To celebrate Father’s Day weekend, we decided to take on our first state park camping adventure. 12 of the state parks across Maine have family campgrounds, so we plan to spend a night or two at each one. I know, we took a 6-month-old camping for the weekend in rainy, 50-degree weather. The weather could have made the trip easier and probably more enjoyable at times, but once you come to terms that it’s out of your control you can still have fun, and we sure did!
Camden Hills State Park was our first choice for a few reasons; It’s just under 2 hours from Portland. We were familiar with the layout of the park from a previous hiking trip. Black flies are out in full force this May/June so crashing near the coast was the best bet in avoiding those buggers. Lastly, it’s not a remote location so being near a town for the “just in case” factor was important in our first go around with the bambino.
We left the dogs behind on this one. People already thought we were nuts for taking the little one on a trip like this while she’s so young. We aren’t naive and knew what we were doing could be challenging, so adding the stress of caring for our high maintenance dogs as well just wasn’t in the cards for these two rookies. Back to people thinking we’re crazy; every kid is different and that goes for every parent as well. We would dread the idea of flying with Eloise at her age, but doing something like this doesn’t seem unreasonable.
The main theme that stands out at each state park we visit would be “professionalism.” If you’re wondering what your fees are going toward, you clearly aren’t looking around when you spend time in a Maine state park. Now if you are camping at Camden Hills, it’s taken up a notch. Camden Hills has over 100 sites spread out around a few loops near the entrance of the state park. Click the map to view a list of amenities for these sites. They have everything you’d need on-site. They even have wifi; which we could all do without from time to time.
There’s a 2-night minimum at all the park campgrounds during the weekend, except for Sebago Lake State Park which requires a 4-night stay. Something to note about Maine State Parks are all their rules and details. It’s always good to read up on each park before booking your dates because some of the parks have different rules and regulations. One important fact to know is that reservations go live in early February for the summer/fall. If you know that you want to camp at the start of the year, have your dates ready and you can pretty much have your pick of sites. Sebago releases their online calendar a week before the rest of the 11 parks go live.
We loaded up Warren (our camper) and our Acadia with most of our gear the night before and pushed off Friday morning for Camden Hills. Normally it’s a nice scenic ride but our beautiful wild child hates being strapped down so naturally she hates being in a car seat. She fussed 2/3 of the way there and to skip ahead, she fussed 2/3 of the way home. Only negative thing about bringing our 6-month-old camping was the most controlled part of the trip, the car ride! What baby hates being in a car? The weather also took a big turn starting Friday with it dropping down into the 50s and calling for on and off rain for the two days we were planning to be there. Just classic, especially after zero rain for the last week and weather in the 70s, 80s and even 90s. We made a couple stops on our way for last minute things at Home Depot in Rockland and Hannaford in Camden. These are two things we would have done earlier in the week, but we weren’t in a rush to get up to the park after taking Friday off from work.
When we rolled into Camden Hills, the rain of course started to pick up and Eloise was in full fuss mode. That meant Dad was running around trying to set up some quick shelter before we could unpack. We had more than enough tarps, and tarps are a beautiful thing when you’re camping in less than desirable weather. Most people have an EZ UP by now, but if you don’t, go out and get one ASAP. Those things are the best for even around the house and they are very reasonably priced. When we got a bit of shelter up, Eloise was great in letting us finish setting up the rest of the site as a team. We brought along our large family tent in case it rained all weekend as another spot to hang out and play in, if needed. As you can tell by the site photos, we weren’t messing around and planning for all possibilities.
We stayed at site 53 and it ended up being more than enough space for us. We had a hook up for water and electricity; which was super convenient for dirty dishes and hooking up power to Warren. The walk to the bathroom wasn’t too far and it was nice being somewhat close to it during our weekend stay. It will be something we keep in mind for future bookings. The bathrooms were clean and they even had individual showers! There’s a large sink located outside the bathrooms to wash dishes and clothes if needed. The park rangers who are on-site do a wonderful job with maintenance and provide top notch service.
The icing on the cake for this weekend was the late addition of the Ellis family. They are very close friends of ours and they booked a site directly across from us. We have Dad Ben, Mom Sarah, Miss Penelope and Mr. Duncan. This is the family version of the Dream Team. Spending the weekend with them was wonderful and made it a much better experience. “Life is better shared”.
We cooked our dinners over the fire. Each site has a moveable grate on top of the pit which makes it very convenient for cooking on the open flame. We still used the Coleman stove for breakfast in the mornings. Everything tastes better when you’re cooking in the woods!
The park sells wood on site for $7 a bundle. They don’t want you bringing wood from home, and you definitely can’t bring any from out of state. You’re going to want plenty of wood and not just for cooking because like Sarah stated one night, “you’d end up in bed by 8pm”. We always say that a campfire is like natures flat screen. Babies are the only other thing we can stare at as long. How fortunate of us to have both! One con would be how quickly you burn through $7 of wood, so we ended up buying several bundles during our stay.
We got some very heavy rain in the early hours of Saturday morning, like hours of down pour, but when we woke the weather was cloudy and foggy but at least dry. When we saw a small opening of good weather on Saturday afternoon we took off from our sites and hiked up Mount Megunticook. That’s right, you can connect to several trail-heads right from the campground! Most folks visit the park everyday just for the hiking trails, so it’s an added bonus to be able to walk out of our site and experience one of Maine’s most popular hiking destinations.
Miss Penelope (soon to be 4 years old this summer) hiked up this mountain on her own and pretty much led our group most of the way. Just being honest, most kids her age couldn’t do this. Beyond impressed, but not surprised after knowing her parents. We carried Eloise in her super pack and she loved it! Sarah ended up using a more organic style of straight mom strength with Duncan for several parts of the trip.
It’s a two-mile (round trip) hike but it’s straight up and down, covering approximately 1,000 feet in elevation in just that mile. The sea fog rolled in 10 minutes before we reached the ocean overlook near the top. So, when we say we saw nothing, it was like God was holding up a white sheet in front of the cliffs. Which is a good reminder to keep the kids close as you near the top. There isn’t a ton space on the rock ledge and you kind of just pop out of the woods once you reach it. Having seen the view from up there before, it’s breathtaking and extremely unique. Just another reason to come back.
On Sunday, we decided to drive up to Mount Battie before we left because it would have been another hike resulting in a limited view (half the distance/half the elevation). We couldn’t escape the fog on Sunday either. There’s an auto road to the top but you can also connect via hiking trails from the bottom. This is another great view and there’s a wonderful military memorial at the top that you can explore from. It’s certainly worth a quick trip up, especially on a nice clear day. You could always extend your hike to include both mountains because both trails connect and you could turn it into a loop. Nothing beats a loop so you don’t have to backtrack. If you’re driving a couple hours to come and hike at Camden Hills, we would recommend this loop to make the day longer.
It’s going to be tough to rate the state park campgrounds because they offer so much and it’s such a different experience than a day visit. Even though there isn’t a big-time new playset (there are swings), this is a great place for small kids. There are several types of trails to adventure on (all levels), big open fields, nice small loops for biking or pushing stroller. The campsites are all that you could ask for, including the amenities. It might be a tough place to bring teenagers or preteens because they’d probably want a little more room to explore. We saw the same teen, who was there with his grandparents, bike by us 83 times in 2 days. That being said, if they enjoy hiking then they should be all set, given the proximity and uniqueness of the hiking trails. We give Camden Hills State Park 8 rubies! The Ellis family got to vote too because the Ruby family believes in a true democracy. Your campsite is sandwiched in between the foot of mountains and the shores of the ocean (a short drive). What more could you ask for?
You can’t turn everything into perfect Instagram moment because in real life, it’s going to rain, kids are going to fuss and you certainly can’t make everything perfect spending this much time outside day to day lives. Just spending this quality time with family and friends is enough. Food, shelter, a couple drinks, it doesn’t get much better. Simple is sometimes exactly what we need and it’s often more than enough. It was a perfectly imperfect Father’s Day weekend. Hopefully it’s a new tradition for many years to come.