ACADIA NAT’L PARK — Acadia recorded more visits through the first 10 months of this year than in all of 2017, when the park set a record with an estimated 3.51 million visits.
The estimated number of visits through October of this year was just over 3.97 million. So, it is a near certainty that the full-year 2021 total will be in excess of four million for the first time ever.
The visitation number for this October was 557,624, which was almost exactly 50,000 more than the previous record for the month, set in 2017.
About 91 percent of the Acadia visits so far this year have been to the Mount Desert Island section of the park. The section on the Schoodic Peninsula has accounted for most of the rest, with less than 0.3 percent attributed to Isle au Haut.
The park estimates the number of visits, not individual visitors, so one visitor can account for several visits.
The visitation estimates are based on actual counts. Here is how it works: There is a vehicle counter on both lanes of the Park Loop Road near the Sand Beach entrance station. The traffic count at that location is multiplied by a “vehicle expansion multiplier” to estimate the number of vehicles going to all of the other recreation areas in the park. The vehicle expansion multiplier ranges from 1.8 in January, February and December to 2.7 in June, July and August.
The adjusted vehicle count is then multiplied by the “persons-per-vehicle” multiplier. That multiplier is 2.0 in January, February, March and December, 2.8 in April and November, and 3.0 in May through October.
The estimated number of commercial bus and van passengers is calculated by multiplying the number of full-size motor coaches by 45, the number of small buses by 18 and the number of vans by 10.
The number of people getting on an Island Explorer bus can easily be counted. But the buses don’t just pick up and drop off passengers in Acadia. So, 25 percent of Island Explorer passengers are counted as park visitors.
While the visitation numbers are inexact, they do show trends in park visitation and are useful for year-to-year comparisons.
In 2020, visitation was down significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, it is most useful to compare the 2021 numbers through October to those of 2019, the year before the pandemic curbed tourism.
The 2021 numbers would have been even higher if motor coach visits had been at normal levels. Motor coaches typically carry thousands of cruise ship passengers into the park, but no large cruise ships and only one small ship stopped in Bar Harbor this year. As a result, the number of commercial bus passengers counted as Acadia visitors over the first 10 months of this year was 38,812, compared to 158,817 during the same period in 2019.
The fare-free Island Explorer buses, which run from late June through mid-October, carried an estimated 68,784 passengers into the park this year, compared to 160,968 in 2019. That was likely due to the fact that the buses ran on only about half the usual number of routes. Park officials speculate that many people who would have ridden the buses this year drove their vehicles into the park instead.
The number of individual overnight stays in Acadia’s campgrounds through October of this year was 213,854. That was about 1,100 more than during the same period in 2019.
Acadia has been the country’s seventh most-visited national park for the past several years. This year, it is likely that the park’s estimated number of visitors could surpass the 4.02 million recorded by Yellowstone, the sixth most-visited park, in 2019. But Acadia will not overtake Yellowstone this year because that Wyoming park reported 4.79 million visits through October.
Like Acadia and Yellowstone, nearly all the national parks are experiencing a record number of visitors this year.