Camping is, on its own, an incredibly fun summer activity – at least according to us outdoorsy types. But while pitching a tent in your backyard may have some nostalgic value, there are better ways to get your nature fix. Since not all campgrounds are created equally, we’ve rounded up 11 great places to spend a weekend under the stars in Maine. Each spot has its own charms (and its own adrenaline-boosting activities built in), so get ready to lace up your hiking boots and climbing shoes or pull on those bike shorts.
Never climbed Katahdin? And you call yourself a Mainer! Rectify that sorry situation this summer by pitching a tent near the state’s tallest mountain. Its name means “The Greatest Mountain,” and here’s your chance to find out whether that’s true. While you can camp in Baxter State Park, another good option is the Abol Bridge Campground, located on the famous logging highway, The Golden Road. This campground is much less rustic than those inside the park, which makes it even better for families. Amenities include showers, beach games, an on-site restaurant and canoe rentals.
Be sure to bring: Tent, sleeping bag, cooler. Don’t stress if you forget the small stuff – there’s a well-stocked store on the premises.
Nightly cost: $46 and up
Word of advice: Dogs aren’t allowed in Baxter State Park, so if you plan to hike Katahdin, leave Fido at home.
Contact: 447-5803, abolcampground.com
The Bigelow Mountain Range offers trails for all levels of hikers, from short day jaunts to longer, overnight expeditions. There are numerous places to camp in this large tract of public land. Sites can be found on Spaulding Mountain, Poplar Ridge, Little Bigelow, Crocker Cirque and Safford Notch. Most of them are bare bones, so be sure to bring enough water to last the weekend. If you would like to try your hand at hike-in camping, there also are areas to pitch a tent near Bog Brook Road parking lot, on Stratton Brook Pond (it is about a 1/4 mile walk to reach the campground from the parking lot).
Be sure to bring: Everything. The whole kit and caboodle, including potable water and a biodegradable soap (Dr. Bronner’s castile soap is great for camping)
Nightly cost: Free if you camp on the shores of Flagstaff Lake.
Word of advice: This area is rich in wildlife, so be sure to keep your food out of the tent (and out of the reach of roaming bears).
Contact: 778-8231, maine.gov/bigelowpreserve
Nestled in the gorgeous White Mountains on the border between Maine and New Hampshire, Grafton Notch State Park offers miles of wonderful hiking. Unfortunately, there is no camping within the park itself. But campers may pitch their tents just down the road at the privately owned Stony Brook Recreation Center before heading off into the mountains.
Be sure to bring: Not much. You can even rent a lean-to shelter if you don’t have a tent.
Nightly cost: $28 for a tent site, $32 for a lean-to shelter
Word of advice: This isn’t the most remote campground, so if you need complete silence to commune with nature, skip this spot.
Contact: 824-2836, stonybrookrec.com
If you’re seeking privacy, look no further than this remote and rugged region just south of Baxter State Park. Nahmakanta Public Lands encompass 43,000 acres of forests and low mountains and 28 miles of trail, which means you can explore all weekend long and still come back next season for more. There are only five authorized campsites available with privies (located on Wadleigh Pond, near Musquash Brook, and on Pollywog Pond) plus there are six more campsites where campfires are permitted. There’s are 22 campsites, 10 of which you can drive to; the rest are hike-in.
Be sure to bring: Everything except firewood. Don’t forget to register for a fire permit ahead of time.
Nightly cost: Camping is free on public lands.
Word of advice: If you’re feeling up for a longer hike, take the Tumbledown trail to Tumbledown Dick Falls, a beautiful gorge with a great waterfall and some lovely vistas.
Contact: 435-6213, maine.gov/dacf/parks/camping/backcountry_camping.shtml
Pownal’s Bradbury Mountain has some of the best mountain biking trails in the state. The small but very popular southern Maine mountain has over 15 miles of well-maintained, twisty and turny trails that have been designed with two-wheeled visitors in mind. Levels range from easy (Tote Road and Northern Loop) to advanced (Switchback and Fox East). The campground has 35 campsites of various sizes that can accommodate tents and campers.
Be sure to bring: Tent, sleeping gear, provisions. No need to bring water, since the campground has potable water on-site.
Nightly cost: $10 for residents, $18 for non-residents
Word of advice: This park is very popular with people of all ages, from little kids to older hikers. Be sure to be respectful and share the trails with pedestrians.
Contact: 688-4712, bradburymountain.com
Over the past decade, a group of intrepid mountain bikers has been crafting some serious trails on the side of Sugarloaf Mountain and in the surrounding wilderness. The results are awesome – a pure, heart-pumping roller-coaster of speed and skill. To enjoy the rad ride, grab a spot at the Cathedral Pines Campground in the nearby town of Eustis on the west side of Flagstaff Lake. With 115 tent and trailer sites, there’s plenty of space for you and all your adrenaline-junkie friends. Amenities include hot showers, flush toilets, laundry facilities and internet access.
Be sure to bring: A tent or an RV, sleeping gear and food.
Nightly cost: $32 for a wooded site, $35 for a lakefront spot.
Word of advice: With a rec hall and over 100 sites, this is a good bet for social groups – not so good for those seeking solo time in the wilderness.
Contact: 246-3491, gopinescamping.com
Just two hours north of Portland you’ll find the scenic playground of the midcoast, where rolling mountains overlook rocky beaches and good restaurants seem to perch on every intersection. Camden Hills State Park is a great place for walkers and bikers alike, but don’t expect Katahdin-level climbs here. The mountains may be small, but they get the job done. Hop on your bike and tackle the Frohock Mountain Trail, a moderate multi-use trail that transverses a few steep slopes through spruce forests, before heading back to your campsite for a hot shower – or a cold dip in the Atlantic.
Be sure to bring: A tent, sleeping gear, food and your bike.
Nightly cost: $25 for a single tent site, $35 for an RV hook-up
Word of advice: Don’t miss the Maiden Cliff Trail, which boasts beautiful views, tall red oaks, and a wealth of wildlife (birders, you’ll like this one!).
Contact: 236-3109, maine.gov/camdenhills
Getting up to The County is a bit of a trek, but for those seeking true wilderness, Aroostook State Park is well worth the drive. Plus, thanks to its remote location, this park is never as busy as those on the midcoast or Mount Desert Island, which means you can get a prime waterfront campsite without too much hassle. Spend the morning hiking around the lovely Echo Lake before heading to the nearby Nordic Heritage Center. During the winter, this outdoor mecca is filled with cross-country skiers, but come summer, bikers dominate the trails. With over 20 miles of trails, plus a skills park, the Nordic Heritage Center is a good bet for groups with mixed levels of bicycle competency.
Be sure to bring: A tent, sleeping gear, food, your pet and your bike.
Nightly cost: Starting at $25 per site.
Word of advice: Mountain biking is not permitted on the state park trails, so keep the bike on the rack while at the campground.
Contact: 768-8341, maine.gov/aroostook
A good option for hikers or rock climbers, the Grafton Notch Campground offers 15 wooded sites for tent campers and is close to the popular Shagg Crag climbing area. This dog-friendly campground is located off Route 26 on your way to Grafton Notch State Park and features a bathhouse, privy, a sports field and plenty of picnic tables. Nearby, you’ll find popular climbing areas like Twitchell Pond Crag, Buck’s Ledge, Pulpit Rock, Bear Mountain and more. However, these aren’t climbs for beginners. Don’t attempt to scale the granite rocks unless you really know your stuff (or bring along someone who does).
Be sure to bring: The basic camping supplies – think tent, sleeping bag, and food – plus any climbing gear you might need.
Nightly cost: $25 per night.
Word of advice: Not all spots at Grafton allow fires. Make sure it’s OK to light up before you plan your meals.
Contact: 824-2292, campgrafton.com
Acadia National Park is one of Maine’s most popular attractions for a very good reason. This beautiful park has it all – peaks to hike, carriage roads to bike and cliffs to scale. For a truly spectacular climbing experience, plan in advance and book a site at the Blackwoods Campground on the east side of the park. After you’ve settled in, wind up your ropes and head to Otter Cliffs, where you can climb a challenging rock wall while listening to waves crash below. Novice climbers can book a class with the friendly guides at Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School, located in downtown Bar Harbor.
Be sure to bring: Tent, sleeping bag, food, and if you want to climb without a guide, your climbing gear.
Nightly cost: $20 per night ($10 per night in shoulder seasons)
Word of advice: This campground is very popular, so if you really want to avoid the crowds, book it in a “shoulder season” (i.e. fall or spring).
Contact: 877-444-6777, acadiamagic.com
One of the less popular, but no less appealing, climbs in Maine is Jockey Cap in Fryeburg. This large rock wall has routes of various difficulties, including a few vicious overhangs that will confound even veteran climbers. Nearby, you can pitch a tent at the primitive and privately owned Fiddlehead Campground. Sleep on the shores of the Saco River in this small wilderness campground. The website warns that this campsite is often fully booked in July and August, so be sure to make reservations as far ahead as possible.
Be sure to bring: Tent, sleeping gear, and climbing gear. Fiddlehead does have a concession stand that offers pizza and sandwiches, so feel free to pack a lighter cooler for this trip.
Nightly cost: $15 per person
Word of advice: Nothing will get you kicked out faster than fireworks, so leave the sparklers at home.
Contact: 877-323-3534, fiddleheadoutdoors.com
Katy Kelleher is a writer, teacher and editor who lives in Portland.