Camden isn’t missing anything. It has the mountains, the lakes, the ocean. It has the quintessential small-town downtown and the great restaurants. It has plenty to do, no matter the season.
It’s like taking all the things people love about Maine, wrapping them up into a package and tying it with a bow.
Add in Union and Appleton and some of the other nearby towns, and you could stay in the midcoast for a day or a lifetime.
My wife and I were there for just a day this spring, but we packed in everything we could, from hiking to adult beverages to a visit with some very vocal farm animals.
We hadn’t planned to take the Old Carriage Road Trail to the Mount Megunticook summit, but when we couldn’t find the access point we were looking for, it turned out to be a perfect backup plan. It’s located along Route 52 in Camden and easy to find because of all the cars parked along the road. The hike’s easy to moderate as Old Carriage Road turns into Carriage Road, then connects to the Tablelands Trail and Ocean Lookout – which is the reason you’re hiking this trail.
On a warm, sunny day you’ll likely find plenty of other hikers on this trail because the views are amazing. Bring a snack and settle in on the rocks to enjoy the sun and the views before moving on. From the ledges of the Outlook, you’ll see Mount Battie and the seaside town of Camden. Penobscot Bay, dotted with islands, stretches as far as you can see, and on a clear day, you might see New Hampshire’s Mount Washington to the west.
If you’re in the mood for some mileage, start your trek from the entrance of Camden Hills State Park off Route 1. There, you’ll find access to the 9 miles of trails in the park, including Megunticook and its 2.5-mile Ridge Trail.
We were excited to find this gem near the farmlands in Union, about 13 miles from where we emerged from the woods. Don’t be deterred by the herd of Belted Galloway cattle as you approach the Google Maps address; there really is a winery here. And there’s a field large enough to host an impressive list of summer events, including concerts by Melissa Etheridge (June 16), Michael Franti and Spearhead (July 15) and The Mavericks (July 19).
We grabbed seats at the bar, which seemed impressively full for a Saturday afternoon in spring, ready for our very reasonably priced tasting flight (five samples for $3). There happened to be seven wines available that day, so our friendly server treated us to a couple bonus sips, plus some crackers with goat cheese from Appleton Creamery to cleanse the palate. (More on that later.)
We first tried the Georges River, a white with hints of citrus and melon that’s a two-time Northeast Gold Wine Competition silver-medal winner and made from Maine-grown grapes. The second white was Entwined, also from Maine-grown grapes. We moved on through a blush and a pair of reds before hitting the dessert wines. The second was Blueberry Pi, tasty enough if you like the sweet stuff to, as the menu says, be “drizzled over cheesecake.”
You can order a full glass, buy a bottle or two and get plenty of wine-related odds and ends at the tasting room store. Savage Oakes also offers guided tours of the farm and winery, and sells naturally raised meats.
Hiking plus wine equals a need for food. We took a recommendation from our wine expert and headed just a few miles down the road to The Badger Cafe and Pub and found everything we needed and more.
The first thing thirsty hikers need to know is that The Badger has a good selection of local beers on tap, plus ciders and more beers in bottles. Try a flight and get a taste of the offerings from several Maine breweries. The Badger’s website proudly states that the establishment has been “written up” in Norman Miller’s “Beer Lover’s New England” and Josh Christie’s “Maine Beer.”
The food deserves a notation as well because, for one thing, there are tater tots, and for another, there’s buttermilk fried chicken. And it comes with a biscuit.
Other offerings range from burgers to burritos to mac and cheese or a pan-fried fish sandwich.
Sit at the small bar and enjoy the chatter of the friendly locals. There are definitely some regulars who know the town gossip, and we learned who just bought a new convertible, who got engaged and who was back in town after a winter away.
Brunch is offered on Sundays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. On Saturdays, it’s lunch and dinner. Be aware that the restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
As it happened, my wife, Margo, was even more a fan of the goat cheese sampled at Savage Oakes than of the wine. (To be fair, she’s a fan of sweet wines, so a sampling of a dry red is never going to be a win with her.) So, before we headed back to Portland, we were off to find Appleton Creamery, just a hop-skip up the road from The Badger.
We were greeted, as soon as we stepped out of the car, by birds racing through the yard and the sound of goats bleating for their dinner. Turned out, some of those speedy birds were peacocks, both a gorgeous male adorned in blue and green and a few unfortunately drab females. We tried to make friends with the beautiful boy, but he was a little shy about having his plumage photographed.
The goats were another story, begging to be touched and sticking their faces into my iPhone screen. They kept me entertained while Margo made her selection from the cheeses available at the farm stand. Chive was the winner.
You can find Appleton Creamery cheese at farmers markets and stores around the midcoast area, but if you head out to the stand – open Saturdays and Sundays – you can hang with the goats and maybe Mr. Peacock. Better yet, you can make it the first stop on your tour of the Midcoast Cheese Trail.