Sailing, Food (And More Lighthouses!) – Camden, ME
Do you take dogs?”
I was doing my usual thing, phoning restaurants in the area to see if they take dogs at their outdoor tables. It’s something we do almost every time we get to a new spot and it’s always interesting to hear the response.
Some places ask you to repeat the question as if it were the oddest thing they’ve ever heard (“dogs? Why would you want to bring your dog??”). Other places have the strangest of limitations (e.g. several places in the UP allowed dogs, but only if the establishment didn’t serve food and the dog was physically lying on outside the patio barrier……“wait, you’re saying I have to put my dog on the other side of that fence?”). And then there are places like Maine where they wonder why you ask at all
“Of course we take dogs” was the response, as if it would be ludicrous to think otherwise. “Come on over!”
Before we came up this way I’d heard Maine was super dog-friendly, right up there with one of the dog-friendliest places we know (Oregon) and with a lot of similarities between the two, especially along the coast. Maine is a laid-back kinda place, set on many miles of weaving, curving coastline, sprinkled with cute harbor towns nestled amongst thick coastal trees. Folks live and breathe by the tides and moods of the sea, and the beauty of both places is unparalleled.
Of course there are differences too. Maine is a lot more built-up (less “raw” I’d say) with not as many sandy beaches as Oregon (it’s more cliffs and rocky shores on this side). Plus it’s much more expensive (especially the RVing) and definitely a lot more touristy and crowded. But the dog thing….yeah, it’s just as dog-crazy as Oregon, which of course means it’s completely our kind of place.
And when we arrived in Camden we liked it even better
Where Hippies & Yachting Mix
When I lived in San Francisco back in my youth I always kinda wanted to be a hippy.
Not a full-time hippy mind you, just the parts that seemed the most fun. Like the traveling around in a van thing, the sense of freedom and self-expression. Plus it was all about love and happiness, which was something I could definitely relate to. I guess I kinda became one, right?
But it was a 60’s thing of course, and the young folks who lived through that period went in many different directions afterwards. Most transformed their lives into more mainstream endeavors, having families and working regular jobs, but a few kept their hippy core somewhere deep inside and when they retired they moved to places that encapsulated that.
Camden is one of those places.
Imagine a super cute town nestled around a beautiful harbor with forested mountains rising up in the background. Throw in a splash of hippy, a dash of culture, some history & art and some serious food love and you’ve just described Camden.
“I was a student in Berkeley back in the 60’s” explained our table guest “then I had an avocado farm for a few years, and sailed the world for a few more. But now I’m living here”.
We were at a downtown restaurant and the local gal next to us was giving us all kinds of cool tips about the area. She was telling us where to eat (“Camden has the best Thai restaurant in New England you know”), where to go (“You MUST see it from the sea”) and all about the writers, artists and ex-hippies living in the area.
Plus of course she was telling us about the yachting, the lighthouses, the nature, the food and all the other things that make Camden what it is. This was by far the most welcoming Maine town we’d been in so far and we were loving every minute of it.
We were hooked right away!
Camden Hills State Park
For this part of our Maine trip we decided to park our two “beasts” just a few miles up from downtown at Camden Hills State Park (full review coming).
Once again it’s thanks to our blogger friends that we even knew to choose this place. There are only ~5 State Parks with camping along the coast of Maine and most of them are exclusively suited for smaller rigs. Sites are listed by size (S = 20′ max, M = 25′ max, L = 30′ max, X = 35′ max, U = greater than 35′) and there are sometimes only a handful (or NONE) of U’s in a given campground.
Camden Hills State Park is no exception to this.
It’s a heavily forested park with mostly uneven and small sites that are definitely not “beast” friendly, EXCEPT for a few inner sites and ~5 sites on an open field in the front of the park.
We were able to nab one of the latter and set-up with plenty of space overlooking a large green field with a slice of water view in the background. It was hot and we were oriented facing the sunrise (our least favorite position in summer), but with 50A hookup and afternoon shade we had no problem keeping cool. Once again….perfection!
With our rigs comfortably settled in we planned our 5 big adventures for the area. We were only staying 4 nights (not nearly enough time!), but we were going to cram in as much as we could in that short period. This is what we got up to….
Adventure #1 – Lighthouse Expedition
It’s probably no surprise to my blog readers that my first goal in the area was to see some lighthouses. Similar to our last spot, Camden is part of a wild and curvy coastine that boasts several interesting lights, and thankfully many of them are easily viewable by road or from outlooks. So early AM the day after arrival dad and I loaded into the car for some lighthouse sightseeing:
Rockland Breakwater Light (1902)
It’s not often that you get to hike on the water out to a lighthouse!
Rockland Breakwater Light is a unique lighthouse in that it’s located 0.8 miles from shore at the end of a rather dramatic granite walkway. The breakwater took eighteen years and 700,000 tons of granite (quarried in Vinalhaven) to build and was completed in 1900. A small portable light was initially erected at the south end during construction, but was replaced by a permanent lighthouse first lit in 1902. The light is only 25ft tall, but it’s still active and an important beacon of navigation for the harbor to this day.
And the trip to get out there is….a trip!
When you first start the hike you can barely even see the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater, but be assured it’s only 0.8 miles to get there. It’s best to plan your visit at low (or receding) tide on a calm, cool day as it can get wet (and hot) out on the rocks. Also you may not be able to go inside the tower once you actually get out there (it’s only open intermittently), but it’s still a BLAST to do.
Dad and I got our tide tables mixed up (well OK, technically I did) so we ended up having to accelerate our hike quite a bit as the tides were rapidly rising as we walked out, but we made it and enjoyed it tremendously. Such a unique visit!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ Breakwater is free to visit. Simply park in the parking lot by the breakwater and walk the granite rocks 0.8 miles to the light. Lighthouse itself is usually closed (only open intermittently), but you can walk around outside & take pics. Recommend going at LOW tide on a calm day. Dogs are welcome on the trail!
Owls Head Light (1825)
Just one cove over from Breakwater is a super cute little lighthouse known as Owls Head.
First lit in 1825 she’s located at the tip of a 17 1/2 acre pine-covered headland, on the south side of entrance to Rockland Harbor. She’s only ~1/2 hour drive from Breakwater Light, so she can easily be visited on the same day.
And she’s so darn frikkin adorable!!!
There’s a short 0.2 mile hike through a (lovely) forest and there she is. A cute-as-a-button 30ft tower at the top of a a brilliant white staircase on a small hill above the old keepers house. She’s not dramatic, but she’s beautifully positioned and the views of the bay and headlands from the top of the hill are gorgeous.
Dad and I zoomed over to see her right after our hike to Breakwater. Sadly she was closed for visitation that day, but the area was pretty and we thoroughly enjoyed both the park, the views and the visit. A delightful little light!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ The Lighthouse is located in Owls Head Light State Park. Park in the parking lot and then walk down the main dirt road 0.2 miles to the lighthouse. The tower is open for visitation from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, 1PM – 5PM on Wednesdays and 10AM – 4PM on weekends. Unfortunately dogs are not allowed on the main path to the lighthouse, although we saw several people with dogs in the area while we were there (perhaps because it wasn’t staffed that day?)
Curtis Island Light (1835)
Curtis Island Light is yet another scenic Camden Lighthouse, but she’s out on an Island and only accessible by boat. The first light was lit here in 1835, but the keepers buildings, oil house and tower were all expanded and re-built in later years. The current tower is from 1896 and is a 25ft tall, white, cylindrical brick tower with a rather unique 4 sec occulting GREEN light.
She’s owned and managed by the town of Camden now so you can’t visit her inside, but you can kayak out to walk around the island (it’s a public park), sail past her from the front (many of the sailing tours go there) OR you can find the super secret viewpoint that gives you a panoramic view of her from the side.
Which is of course what dad and I did!
We tracked down the spot on the way back home from Rockland Breakwater and Owls Head Light, walked the hundred or so feet out to the overlook and enjoyed a relaxing view of the light by the water. It was lovely!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ To find the secret overlook, drive south of Camden to the corner corner of Bay View Street and Beacon Ave. Here you’ll find a little non-descript gravel pull-out next to a teeny tiny (practically invisible) sign that says “Curtis island Overlook” (click HERE for appox. location). Locate the small trail right next to the sign and walk ~100 ft down to a lovely, panoramic view of the light. Dogs are welcome on the trail.
Adventure #2 – Solar Eclipse
Our time in Camden also happened to coincide with the Solar Eclipse.
Unless you’ve been meditating in a cave for the past month you’ll likely have seen more than your fair share of Eclipse pics, and mine are not exactly National Geographic worthy. Also being quite far off the Eclipse path we were only targeted to see ~63% of the phenomenon at our site, which means we weren’t going to get the halo or the magical darkening or any of that stuff. In fact without eclipse glasses (which we didn’t have) we were likely to miss it altogether!
So we decided to work some MacGyver magic and just make a fun afternoon of it.
Instead of making a pinhole camera I wanted to go BIG. So I punched a hole in a piece of paper, taped it to a pocket mirror (my compact mirror), attached the mirror on my tripod, aimed it at the sun and projected the reflection onto a piece of paper on the RV.
Voilà…a nice, big (5cm or so) group-viewable image of the eclipse!! We invited some of our RV neighbors over, sat around outside with a beer and enjoyed the show. Not as dramatic as some other folks out there, but it was FUN!
Adventure #3 – Schooner Sailing (For The Boyz)
Thanks to the local gal at dinner (from our first night in town) who encouraged us to sail, we looked into booking an outing on the sea. Now neither Anna (Paul’s stepmom) or I are sea-folk so we weren’t going, but we figured it would be a blast for the three boys to share the adventure.
When we found out that you can sail an authentic 1918 Schooner out of the Harbor AND that you can bring adult beverages with you for the ride, the boys were totally sold. We booked up the last three spots right away and waited excitedly for the day. THIS was going to be an adventure for the books!
And what was it like?
Well obviously I didn’t go, but the three boys had a BLAST. They sailed around the (very placid) bay, saw a few lighthouses and enjoyed some spectacular views of the coast from the sea. It was a smaller boat so there were only 15 people on board, Paul got to steer for a short while, the boys enjoyed several beers and they all declared it the best sail they’d ever done. In fact they were SO enthralled with the outing they talked about it for days after.
If you like to sail, add this to your Camden “must do” list!
VISIT & PAW NOTES/ There are several companies that offer Schooner sails out of Camden, all offering similar types of sails (day-time, sunset, full moon etc.) on different sizes/ages of boats. We picked Schooner Surprise and were very happy with the choice. Cost was $43/person for 2-hour sail. Other companies are Schooner Olad & Owl, Schooner Appledore and Maine Windjammer Cruises. NO dogs allowed on-board (as you would expect) so leave pooch at home for this one.
Adventure #4 – Mountain Overlook
One thing you cannot miss when you’re in Camden is the overlook from 800 ft tall Mount Battie. You can hike up there if you so desire, but by far the easiest option is to drive there. Simply enter at Camden Hills State Park ($6 day-use entry fee) and take the long, winding road to the top. You’ll get panoramic views of the whole area, which are even more gorgeous at sunrise or sunset. Bring doggie too if you’d like as it’s all paw-friendly. Well worth it!
Adventure #5 – Foodie Love
Would you believe me if I said we found the best fish tacos we’ve ever had (EVER, including all the years we loved in San Diego) in Camden Maine? Well, we did and no-one was more astonished than us.
We went to Rhumb Line (by pure chance) our very first night in Camden and tried the fish tacos based on a recommendation from the waitress. Being taco snobs we had low expectations, but that first taste just blew us away. They were totally fresh (caught that day), perfectly cooked and had an awesome spicy sauce to boot. In addition the restaurant had a great beer list, a tasty cocktail list, the best blueberry pie we’d tasted so far, and a wonderful outdoor dog-friendly eating area right by the water. SCORE! We loved this place so much we went twice in the 3 days we were here!
There are MANY other worthy food options in the area but with our limited time we didn’t get to explore much more. Dad and I had a good lunch meal during our Lighthouse adventure in Rockland, the self-proclaimed “lobster capital of Maine” at Claws. Plus the local gal told us the two other best restaurants in Camden were French restaurant Francine Bistro and Thai restaurant Long Grain (but book well ahead! We tried and couldn’t get in).
Overall we loved our short stay here, and honestly wished we’d booked a lot longer. Great vibe, great people, awesome food and lotsa lighthouses. Oh and of course the sailing was fabulous, for those who partook.
But we needed to move on.
Our time with family was coming to a close and there was ONE more iconic Maine place we all wanted to share before we parted ways. Maybe I’ll finally catch up now 🙂
Useful External Links
- Visit Camden -> good visitor guide HERE
- Rockland Breakwater Head Lighthouse & Owl Head Lighthouse -> official website HERE
- Camden Sailing -> List of all local operators HERE
- Camden Hills State Park -> Official website HERE
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