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.
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.
Check out the rest of the article from the Sun Journal here.