Pick a Maine camping spot by a river or lake or ocean to suit your water sport.
Ah camping, the time-honored summer tradition that appeals to crunchy folk, cash-strapped millennials and veteran outdoorsmen alike. This summer, take your camping game up a notch by visiting a new-to-you Maine location.
In our last installment of the summer camping guide, we rounded up campgrounds for hikers, bikers and climbers. This time around, we’re focused on water. Whether you’re a whitewater virgin or a trout-fishing fiend, you’re sure to find something here to inspire a little local wanderlust.
KELLEY BROOK CAMPGROUND, THE FORKS
Down a dirt road lies a series of private wooded campsites bordering a broad, shallow river. In the morning, mist is thick on the river and creates a picturesque scene, but once the dams open, releasing the water for rafters, it goes through an instant transformation, turning into a cacophonous rush. Experience the motion of the river up close and personal by booking a whitewater rafting tour through a local outfitter. By nightfall, you’ll be exhausted and sun-drenched – ready to sleep easy in your tent or RV.
WHAT TO BRING: Camping gear, food and drink, and a pair of water shoes.
HOW MUCH: $12 per night to camp, approximately $99 for a day of rafting (both prices per person).
WORD OF ADVICE: Book your rafting trip in advance, and pay attention to the age limits (children under 10 aren’t allowed on certain parts of the river).
MORE INFO: 663-2104, threeriverswhitewater.com
NEW ENGLAND OUTDOOR CENTER, MILLINOCKET
Located just two miles from the entrance to Baxter State Park, the New England Outdoor Center (NEOC) is a great place to stay for hikers and rafters. The grounds are extensive and include waterfront views and access to lakeside activities. Campgrounds have picnic tables and fire rings, and campers are provided access to NEOC’s more upscale amenities. Freshen up with a hot shower (bathrooms located in the pavilion) before checking out the tasty and filling cuisine at the nearby River Driver’s Restaurant and Pub.
WHAT TO BRING: Camping gear and some food.
HOW MUCH: $11 per night to camp, approximately $79 for a day of rafting (both prices per person).
WORD OF ADVICE: If you don’t have your own tent, book a night in one of NEOC’s rustic (but comfortable) canvas tents for $60.
MORE INFO: 877-348-2379, neoc.com
For Sailing and Sea Kayaking
OLD QUARRY OCEANFRONT CAMPGROUND, STONINGTON
Have you ever seen a puffin in person? Now’s the time. The sweet little birds look just like mini penguins, and they like to nest in the cliffs offshore from Stonington and Deer Isle. Book a night at this oceanfront campground, which boasts tent and RV sites, a bunkhouse, bathhouse and camp store, before heading out on the Atlantic. And no worries if you don’t already own a boat. You can book sea kayaking lessons, rent a sailboat or take a sightseeing eco cruise around the islands. As an added bonus, get lobster delivered straight to your tent from the on-site restaurant.
WHAT TO BRING: Camping gear (or RV), including a nice, warm sleeping bag (nights can get chilly on the island).
HOW MUCH: Between $41 and $61 per night (good views command a higher price).
WORD OF ADVICE: Leave your firewood at home. Like many parks and campgrounds, Old Quarry does not allow visitors to bring in wood.
MORE INFO: 367-8977, oldquarry.com
RECOMPENSE SHORE FARM, FREEPORT
Parents of young children will love this campground. Just a half-hour north of Portland and located on the bucolic properties of Wolfe’s Neck Farm, it’s a perfect jumping-off point for many an ocean adventure. There are over four miles of Casco Bay ocean frontage with three oceanfront cottages and 130 campsites. For those of us who like to avoid the crush of RVs, there’s even a tents-only area. If you’re new to sea kayaking, you can sign up to take a lesson through the L.L. Bean Discovery School, which is located nearby and offers classes for would-be paddleboarders, kayakers and canoers.
WHAT TO BRING: Camping gear, unless you plan to rent a cottage. There is an on-site snack shack and plenty of grocery stores in the area (check out Bow Street Market), so don’t feel like you need to pack the whole pantry.
HOW MUCH: Plan to spend at least $35 per night.
WORD OF ADVICE: This is a very popular campground with locals and out-of-state visitors. Book early.
MORE INFO: 865-9307, wolfesneckfarm.org
For Lake Lovers
LILY BAY STATE PARK, BEAVER COVE
There are few places in Maine more picturesque than Moosehead Lake. Dotted with jewel-like islands and bordered by tall old-growth trees, it’s a pristine piece of nature tucked away in the highland territories. Experience all the glory of this clear, out-of-the-way lake by camping at Lily Bay State Park. Moose are frequent visitors to the shores, so if you have a canoe, bring it (and a camera). Hikers also will enjoy climbing Mount Kineo, an island summit that is surrounded on all sides by views of the blue-green mountains.
WHAT TO BRING: All the camping gear and food you may need. While there are restrooms (and potable water) there aren’t many other amenities.
HOW MUCH: $20 for Maine residents, $30 for out-of-state visitors.
WORD OF ADVICE: This is a perfect retreat for nature lovers. If you want to party late into the evening, you may want to go elsewhere or risk the wrath of fellow campers.
MORE INFO: 695-2700, maine.gov/lilybay
Those of us who grew up spending summers upta camp know there’s no better clean than lake-clean. After a few days, your hair smells like lake and your skin becomes softer than a baby moose’s butt. At Rangeley, you can enjoy that feeling for days. There’s a picnic area, a playground, a boat launch and great views of nearby Saddleback Mountain. When you’re tired of swimming around at the beach, head out for a hike along wooded trails.
WHAT TO BRING: Camping gear and food.
HOW MUCH: $20 for Maine residents, $30 for out-of-state visitors
WORD OF ADVICE: Respect the natural beauty of the area – leave the firewood at home and stay on the trails.
MORE INFO: 624-9950, maine.gov
This sprawling park can get very busy in the summer, but with a big sandy beach, a cute little playground and a snack shack, it’s a great choice for kids. Motorized boats zoom by during the day, creating waves that lap gently at the shores. At night, you’ll spend the evening meeting other campers and watching fireflies. It feels a little like going back to summer camp – in a very good way.
WHAT TO BRING: Camping gear. Sebago is conveniently located near small businesses and local restaurants, which means you never need to light a campfire if you don’t want to.
HOW MUCH: $25 for state residents, $35 for nonresidents.
WORD OF ADVICE: This is another very popular park, so book ahead of time (or plan to visit during shoulder-season, i.e. September).
MORE INFO: 693-6613, maine.gov/sebagolake
DEBOULLIE PUBLIC RESERVED LAND
It doesn’t get any more remote than Deboullie. Located down a long dirt road in prime logging territory (watch out for the trucks, which can speed by surprisingly fast), Deboullie is one of Maine’s hidden gems. Sure, it takes five or six hours to get to Aroostook Country from Portland, but trust me, it’s worth it. The 21,871-acre public lands are home to numerous ponds, as well as 12 miles of trails. You’ll find native brook trout, landlocked salmon and lake trout. Some ponds even have populations of blueback trout, an unusual treat for Maine.
WHAT TO BRING: Absolutely everything. Public reserve lands are far more rustic than the average state park, so bring your tent.
HOW MUCH: Free, but visitors must pass through a checkpoint and pay the required recreational fees of $7 to $10 dollars per person.
WORD OF ADVICE: There are many different campgrounds in Deboullie, so if the first one you visit is rather crowded, just push onward and find your own private slice of nature.
MORE INFO: 435-7963, maine.gov
LOBSTER LAKE, PENOBSCOT RIVER CORRIDOR
While most of the campgrounds on this list are good for car-campers, this one is a bit harder to reach. But for fishermen, it’s the holy grail of Maine camping. Accessible only by boat, the Lobster Lake campground is primitive and rustic, but there are tables, toilets and fireplaces with cooking grates. Once you’re there, you’ll be greeted by schools of fish practically begging to be caught. Good for smallmouth and largemouth bass.
WHAT TO BRING: Everything you can think of. The campsites are primitive and only accessible by boat, so be sure to bring one of those, too.
HOW MUCH: Like Deboullie, this is located in the North Maine Woods. Bring cash ($10 per person per night) for the gate.
WORD OF ADVICE: The remote location makes this a bad choice for first-time campers.