you’ll need to create an account in order to book) to secure that reservation fast.
WHAT IF I SIMPLY WANT TO HIKE CADILLAC? DO I STILL NEED A RESERVATION?
No, hikers or those on a bike do not need a vehicle reservation. You, do, however still need a park entrance pass, which you can purchase on the same “Buy a Pass” page here. If you are going to be entering the park without a private vehicle, select the pass type of “Pedestrian/Cyclist Pass” ($20 for a duration of seven consecutive days).
WHAT IF I CAN’T GET VEHICLE RESERVATIONS?
If you have your heart set on hitting Cadillac Mountain, but you’ve missed the window to reserve your vehicle’s spot, you may be able to book with the following local tour providers, depending on their remaining availability.
- Oli’s Trolley: The most popular tour, The Acadia National Park Tour, features scheduled stops at Cadillac Mountain Summit, in addition to Thunder Hole and Jordon Pond.
- Acadia National Park Tours: The Classic Tour features stops at Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole, and Sieur De Mont’s Spring (Wild Gardens of Acadia).
Otherwise, there is no public transportation to the summit, although the Island Explorer does offer public transport to many other various locations within the park, including stops at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, Sand Beach, Loop Road, and Jordan Pond.
HOW CAN I PRACTICE RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL THROUGHOUT THE PARK?
As one of the top 10 most-visited national parks in the United States, Acadia sees more than four million visitors each year, which can result in the degradation of the park’s fragile ecosystems from overcrowding, traffic, and pollution. To ensure we don’t love this park to death, it’s important visitors take up responsible behaviors, including leaving no trace, visiting lesser congested areas of the park, and abiding by the “closed” areas.
Another unique and new way to tread lightly is to rent an ACADIA GEM as your park transportation. Not only is the small lightweight, electric vehicle easier to maneuver the twists and turns of the famous Park Loop Road, but it’s a cleaner, energy efficient way to travel through the park. Not to mention, the vehicles have glass roofs and removable doors for the ultimate open-air Acadia experience. Rentals are available on Main Street in Bar Harbor, about a 10-minute walk from Harborside Hotel, Spa & Marina and West Street (both hotels also offer charging stations for these vehicles).
WHERE ELSE CAN I CATCH SUNRISE IN BAR HARBOR?
If you can’t beat them (to Cadillac Mountain for an epic Acadia sunrise), join them. There are plenty of amazing sunrise experiences to enjoy, each still well worth rising for.
- Shore Path: Grab your morning coffee or breakfast-to-go and take a stroll along the coast-hugging trail, which faces due east and makes for the perfect sunrise location.
- Grant Park: There are park benches and plenty of manicured lawn space that makes for an ideal sunrise picnic location.
- Cozy Up in the Car: Parking alongside Ocean Drive or at Schooner Head Overlook is a sure bet for some amazing views of the sunrise! Bring coffee and breakfast to-go for an extra enjoyable experience.
- Enjoy Downtown: If you’re feeling like a more leisurely start to your day, downtown Bar Harbor offers spectacular sunrise opportunities and plenty of options to get your caffeine fix and some breakfast, too.
Sunrises are an epic experience in Acadia no matter where you’re viewing from. Cozy up from your car, find that perfect spot along a new path, or welcome the new day with a mimosa or coffee with fellow early-birds downtown.
WHAT OTHER ACADIA ATTRACTIONS SHOULD I VISIT?
The beauty of Acadia National Park is that it’s so vast and varied, exploring every nook and cranny of its 47,000 acres would take a lifetime. But thanks to the Park Loop Road, a 27-mile mostly one-way road that serves as an artery through the eastern portion of the park, you can actually roll up some of the best sights in as little as a day-long drive along the loop. Using this Google Map as a reference, here are a few stops we suggest:
- Sieur de Monts: Often called the “Heart of Acadia,” this first major stop along the Park Loop Road features multiple attractions on its grounds, including the Wild Gardens of Acadia, a satellite location for the Abbe Museum, a nature center, and several memorial paths.
- Sand Beach: Nestled in a small inlet right off the Park Loop Road, this famous 290-yard beach is actually made up of tiny shell fragments (a result of the pounding surf) instead of fine sand. The area is also home to several popular trailheads, like The Beehive, Great Head, and Ocean Path Trail.
- Thunder Hole: Located just past Sand Beach, the name for this inlet comes from how – when the conditions are right – waves crashing with a pocket of air contained in the location’s small cave can produce the sound of a loud, thundering clap.
- Otter Cliffs: A popular rock-climbing location, the sheer granite walls of these 70- to 100-foot coastal cliffs are a sight to behold any day.
- Jordan Pond & Jordan Pond House: Home to a restaurant famous for its giant popovers, Jordan Pond is a crystal-clear glacier-formed tarn (average visibility reaches a depth of 46 feet!). While swimming is not permitted (it serves as the water supply from the nearby community of Seal Harbor), canoeing and kayaking are permitted.