FOR THE TENTERS
Our Pick: Hermit Island Campground, Phippsburg
It was past midnight when we drove into Hermit Island Campground and inched through darkness toward our campsite in our packed car: My parents up front, and my fully grown brothers and me squeezed into the back seat. We live all across the country now — in Massachusetts, New York, California — but a perfect alignment of schedules led us back to the 68-year-old campground on Casco Bay last August. It was the first time all five of us had been there in nearly a decade.
Hermit Island is a two-generation tradition for us. My father’s family camped there in the late 1960s, and in 2001, he came back, married with kids of his own. It became a treasured, near-annual trip until my brothers and I started dispersing for college.
Upon our delayed return last summer, we slipped right into our familiar rhythm: Eat breakfast, then head to one of the seven sandy beaches accessible only to campers. Stay all day — reading, napping, swimming, snacking — until the light turns golden and shadows lengthen on the sand. Return to the campsite just before dark, then make dinner and start a fire. Fall asleep to the sound of waves and buoy bells. Wake up. Repeat.
Over the years, we’ve varied from this template, riding bikes through the campground or renting canoes and paddling in the surf. On my favorite days, we’d linger at the beach past dusk, until we had the place to ourselves.
My father says that Hermit Island has hardly changed since he was a kid, and this suspended-in-time quality is at the heart of the campground’s charm. It’s a place where generations of a family can grow to love the same vistas, campsites, and shoreline walks. It’s a place where you can return, even after years away, to find each trail and cliff and beach just the way it lived in your memory. — Caroline Praderio
4 MORE FOR TENTERS
Schoodic Woods Campground
The National Park Service campground in Acadia’s Schoodic section opened in 2015, and the place still feels new. About two-thirds of the 94 sites are tents-only, and perks include evening ranger programs at a 100-seat amphitheater and an 8-mile network of bike paths crisscrossing the peninsula and accessing Schoodic’s famously jumbled shoreline. Nine hike-in sites feel remote, and a couple have great views of the MDI skyline. $22–$40. 207-288-3338. nps.gov/acad. Reservations at recreation.gov. NPS sites open no sooner than August this summer.
Mount Desert Campground
You can’t get more centrally located on Mount Desert Island than at this family-run gem. About a third of the more than 150 sites are right on Somes Sound, at the island’s heart and within a 20-minute drive of just about any Acadia National Park trailhead (and during a non-COVID summer, it’s a stop on the Island Explorer bus route). There are kayaks, canoes, and SUPs for rent and a boat launch for non-waterfront campers. Most sites have wooden platforms that help keep tenters warm and dry. Small trailers are okay, but nothing over 20 feet, and more than half the sites have no water or electricity. $31–$76. 207-244-3710. mountdesertcampground.com
Cobscook Bay State Park
This peninsular park way Down East is for campers who dig tidal flats — literally, as park visitors can rake 2 gallons of clams each day without a license, but also figuratively, as the 24-foot tides and the mudflats they leave behind make the park’s coastal trails prime territory for spotting shorebirds, ospreys, otters, and the occasional seal. RVs have designated areas, but the bulk of the 100-plus sites — and the best ones, overlooking Broad Cove — are for tents. $20–$30. 207-726-4412. maine.gov/cobscookbay
Wolfe’s Neck Oceanfront Campground
Campers can pitch a tent at any of the more than 130 sites at this nonprofit campground and organic farm, but the couple-dozen tents-only sites on Middle Bay and the nine walk-in sites at Quiet Cove are another level of peaceful. It’s a 15-minute walk from either to the Farm Café and general store, where campers can rent bikes, kayaks, or canoes. Just down the road is the demonstration farm, where they can schmooze with livestock. $20–$70. 207-865-9307. freeportcamping.com
Six tent platforms and a newly rebuilt Adirondack shelter, tended by an Appalachian Mountain Club caretaker, on perhaps Maine’s most impressive stretch of the Appalachian Trail, near Mahoosuc Notch. Gorgeous alpine country, just over 3 miles in on the Speck Pond Trail. $10 per person. outdoors.org/lodging-camping
Cutler Public Reserved Land
Five first-come, first-serve tent sites overlook some of the most dramatic rocky headlands on Maine’s Bold Coast. The hike to the closest is just shy of 3 miles; the rest are closer to 5 miles. This is primitive camping: privy toilets, no fires. Free. 207-941-4412. maine.gov/cutlercoast
BAXTER STATE PARK
Nine lean-tos and a bunkhouse next to a glacial cirque, all but surrounded by the soaring granite walls of Katahdin. It’s a bit more than 3 miles of hiking to reach Chimney Pond, one of Baxter’s most coveted reservations. $21. 207-723-5140. baxterstatepark.org. Reservations by phone or in person only.
FOR THE RVers
Our Pick: Cathedral Pines Campground, Eustis
Until this summer, the only time I’d seen Flagstaff Lake was in 2015, while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’ll never forget hearing the loons call as the sun set and the stars came out above the long silhouette of Bigelow Mountain. It was surreal to come back to that special place with my wife and our year-old daughter, Rosie, arriving with a trailer in tow for Rosie’s first-ever camping trip. But as we pulled into Cathedral Pines Campground, I instantly felt the same feeling of awe I had when I first glimpsed Flagstaff Lake.
I took Rosie out of her car seat and pointed at the towering trees around us. The old-growth red pines are found throughout the campground and give the site its name. Rosie looked up and gaped, and I felt lucky to watch my child experience a place of beauty for the first time. We set up our camp chairs and made a fire, and Rosie sat in my lap, entranced by the dancing light.
Camping, I thought, looks different than it did when I was a dirtbag hiker, logging mile after mile, day after day. And it’ll look different when Rosie’s old enough to build sandcastles on the Cathedral Pines beach, or to run off to the rec hall for games and crafts, or to rent a canoe and spend the day on the water with friends. For now, though, camping means slowing down and appreciating what’s in front of me — the fire, the pines, that same silhouette of Bigelow — and I wouldn’t change it.
When we tucked Rosie into bed for the night, I flashed right back to 2015. Back when I was hiker trash, I dozed off to the loons on Flagstaff Lake. Now, my daughter was being soothed to sleep by the same beautiful melody. — Nicholas Reichard
4 MORE FOR RVrs
Mount Blue State Park
All 136 sites at this western Maine park are camper- and RV-friendly (though only a dozen have hookups), and every one is a short walk from the beach on Webb Lake. The park’s 3,192-foot namesake and its neighboring hills make for quite a skyline on the lake’s far side. It’s a 15-minute drive to trailheads for both Mount Blue and for 3,054-foot Tumbledown Mountain, a classic Maine high-country hike. $20–$40. 207-585-2347. maine.gov/mountblue
Oceanfront Camping at Reach Knolls
The big draw at this 40-site mom-and-pop getaway is a secluded pebbly beach on Eggemoggin Reach, where campers are known to spot seals and porpoises. All sites have electricity (not water hookups, though) and access to showers and a dumping station. No playground, but kids congregate around a huge rope swing near the camp office. Oh, and you can order live lobsters delivered to your site. $29–$39. 207-359-5555. reachknolls.com
Shin Pond Village
Twenty minutes from the north entrances to Baxter State Park and Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, Shin Pond indeed feels like a village, with a busy store and restaurant, a boat launch on Lower Shin Pond, event spaces, and roomy campsites spread out across 100 acres. Lots of repeat visitors give the nearly 40-year-old campground a familial vibe. Shin Pond rents canoes and kayaks, plus state-of-the-art ATVs, and they’ll happily orient campers to local trails. $23–$35. 207-528-2900. shinpond.com
Arndt’s Aroostook River Lodge & Campground
Across the street from Arndt’s, the wide, mellow Aroostook River meanders through the wide-open Aroostook farm country, and the campground rents kayaks and canoes and offers shuttles for float trips. The 50-plus RV sites include pull-throughs accommodating the largest motorhomes, and every site has water and electricity (about half have sewer hookups). ATVers can access the County’s vast trail system right from camp. Plus, an arcade and pool for the kids. $28–$40, with weekly rates available. arndtscamp.com
Acres of Wildlife
Six playgrounds, paddleboats shaped like dragons, 18 holes of mini-golf, ice-cream-eating contests, and theme weekends all summer long. This 40-year-old campground is big on family activities and just 2 miles from Sebago Lake (you can hike to it). $31–$80. 207-675-2267. acresofwildlife.com
Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort at Yonderhill
Part campground, part amusement park, Maine’s only location of the family camping franchise has bouncy houses, an inflatable waterslide, wagon rides, a toy-car racetrack — honestly, this just scratches the surface. $32–$66. 207-474-7353. yonderhill.com
Lake Pemaquid Campground
Campers spend a lot of time in swimsuits: on the beach, in the pool or hot tub, coming off Pemaquid Pond on a rented powerboat. Lots of sports facilities, from horseshoe pits to skate and BMX parks. Also, live music all summer — even a weekly teen dance night. $30–$50, with weekly rates available. 207-563-5202. lakepemaquid.com
FOR THE BOATERS
Our Pick: Duck Harbor Campground, Isle Au Haut
Duck Harbor is closed this year, a smart response to COVID-19 on an island with an aging population and no medical facilities. But you weren’t going to get a 2020 reservation by the time you read this anyway. The five-month season for the five lean-tos on a remote cove on Isle au Haut can book solid within hours of the National Park Service making sites available in April. I got one last year, so now I understand why.
About half of Isle au Haut is an outpost of Acadia National Park, and unless you have a boat, the only way to reach it is via mailboat from Stonington, an hour-long cruise past island after granite-fringed island. At the Isle au Haut town landing, the boat drops off locals, packages, pallets of supplies, and a few day hikers bound for the park’s 18 miles of trails. Then, it cruises past Robinson Point Light and tucks into the narrow finger of Duck Harbor. I disembarked last September with a backpack and my 3-year-old, and we watched from the gangway as the mailboat puttered back into the open ocean and out of sight.
Then it was just us, cooking hot dogs and making fairy houses outside our wooden shelter, some 5 miles by road or trail from the island’s meager population center. At Duck Harbor, you get the back-of-beyond feel with basic frontcountry perks: a roof over your head, potable water from a hand pump, clean privies, and free firewood — the latter two courtesy of NPS rangers on site during the day. So instead of splitting wood and filtering water and digging catholes, you can concentrate on exploring.
Which is what we did, watching waves crash against bluffs along the Cliff Trail, poking at crabs in tide pools at Deep Cove, eating candy bars on a Wentworth Mountain outcrop. At night, we watched fireflies flicker around our fairy houses and filled out the Junior Ranger activity book. Days later, boarding the mailboat for home, my son showed everyone his badge. — Brian Kevin
5 MORE FOR BOATERS
One of more than 300 islands protected and stewarded by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Whaleboat is Casco Bay’s largest undeveloped island, with two first-come, first-serve campsites and a reservation-only group site, less than a mile off the western tip of Harpswell Neck. Whaleboat is bedecked with beach roses and lovely in its windswept spareness, with a long coastline of stony beaches and ledges to explore. Get a permit from the Maine Forest Service (800-750-9777) to use the fire pits. Free. 207-729-7366. mcht.org
Stephen Phillips Memorial Preserve Wilderness Camping
Nearly 70 primitive sites on the islands and remote shores of Mooselookmeguntic Lake, most with paddle-in access only, requiring anywhere from a few minutes in the boat to long open-water crossings. The preserve, run by a charitable trust, rents canoes and sells firewood at its mainland office, but don’t expect a stocked camp store, showers, or other luxuries. Each site has a picnic table, a fire pit, access to an outhouse, and some of Maine’s best potential for moose-spotting. $20 for up to two people, $10 for each extra adult, $5 for kids and dogs. 207-864-2003. stephenphillipswildernesscamping.com
Warren Island State Park
Tucked in next to Islesboro, 70-acre Warren Island is a serene spot for admiring shorebirds, ospreys, tall-masted schooners, and the far-off Camden Hills. You’re on your own to reach the island’s nine campsites and three Adirondack shelters, but it’s just a ¼-mile paddle from the Islesboro ferry landing, and you can bring kayaks over on the car ferry from Lincolnville (but only atop a car, ironically, which you’ll leave on Islesboro). Otherwise, Lincolnville’s Quicksilver water taxi offers $150 charter shuttles. $15–$25. 207-446-7090. maine.gov/warrenisland
Another Maine Coast Heritage Trust gem and, at 985 acres, one of the East Coast’s largest wild islands. Ten miles of hiking trails skirt sandy beaches, salt marshes, exposed ledges, and an overgrown airstrip — a remnant of the fly-in vacation-home subdivision proposed here in the 1980s, before MCHT swooped in. Again, two first-come, first-serve campsites (both next to beaches) and a reservation-only group site. Free. 207-729-7366. mcht.org
Among the attractions on this uninhabited, state-owned island are an abandoned military battery, a pair of old observation towers (that visitors can climb), a 3-mile trail network, and a huge tidal pool called the Punchbowl. The Maine Island Trail Association maintains fire pits, tent pads, and latrines at a dozen primitive sites. Experienced kayakers can make the 8-mile paddle from Portland, but there’s plenty of traffic on the bay. Portland Paddle leads guided trips and Casco Bay Custom Charters offers day trips and shuttles. Free.
COMFORTS OF HOME
Sandy Pines Campground
It’s a generous definition of camping, but the 430-square-foot canvas wall tents — with decks, furniture, king-size beds, chandeliers, and more — are stylish, fun, and the tip of the iceberg in terms of Sandy Pines’ offbeat accommodations (think covered wagons and plastic bubbles). $190–$250, with two- or three-night minimum stays, depending on month and demand. 207-967-2483. sandypinescamping.com
Terramor Outdoor Resort
Wall tents at this new resort sleep two to five, with screened porches, comfy beds, and all the glamping fixtures. The lodge has a bar and restaurant, and summer-camp-ish activities include star-gazing, yoga, and wine tastings. $220–$450. 207-288-7500. terramoroutdoorresort.com
Pigs, cows, and chickens are within earshot from a sturdy wall tent with a woodstove and queen-size bunk bed at the edge of an organic farm. The view out the flaps is of the channel between North Haven and Vinalhaven. Cruiser bikes for rent. $120. 207-867-4962. turner-farm.com