Coastal Maine: Best RV Camping Adventure

Take this route from Portland to Camden to enjoy the best of Central Maine’s coastal towns and outdoor adventures

BY TODD SMITH

Maine! It’s one of the most scenic and recreationally diverse states in America. From quaint seaside towns with untracked beaches to gorgeous lakes and streams, Maine has it all. And for those who love the outdoors, exploring the Pine Tree State in a Recreational Vehicle (RV) allows you to enjoy all that this great state has to offer in total comfort.

This Maine RV adventure starts in Portland, but for those traveling in RVs from other states, you can jump in just about anywhere. And the list of things to do in Maine is limited only by your imagination. Enjoying an RV vacation is also easy for those flying into Portland International Airport as RV rentals are readily available at several nearby locations.

Renting an RV is a great way for those new to this kind of travel to discover just how fun an RV vacation can be. Don’t know what RV is right for you? No problem. There is an RV design to fit everyone’s needs, from simple pop-up campers to full-size travel trailers and motorhomes with all of the comforts of home. So, fasten your seatbelt and get ready to explore Maine at its best on this ultimate road trip from Portland to Camden.

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Traveling through coastal Maine in an RV allows you to soak in the scenery and enjoy the ride at a leisurely pace. You’ll see more and the flexibility of being able to stop anywhere and fix a lunch right in your own RV makes keeping hungry kids fed easy. Photo Courtesy Go RVing
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Portland

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The quaint, cobblestone streets of downtown Portland are filled with fun shops, restaurants and galleries. Photo Courtesy VisitPortland.com

The waterfront here is always bustling. This is a great place to stock up on everything you’ll need for a great weekend away. Pick up some live lobsters, clams or fresh fish from the Harbor Fish Market on the Custom House wharf. Grab some fresh vegetables and fruit at the Farmer’s Market, which is open on Wednesdays or Saturdays during the summer. Restaurants, shops and galleries abound, and there is a great tour of the Allagash Brewing Company that beer aficionados won’t want to miss. We found perfect cappuccinos at Bard Coffee (on the corner of Middle and Exchange Streets) where they roast their own beans and the staff takes pride in every cup they serve.

If your schedule allows, take the mail boat run. Tickets are available right at the main dock. Our kids loved taking this short journey to the outer islands just outside Portland Harbor. The boat sails twice daily, so it’s easy to schedule this in. And mail boat cruisers will be treated to spectacular views of the Portland lighthouse.

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At Portland Harbor you can purchase fresh fish right on the dock or take a scenic cruise on the mail boat that visits the outer islands just offshore twice each day. Photo Courtesy VisitPortland.com
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Freeport

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No trip to Maine would be complete without a visit to L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Freeport. Along with Bean, Freeport is home to dozens of outlet stores carrying major brands. And you can walk to everything. Photo Courtesy L.L. Bean

Travel north on Highway 295 past the classic sailing towns of Yarmouth and Cumberland to Freeport. This is the home of L.L. Bean, the company outfitting outdoor enthusiasts since 1912. Their flagship store maintains its tradition of staying open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which harkens back to the days when the Bean family outfitted trappers and guides who might need quality gear day or night. Today, the Bean store caters to outdoor recreationists of every stripe with everything they need for any kind of outdoor adventure. Step inside and check out the huge trout that inhabit the stream, which snakes its way through the store.

Looking for bargains? Take a walk along the brick sidewalk to the L.L. Bean outlet store, which is among dozens of outlet shops in Freeport. Shop for local Maine goods or quality international merchandise from brand outlets including Coach, Cole Haan, The North Face, Patagonia, J. Crew, Vineyard Vines and many others.

From Freeport, you’ll want to head north on 295 to exit 28 where you’ll turn northeast on Highway 1 toward Bath.

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Bath

This is one of Maine’s most famous ship-building towns and a great place to stop for lunch. A number of restaurants and roadside stands along the way offer some of Maine’s best lobster rolls. Bath has a lovely park along Commercial Street that offers easy RV parking and a great place to picnic right along the banks of the Kennebec River.

Bath is also home to the Maine Maritime Museum. Here you can explore Maine’s rich seafaring history through great exhibits and demonstrations relating to sailing, shipbuilding and lobstering. The museum also offers 1-hour ship and lighthouse cruises that offer a great break for the entire family.

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The route from Bath to Camden is dotted with great roadside stands where you can sample a classic lobster roll or pick up a live lobster or two to take to camp for your evening dinner. Photo Courtesy Maine Office of Tourism
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Booth Bay

Looking for a nice diversion? Just past Wiscasset, turn onto Highway 27 for the short drive out to scenic Booth Bay. This gorgeous harbor is home to several lighthouses and numerous islands you can explore. Take a cruise or rent a kayak and paddle out to enjoy a picnic lunch on your own island.

Destination

Camden

This charming seaside town lives up to its slogan: “Where the Mountains Meet the Sea” by being one of the most picturesque towns on the Maine coast. The town offers countless recreational opportunities as well as excellent RV camping at Camden Hills State Park, just 2 miles north of town. Camden is also home to a large fleet of tall-masted “Windjammers,” a type of merchant sailing ship that sailed on Maine’s coastal waters in the 19th and early 20th century. Today, many of these ships have been lovingly restored with polished decks and shining brass, offering a unique way to enjoy sightseeing on the water.

Restaurants in Camden run the gamut from casual dining to more upscale choices. A full range of stores and shops allows you to quickly stock up on any last-minute items. For those seeking culture, there is a robust performing arts program here with some excellent performances in the beautifully restored Camden Opera House. If you have a weakness for ice cream the way I do, then the Camden Cone is a must stop. These folks have been making cone crazy visitors happy for more than 22 years.

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The hike up Mount Battie, just north of Camden at Camden Hills State Park, offers tremendous views of the town and scenic Penobscot Bay beyond. This is a great place to take a morning hike and a picnic lunch. Photo Courtesy Maine Office of Tourism

This is just the beginning as there is an activity in Camden for everyone to enjoy. And since you’re traveling by RV, you can do as little or as much as you like, knowing you can return home to a comfortable camp anytime to relax.

Things to Do

Camp at Camden Hills

The 5700-acre park offers over 100 sites for RV enthusiasts to choose from. Sites have 30-amp service and water, but no sewer hookups. There is a pump-out station nearby, however. Sites are available both in open fields with better views or in more wooded areas offering more privacy. Among the many bonuses of staying at Camden Hills is that the park has over 30 miles of hiking trails.

Climb Mount Battie

Taking the 2-hour hike up to the 800-foot summit of Mount Battie (you can also drive to the top) is a must as the views of Camden Harbor and Penobscot Bay are truly breathtaking in any season. Trails are well marked and there are numerous spots along the way to enjoy a picnic lunch or quick trailside snack.

Try Sea Kayaking

Paddling along the coastline of Penobscot Bay is one of the best ways to enjoy the scenery in Camden. It’s also a great way to view the area’s marine life, which includes porpoises, whales, seals, bald eagles, puffins and many other creatures you won’t normally see from a motorized craft. Using a local kayaking guide service makes the whole experience more safe and enjoyable, and it takes only a few minutes of instruction for beginners to get the hang of kayaking.

Lights on Lincoln
Photo Courtesy Maine Media Workshop and College

Take a Morning Sail

A number of sailing ships operate out of Camden Harbor. Jump on an authentic Maine Windjammer for a 2-hour sailing adventure under full sail. Longer day cruises allow for a more relaxed tour of the surrounding waters where visitors can view lighthouses and wildlife.

Visit a Lighthouse

Camden has 18 lighthouses within a 40-mile radius of town. Among the most picturesque is the Curtis Island Lighthouse, which sits right at the mouth of Camden Harbor. While all can be viewed by boat, many are open to the public and offer great day-trip destinations.

Catch a Fish

Penobscot Bay offers saltwater fishermen a chance to catch mackerel, striped bass and bluefish. Serious anglers can also charter boats for deep-sea fishing offshore for tuna and sharks.

Penobscot Bay offers saltwater fishermen a chance to catch mackerel, striped bass and bluefish. Serious anglers can also charter boats for deep-sea fishing offshore for tuna and sharks.

Bike Around Town

With its many bike paths and scenic routes, Camden is a perfect place for bike riding. Visitors can enjoy cycling on quiet backcountry roads or along the scenic highway. For more serious cyclists, the area offers everything from mountain bike trails to 15-, 20- or even 50-mile scenic trips.

Go Island Hopping

Penobscot Bay (approximately 30 miles wide by 40 miles long) is dotted with small islands. Some have all the modern conveniences, but many are quiet and secluded. Visiting any of the islands (tours are readily available out of Camden) will allow you to step back in time and catch a glimpse of what life in a simpler, seafaring time was all about.

Watch for Wildlife

Maine abounds in bird and sea life, but RV enthusiasts traveling back roads shouldn’t be surprised if they see a moose or two.

bald-eagle
Photo Courtesy Maine Office of Tourism

Extend your trip

Extending a long weekend for a day or even a week is easy in coastal Maine.

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Acadia National Park

Just a short drive from Camden is Acadia National Park, where visitors can enjoy hiking, biking or simply relaxing and enjoying the incredible scenery. The park is a haven for many plants and animals, and visitors can even hike the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast.
73 miles (1 hours and 46 minutes from Camden)

Bowdoin College

From Portland, visitors traveling to Camden will pass right by this famous place of higher learning. The gorgeous campus has a vibrant arts program and it makes a lovely stop to enjoy the art museum or visit the admissions office with anyone college-bound in your family.
27 miles (32 minutes)

Lake Sebago

RV visitors can easily spend a day or two at Sebago Lake State Park, which is less than an hour from Portland. The park’s 250-site campground offers a great basecamp from which visitors can enjoy boating, fishing, swimming and watersports. Call ahead to dine lakeside at lovely Migis Lodge or book a half-day guided fishing trip with Brooke Hidell, who has been guiding fisherman out of the lodge for more than 20 years.
54 miles (54 minutes)

Old Orchard Beach

Spend a day (or two) on the sand at Old Orchard Beach, which boasts 300 RV-friendly campsites; some of which are right along the beach. The pier at this location also offers shops, nightlife, fireworks, concerts, fishing, and whale-watching tours.
16 miles (31 minutes)