For Mainers looking to get away - safely - for part of this pandemic summer, camping has been the answer. Popular state campgrounds, like Sebago Lake in southern Maine and Lamoine near Acadia National Park, are pretty full. But there's plenty of weekday availability at several other state campgrounds in locations you might not expect.
Bradbury Mountain State Park is a popular southern Maine destination, about a half-hour's drive from Portland. It's family friendly, with a short hike to a summit with spectacular views and other trails for biking, or horseback riding.
But just across Route 9 is the Bradbury Mountain State Campground. John Freitas and his wife Carmen are regular visitors. "I live in Poland Spring. It's an easy getaway and I guarantee I get a good night's sleep here,” John says.
A check of the state's reservation system found that, for a weekday next week, Bradbury Mountain had the third largest number of available campsites. Tom is one of Bradbury Mountain's two campground "hosts." They prep the campsites and can offer campers suggestions.
"What's nice about the spot right here is the campers right here can go onto the nature trail, either hiking or biking right from the campground, which is great," he says.
Park Ranger Kyle Briggs pointed out Bradbury Mountain's two "glamping” sites. "Our ‘tenter’ sites, they were constructed last year. They consist of a traditional, you know, canvas-style tent. It's on a wood platform and it includes things like a wood stove, a queen-size air mattress, and even an extra tent to set up if you have more people."
Briggs says all that visitors have to bring are linens and food.
On the day we checked, Mount Blue in western Maine had by far the most available camp sites. From the campground, a short walk leads to Webb Lake, available for swimming and boating. There are hiking trails and a nature center that puts on programs. A short drive and you can climb Mount Blue.
Bruce Farnham is the campground manager. "It's become more discovered the last few years, but still tends to be not quite as heavily visited as some of the other state parks with camping. And there's a lot here to offer for families. And families that come - after they discover it - they come back year after year."
You might not be surprised to learn that people have to "discover" Mount Blue, which is north of Carthage and west of Farmington. But right off Route 1 in the midcoast is the state campground we found with the second-most number of available camp sites: Camden Hills State Park.
Andy Cutko visited there with his family last month. "One of the big attractions there is Mount Battie, which you can drive right to the top of, and we've also got more than 20 miles of hiking trails that go up and over the ridge of Mount Megunticook.
Cutko is not just a visitor. He's Maine's director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands.
Of course, the pandemic has forced some changes: An old stone fire tower atop Mount Battie is closed because it has only a narrow stairway to the top. Face masks are needed, at least some of the time when around people.
At Mount Blue they're not renting boats to go out on Webb Lake. And, Cutko says there are more Mainers using state campgrounds this year and fewer out-of-staters.
"Just in talking with our park managers, what we're hearing a lot of is that they're seeing new faces,” Cutko says. “Mainers who've never been out and explored the parks are finding us for the first time, and that's great. We encourage Mainers and their families to get out and enjoy the state parks and we're hoping the families, who are using our parks, will be visitors for years to come."
In other words, like John Freitas back at Bradbury Mountain. “Oh, I've been coming here since I was a little kid.”
Reporter Patty Wight: “How old are you now?”
Freitas: “Sixty…sixty three."
Thanks to Patty Wight for her help on this story. For information on reserving a campground site in Maine, click here.
Originally published 9:39 a.m. August 4, 2020.