Where to go, to stay, to eat and drink

24 hours in Camden for the Outdoor Enthusiast

The vacation-staycation locals' guide to the Midcoast
Fri, 08/23/2013 - 10:30am

Welcome to our summer series that provides a 24-hour guide to the Midcoast for a variety of personalities, crafted by locals who know this place inside and out. You're not going to see the most expensive and the most obvious choices here. What you will find is the best of real Maine — where to go, where to stay, where to eat and drink.

CAMDEN - You of course, own a Leatherman, enjoy the piney-pungent smell of your own pits and know that there are at least three definitions for the word “gators.” To you, an entire day of sleeping, eating and bathing outdoors in Maine is not a punishment; it’s a pilgrimage. So reach for the Dr. Bronner’s, dunk in the river and lather up, we’re taking you on a 24-hour trip to experience the best outdoorsy, pine-needled adventure that Camden has to offer.


Morning: Rise And Shine Darlin'

For the truly outdoorsy

At the heart of it all lies the gem of Camden Hills State Park, with 5,700 acres and 30 miles of hiking trails, which offers a terrific amount of diverse topography, taking you to mountaintops and back all the way down to the rocky ocean’s edge. The campground has more than 100 individual sites to choose from, complete with bathrooms and showers with hot water. It is arranged to allow each camping site a certain amount of privacy. For you, mountain man or woman, breakfast is likely to be simple: a handful of GORP and Gatorade before you head out on your journey.

For the semi-outdoorsy (you like to wake up in a real bed and eat a real breakfast)

We offer Abigail’s Inn, right near the center of town for those who want to “kind of” rough it. Innkeepers Kipp and Beth Wright are the perfect hosts for this particular series. Both hike and kayak regularly (and can show you to some great kayaking lake portage points) and the back door of their inn leads right to the Mount Battie trail which is a relatively short (1/2 mile), but very rewarding hike up the south-facing side of the mountain. Once up there, you can connect with the 30 other hiking trails of Camden Hills State Park. As for breakfast, Kipp said: “They are pretty big. We like to load up our guests with lots of calories. We do a full service breakfast, typically a main course, fresh fruit side dish or baked dish, bacon and baked goods. An example of some of our breakfasts include pumpkin mousse with eggs, biscuits and seared smoked ham, or poached eggs with roasted tomato, or French Toast soufflé with fresh fruit topping. We even have gluten-free pancakes if they want that.”


Midmorning Activity

First, a quick detour into town to get provisions for the next few hours. The Camden Deli is the best place for freshly made-to-order sandwiches, which you can take with you. Across the street, Boynton-McKay also offers cold wraps, grab-and-go meals and gluten free options. But if you want our advice, go to the market in the center of town, French and Brawn Marketplace and get what we call The Snack: Little Lad’s popcorn, a couple of hard boiled eggs, St. Andre triple cream cheese, apples, pistachios, and a fresh baguette. F&B (as locals call it) also offers smaller, individual chilled wines, champagnes and beer for easy packing. Or just go for the big bottle of chilled wine and snag a couple of coffee cups. All the necessary food groups!

The Maine Trail Finder maps show you where you can pick up a trail within Camden and begin enjoy a leisurely hike at an average of about 2 to 2.5 hours. We recommend the Mount Battie Trail, which offers some incredible views of Penobscot Bay—or if you’re at Camden Hills State Park, take the Megunticook Trail, the most direct route to the park's finest views. It will take around an hour to cover the one mile distance, as it ascends nearly 1,000 vertical feet, with moderately steep segments in the upper section.


Lunch Time, And You're Starvin' Like Marvin

If The Snack at the top of the mountain didn’t fill you up, in the parlance of Hobbits, you are due for some secondsies. We recommend Mount Battie Take Out, a tiny roadside joint on Route One across from the Camden Hills State Park and next to Beloin’s Motel. This under-the-radar gem is open seasonally, but owners Gary Oliver and Kevin DeFoe (two of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet) offer top-notch take out using the freshest seafood and produce Maine has to offer. Try the combo baskets (fried clams, shrimp, and scallop) or the homemade clam chowder or lobster rolls. The haddock sandwich, reasonably priced, is undeniably excellent, crispy, flaky and fresh. If you’ve never had Maine ice cream, they also offer Gifford’s super-rich old-fashioned ice cream, too.


Mid-Afternoon Activity

Breakwater Kayak LLC is owned and run by Mark DiGiralamo, a true outdoor enthusiast, who knows these waters like the back of his hand. Mark has worked for 10 years as a registered Maine sea kayak guide in Rockport before deciding to start his own company in 2000. His love of guiding includes a passion for teaching others about the marine life, birds, and plants of this area using the freedom and mobility of a sea kayak. He runs a two-hour Camden Harbour tour, which lets you paddle amongst the tall-masted schooners and recreational boats in the harbor before setting off for the nearby Curtis Island and its historic working lighthouse. Mark’s specialty is pointing out seabirds and harbor seals, and other wildlife. “It’s very peaceful,” said DiGiralamo via a Historic Inns of Rockland Maine blog. “The physical motion of moving yourself across the water in the harbor and being with wildlife swimming and flying all around you is very calming. And sometimes exciting. You might see an osprey diving directly in front of you or a seal popping up nearby.”


For Kicks, Try This

When you get your land legs again and just want to chill a bit after your heavy outdoor activity day, find a shady spot in the Camden Harbor Park and Amphitheatre and plop down. Fieldstone, brick, grass and native trees and shrubs weave their way throughout the Amphitheatre adding to its French-inspired Art Deco landscape design. Take a snooze if you want, nobody will bother you.


Happy Hour Activity

Little known local fact: when you ask for the coveted outdoor seating at Graffam Brothers Harborside Restaurant with the brilliant harbor views, you don’t have to order a full meal in order to sit there. “Anyone is welcome any time to come out on our deck and just have a cocktail,” said Carly, one of the servers. They offer a full bar as well as local brews on tap. And it’s the best spot in Camden to watch the schooners come in from one of their afternoon sails.


Dinner Time And What To Do After

After a full day, we’re going to send you back outside—this time to Atlantica Restaurant, right on their back deck overlooking the harbor. They favor the fesh and local vibe, with small menus that are an ideal way to eat light, such as their Hot & Sour Maine Shrimp and Crab Soup ($9) and Cheese Boards with Hahn’s cheese, unfiltered Maine honey, nuts, vegetable pickles and flax seed crackers ($14).

I don’t know about you, but after the massive day you’ve had, I’d be toast. If it happens to be a Monday night, the Camden Harbor Park and Amphitheatre shows outdoor movies in the grass or jazz in the park—an awesome way to wind down your night.


The Morning After

Time to shove on, but there's one more place you need to check out to complete your 24 hours and The Smoothie Shack, the little red food truck on Elm Street, right in the parking lot of the Midcoast Adventures Rentals — you can’t miss it. For around $6-7, they offer 100 percent all-natural fruit smoothies with no added sugars or dairy, such as the Berry Good smoothie, filled with beets, arugula and spinach, red chard, blueberries, strawberries and apple. That’ll get you feeling right proper again.

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Kay Stephens can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com.