Acadia National Park was overwhelmed with hiking accidents and traffic congestion during a record-setting day for visits on a sunny day during the July 4 weekend.
On July 5, the Maine national park had 35,000 visits, or 15 percent more than the prior record on July 3, 2017 and a 33 percent increase over the average busiest day for the last eight years, according to a park news release.
Park staff that day were pushed to the limit when they responded to four simultaneous rescue calls, including a helicopter rescue from 1,270-foot Dorr Mountain and another involving a fall off a cliff on the trail down the west face of Cadillac Mountain. Park dispatch that Friday was flooded with 755 radio calls and 20 emergency calls to 9-1-1.
Laura Cohen, acting chief of interpretation for the park, said the record visitation occurred because it was a Friday after the July 4 holiday and many people took the day off from work for a long weekend. “It was a very busy day,” she said, adding that the park was bracing for a busier day after AAA predicted that overall travel volume for the holiday was expected to rise 4.1 percent over 2018.
Visitor center, Cadillac and other spots closed due to heavy traffic
The road to the peak of Cadillac Mountain was closed three times on July 5, including at sunset, and the peak set its own record for visits with 600 vehicles jockeying for a spot among the 157 spaces at the summit. An additional 364 cars were denied entrance by park staff who had closed the road for safety.
The park loop road was backed up from Otter Cliffs to the Precipice parking area.
Ocean Drive was shut down for two hours and again closed for 30 minutes while the Sieur de Monts lot was closed twice for an hour each time.
In an unusual move, the Hulls Cove Visitor Center parking lot was closed for 45 minutes to attempt to create enough space for fare-free Island Explorer buses to enter the lot. The Hulls Cove Visitor Center had just opened for the year on June 19 after renovations.
The Jordan Pond north parking lot was closed for an hour.
Illegal parking, often an issue during busy days at Acadia, was a major problem, according to the release.
Both sides of Stanley Brook Road were filled with cars blocking the Island Explorer bus from using the road and obstructive and illegal parking occurred on both sides of Schooner Head Road, blocking the exit route for cars lined up at the Sand Beach Entrance Station.
The access road to the famed Bass Harbor Head lighthouse was closed twice for 30 minutes apiece in the afternoon and around sunset.
Spate of hiking accidents stretch emergency personnel in Acadia
A string of hiking accidents started at 9:44 am when a 24-year-old Connecticut man lost his footing while hiking down the Cadillac West Face trail to Bubble Pond and slid 40 feet down a sloped rock before falling off a 15 to 20-foot cliff on the park’s highest mountain. Cadillac West Face is the steepest trail off Cadillac, and it’s not recommended to hike down, especially as there are many sheer granite sections that get wet and slippery.
A total of 12 rangers and MDI Search and Rescue volunteers assisted in saving the man in an effort that involved assembling three different rope systems to safely lower the man and rescuers down the slippery and wet trail. The rescue ended at 3 pm. The man had no life threatening injuries and was able to call for help on his phone.
In another serious hiking problem on a peak, a 69-year-old woman was overcome and lost consciousness from heat stroke on the Dorr South Ridge Trail. A Maine Forest Service helicopter made the rescue in an effort recorded on a dramatic video by the service.
The short-haul helicopter flew the woman from the mountain to a waiting ambulance at the athletic field in Bar Harbor, according to a report from MDI Search and Rescue, which is an all volunteer, nonprofit organization that assists the Maine Warden Service, National Park Service, and local authorities with searches and rescues of lost or stranded people.
The helicopter was called after paramedics from the town of Bar Harbor hiked two miles up the trail with a park firefighter and determined the air rescue was needed. Bar Harbor personnel responded because there were no park rangers available for the rescue and the helicopter completed the work amid difficult terrain and no landing zone.
Less than a half hour before the helicopter rescue, two Acadia National Park rangers had responded to a hiking mishap on the Cadillac North Ridge Trail involving a 58-year-old woman with an injured ankle who was saved one mile from the trailhead.
The hiking accidents also included a 51-year-old man who had muscle cramps on Acadia Mountain shortly after 1 p.m. A summit steward for the Friends of Acadia contacted the man, but he was able to walk off the mountain without additional assistance, after self-administering electrolytes, according to the park news release.
Acadia hiking accidents a near constant so far this year
MDI Search and Rescue reported that it assisted Acadia National Park on July 1 with saving a man who fell off a cliff at the potentially treacherous Raven’s Nest overlook at Schoodic, the mainland part of the park. The man was able to get himself out of the water and was eventually rescued by a Winter Harbor Fire Department boat from a beach below the cliffs.
On Wednesday, June 12, MDI Search and Rescue helped Acadia National Park with back-to-back rescues including a woman with a leg injury on Gorge Path at 10:30 am and a man with a leg injury on the Norumbega Mountain Trail.
It took more than two hours to carry the man from Norumbega Mountain to the trailhead and the incident occurred just 20 minutes after the injury on Gorge Path, which goes up a ravine between Cadillac and Dorr mountains.
Before that, eight members of MDI Search and Rescue worked 3.5 hours with Acadia rangers, park trail crew and paramedics from the Bar Harbor Fire Department to treat and carry the woman from Gorge Path to a waiting ambulance.
More hiking accidents are occurring as the number of visits continue climbing at Acadia. For the third consecutive year, the park in 2018 set a record with 3.53 million visits during the year.
Safety tips to minimize chance of Acadia hiking accidents
Among some of the recommendations to stay safe while hiking, from Acadia National Park:
- Be careful while walking near cliff ledges
- Bring water, map, adequate clothing, first aid kit and flashlight or headlamp. Investing in a professional bc level 1 first aid kit is a professional way to be prepared.
- Wear sturdy hiking shoes and dress for variable weather
- Do not modify or build new Bates cairns, as these trail markers are important for other hikers’ safety and for yours, if you are returning the same way
- Stay on the marked trail
- Know the difficulty level of the trail and your physical abilities and limitations
As veteran hikers and authors of “Hiking Acadia National Park” and “Best Easy Day Hikes, Acadia National Park,” we would also add the following, especially if you are planning on climbing a mountain or hiking a moderate to difficult trail:
- Wear hiking boots, not just sneakers, and certainly not flip-flops, as the ankle protection can help prevent a broken bone or serious sprain
- Avoid stepping on wet granite and rocks, and if you can’t, choose a path that takes you over the flattest section of granite or the most level rocks, to minimize the chance of slipping
- Consider bringing a sports drink, as the electrolytes might help prevent cramps; the 51-year-old man who experienced muscle cramps on Acadia Mountain was able to self-administer electrolytes and slowly walk off on his own, without needing to be carried off.
- Drink water or sports drink on a regular basis while hiking, even if you don’t feel thirsty, and take rest breaks when it’s hot, to prevent heat stroke
- Be very aware when taking photographs, and do not step back or to the side to get a better picture without first watching your step
- If you use trekking poles as the park recommends (but which we prefer not to use), get rubber tips on the end so you don’t scratch the granite
- No texting or talking on a cell phone while hiking
I went into the Cadalac Summit reservation system this morning right at 10:00 AM (when it opened for reservations for the first time for 2021. I tried to get a reservation to drive up the mountain on July 9th – the system indicates there are only a few tickets left (in the teens) on that date and that I cannot get those tickets now – I have to wait until April 17th at 10:00 AM. Curious how most of the tickets can be gone before the system even opens for the first time. Also did not see anything about reserving a time for Sand Beach. Would appreciate any and all thoughts or ideas. Thank You!
First, the Sand Beach Entrance Station does not require a vehicle reservation this year. This reservation system is on hold to fix some issues that arose during the pilot last October.
Second, to explain why you possibly were delayed until April 17, 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 am ET two days ahead of each date to allow visitors a bit more trip spontaneity.
Thank you for commenting, Fred.
Thanks, appreciate the info on Sand Beach. As to Cadilac Mountain, when I went into the Website you could make reservations through June 30th. Until today, you could not make any reservations and the July date I was looking for is in the 90-day window. Also don’t understand if reservations were just opened today, why there are so few left for July (I was on a 10:00 AM). Finally, they have now moved up the next registration date to April 10th – it was first shown as April 17th.
Thanks again for this information, Fred. It does seem that some people encounter problems using the online reservation system. We hope you stick with it and get a spot on Cadillac on the July date you are seeking and that it is sunny with a light breeze on top when you visit. Please keep us up to date if you try again April 10. We will check with the park to see how the online system is working out.
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Crowds will only get worse. Worlds populations is doubling, People are multiplying 2 fold and so on…
Same small towns, trails and parks will be clustered to where one can’t walk or enjoy the views without hundreds of people in them.
Thanks for commenting, anonymous. Some of our national parks sure are getting crowded, especially in the West at certain times. Acadia set new records for annual visits each year of the past three years, but you still can find times and places to get away. Acadia is also planning to implement a reservation system for vehicles at popular spots like Cadillac summit, Ocean Drive and Jordan Pond lot, but that may be a couple of years away.
Crowds were crazy 4th of July week! We got to the park early and it made for a much better experience.
Although it did take about 40 minutes to get a parking spot a Bass Harbor Head that friday… Was worth it though 🙂
Thanks for the comment, Annamarie T. We appreciate the first-hand report of the July 4 weekend. Great that you got the early start, certainly a key to beating the crowds. Also amazing that you drove around for 40 minutes to get a spot at Bass Harbor Head. We have seen the cars lining the road to the lighthouse on a July 4 weekend ourselves, but I believe we gave up at that sight and went back another day. We have also visited July 4 weekend in Acadia and have become stuck in a long backup on the park loop road. We thought that was crazy, but it sounded even worse this year.
Soon there will be the same nonsense with all the touristy flatlanders up in Millinocket, thanks to that new National forest. You can all thank Quimby for that soon to be mess.
Thanks for the comment, Rick. However, we do doubt that Katahdin Woods and National Monument will become so popular that it will draw the traffic of Acadia. Baxter can be a big draw, but the state park does cap parking, so that limits the attendance. We have visited Millinocket many times over the years, most recently in December of 2018 for the Millinocket Marathon and Half and we will be returning this December for the event. It was a sunny clear day for last year’s marathon and the view of Katahdin was spectacular during the race. Looking forward to this year’s Millinocket Marathon and Half.
I’m thinking something needs to be done to limit the number of commercial tourists that come into the area. We love Bar Harbor. But made our 1st and last trip in July last year. You just can’t enjoy the island the way it was meant to be enjoyed when there are back to back people! People who are limited on when they can vacation will start going elsewhere.
Thanks for the comment, Miriam. Don’t know the days you visited in July of last year, but if it was around the holiday, the park will be far more crowded than usual during that time. With commercial tourists, maybe you are referring to cruise ship passengers or those who arrive on commercial bus tours. Maybe you went to the summit of Cadillac or other hot spots that do tend to get jammed with cruise ship passengers, or maybe you were in downtown Bar Harbor when multiple cruise ships arrived. The park is in the process of putting in place a reservation system for Cadillac, the Jordan Pond lot and Ocean Drive during peak periods. That could ease crowding but it will cost a small extra reservation fee and would require more planning.
This goes against most people’s opinion, I know. Commercial tours and cruise ships certainly add to the crowds thronging the streets of Bar Harbor and the summit walkway on Cadillac but they are not responsible for unprepared hikers and those who impede access by parking in the roadway. The park administration’s flexible transportation plan is a good, not perfect, approach to minimizing crowding on the roads. The number of search and rescue incidents and traffic issues experienced on July 5th might be tied to the number of visitors to the park on one day. Spread out those visits over time and the number of occurrences on one day could be diminished. Any injury is a big problem for the person but it gets worse when help is delayed.
Jim — Thanks for weighing in on cruise ships and hiking accidents. We agree that you cannot point the finger at cruise ship passengers for illegal parking or unprepared hiking. Sure, cruise ship passengers crowd the downtown and maybe attractions like the summit of Cadillac or Thunder Hole, but you expect a lot of people at those destinations and there’s little doubt that passengers are good for restaurants and other small businesses in downtown Bar Harbor. Acadia also is poised to benefit from a new fee package that takes effect Oct. 1 and will mean that motor coach operators that carry cruise ship passengers and other tourists will be charged $15 for each passenger on each trip instead of the flat general charge of $150 per trip. This sounds like a possible administrative nightmare for the people who would collect the fee, but it could be financial boost for the park, which would retain the lion’s share of the fee. Cruise ship passengers generally don’t do much hiking, except for the easy .5 mile summit loop trail or the stairs at Thunder Hole, but when it comes to hiking mishaps, most probably can be avoided with some common sense and caution. We know this from experience, too.