Tuesday, December 10, 2013
There are only two places along the Maine coast where you can tote your backpack to a remote ocean-view campsite for the night. One is Down East at the popular Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land, and the other is on the midcoast at Camden Hills State Park.
The summit of Bald Rock Mountain at Camden Hills State Park offers spectacular ocean views. There are two rustic shelters near the summit for overnight camping.
Carey Kish Photo
If this second spot wasn't particularly on your radar screen, well, you're not alone. I guess perhaps I just wasn't paying close enough attention -- until recently, that is, when I volunteered to do some field checking for Matt Heid, author of AMCs Best Backpacking in New England.
One of the featured backpack trips in the field guide is an overnight trek through the heart of the Camden Hills that includes ascents of Mount Megunticook (twice!) and Bald Rock Mountain, so I jumped at the chance to get out there and do the update.
Primitive camping is allowed at either of two lean-to shelters near the 1,200-foot summit of Bald Rock. There's also another option, a ski cabin in the middle of the park's backcountry.
The two shelters are located on the Bald Rock Trail, one a stone's throw north of the summit and the second a short hike beyond. Both sites have privies, but there is no water source so you'll have to pack in what you need. The shelters were built two decades ago by private groups, and as such are not maintained by the park.
I must say that the lean-tos are somewhat rustic. You can take that to mean that they leak. I can attest to this because when my wife and I visited on a rather showery day in early August, we experienced first-hand the not-so-good condition of the roof of each shelter.
That said, the situation isn't anything that can't be fixed by a Mainer with a smidgen of ingenuity. Yep, I'm talking about one of those ubiquitous blue tarps and a good hank of parachute cord to boot. Secure the tarp over the roof and you'll be good to go through the darnedest of rainstorms. Barring the blue tarp idea, you could opt to pitch a tent, which the park allows.
Either way, you'll be able to comfortably enjoy the place, a craggy mountaintop ridgeline with a gorgeous view eastward over Penobscot Bay to the islands of Islesboro, North Haven and Vinalhaven and a host of smaller islands all the way to Deer Isle and beyond. It's quite stunning, and it's right there at your lean-to's doorstep, so to speak. And come dawn you can grab your cup of joe and settle in to a front-row seat for a sublime Maine coast sunrise.
Then there's the ski cabin located at the junction of the Multi-Use and Slope trails. The Megunticook Ski Shelter, as it is known, is downright luxurious in the scheme of things. Inside the fully enclosed and very spacious structure are bunks for six, a stone fireplace and floor, three picnic tables, two chairs, a woodstove and beautiful pine walls. Lots of windows make the interior light and cheery. Outside there's two more picnic tables, a privy, and a woodshed chock full. Nearby Spring Brook is the water source. A night here would sure be good living, summer or winter.
Several variations for this trek are possible, but the book-recommended route leaves from the hiker's parking lot on Mount Battie Auto Road and combines the Nature, Megunticook, Adam's Lookout, Ridge, Slope, Multi-Use, Bald Rock, Frohock Mountain, Sky Blue, Zeke's, Jack Williams and Tablelands trails for an outstanding 13-mile, two-day loop.
Camping at the lean-tos is free (excepting the park user fee) and first-come, first-served. The ski cabin is $32.10 per night for six people, and advance reservations are mandatory. For more information and a map for planning your Camden Hills State Park backpacking adventure, visit www.parksandlands.com or call 236-3109.
Carey Kish of Bowdoin is an award-winning member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association. Send comments and hike suggestions to: