Maine’s 4 Best State Parks


Whitney Cleveland

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If you find yourself seeking inspiration from nature, Maine should definitely be on the top of your bucket list. Camping in Maine, especially in its quiet state parks, is unlike anything I’ve experienced in the U.S. Campers will find more secluded backcountry, beach, and primitive tent sites here than in most of New England. 

The rocky coast of Maine provides a seriously fantastic backdrop for primitive and beach camping, day trips, and wildlife sightings. Fisheries, quaint shops, and the freshest seafood you’ll ever find are readily available around Maine’s coast, where whale sightings are common throughout the year. Further inland, private wilderness areas with fresh water sources, mountains, and glacially-carved cliffs define other campsites in Maine.

The unique ecology of Maine continues to inspire brilliant literary and visual artwork. The works of Henry David Thoreau, Stephen King, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Rachel Carson, E.B. White, Marsden Hartley, John Marin, and Arthur Dove attest to the provocative, rocky landscape of the state. The state of Maine may inspire the artist in you.

Baxter State Park

Mount Katahdin and the surrounding area have inspired many artists and naturalists since the early 1800s, but the area is perhaps best known for Henry David Thoreau’s inspired account of his ascent of the mountain in The Maine Woods. You don’t need to be an artist to appreciate the mountainous vistas of Baxter State Park, but you may become a naturalist after visiting. This is a great park for experienced and responsible campers who are comfortable in the backwoods. 

Baxter State Park promotes awe-inspiring hiking, hunting, and camping opportunities. 215 miles of trails stretch across the park, including the beginning of the Appalachian Trail, and over 40 peaks and ridges can be explored within its 209,644 acres. 25% of the park is open to hunting and trapping (with the exception of moose), and 75% of the park acts as a wildlife sanctuary. Baxter features eight roadside campgrounds and two backcountry campgrounds, but the facilities and amenities are more rustic than most. 

Camping at Baxter is a truly immersive experience. As the campgrounds are situated among “wilderness areas” including streams and other water sources, campers must be prepared (and prepared to rough it) if they decide to stay more than a day. There is no potable water within the park: no spigots, showers, or modern toilets. As such, all water must be treated by campers.

There are no cooking or camping supplies within the park, although outhouses are available. Cabins, bunkhouses, and lean-tos are available, but none have potable water. While these conditions may be a compromise for some campers, others may find the experience to be exciting and wild, and a necessary break from day-to-day life. 

Aside from hiking, hunting, and camping, tours of the Scientific Forest Management Area (14% of the park) are offered for those interested in forestry. Kid-friendly, short, self-guided tours complete with tree-ID signs are also available in the park. Visiting Resident Artists hold evening demonstrations and open studios during their work-stays at the park. 

All in all, this is an awesome park for backwoods men and women; families interested in “wilding” it; budding survivalists; and other independent folks. If you wish to see the park but can’t swing the rustic conditions, the (mostly dirt) Park Tote Road offers 46 miles of amazing views.

Reid State Park

For a day trip, Reid State Park should be at the top of your list. This 766-acre oceanfront state park is located on one of Maine’s mid-coastal islands and is one of the few areas in Maine to feature wide sandy beaches. This is the place to go for family trips, bird-watching, beach days, and outdoor activities.

Coastal dunes, sea roses, and salt marshes span the length of this scenic park, with ocean-carved rocks scattered along the route. While no camping is available at the site, there are beautiful inns, bed and breakfasts, and campsites nearby where you could set up for a while to enjoy the unique view.

Camden Hills State Park

Camden hills

In Camden Hills State Park and the surrounding area, your family will find many memorable activities to delve into. The park offers guided tours of area geologic highlights, horseback riding, hunting, camping, and lovely hiking trails. In the town of Camden, whale-watching and harbor tours are available daily. A quaint shopping district located within walking distance to the harbor.

Campers and visitors alike will appreciate the park’s comfort centers, which feature clean, updated showers and bathrooms. Wireless internet is available at most of the campsites, which include full-hookup RV/camper sites, tent camping, and rustic shelters. Detailed trail maps provide clear expectations for every trail, even covering which trails are plowed in the winter for snowy activities.

The Megunticook Trail is a great choice for experienced and fit hikers. As the highest point in the Camden Hills State Park, the Megunticook offers panoramic vistas as far away as Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Atop neighboring Mount Battie, you can enjoy sweeping views of the town of Camden, the harbor, and the bay. On clear days, you can see distant islands and Cadillac Mountain, located in Acadia National Park

This area continues to inspire artists and writers. On any given day, you may see painters working en plein air near the harbor, or photographers capturing whales and puffers as they surface in the bay. Edna St. Vincent Millay’s famous 1917 poem, Renascence, was inspired by the magnificence of the area. Perhaps you and your family will experience a “rebirth” of your own while visiting Camden Hills State Park!

Roque Bluffs State Park

Thousands of years ago, glacial moraines etched and sculpted the steep cliffs and cobbled shores of the “down-east” Roque Bluffs State Park. One of the prominent stops on Maine’s Ice Age Trail, the park’s unique geologic features of glacial grooves were shaped by ancient lava and ice flows. Boulders and bedrock bordered by ocean complete the distinctive topography of this site. The Libby Lighthouse, built in 1817, still holds the important task of lighting up the bay each night, as fog tends to cloud the area.

This is a great day trip for families and naturalists. While Roque Bluffs does not offer camping, it does offer several memorable family-friendly features. The mile-long Blueberry Camp Trail will delight children with its hordes of delicious berries in the summer, in addition to several established stone-fruit orchards. Four other short trails, including one four-mile trail, wind along the windy coves and cliffs of Roque Bluffs.

The park features an abundance of wildlife due to its distinctive ecology, offering a 60-acre freshwater lake in addition to the Atlantic Ocean. Canoeing, kayaking, fishing, boating, and swimming are permitted in both the lake and ocean. Bald Eagle sightings are fairly common here, alongside other rare birds and waterfowl. 

Your family will love this park and the abundance of activities it offers visitors. Whether you spend your time at Roque Bluffs geocaching, hiking, berry-picking, or otherwise, everyone will find something to appreciate within the confines of this special site.

What are your favorite backwoods, primitive, beach, or RV sites in Maine? Did we miss one of your favorite state parks in Maine? Fill us in in the comments below!

Maine's 4 best state parks

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