The best way to enjoy Camden is to park your car—which may require driving a block or two off U.S. Route 1, which unfortunately runs right up through the center of town. The village is of a perfect scale to explore on foot, with plenty of boutiques and galleries. Don’t miss the hidden town park (look behind the library on upper Main Street and Atlantic Avenue): It was designed by none other than the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famed landscape architect who designed New York City’s Central Park. It’s a good spot for a picnic: grassy, ideal for people-watching, and possessed of outstanding bay views.
The Camden-Rockport Historical Society has prepared a 9-mile bike or car tour with brief descriptions of some of the historic properties around the two adjacent towns. The brochure describing the tour is free; check for it at the Penobscot Bay Chamber visitor center. The brochure also includes a 2-mile walking tour of downtown Camden.
Camden Hills State Park (tel. 207/236-3109), about a mile north of the village center on Route 1, covers 6,500 acres that range from a seaside lower section to an upper section with fine bay views. There’s an oceanside picnic area, camping at 107 sites, a variety of well-marked hiking trails, and a winding toll road up 800-foot Mount Battie with spectacular views from the summit. The day-use fee is $6 for non-Maine resident adults, $2 for nonresident seniors, and $1 for children ages 5 to 11. The fee’s only charged mid-May to mid-October.
If hikes and mild heights don’t bother you, I definitely recommend an ascent to the ledges of Mount Megunticook in Camden Hills State Park. The best time for this hike is early in the morning, before the crowds have amassed (and while mists still linger in the valleys). Leave from near the park’s campground—the trail head is clearly marked—and follow the well-maintained path to open ledges. The hike takes only 30 to 45 minutes; spectacular views of the harbor await, plus glimpses of smaller hills and valleys. Depending on your stamina level, you can keep walking on the park’s trail network to Mount Battie, or into lesser-traveled woodlands on the east side of the Camden Hills.
On the Water
Several sailing ships make Camden their home base, and it’s a rare treat to come and go from this harbor, which is considered by many to be the most beautiful in the state.
The 57-foot windjammer Surprise (www.schoonersurprise.com), first launched in 1918, has been based in Camden Harbor for decades now. Captain and First Mate Ramiro and Nicole de Acevedo Ramos take a maximum of 18 passengers on 2-hour, nonsmoking sailing trips from the town’s Public Landing. Four daytime excursions ($43 adults, $33 children under 12) are offered daily from mid-June to mid-August, and three are run daily in May, and from mid-August through mid-October. There’s sunset and full moon trips too, both with homemade desserts and acoustic music. Reserve ahead online, or else show up at the ticket table on the waterfront and cross your fingers for a cancellation.
Modeled after the Gloucester fishing schooners of the late 19th century, the Schooner Lazy Jack II (www.schoonerlazyjack.com; tel. 207/230-0602) has been plying the waters since 1947. The ship goes out on four 2-hour cruises per day on weekends from May through mid-September, then three per day through October. The tours cost $40 per adult, $27 per child under age 12; BYO wine, beer, and snacks.
For a more intimate view of the harbor, Maine Sport Outfitters (www.mainesport.com; tel. 800/722-0826 or 207/236-8797) daily offers three sea-kayaking tours of Camden’s scenic harbor, from June through August (but no tours Mondays in June); the tour lasts 2 hours, costs $40 for adults ($35 for children 10–15), and takes paddlers out to Curtis Island at the outer edge of the harbor. It’s an easy, delightful way to get a taste of the area’s maritime culture. On Tuesdays in midsummer, for a little more money ($85 adults, $75 kids) and effort, you can take the same trip on a stand-up paddleboard (and if you’d like to avoid busy Camden harbor, there’s also a 2½-hour stand-up paddleboard tour of Lake Megunticook, just west of town). Longer trips and instruction are also available. The shop, located on Route 1 in Rockport (a few minutes’ drive south of Camden), has a great selection of outdoor gear and is worth a stop if you’re gearing up for some local adventures or heading up to Acadia next. Sign up for the tours either at the store or at the Camden boathouse, which is located at the head of the harbor near the town park.
Sports & Outdoor Activities Around Camden
BIKING: The Camden area is great for exploring by bike. A nice loop several miles long takes you from Camden into the cute little village of Rockport, which has an equally scenic harbor and fewer tourists. Bike rentals, maps, and riding advice are available in town at Maine Sport Outfitters on Route 1 in Rockport (www.mainesport.com; tel. 888/236-8797 or 207/236-7120). They’re open year-round.
GOLF: The golf course at the Samoset Resort, just west of Camden in Rockport (www.samoset.com; tel. 800/341-1650 or 207/594-2511) is among the state’s most dramatically scenic and challenging. It’s also among the priciest, with greens fees running as high as $145 during peak season—if you can get a reservation. Six of the 18 holes literally hug the lapping edge of Penobscot Bay (don’t shank one here!), and the place has got history: It dates from 1902. The course is hard enough as it is, but things become even more challenging once you hit the shifting sea breezes (worst in the afternoon, believe me). There’s a golf school here, with lessons available. Remember that this is a championship-caliber course and it gets busy in peak season, so reserve ahead. Serious golfers will want to play it at least once, but beginners may feel intimidated.
HIKING: A good destination for hilly coastal hiking is Camden Hills State Park, on the west shore of Penobscot Bay. Fifty Hikes in Southern and Coastal Maine, by John Gibson (The Countryman Press, 2016), is a reliable directory to trails in the Camden Hills area. L.L. Bean’s Outdoor Discovery Schools (www.llbean.com; tel. 888/270-2326), offers weeklong guided hiking adventures along the midcoast, with days spent wandering the Camden Hills and Acadia National Park, evenings spent lounging at local inns, with the occasional wine tasting thrown in for good measure.
SKIING: The only ski mountain of any significance along the coast is the Camden Snow Bowl (www.camdensnowbowl.com; (tel. 207/236-3438), just outside of town on Hosmer’s Pond Road. This small, family-oriented ski area has a handful of trails and a modest vertical drop of 950 feet (full-day lift tickets cost $33–$43), but it’s the rare opportunity to downhill ski within sight of the ocean. Maybe best of all, it also has an exhilarating toboggan run, open weekends only. Toboggans are available for rent, or you can bring your own; it’s $10 per person per hour if you rent, $5 with your own ride to zip down the slope. If you’d like to detour inland a bit for some higher slopes, get a pamphlet with basic information about Maine skiing from the Ski Maine Association (www.skimaine.com; tel. 207/773-7669). The association’s website also offers up-to-date reports on ski conditions during the winter.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.