March 11, 2010

Getting close to nature in a tent


— By

Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram

According to the Maine Office of Tourism, Maine has a total land area of 33,215 square miles, nearly as big as the other five New England states combined. Little wonder then that within Maine's expansive boundaries are 6,000 lakes and ponds, 32,000 miles of rivers and streams, 17 million acres of forest, more than 5,000 miles of coastline and 2,000 offshore islands.

Given the abundance of natural assets, Maine truly is an outdoor recreation paradise. So if you're looking for a place to go tent camping for a weekend or a week or more, you've got plenty of choices, from the southern beaches to the rocky shores of the Down East coast to the inland hills and western mountains to the deep forests of the North Woods.

Wherever you go, you're sure to find a suitable tent camping site to relax, grill and enjoy time around the campfire. Campsite offerings are fairly standard, with picnic table, fire ring and designated tenting spot, while the amenities, facilities and activities offered will vary by location.


''Maine's 275 private campgrounds are oriented to family activities,'' said Rick Abare, executive director of the Maine Campground Owners Association. ''Private parks generally have more facilities where families can spend time doing things together.''

Many campgrounds have playgrounds and planned activities for kids. The swimming pool and rec room with games, pool tables and pingpong are activities for the entire family. Evening entertainment is common. Other private campgrounds offer a more ''wilderness'' type experience with fewer formal facilities but lots of physical activities, like canoeing, hiking and fishing.

Tent camping is the fastest growing segment of the camping market, Abare said. Many families are getting ''back to basics'' and enjoying the simplicity and the low cost. Sites range from $15 to $50 per night, with an average of $20 to $25. There are usually hot showers, flush toilets and often a small store for essentials.

MECOA publishes the ''Maine Camping Guide,'' a statewide directory of private campgrounds. For each Maine region the guide offers a map and a list of campgrounds and the amenities and activities offered.

It's worth noting that 80 percent of private campgrounds now have Internet access and Wi-Fi. The guide is available free in paper copy or interactive digital format by calling 782-5874 or at


''It's important to provide places for kids and families to get outdoors for a time,'' said Will Harris, director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands at the Maine Department of Conservation. ''The state has a remarkable set of natural resources, and we're intent on making them as good as possible for our residents and visitors.''

Twelve state parks offer tent camping over a broad geographic range. Where you decide to go depends on what you're looking for and whether you want to be near fresh water or salt water. Most parks have hot water, showers and rest-rooms. Evening ranger programs are common.

There are the big campgrounds like Sebago Lake, Camden Hills and Mount Blue that offer 100 or more campsites and a variety of amenities. If you like a lot of people around and lots going on, then these make good choices. The smaller, more laid back parks like Cobscook Bay, Peaks-Kenny, Bradbury Mountain and Aroostook see less use, and the campsites tend to be spaced for increased privacy.

Recreational activities vary from park to park, but they can include picnicking, boating, fishing, canoeing, swimming, hiking, sea kayaking and nature watching. Mountain biking, horseback riding and ATV riding are some of the other possible outdoor pursuits available.

State parks are ''one of the best deals around'' according to Harris. Tent sites range from $11 to $15 per night; for nonresidents it's $19 to $25 per night. Advance reservations are strongly encouraged during the busy summer season. Make reservations online at or call (800) 332-1501 (within Maine) or (207) 624-9950 (outside Maine).

More primitive camping can be found on the 580,000 acres of public lands owned by the state. Thirty public land units range in size from a few hundred acres up to the immense 43,000 acres of Nahmakanta. You can camp virtually anywhere on Maine's public lands, but campfires are limited to approved sites.

Facilities on remote public lands range from primitive to nonexistent. So whether you choose a drive-in campsite or a back-country site accessible only by foot or canoe, you must come fully prepared with all the necessary camping gear and supplies, including potable water.

''It's a hearty experience, an extraordinary adventure,'' said Harris of Maine's public lands. ''I just love the beauty and the excitement. It's like an elixir, a good feeling, being way out there in nature.''

The 210,000-acre Baxter State Park includes some of the wildest and most beautiful terrain in Maine, including the iconic mile-high Mount Katahdin. Ten campgrounds -- eight accessible by vehicle and two by foot travel only -- offer plenty of opportunities for tent camping. Miles of hiking trails criss-cross the park, and myriad lakes and ponds provide for quiet canoeing and good fishing. Moose and other wildlife abound in the Baxter wilderness. Park campsites are rudimentary, with privies and water faucets nearby. Sites are $10 per person with a $20 minimum per night. Go to for complete reservation information.

The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is a 92-mile corridor of lakes, ponds, rivers and streams through Maine's North Woods from Telos Lake to the St. John River. More than 80 campsites exist in the Allagash, accessible by canoe, boat or vehicle. For reservation and fee info, contact Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands at or 287-3281.

Surrounding the Allagash is the 3.5 million acres of the North Maine Woods, a multiple ownership-multiple use area cooperatively managed by private forest landowners and state agencies. Dozens of simple tent camping sites are available throughout this region on a first come, first served basis. A Maine Forest Service fire permit may be required. NMW charges a $6 per person day use fee; camping is $8. Get more information at or 435-6213.


Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island is one of the most visited natural locales in Maine.

Bold ocean views, rugged cliffs, fragrant coastal spruce and fir forests and mountain domes of pink granite dominate the landscape. Blackwoods Campground has 306 sites and is open year-round. Camping is just $20 per night. Make reservations by calling (877) 444-6777 or go to Seawall Campground is open from May through September. Walk-in tent sites are $14 per night; drive-up tent sites are $20. The 214 campsites are first come, first served.

The Maine section of the White Mountain National Forest encompasses nearly 45,000 acres along the Maine-New Hampshire border. Backpackers seeking to explore this relatively little-used region will want a copy of ''Backcountry Camping Rules.'' Remote camping is free, but the practice of Leave No Trace principles is a must.

Two drive-in campgrounds are available for tent camping: Hastings on Route 113 in Batchelders Grant has 24 sites ($16 per night) that can be reserved online at Crocker Pond has seven sites ($14 per site), first come, first served. Contact the WMNF Androscoggin Ranger District at (603) 466-2713 or online.

Carey Kish of Bowdoin has spent countless nights tent camping around Maine. He can be reached at:

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Additional Photos

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Gordon Chibroski


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