In this July 22, 2021, file photo, visitors to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park look out over Bar Harbor. Credit: Josh Kaufmann / BDN

Acadia National Park had nearly 4 million visits from January through October this year, surpassing its prior record of 3.5 million set in 2017.

The park’s busiest year on record has been propelled by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has spurred people to seek outdoor settings for exercise, recreation and for even visiting with friends and family. For the first 10 months of 2021, the park had 3,973,678 estimated visits.

Park officials have been predicting that the visitation total for all of 2021 likely will exceed 4 million. Annual visitation to Acadia first rose above 3 million in 2016, when the National Park Service heavily promoted its 100th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of Acadia, both of which were created in 1916. The park’s visitation totals hovered between 3.3 million and 3.5 million from 2016 through 2019, but then fell below 2.6 million in 2020 because of the pandemic.

This year, Acadia had an estimated 2.75 million visits by the end of August and 3.4 million by the end of September.

The surge in visits this year has helped to offset the dearth of tourists to Bar Harbor in the spring and early summer of 2020 when COVID-19 concerns and restrictions resulted in low visitation numbers at nearby Acadia. Beginning last October, the estimated number of monthly visits to Acadia since then have been significantly higher than the corresponding monthly totals from previous years.

To calculate the number of recreational visits to Acadia, park officials estimate the number of times any person enters the park, as opposed to estimating the number of different visitors, so one person could account for one visit or 20 visits, depending on how often that person sets foot in Acadia. Generally speaking, an increase in visits corresponds to an increase in visitors.

The park estimates the number of recreational visitors each month by using traffic counting equipment at Sand Beach and Schoodic Point, and by using passenger counts provided by bus companies that bring people into Acadia. The park is closely interwoven with the communities that surround it and has hundreds of frequently used entry points, making an exact count on the number of visitors virtually impossible.

Acadia set a record for such visits in 2017 with 3,509,272, which is 464,406 fewer visits than the estimated total it has had so far this year.

In recent years, Acadia typically has had roughly 50,000 visits in November and 12,000 visits in December, which is expected to put Acadia over the 4 million visit mark by the end of the year.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....