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6 Maine State Parks you need to see

Maine is home to 48 state parks and each one has its own unique charm. Whether you’re in the mood to hike along the coast, tackle a mountain, take an easy paddle or knock off a bucket-list plan to hike a (short) section hike on the Appalachian Trail, the state has you covered.

Camden Hills State Park

Mountain hike for magnificent ocean view

If you’re looking for a quick, easy hike to a lookout tower with a beautiful view of the ocean, Mount Battie is an excellent choice. (Yes, you can drive to the top of Mount Battie, but the hike is prettier!) For more of a challenge with an even better ocean view, a hike to the Ocean Lookout on Mount Megunticook will reward you handsomely with an expansive panorama. Or, hike Megunticook and then follow the trail down to Mount Battie (there are arrows painted on the rocks to tell you where to pick up the trail to get there) for a two-summit day.

WHERE/CONTACT: Camden Hills State Park, 280 Belfast Road, Camden; 207-236-3109
HOW MUCH: $4 for Maine residents under 65; free for over 65
DOG-FRIENDLY: Yes, on a leash
BATHROOM: Yes
DIFFICULTY: Easy climb to Mount Battie (elevation 800 feet); Mount Megunticook (1,385 feet) is a moderate climb for adults with an average fitness level, difficult for people who don’t usually hike.
OTHER: Check out the display at the base of Mount Battie’s tower identifying the islands in Penobscot Bay. Campsites are available for $25–35 per night.

Cobscook Bay State Park

Secluded, with amenities, camping experience

For folks looking for a camping getaway where you have some space and natural barriers separating you from your campsite neighbors, this is an excellent destination. The sites have picnic tables and firepits and privacy, yet are not far away from a composting toilet and running water spigot. Short hiking trails through the park provide views of the estuary to view the rising and falling tides (the water levels change dramatically and are fascinating to track throughout the day).

WHERE/CONTACT: Cobscook Bay State Park, 40 South Edmunds Road, Edmunds Township; 207-726-4412
HOW MUCH: $4 day use for adults under 65; $20-30 per night for camping
DOG-FRIENDLY: Yes
BATHROOM: Yes
OTHER: Wood can be purchased at the ranger station, but be sure to bring all food because no stores are close by. Less than a half-hour from the Cutler Coast (a.k.a. Bold Coast), be sure to stop there when in the area.

Bradbury Mountain State Park

Easy mountain hike for bird-watching

This small mountain (less than 500 feet) has a well-marked trail system for hikers and mountain bikers. Take a short quarter-mile hike directly to the summit or a more circuitous route around the mountain before heading to the summit where all the birding action happens. The Hawk Watch is an annual event from March to May that offers an interesting insight into the hawks living in the area. Bring binoculars to jump into the fun of bird-watching at the summit (although the hawks are easily seen without the extra gear).

WHERE/CONTACT: Bradbury State Park, 528 Hallowell Road, Pownal; 207-688-4712
HOW MUCH: $4 adults under 65; free for 65 and older
DOG-FRIENDLY: Yes
BATHROOM: Yes
DIFFICULTY: Easy
OTHER: Campsites are $15 per night.

Grafton Notch State Park

Hike for Appalachian Trail bragging rights

For outdoorsy types, the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia is legendary, but most have never considered hiking it because of its difficulty. How about trying a tiny bit—like, say, a mile or two? Grafton Notch State Park can give you a small taste—and some bragging rights about hiking a piece of the white-blazed trail in Maine. The trail to Table Rock, a prominent ledge rock jutting out of the mountain you can see from the trailhead, is about a 3-mile round-trip hike on the east side of the notch. The easiest route to follow is to take the Appalachian Trail from the parking lot to Table Rock and head back down the same way.

WHERE/CONTACT: Grafton Notch State Park, 1941 Bear River Road, Newry; 207-824-2912
HOW MUCH: $3, honor box at trailhead
DOG-FRIENDLY: Yes, but tricky to navigate final “staple” steps to the ledge, so best to hike with a friend who can hang out with your pup on the main trail while you check out the view of the notch.
BATHROOM: Outhouse at trailhead
DIFFICULTY: The Appalachian Trail and Table Rock Trail loop is about 3 miles (with 900-foot elevation gain) and is moderately difficult for people with an average fitness level who have done some mountain hiking previously.
OTHER: There are metal bars, also known as “staples,” that serve as stairs to climb to the ledge of Table Rock. There is an unmarked alternate path (on the left when facing stairs) around the bars.

Swan Island

Hike, bike, paddle on remote (but not) river island

A five-minute boat ride takes you to the shore of Swan Island in the heart of the Kennebec River. There’s a ferry that runs from Richmond four times a day, but if you have your own kayak or canoe, you can head over to the island anytime during daylight hours on your own. The island feels like a remote getaway and the 4-mile dirt road makes for an excellent biking or hiking trail. With plenty of trails branching off from the main dirt road, it’s an easy-to-navigate trail system. Kayak and canoe rentals are available. There are also five historic homes on the island to explore (when open, call ahead for days/times) as well as camping accommodations.

WHERE/CONTACT: Swan Island, Richmond Village, Route 24; the ferry landing is off Front Street, next to the town landing; 207-547-5322
HOW MUCH: $8 day use fee; camping overnight is day use fee plus $20 per night; $10 per hour canoe and kayak rentals
DOG-FRIENDLY: No
BATHROOM: Yes
DIFFICULTY: Hiking is easy with terrain that has winding trails with some small hills. The dirt road is mostly level and excellent for mountain biking. The water has a very minor current out on the river but stick close to the island’s shore for an easy paddle.
OTHER: The ferry to the island runs four times a day. Camping and kayak rental reservations are required; call 207-547-5322.

Range Pond State Park

Easy paddle on quiet waters

This is a popular summer spot for families with young children and the beach can get pretty busy. But if you’re a novice paddler, or even a more experienced one, this is a lovely spot to enjoy some tranquil waters away from the crowd. The park has a limited supply of kayaks and canoes (and paddleboards if you want to go that more trendy route), so you’ll need to let the gate attendant know when you arrive you want a rental. There is sometimes a wait on a warm summer day, but it’s not a hardship to do a 1-mile hike along the pond’s shore trail to scope out the area. If you have your own boat, you’re welcome to launch it from the beach. Be prepared for some interesting wildlife sightings (like eagles and beavers, in addition to birds and smaller critters).

WHERE/CONTACT: Range Pond State Park, 26 State Park Road, Poland; 207-998-4104
HOW MUCH: $6 Maine residents under 65; $8 non-residents; free for Maine seniors 65 and older
DOG-FRIENDLY: No, from April 1 to Sept. 30 pets are not allowed on the beach.
BATHROOM: Yes, a bathhouse with toilets and changing rooms
DIFFICULTY: The paddling is on calm waters and the hiking is a level one-mile wooded trail that follows the pond’s shoreline.

Wendy Almeida is a freelance writer who has been exploring the Maine outdoors with her kids for more than 18 years, and they’re nowhere near done yet.

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