Sebago Lake State Park – the state’s largest and busiest state park campground with 250 sites – is already booked virtually every weekend at the height of summer. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

A year after Maine state parks broke attendance records for visitors and campers, state park campgrounds are on track for another record year as campsites book at a fast-and-furious pace.

Already, weekends in July and August at the state’s most popular campgrounds are mostly gone. In some cases, it’s hard to string together more than a few nights to stay at the perennial favorites at the height of summer – even during the week in some cases, according to the Bureau of Parks and Lands.

Though some choice sites still exist, campers best act quickly.

“All my entire tenure with the bureau, we’ve never been this busy. It’s never filled as early as it has. It’s all related to COVID,” said Charlene Daniels, the manager at the bureau’s reservation call center, who’s worked at the bureau for nearly 30 years.

As of Thursday, 53 percent of state park campsites that can be reserved were booked from May 24 to Sept. 12. (After Sept. 12, campsites are allotted on a first-come, first-served basis for a month.) To put that in perspective, last year 61 percent of all reservable sites filled up throughout the entire season.

Even if you don’t make a reservation, there is a still a possibility of getting a campsite. All state parks hold 20 percent of campsites for walk-in guests on a daily basis. Most parks open the walk-in sites at 1 p.m., so if you have some flexibility and are aiming to nab one of these sites, arrive closer to that time to ensure success.

If you’ve never gone camping at a Maine state park, here’s some of what you can expect:

State park campgrounds are more rustic and quiet than commercial campgrounds. There are no pools or game rooms, no vending machines or gift shops. Tent sites offer a picnic table and fire ring and a cleared area in hard-packed dirt to pitch a tent. Sites that accommodate campers also offer a water hook-up and electricity. But quiet hours at all sites starts at 10 p.m. and are enforced by rangers.

At most campgrounds, there are some wilderness walk-in sites that require a short hike, which can offer more privacy. Some walk-in sites – such as at Lily Bay, Sebago Lake and Cobscook Bay state parks – put you right next to the water.

In addition, most state park campgrounds also offer accessible campsites and features like wheelchair accessible restrooms, roll-in showers and hardened paths. Details can be found on the Bureau of Parks and Lands website.

At Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal, camping reservations among Maine residents was up 280 percent this year through March 31 compared to the same period last year. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Virtually all parks have flush toilets and bath houses (Bradbury, Cobscook and Warren Island do not have flush toilets, though Bradbury has showers). All sell firewood for $5 to $7 a bundle. Some even sell ice for coolers (such as Camden, Lily Bay, Mt. Blue and Rangeley). And in this dog-loving state, it’s worth noting every campground except Sebago Lake allows camping with your pup – although you must keep them leashed.

Many state parks are on inland waters or the coast and several offer safe swimming areas – although only a few have lifeguards (only Lake St. George, Peaks-Kenny, and Sebago Lake). Lake swimming is also possible at Rangeley, Aroostook, and Lily Bay and ocean swimming is possible at Warren Island – though none have lifeguards on staff.

As for unique features, nature exhibits or outdoor activities, most parks in pre-vcg times offered a wide variety. Cobscook Bay has a volleyball and horseshoe court. Lake St. George offers learn-to-fish and star-gazing seminars. Cobscook Bay has an annual fishing derby. Mt. Blue has proudly expanded its nature center. While Lamoine has a signature treehouse that even adults can hang out in to picnic. And every state park has ranger-led programs or boat or telescope rentals.

However, last summer many programs and rentals were not offered because of COVID-19. And this spring, the bureau is still assessing what activities and rentals to allow as the pandemic continues, said Jim Britt, the bureau’s spokesman. So best to call parks ahead of time to check on such amenities.

Reserving a campsite costs $15 to $35 per night for residents; $25 to $45 for non-residents. Online reservations add $5 per site per night and can be made at campwithme.com. Campers also can call to book from Monday to Friday at 800-332-1501 or 207-624-9950.

If the camping season is anything like last year, it will transport many outdoor fans to a peaceful place – and maybe convert many novice campers.

Bruce and Jackie Herbig of Poland, who have served as campground hosts for several years at Mt. Blue State Park in Weld, said last year was noticeably busier, but the buzz created a healthy, joyful outdoor vibe.

“I don’t think we talked to anyone who wasn’t enjoying themselves,” Bruce Herbig said of the 136-site park. “One of the nice things about Mt. Blue – there is no cell service and no Wi-Fi. People really seemed to enjoy that, to be really off the grid.”

Daniels, the manager of the reservation call center at the Bureau of Lands and Parks, offered these insights about some of the more popular parks:

The view from a campsite at Lily Bay State Park on the shores of Moosehead Lake. Staff photo

• At Lily Bay State Park on Moosehead Lake, weekends in July and August are booked at reservable sites. And even during the week at the height of summer it is tough to find a site. In June, some weekends remain. Best to look at going midweek in June or September.

• Cobscook Bay State Park north of Lubec – with 107 campsites – is very full at the end of July and the first of August, but Daniels said tent sites are still available. Mid-August is a better bet.

• Mt. Blue’s reservable sites are completely booked on the Fourth of July weekend – but some weekends after that are open, and certainly during the week sites are available.

• Rangeley Lake, on the smaller side with 50 campsites, is heavily booked already through the summer weekends. In July, all reservable sites are booked on weekends with few openings on weekday nights.

• Peaks-Kenny, located along the road to Moosehead Lake, is wide open in June – even on the weekends. But it’s another park that is heavily booked in July and August. Try during the week, especially in late August.

• Sebago Lake is the state’s largest and busiest state park campground with 250 sites – and it is booked virtually every weekend at the height of summer, even during the week. Best to go in June, at the end of August or in September.


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