A Breath of Fresh Air

Camping Across Maine

Eagle Lake is a great place for boating and fishing. Photo by Sheila D. Grant.

Maine has over 542,000 acres of land set aside for state and national parks. Camping on some of this beautiful land is a great way for friends and family to visit and to get some much-needed fresh air.  Private campgrounds offer sites for tenting and camper setups, and some also feature rental cabins. Whether one is heading out solo, as a couple, with the grands or with friends, there are more places to choose from than most folks could get to in one short Maine summer.

The Crown of Maine

Few destinations can offer the fishing, scenery, wildlife watching, and outdoor adventure available up in “The County.” Depending on your point of departure, it can be a long drive to Aroostook, but it’s also an interesting one. Be on the lookout for the Maine Solar System Model. This series of planet models erected along U.S. Route 1 from Houlton to Presque Isle is the largest complete three-dimensional scale model of the solar system in the world. Visit https://pages.umpi.edu/nmms/solar/ for more information.

Houlton is the gateway to this neck of the woods, so be sure to stop at the Maine State Visitor Center off I-95 to get area maps and to see Pluto, the first planet in the solar system model.

Tiny fish, sure, but the smiles are big! Photo by Sheila D. Grant.

Aroostook State Park, located five miles south of Presque Isle off Route 1, was Maine’s first state park, established in 1939. The campground has 30 tent/trailer sites, each with a picnic table and fire pit. Five of the sites have water and power up to 50 amps. Hot showers are available, and there’s a kitchen shelter with lights and running water.

The park is situated on the shores of Echo Lake, with picnic tables, Hibachi-style grills, a playground, restrooms and changing facilities located adjacent to a grassy “beach” area. Swimming is not popular here due to the mucky lake bottom and an overabundance of Canada geese, but fishing is a better bet. Echo is stocked with trout annually and has plenty of brown bullheads (hornpout) for the kids to catch. There’s one large boat ramp, one for hand-carried watercraft, and two docks for angler access. Canoe and kayak rentals are available.

Aroostook State Park is also a popular destination with hikers because of trails leading to the north and south peaks of Quaggy Jo Mountain. This is rugged hiking with some ledges to navigate. The blue-blazed trail loops up to South Peak, over to North Peak and then back down to the parking lot. Campsites are in high demand, so it’s best to make reservations ahead at www.maine.gov/public/index or to call ahead, (207) 768-8341.

One joy of spending time in the Maine woods is the chance to watch wildlife. Photo by Sheila D. Grant.

Further north, a half-hour drive down Route 11 from Fort Kent into the Village of Eagle Lake will provide several lodging options. Birch Haven Campground at 1165 Sly Brook Road has 80 campsites, and a new rental cabin. Full hookups are available. Sites are able to handle RVs up to 38 feet long. Some pull-thru sites are available. The campground features an arcade, new bathroom and laundry facilities, a large playground and ball field, and swimming, boating, and fishing access to Eagle Lake. Call (207) 540-6669 or visit birchhavencampground.com for more information.

Nearby landmarks and points of interest include America’s First Mile and the Fort Kent Blockhouse, both in Fort Kent. The Dickwood Lake Wildlife Management Area in Eagle Lake spans 4,360 wooded acres, crisscrossed with hiking trails. For more information about this region, call the Greater Fort Kent Area Chamber of Commerce, (207) 834-5354 or visit fortkentchamber.com.

Go West, young man (or anyone, really)

The Bethel region of western Maine is beyond scenic and offers a wide array of outdoor recreational activities. The Bethel Outdoor Adventure & Campground is situated along the banks of the Androscoggin River about half a mile north of downtown Bethel. The campground has tenting and RV sites, including pull-through. Water, electric, cable TV, and telephone hookups are available, as is free Wi-Fi.

The Maine Solar System Model, a series of planet models erected along US Route 1 from Houlton to Presque Isle, is the largest complete three-dimensional scale model of the solar system in the world. Photo by Sheila D. Grant.

You will find a camp store and playground, as well as rental places for bikes, canoes, and kayaks. Fishing access to the Andy is plentiful. A stroll across the campground’s Burma Bridge leads to a one-mile walking trail around Hastings Island.

Outdoor Adventure also works with local guides, so fishing, hiking, climbing, and pontoon boat excursions may be booked through their office. Call (207) 824-4224 or visit betheloutdooradventure.com.

Hiking trails in the region include the 3.3-mile loop trail at Mount Will, which rises steeply up to open ledges with views of the Androscoggin Valley and Bethel village. Interpretive signs along the North Ledges section offer information on the region’s natural history. Access is off Route 2.

At the Wight Brook Nature Preserve, about eight miles north of Bethel off Route 26, the trail takes hikers past a series of cascades and chutes, and up the right side of the falls. Bring swimsuits!

A cruise aboard the steamship Katahdin is a relaxing and educational way to see much of the big lake. Photo by Sheila D. Grant.

About seven miles north in Newry, campers can explore the Grafton Notch Campground, which offers 15 wooded campsites with fire rings and picnic tables. The campground has no electric or water hookups, but it does have a bathhouse with hot showers, flush toilets, and a trailer dumping station.

For more information, call (207) 824-2292 or visit campgrafton.com.

While in the area, Grafton Notch State Park is worth a visit, for hiking, wildlife watching, and great water features. Screw Auger Falls may be reached via a walking path from Route 26. This 23-foot falls on the Bear River is popular with photographers, and there are shallow pools for wading—but supervise children closely. Mother Walker Falls, another short walk from Route 26, is a V-shaped gorge named after a local resident. Moose Cave, on a loop trail off Route 26, features a 200-foot-long gorge in a 45-foot-deep canyon where the water disappears for a time before reappearing on the other end of the cave.  For more information about fun things to do in this region, call the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce, (800) 442-5826 or visit bethelmaine.com. 

The Maine Highlands

Piscataquis County often gets overlooked in favor of Maine’s rugged coastline, yet this county is home to Maine’s highest mountain (Katahdin) and to Moosehead Lake, the largest mountain lake in the eastern US. Moosehead is 40 miles long and 20 miles wide, and surrounded by many fun places to visit.              

Headed to Kineo? Find scenic seating while waiting for the shuttle in Rockwood. Photo by Sheila D. Grant.

Lily Bay State Park in Beaver Cove has tent and RV sites, both wooded and lakeside. The 925-acre park provides plenty of space for families to hike and watch for wildlife—especially the moose! Fishing and boating access to Moosehead Lake are available within the park. Owners of large boats will find launch facilities nearby in Greenville Junction. Lily Bay has modern bathrooms, showers, and a playground. Access is about nine miles north of Greenville off Lily Bay Road. Call (207) 695-2700 in season.

Moosehead Family Campground, one mile south of Greenville off Route 15, has tent and RV sites, including pull-through. Choose from wooded or grassy settings. All sites come with a picnic table and fire ring, and 20-, 30- and 50-amp service is available. RV sites have water. The campground has a camp store, game room, and playground. Call (207) 695-2210 or visit www.mooseheadcampground.com for more information.

Downtown Greenville features several interesting shops and restaurants, and the Moosehead Marine Museum has exhibits of the lake’s nautical, forestry, and resort destination heritage. The museum is home to the Katahdin, a 1914 steamship which has been outfitted with a diesel engine and provides tours of Moosehead Lake. A ride aboard the “Kate” is the best way to truly grasp the size of the lake, short of going up with one of the local flying services. During the cruise, the captain tells tales about the logging era and some of the region’s more colorful residents of days gone by. Call (207) 695-2716 or visit www.katahdincruises.com.

Many campgrounds are situated on or near water and offer canoe and kayak rentals. Photo by Sheila D. Grant.

People who like to stretch their legs will find many scenic hiking trails in the region. Prong Pond, just off the Lily Bay Road, lies near the entrance to the historical crash site of the B-52 bomber that went down on Elephant Mountain in 1963. Big Moose Mountain has a three-mile trail that starts out on a gradual incline, becoming steeper toward the top. The summit offers 360-degree views of the area and the remains of the nation’s first fire tower.

A short drive up Route 15 to the Rockwood public landing brings you nearly to Mt. Kineo. A launch runs back and forth to the island on a regular schedule during the summer. Kineo juts up over Moosehead Lake some 800 feet. One of the best things about this climb is that there are lake views almost every step of the way. Another is the former fire watch tower that can be climbed at the summit for an even better view. For more regional information, call Destination Moosehead Lake, (207) 695-2702, or visit destinationmooseheadlake.com.

With COVID-19 precautions influencing occupancy and guidelines in many locations, it’s best to call ahead when making travel plans. And then, since summer in Maine was made for outdoor adventures, get out there and have some fun!

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