Visitors Appreciate Available Parking and Exploring at Their Own Pace


Acadia National Park’s implementation of a timed-entry vehicle reservation system for the Cadillac Mountain Summit Road introduced a new way to experience this popular attraction. The reservation system was developed to reduce parking, congestion, and safety issues at the summit of Cadillac, but how did visitors feel about their experiences using it?

My master’s degree research helped answer that question. It involved conducting a visitor survey on the Cadillac Mountain Summit from June to August 2021 during the first year of implementing the new vehicle reservation system.

Lead Recreation Technician Becca Stanley surveys visitors at Cadillac Mountain summit. (NPS photo)

The aim was to understand visitors’ experiences with the new reservation system, with a focus on evaluating its effectiveness in addressing transportation-related concerns and assessing the overall visitor experience. It’s important to note that these results specifically pertain to personal vehicle reservation permit holders.

In 2021, 53 percent of respondents were first-time visitors to Cadillac Mountain, and 66 percent had never been in a U.S. National Park managed access system (reservation system) prior to their visit.

Visitors learned about the new vehicle reservation system through various channels, including the Acadia National Park website (46 percent), word of mouth (22 percent), mixed methods (8 percent), the visitor center (6 percent), social media, and lodging establishments (5 percent each).

From the respondents’ sources of information, the study revealed that 26 percent purchased their permits one to two months before their visit, while nearly 60 percent purchased within 48 hours of their visit. Among those who purchased permits, 58 percent did not encounter any issues, while the remaining 42 percent mentioned that their first-choice time slot or day was unavailable, faced limited cellular connectivity or other issues.

A family participates in the reservation system survey. (NPS photo)

When asked to rate the importance and level of satisfaction of certain attributes, some were deemed more important than others. Those variables were the “ability to explore at their own pace at the summit” (97 percent), “ability to enjoy unobstructed views of the scenery” (93 percent), and “ability to find parking at the summit” (92 percent) were regarded as extremely important components of their visits.

Moreover, the attributes deemed important also garnered high satisfaction ratings. The same attributes, including the “ability to explore at their own pace at the summit” (99 percent), “ability to enjoy unobstructed views of the scenery” (96 percent), and “ability to find parking at the summit” (93 percent), were reported as extremely satisfying aspects of their visits. A majority of respondents rated multiple attributes as extremely important and reported highly satisfying experiences.

While many visitors provided positive feedback on the timed-entry reservation system, highlighting the convenience of advance purchase and avoiding long traffic lines, some expressed disappointment in not being able to secure reservations for their preferred times, especially for the popular sunrise block. However, this outcome was anticipated by Acadia National Park managers as part of their strategy to redirect visitors from high-traffic times (such as sunrise, mid-day, and sunset) to other periods (like after sunrise but before midday), aiming to evenly distribute visitors throughout the day for a safer and more enjoyable experience.

Visitors who arrived during lower-demand times reported high satisfaction levels, particularly in areas such as finding parking spots (93-94 percent satisfaction rating).

The survey findings demonstrate that the reservation system at Acadia National Park has mostly addressed various transportation-related concerns and enhanced the overall visitor experience on Cadillac Mountain.

Rebecca Stanley (right), Recreation Technician Lead at Friends of Acadia, counts how many cars turn around at the base of the Cadillac Summit Road. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti/Friends of Acadia)

Visitors prioritize attributes related to freedom of access and transportation matters, which collectively contribute to highly satisfying experiences. The reservation system has proven to be a valuable tool in managing parking, congestion, and safety, ultimately ensuring a positive visitor experience at Cadillac Mountain.

Additional information can be found in the 150-page master’s thesis located in the University of Maine institutional repository, DigitalCommons@UMaine coordinated by Raymond H. Fogler Library.

Disclaimer: The data depicted in this article was obtained from an independent study conducted by the University of Maine School of Forest Resources with the support of Friends of Acadia. The National Park Service did not supervise or fund this research project.