October 19th, 2020
Wilderness Camping in Maine
Few things truly say “summer” like the crackling of a campfire as orange light dances around the campsite. The heady scent of the deep forest and the campfire smoke soothes your senses. Thankfully, you don’t have to heave off too far into the wilderness to find a piece of the forest you’ll feel you can truly call your own. These campgrounds will bring you that deep wilderness feel without having to mount a multi-day expedition just to get there.
While indeed an island unto itself, Hermit Island is one you can reach by car over a short narrow causeway. The private campground at Hermit Island has something for everyone, whether you want to be nestled deep in thick evergreen forest on plunked on a windswept ridge or right on the smooth sandy beach. It’s a huge campground with 275 individual sites, but it doesn’t feel huge. When you set up your tent, you’ll still feel like you have a piece of the island to yourself. The preferred areas are Osprey Point and Sunset Lagoon, Joe’s Head and Sand Dune Beach. Make a reservation well in advance and hope for decent weather.
When you’re at Hermit Island for a few days, treat yourself with a side trip to Popham Beach. This spectacularly scenic smooth sand beach is shaped like two huge crescents, with a large jetty in the middle that’s great for climbing on and just hanging out to be with the ocean for a few hours.
CHIMNEY POND IN BAXTER STATE PARK
Of all the campgrounds and campsites throughout Baxter State Park, you’d be hard pressed to find one that feels more magical. You are right in the cradle of Katahdin, and on the shores of Chimney Pond. It truly doesn’t get much better than this. Gaze around the scenery and you may feel as if you’ve been transported to Middle Earth. The gray granite spires of Katahdin loom ominously around you—at once inviting and daring you to climb.
Pack light, as you will have to hike in—it’s 3.3 miles from the Roaring Brook Campground. There are nine two-person lean-tos and a 10 person bunkhouse, so you won’t need your tent. This is one of two back country campgrounds within Baxter State Park and is quite popular. Reserve well in advance, and be respectful of the rules. The rangers take very seriously Percival Baxter’s doctrine of the park being a “wilderness preserve first, recreation resource second.”
LILY BAY STATE PARK
Lily Bay State Park is another wild and remote park and that provides the feeling of island camping on the shores of Moosehead Lake without having to load up a canoe or kayak. There are plenty of remote feeling lakeside sites, especially on the Dunn Point side of the park. Most sites must be reserved, but several are first come, first served. Do yourself a favor and reserve a waterfront site. These primo sites fill up fast in the summer. If the Dunn Point side is full, don’t despair. Go for the peninsula of sites 33 through 38 on the Rowell Cove side. This little group of sites is among the best at Lily Bay.
The sites deeper in the woods are also spectacular, but since you’re right on the shores of Moosehead Lake, your campsite might as well be there too. And if you’re truly daring, part Inuit, or have a high pain tolerance, you can even take a dip in the cool waters of Moosehead Lake. It will truly take your breath away, even on the hottest summer day.
RANGELEY LAKE STATE PARK
In the right moments, the stillness, the darkness and the quiet at Rangeley State Park are absolute. The still may only be punctuated by loons checking in from alternate ends of the lake before they turn in for the night. Rangeley Lake State Park has 50 sites spread throughout the dense forest. Aim for one near the shore of the lake, especially sites 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21 and 23. If those are already full, fear not. You’ll never be that far from the lake either way. Try for one of the sites set along the outside of the campground loop road, as those typically have a bit more forest separating the individual sites. At night, when the campfire is crackling, all you’ll see is your immediate circle bathed in the orange light of the campfire. The surrounding forest will be shrouded in impenetrable darkness and you’ll feel like you have the forest and the night to yourself.
DOWNEAST AND ACADIA
COBSCOOK BAY STATE PARK
Cobscook Bay State Park has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to oceanfront campsites. Try to get a site on the Cobscook Point peninsula with sites 56, 57, 59, and 62. These spectacular sites are truly set off on their own. This is another spot where you can get that remote island camping feel, even though if you run out of Cheez-Its, your vehicle is parked only 30 yards away.
One cool thing about camping Cobscook Bay State Park is clamming out on the mud flats. You can venture out there at extreme low tide and pick yourself a peck (about two gallons or 15 pounds) of clams. Be mindful of the incoming tide though. When the tide turns and comes in, it comes in quite rapidly and the tidal range averages 20 to 24 feet. Getting trapped on the mud flats can be inconvenient; it can even be dangerous. Cobscook is actually the Passamaquoddy term for “boiling tides.” Back at your campsite, you won’t have any fresher clams than those you just dug up and grilled over your fire.
Text: Lafe Low