December is usually a slow time of year in Acadia National Park. But with the National Park Service proposing a 27 percent increase in the Acadia annual pass next year, the park holiday tradition of selling the annual entrance pass for about half price is bringing out the bargain hunters.
The Acadia annual pass is currently on sale for $28 during the month of December. People can buy multiple discounted annual passes and many are buying them for holiday gifts, according to people selling the passes at three local chambers of commerce and four town offices. Also, there is a limited number available of annual passes at the reduced price and it’s possible they could sell out, at least at several locations, in the wake of the the NPS’s Nov. 29 announcement of its proposal to hike entrance fees at Acadia in 2023, people said.
“They are selling like hot cakes,” said Brianna Mitchell, deputy town clerk in Gouldsboro, which offers the discounted passes, and which includes Acadia’s Bar Island within its borders. “I am trying to tell people, if they call, to try and grab one sooner rather than later.”
The yearly sale of the pass is always popular, but Mitchell agreed the proposed fee increase for 2023 may be spurring some sales of the discounted pass this year.
The park’s Sand Beach Entrance Station is the primary location for sales of the discounted Acadia annual pass. The entrance station is open year-round and is planned to operate seven days a week in the winter, depending on staffing, with core hours 9 am to 3 pm during December, said John T. Kelly, management assistant in the superintendent’s office at Acadia National Park. “There is a limit, but I can’t predict whether they will sell out,” Kelly said of the discounted passes.
Sand Beach station selling lots of discounted Acadia annual passes
At the Sand Beach Entrance Station, the only location that accepts all forms of payment including credit cards for the discounted pass, Ranger Breanna Bassett told us she is selling “a ton” of the discounted passes when we stopped on a sunny first Sunday in December to purchase one as a gift.
The $28 price for the Acadia annual pass is about half off the 2022 Acadia annual fee of $55. An annual pass is good for a full 12 months from the date of purchase, meaning the 2022 annual pass, if purchased at discount in December, would be good for all of 2023 when substantial fee increases are proposed to take effect.
Separately, the National Park Service is seeking comments online from the public through Dec. 29 on the proposal to raise the cost of an annual entrance pass at Acadia National Park by 27 percent to $70, and the cost of a weekly entrance pass for a private vehicle by 16 percent from $30 to $35, starting in 2023. The 7-day motorcycle pass would go up by 20 percent from $25 to $30 and the 7-day individual price, for those without a car and arriving on bicycle or foot, would jump by 33 percent from $15 to $20.
Half price Acadia annual pass must be purchased in person
When buying the discounted Acadia annual pass, the catch is that it must be purchased in person, not online. Local town offices and chambers accept only cash or check payable to the National Park Service and sell the half-price passes as a service. The third-party sellers are the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce at the corner of Main and Cottage, the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce at 151 High St. in Ellsworth and Southwest Harbor & Tremont Chamber of Commerce, as well as town offices in Gouldsboro, Mount Desert, Tremont and Winter Harbor. People should consider calling ahead to find hours of operation and availability.
“They are selling quickly,” said Cynthia Crow, manager of the Southwest Harbor & Tremont Chamber of Commerce, which sold 100 of the passes in the first two days of December, and offers them at the Harbor House at 329 Main St. in Southwest Harbor. “I would not put it off.”
“They are going super quick,” added Katelin Burpee, office manager for the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s an excellent deal.”
“We always sell out before Christmas,” said Tremont Deputy Clerk Beatrice Grinnell. “We’ve got plenty right now.”
Kelly, the management assistant at Acadia, told us in an email that the proposal to raise entrance fees at Acadia in 2023 is a combined decision among Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider and the NPS’s regional and Washington offices. The increase to $70 for the annual pass would mean Acadia would charge the same for an annual pass as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite. The previous entrance fee increase at Acadia was 2018 when the annual pass increased 10 percent from $50 to $55.
Revenue from increased fees would expand Island Explorer
An entrance pass is required year-round at Acadia. Last year, the National Park Service ended the practice of allowing people to enter Acadia without a pass from Nov. 1 to April 30.
The increased fee revenue will allow Acadia to expand service for the Island Explorer bus system, which is critical for relieving traffic congestion and tight parking throughout the park. Acadia keeps 80 percent of all fees collected and uses fee money to improve visitor services and finance important deferred maintenance such as maintaining hiking trails and carriage roads, according to the Friends of Acadia.
If you can’t make it to the Sand Beach Entrance Station or any of the area chambers of commerce or town halls selling the discounted pass this month, whether for an Acadia annual pass for yourself or as birthday and holiday gifts, there are other ways to score a bargain – or even free – entry.
Other ways to enter Acadia and other parks for free or at discount
Certain passes are only available for US citizens or permanent residents, and may require other forms of documentation, so you will want to verify requirements in advance.
- Enter during one of the National Park Service’s annual fee-free days, with the next one being Jan. 16, 2023, when Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is celebrated. The 2023 dates haven’t been announced yet, but aside from MLK day, they are typically during the first day of National Park Week in April, anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act in August, National Public Lands Day in September, and Veterans Day.
- If you have a fourth grader in your family, sign her up for an Every Kid Outdoors Pass to get the whole family in for free through the end of August 2023
- If you’re 62 or older, get an annual Senior Pass for $20, which you can then convert to a lifetime pass worth $80, after buying three such annual passes. The pass can be purchased in-person at select federal recreation sites, or purchased online.
- If you’re a military veteran, active duty personnel or a family member, or a Gold Star family, you can get a free military pass
- If you have a permanent disability, you can get a free lifetime Access Pass
- And if you volunteer at federal recreation lands for a cumulative 250 hours, you’re eligible for a free Volunteer Pass.