Maine’s state park system is turning seventy-five this year and you are hereby invited to attend the celebration.
- By: Virginia M. Wright
- Photography by: Alan Lavallee
When Maine’s state park system was created by the legislature in 1935, it consisted of a single area of land. Since then, it has grown to more than forty diverse properties, from ocean and lake beaches to picnic areas and campgrounds to trail-laced mountains and lush forests. To celebrate the state parks’ seventy-fifth anniversary and to guide you to the place that suits your mood, here’s a play list — play as in walk, boat, swim, and splash. These suggestions are somewhat whimsical. Most parks are, after all, destinations for many different kinds of activities, not just the ones highlighted here. Find out more about an individual park’s natural features and facilities at the Maine Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands Web site, www.maine.gov/doc/parks, or call the bureau at 207-287-3821 and ask for a brochure.
With trails that keep you guessing what lies around the next bend, not to mention the promise of a scenic reward at the end, these seven parks especially appeal to explorers.
River and Forest. Vaughan Woods Memorial State Park is a 250-acre old-growth hemlock and pine forest with more than three miles of easy, inter-looping trails offering fine views of the Salmon Falls River and its cascades. The woods are home to bald eagles, turkey, and deer. 28 Oldfields Rd., South Berwick. 207-384-5160; 207-624-6080, off-season.
Training Ground. Bradbury Mountain State Park, about fifteen miles north of Portland, is a great place to introduce children to hill hiking. At just 485 feet, Bradbury’s bald summit offers youngsters a sense of accomplishment, thanks to the fine views of the surrounding countryside and Casco Bay. The hike is easily extended by following any one of a number of trails that meander through the park’s eight hundred forested acres. 528 Hallowell Rd., (Rte. 9), Pownal. 207-688-4712.
Waterfalls and Heavenly Pond. Little exertion is required to experience some of Grafton Notch State Park’s finest features, the deep gorges and cascades of Moose Cave, Mother Walker Falls, and Screw Auger Falls (how can you not check out places with such names?). The real hiking is up 4,170-foot Old Speck. The Old Speck Trail, which is part of the Appalachian Trail, is a strenuous eight miles, but you can break it up with an overnight stay at one of the campsites on Speck Pond, about a mile below the summit. Rte. 26 between Upton and Newry. 207-624-6080.
Rocks, Sweat, and Sea. Camden Hills State Park is like Acadia National Park in miniature: thirty miles of trails, most of them steep enough to offer a respectable workout yet short enough to allow ample time for shopping and dining in Camden village that same afternoon. The views are stupendous, stretching from the village and its boat-filled harbor across island-dotted Penobscot Bay to the horizon (look for the trio of wind turbines spinning on Vinalhaven thirteen miles out to sea). Rte.1, Camden. 207-236-3109.
Views to History. Shackford Head State Park sits on an undeveloped headland that juts into Broad Cove, part of Cobscook Bay, famed for its extreme tides and wild coastline. A short, easy hiking trail passes through a pine and birch forest on its way to the promontory and views of Campobello Island, the summer retreat of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There are secluded beaches to discover and blueberries and blackberries to pick in the meadows. Deep Cove Rd., Eastport. 207-941-4014.
Marshes, Meadows, and Ponds. Located off the beaten path in Brooksville, just south of Bucksport, Holbrook Island Sanctuary is a prime birding destination in part because of its varied habitats — fir and hardwood forest, meadows, freshwater ponds, and saltwater marshes. Watch for land and shorebirds, as well as fox, otter, bobcat, and coyote, from three short hiking trails. Canoeists and kayakers paddle to the park’s 115-acre island and to the reversing falls at nearby Goose Falls. 172 Indian Bar Rd., Brooksville. 207-326-4012.
Potato Country Peak. Quaggy Jo Mountain springs suddenly out of the potato fields of Presque Isle, and a hike to its 1,214-foot summit yields sweeping views. Sitting alongside Echo Lake, the mountain is the most prominent feature of Aroostook State Park, Maine’s first state park and perhaps the one most actively engaged with its surrounding community, which enjoys it year-round. In winter, its four miles of trails are groomed for skiing. There is a swim area, boat launch, and campground. 87 State Park Rd., Presque Isle. 207-768-8341.
Waves are fun, but families with tots prefer placid water. These four family-friendly beaches offer smooth swimming and lifeguards, too.
1. Range Ponds State Park. Lower Range Pond, one in a chain of three pretty, tree-lined ponds, boasts a long sandy beach. Amenities include bathhouses and picnic tables. 31 State Park Rd., Poland. 207-998-4104; 624-6080 off-season.
2. Peaks-Kenny State Park. Ten-mile-long Sebec Lake, the centerpiece of this heavily wooded 838-acre park, has a sandy beach on South Cove. Besides swimmers, Sebec draws canoeists and anglers. There is a small, wooded campground. Rte. 153, Dover-Foxcroft. 207-564-2003; 207-941-4014 off-season.
3. Damariscotta Lake State Park. Just seventeen acres, Damariscotta Lake State Park has a fine sandy beach, a small playground, picnic tables, and grills. Rte. 32, Jefferson. 207-549-7600; 207-941-4014 off-season.
4. Mount Blue State Park. When the kids tire of splashing in Webb Lake, you don’t have to go far to find other activities to keep them busy: rent a kayak or paddleboat, hike Mount Blue, mountain bike or ride a horse in the Center Hill area, and attend ranger-led nature programs, all without leaving the park. 187 Web Beach Rd., Weld. 207-585-2347; 207-585-2261 off-season.
If beaches were high-school seniors, these are the titles we’d award to these outstanding members of the class.
Popham Beach State Park. Mercurial Popham looks different every year thanks to the ever-shifting Morse River. Always breathtaking, it has just about everything you could want in a beach: a three-mile stretch of fine white sand, warm tide pools deep enough for wading, boardwalks through dunes sprouting rugosa roses, and a small rocky island accessible at low tide. Rte. 209, Phippsburg. 207-389-1335.
Reid State Park. Reid State Park has two strands, distinctive for their coarse sand tinged red by grains of garnet and feldspar. Mile Beach and Half-Mile Beach are separated by a rocky headland offering sweeping views of islands, lighthouses, and fishing villages. There’s a sheltered saltwater lagoon, too. Rte. 127, Georgetown. 207-371-2303.
Best All Around
Crescent Beach State Park. A favorite of Portland area residents, the fine white sand of Crescent Beach is a sweet, gently curving interlude in Maine’s famously rugged coast. The waves are typically modest, which makes Crescent great for young children, but surfers like it when conditions are right. Rte. 77, Cape Elizabeth. 207-799-5871.
Ferry Beach State Park Here’s a beach where you can get out of the sun and stretch your legs and your mind on a ranger-led interpretive tour. About 1.5 miles of easy trails and boardwalks traverse this one hundred-acre park, whose signature feature is a stand of tupelo, or black gum trees, that are rare this far north. 95 Bayview Rd., Saco. 207-283-0067; 207-624-6080 off-season.
Roque Bluffs State Park. Way Down East in the town of Roque Bluffs, this 274-acre park is remote, secluded, and utterly spectacular. A crescent-shaped pebble beach separates the ocean from a freshwater pond; swimmers enjoy dipping into both. The wildlife watching is great, and there are five walking trails of varying lengths. 145 Schoppee Point Rd., Roque Bluffs. 207-255-3475.
Whatever your favorite watercraft, Maine has a lake or river for you.
Motorboat. Sebago Lake State Park offers access to Maine’s premier vacation lake, a power boater’s paradise. Besides a boat launch, the park has a sandy beach, hiking trails, a picnic area, and a campground. 11 Park Access Rd., Casco. 207-693-6231.
Daysailer. When the breeze is up, seven-mile long Rangeley Lake gives sailors a wave-skipping ride. Rangeley Lake State Park has a boat launch, grassy swim area, and hiking trails. South Shore Dr., Rangeley. 207-864-3858; 207-624-6080 off-season.
Paddleboat. Lake St. George is dotted with small beckoning islands, and Lake St. George State Park answers their calls by renting paddleboats, those festive — and a little bit silly — water bikes. There is a boat launch, swimming area, and campground (and canoe and kayak rentals, too). 278 Belfast Augusta Rd., Liberty. 207-589-4255.
Kayak. Androscoggin Riverlands State Park, Maine’s newest state park, offers paddling on a peaceful, island-dotted stretch of the Androscoggin. This unexpected 2,588-acre wilderness, where loons, ducks, and otter swim and moose graze in the shallows, is just a few miles north of Lewiston and Auburn. Still in development, Riverlands aims to offer a more rustic experience than most other state parks. Center Bridge Rd., Turner. 207-624-6080.
Canoe. Located in the heart of Maine’s fabled North Woods, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, a ninety-two-mile band of rivers, lakes, and streams, and the Penobscot River Corridor, with sixty-seven miles of river and seventy miles of lake frontage, are splendid destinations for canoe and camping trips. Escapes to these remote regions require careful planning. For information, write to BPL at 106 Hogan Rd., Bangor, Maine 04401, or call 207-941-4014.
Every campground has a few tent sites that fill up almost as soon as the reservation office opens for the season. Here are popular picks at four parks beloved for camping. (BPL begins accepting reservations on February 1. Call 800-332-1501 or visit www.maine.gov/doc/parks/reservations.)
Cobscook Bay State Park
You will haul your gear a couple of hundred feet to reach site 101, but the rewards are tranquility and views of Broad Cove. Also in high demand: sites 96, 124, and 125. If you can’t snag them, don’t despair. Cobscook, a staging ground for daytrips to Quoddy Head, Campobello Island, and other points in eastern Maine, has dozens of seaside spots. 40 South Edmunds Rd., Pembroke. 207-726-4412.
Warren Island State Park
If solitude is what you’re seeking, it’s hard to go wrong on seventy-acre Warren Island, accessible only by boat; site 7 just happens to be the most secluded of nine tent sites and two lean-tos. Be prepared to rough it: The park has no hot showers or flush toilets, and some days you won’t even see a ranger, but the sunsets and bird watching are outstanding. Off Lincolnville in Penobscot Bay. 207-941-4014.
Lamoine State Park
Site 62 edges out 56 through 61 because the camp road doesn’t run between it and Frenchman’s Bay. Otherwise, all seven of these relatively open plots are well sited, offering views of nearby Mount Desert Island. Lamoine is where Acadia National Park visitors who want a respite from the crowds bed down. 23 State Park Rd., Lamoine. 207-667-4778.
Lily Bay State Park
The truth is, all of this Moosehead Lake campground’s thirty-five waterside sites are booked early for summer weekends. Number 203, along with 205, 208, 210, and 211, are preferred by folks who want easy access to their car. Number 41, alone on a peninsula at the end of a four hundred-foot path, is cherished by those with a different mindset. 13 Myrle’s Way, Greenville. 207-695-2700.
One of these beautiful settings plus delicious food cooked by someone else add up to a carefree picnic.
Two Lights State Park
66 Two Lights Rd., Cape
+ lobster rolls from the Lobster Shack
225 Two Lights Rd., Cape
+ raspberry shortbread squares from Scratch Bakery
416 Preble St., South Portland.
= a simple meal in an exhilarating atmosphere: a windswept rocky headland pounded by surf
Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park
426 Wolfe’s Neck Rd.,
+ baby back ribs from Buck’s Naked BBQ
568 U.S. Rte. 1, Freeport.
+ cappuccino brownies from Simply Divine Brownies
7 Mill St., second floor,
= a hearty, finger-licking lunch that can be walked off on miles of wooded trails skirting Casco Bay and the Harraseeket River
Birch Point State Park
Ballyhac Rd., Owl’s Head.
+ burgers from the Owls Head General Store
2 South Shore Dr.,
Owl’s Head. 207-596-6038
+ chocolate chip cookies from the Brown Bag
606 Main St.,
= a juicy meal on a secluded, sandy beach, followed by some serious digestion time on sun-warmed granite slabs
Moose Point State Park
310 West Main St. (Rte. 1),
+ spicy seafood noodles from Seng Thai Restaurant
160 Searsport Ave. (Rte. 1),
+ fudge from Perry’s Nuthouse
45 Searsport Ave. (Rte. 1),
= an exotic repast in a shady fir grove, topped off with some tide-pooling on the shores of Penobscot Bay
Swan Lake State Park
Rte. 141, Swanville.
+ Hawaiian sandwiches from Bell the Cat
Renys Plaza, 1 Belmont Ave.,
+ fresh fruit from the Belfast Co-op
123 High St., Belfast.
= a relaxing splash-and-eat day on a lake in the rolling hills north of Belfast
After more than one hundred-fifty years, these lighthouses continue to guide ships through fog and rough seas. Call ahead if you have your heart set on getting inside these towers, as the visiting hours at some of them are limited.
Owls Head Lighthouse
Adjacent to Owls Head Light State Park, Owl’s Head. 207-941-4014.
Height: 26 feet
Shape and color: cylindrical white brick tower with black lantern
Light sequence: fixed white
Range: 16 nautical miles
Fog horn signal: two blasts every twenty seconds
Worthy of note: recently restored, the lighthouse is Coast Guard property accessed through the state park and managed by the American Lighthouse Foundation
West Quoddy Head Light
Quoddy Head State Park, Lubec. 207-733-0911; 207-941-4014, off-season.
Height: 49 feet
Shape and color: cylindrical red and white striped brick tower
Light sequence: two seconds on, two seconds off, two seconds on, nine seconds off.
Range: 8 nautical miles
Fog horn signal: two blasts every thirty seconds
Worthy of note: West Quoddy Head Light is the only candy-striped lighthouse in the country
Fort Point Lighthouse
Fort Point State Park, Route 1, Stockton Springs. 207- 567-3356
Height: 31 feet
Shape and color: white square brick tower
Light sequence: fixed white
Range: 15 nautical miles
Fog horn signal: one blast every 10 seconds
Worthy of note: Fort Point Light is the only lighthouse in Maine that has a round brick lining and circular stairway within a square exterior
A Quick Guide to State Parks, Historic Sites, and Public Reserved Lands
State parks are preserved lands that have been developed for public recreation. They have facilities such as toilets, bathhouses, campgrounds, boat launches, hiking trails, and beaches, and use fees are charged. There are now thirty-three state parks managed by the Maine Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands.
State historic sites are preserved properties and structures that have historic significance within the state of Maine. BPL manages sixteen sites, including six military forts, the Colonial Pemaquid archaeological excavation, and an ancient oyster midden on the Damariscotta River. Most historic sites have picnic areas and toilet facilities. Use fees are charged.
Public reserved lands are managed for timber growth and harvesting, for wildlife habitat, and to provide opportunities for backwoods recreation like camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, and trapping. Maine has 480,000 acres of public reserved lands in twenty-nine units.
River corridors are waterways protected for backwoods recreation, such as canoeing and camping. BPL manages three: the Allagash Wilderness Waterway and the Penobscot River Corridor, which are within the Maine State Park system even though their limited development sets them apart, and the Machias River Corridor, which is a public reserved land. River corridors have wilderness campsites and boat launches.
Baxter State Park in Millinocket is oddly not part of the state park system. The 29,537-acre park, a gift to the state from Governor Percival P. Baxter, is self-supporting and administered separately by the Baxter State Park Authority (www.baxterstateparkauthority.com), whose members are the commissioner of Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the director of the Maine State Forest Service, and the attorney general.
- By: Virginia M. Wright
- Photography by: Alan Lavallee