The sound of a tent zipper early in the morning. The chatter of on-the-go squirrels. The starting whoosh of a gas stove. The unmistakable shapes of oak, maple, and birch leaves cast about the ground like laundry on a bedroom floor.
Waking up at camp is the best. And in the Goldilocks world of campgrounds, I think Maine State Parks are just right.
Maine State Parks are positioned in some choice locations around the state, often abutting a beautiful body of water and close to some marvelous hikes, making the parks perfect basecamps when exploring an area. The campgrounds are well laid out, the campsites are relatively private, and many also rent canoes and kayaks for use on the water.
Plus, car camping offers away-from-it-all woods but with the option of a hot shower and a hatchback 10 feet away that’s topped with a kayak and crammed with tortilla chips and too many fleece pullovers.
September also happens to be a stellar time to camp. The weather is generally wonderful and campgrounds quiet down, making it easier to score the perfect campsite, enjoy downtime on the beach, and own the lake during sunset. Beginning Sept. 14, most Maine State Park campsites are first come, first served, and you can continue to camp through Indigenous Peoples Day. (But do call the park to confirm official closing dates.)
Here are a few favorites, as well as a favorite from the Rubys, the Portland-based family of four behind Rubys on the Road, a family guide to Maine State Parks. They’ve been to them all and share their experiences and adventures at rubysontheroad.com.
Peaks-Kenny State Park, Dover-Foxcroft
Sebec Lake is a big draw for visitors to Peaks-Kenny State Park. There is a sandy beach and swimming area in the park, open to overnighters and daytime visitors, and you can launch your kayak (or rent one) and spend the day paddling all the scenic nooks and crannies. Also cool: There are a few hiking trails within the park, so you don’t have to venture far to get onto a trail. A neat surprise find is the picnic table art – a dozen sculptures created by artist Wade Kavanaugh about a decade ago that combine a common picnic table with natural features of the area like rocks, trees, roots, etc. They’re a cool feature to stumble upon, and then start hunting down once you know they’re there.
Mount Blue State Park, Weld
Mount Blue State Park has all the things. Wake up early for a swim in the lake (and possibly be the only person there). Climb nearby Mount Blue, stopping to peek inside the collapsing cabin before sweating up to the summit and mounting the steps of the observation tower. Or hike Tumbledown and scramble over rocks, and then plunge yourself into the pond at the top. Rent a kayak and paddle out to the center of the Webb Lake on a calm evening for views of the mountains, and then walk back to your campsite, light a fire, and relax.
Rangeley Lake State Park, Rangeley
Rangeley has endless ponds, waterfalls, and trails to explore, and Rangeley Lake State Park is a perfect basecamp. Situated off South Shore Road on the southern side of Rangeley Lake, the park has a public boat launch, swimming area, and hot showers. Paddle the lake and into cool South Bog Stream. Within a short drive, hike Bald Mountain, explore Smalls Falls, Angel Falls, and Cascade Stream Gorge. And the town is only 15 minutes away, too, with a grocery store, restaurants, and shops, should you decide you’d like a takeout pizza to enjoy back at camp.
Warren Island State Park, off Lincolnville
No car camping allowed at Warren Island State Park (but that’s a great thing in this case). The 70-acre island is approximately three miles off the coast of Lincolnville and a short jaunt from Isleboro. The only way to get to Warren Island is by boat or by kayak. Visitors get all the splendor of island camping: private campsites with beautiful coastal views, with some campground perks like outhouses and chopped wood at the ready. No showers here, but just jump into the ocean if you’re dirty. There’s a trail that loops around the island and plenty of exploring to do via water. Kayak there from the mainland or take the car ferry to Isleboro for a much shorter paddle to the park.
Cobscook Bay State Park, Dennysville
This is a favorite for the adventuresome Ruby Family – Raymond, Danielle, and their daughters Eloise and Adeline. While all Maine State Parks are family-friendly, Cobscook Bay State Park tops their list. Here’s what Raymond and Danielle had to say: “Give your children an experience of what it would be like to transport to another planet, all without leaving the state of Maine and for $20 a day. That will be your state of mind as you explore the Bold Coast and camp at Cobscook Bay State Park. Sure, there is a playground here, but you won’t need to visit it. Mother Nature puts on a show with the tides, trails, and trees. The beauty, the uniqueness, the privacy, and the price are unmatched in our travels. Book a site on the ocean – there are plenty to pick from – and then take in the magic.”
Freelance writer Shannon Bryan lives in South Portland and is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about the coolest ways to be active and get outdoors in Maine.