Six moose, four rabbits, a Native American gravesite, and a little bit of Canada: That’s what we saw on our campgrounds tour from Rangeley Lake to the Moose River. (They don’t call state Route 16 “Moose Alley” for nothing!) From there, we followed the silvery-blue ribbon of Moosehead Lake to spectacular Lily Bay State Park, taking the long way around the lake since, at 117 square miles, every route is the long way, unless you swim it. Ultimately, we set up camp along Moosehead Lake’s shoreline, where the air was scented with pine and wood smoke and the distant cry of loons was a lullaby.
Maine can boast of more than 200 campgrounds, ranging from full-service camping resorts with golf courses and gourmet coffee to rustic retreats — and when they say “rustic,” they mean “there’s the outhouse.” If you’re lucky, that is. Here are a few spots we love, from mild to wild.
Not sure about this whole camping thing? Welcome to Searsport Shores Campground, where they offer enough creature comforts to win over even a city boy. As you drive in past the art studio, where a visiting artist teaches classes and does demos, you quickly realize that this is a camping resort, set on 40 acres of oceanfront. There’s a playground, rental kayaks, a dog park, a weekly lobster bake — and some RVs, which made us wonder if tent campers would feel out of place. That feeling disappeared when we saw the waterfront sites on Penobscot Bay. Spacious and wooded, the tent sites (RVs have their own zone) overlook the water and the “beach,” which Mainers call a beach and we call a rocky shoreline. A wilderness experience, it’s not (there’s Wi-Fi and a gift shop), but if you’re camping with kids, or tiptoeing into the camping scene, Searsport Shores is a great choice. Plus, you’re halfway between Camden and Bar Harbor.
216 West Main St., Searsport, 207-548-6059; www.campoce
an.com. Most tent sites $40-
With all the attention paid to Acadia National Park, it’s easy to forget that Maine has some lovely state parks. Twelve of them, plus the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, offer camping. If you don’t need all the amenities of a commercial campground, but don’t want to completely rough it, a state park campground is a fine choice. Lake St. George State Park in mid-coast Maine draws a mixed crowd of RVs and tent campers, who happily trade ocean views for a peaceful lakefront scene. Thirty-eight campsites are set in a loop along the shoreline of spring-fed Lake St. George. (If site 31S is available, grab it; it’s the best tent site on the water.) Sites have picnic tables and fire rings, but the big draw here is lake swimming at the beach. To explore the lake, rent a canoe, paddleboat, or rowboat ($3 per hour). Or bring your own boat and launch it for free. Bring everything you need — s’mores ingredients, bug spray, and breakfast — because you’re a bit out of the way here.
278 Belfast-Augusta Road, Liberty, 207-589-4255, 800-332-1501. www.parksandlands
.com. Tent sites $25; $15 residents.
Set in Maine’s western mountains region, an area famous for rugged beauty and great fishing, Rangeley Lake State Park offers a gorgeous, woodsy getaway that’s far from traffic-clogged, coastal Route 1. The town of Rangeley offers several boat rental outfits, and places to get a Maine fishing license, if you want to try your luck against trout and land-locked salmon in this (icy cold) lake. Plunge in if you dare, or simply enjoy the views of Saddleback Mountain from shore. Fifty campsites are set in a loop on the lakeside, at the opposite end of the park from the beach and boat launch. Dotted with spruce and fir, campsites offer plenty of space and privacy. Some spots have footpaths through the trees that lead to the lake, and the most desirable ones sit right on the water. This park has all the natural beauty you could wish for, plus hot showers. What’s not to like? A bonus: Hike the .7-mile Moose Country Corridor Trail.
South Shore Drive, Rangeley, 207-864-3858, 800-332-1501, www.parksandlands.com. Tent sites $25; $15 residents.
“We’ve been here since 1900, so we’re newcomers,” says John Flood of Flood’s Cove Oceanfront Campsites, whose family owns 72 acres on the waterfront in Friendship, plus an 11-acre island that juts into Muscongus Bay. Actually, Ames Island (as it’s called on charts) is an island when the tide is in and a peninsula when the tide is out — and it is now open for wilderness camping. They’ll take you to one of the eight campsites by motorboat (you can even walk in at low tide), but you’ll get the true experience if you arrive by kayak. Paddling around the tip of the wooded island, you’ll land on one of the beaches — using the term loosely — on the western side. There you’ll find campsites set among the trees, with picnic tables, fire rings, two rainbow-painted outhouses, and unobstructed views of the bay and nearby islets. Oh, and there is a gazebo at the seaward end of the island. “We’re trying to keep it rustic, the way it used to be,” says Flood. “This is not a place for people who are looking for high-end stuff — you can’t drive there and there isn’t a supermarket nearby.” But it’s a dandy base for kayaking, whether you venture upriver to Waldoboro or out to sea.
Maine’s exquisite islands offer a world of backcountry camping for those with a sense of adventure — and a boat. For inspiration, get acquainted with the Maine Island Trail (www.mita.org), a 375-mile recreational waterway that’s mapped out for camping by boat. America’s oldest recreational water trail, it connects 200-plus island and mainland sites that are open for day use or overnight stays. Along the trail, you might camp on a sandy beach or a quiet bay, alongside a saltwater river or a dramatic shoreline. Alvah Maloney, a guide at Maine Kayak (www.mainekayak.com), knows these waters well. One of his favorite spots to camp is Thief Island, on the southern end of Muscongus Bay. “It is far out into the bay, and offers beautiful views back up into the bay itself,” he says. Paddle to the north end of the island, a protected area where it’s easy to pull up and land, and look for a picnic table and a flat, grassy spot for camping. There’s also a small, secluded tent site on the south end of Thief Island. “I’ve seen some of the most amazing sunrises from this location,” Maloney adds.
Another remote island Maloney likes for kayak camping is Jewell Island in Casco Bay. “The island has lots of history with old gun turrets and bunkers from World War I and World War II,’’ he says. There are several sand beaches, lots of campsites, hiking trails, privies, and a caretaker who knows the island inside and out. “Jewell is way out in the bay and you can see forever, including Halfway Rock Lighthouse, which is the farthest out in Casco Bay,” Maloney says. For details and maps, visit www.mita.org.
And then there’s our favorite, Lily Bay State Park in Greenville. We’re purposely not telling you how great it is because we want to make sure we can always get a spot there. Anyway, it’s really far away. You probably won’t like it.