Summertime camping is a Maine tradition, a chance to get outside with family and friends, pursue your favorite recreational activity, breathe some fresh air, cook a hearty meal, relax around the campfire and sleep under the stars. Whether it’s for a night, a weekend or an entire week, camping lets you escape from the hectic workaday world to recharge your batteries amid the beauty of the woods and waters.
Twelve state parks offer camping opportunities — from Cobscook Bay to Sebago Lake, and Aroostook to Camden Hills — so you shouldn’t have to travel far to take advantage of our wealth of public lands and enjoy a fun and relatively low-cost outdoor experience.
“We have parks all across the state, lands that are owned and protected for public use,” said Matt McGuire, park manager at Cobscook Bay State Park and a 12-year parks veteran. “They’re open to everybody all the time, even when the gates are closed.”
This is a special year for Maine’s park system, which is marking its 75th anniversary. The Maine Legislature established a state park commission in 1935, and three years later Aroostook State Park was created on 100 acres of locally donated land in Presque Isle. Today there are 35 state parks.
“It’s a milestone for the parks, a big story,” McGuire said. “It says we’ve been here for a while, have been through some changes, but we’re still here doing what we do, like offering camping, hiking, fishing, boating and much more.”
Park visitors can find hiking trails on Mount Blue and the Camden Hills; sea kayaking at Cobscook Bay and Lamoine; walking, horseback riding and mountain biking at Bradbury Mountain; and swimming, fishing and boating at Sebago Lake, Rangeley Lake and Lake St. George.
“Even though we live in a modern, high-tech world, it’s great that we have special natural places like our parks, places that haven’t changed much over time,” said McGuire.
State park campsites are simple and include a picnic table, cleared tenting area and fire ring. Your site will likely have been raked clean before your arrival. Firewood, a water spigot and restrooms will be nearby. In addition to drive-in sites, secluded walk-in tenting sites are often available.
State campgrounds also provide a number of amenities for your comfort, like hot showers, flush toilets and water and power hook-ups, making your camping experience less like roughing it and a little bit more like home. And there will always be a friendly park ranger nearby.
“Someone with a smile will be there to greet you, to make sure you’re all set after you pull in,” McGuire said. “Then they’ll step quietly away and let you enjoy your stay.”
Many campgrounds have playgrounds and ball fields for the kids. Evening ranger programs, talks and movies around a communal campfire are always entertaining. And at Mount Blue and Sebago Lake, nature centers put exhibits of local flora, fauna, geology, history and culture on display.
There’s a full calendar of special events going on throughout the summer to celebrate the state parks anniversary.
Aroostook State Park, for example, is hosting a birding festival on Saturday, featuring bird walks, bird banding, bird-calling demos and live bird displays.
June 20 is Maine Day, with free admission to all state parks, a great chance to explore a park you haven’t yet visited. And Lamoine State Park will host a regatta of rowing and sailing boats and a parade on July 28.
The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands recently launched the Maine State Parks Passport Program to help boost public awareness of the bounty that is our parks system and to increase park visitation. The free program provides a “parks passport” to adults and children, available at parks and historic sites around the state. collecting passport stamps from the parks, visitors can win prizes, like park patches, water bottles and even a free season pass for visiting all the parks.
The pass “will help you get more out of your state parks and actually encourages far more visitation,” said Will Harris, MBPL director.
Make this the summer you check out more of what’s in your own backyard, so to speak.
Make a list of the Maine parks you most want to visit, then gather up the tent, sleeping bags, cooking gear, coolers, canoes, hiking boots, bikes and whatnot and get ready to go!
For complete information on Maine’s state parks and public lands and to make camping reservations, go to www.parksandlands.com.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is a Registered Maine Guide and has hiked and camped extensively throughout Maine. Send comments to: