Things to do in mid-coast Maine
May 14, 2015 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Following up on this question, we've decided to spend a week in Camden, Maine at the beginning of August. It's not as remote as we were originally planning, but my wife really wanted to see Acadia, and the more we thought about it the more we got concerned about keeping a five year old entertained in the boondocks. Now I'm looking for things to do...

I've already searched previous questions here and have put several ideas together, including:
  • Acadia (of course)
  • Owl Head Transportation Museum
  • Penobscot Maritime Museum
  • Fort Knox
  • hikes in Camden HIlls
  • a schooner trip and/or whale watching
  • lobster, duh
  • maybe a day trip into Portland
I've lover further suggestions. We're looking for things that would be kid friendly (but not necessarily kid-centric), with a special interest in the odd, weird, and obscure. Forgotten minor historical sites, eccentrics' personal museums in a house somewhere, good places to backpack for a day that don't have the "oh my god" tourist factor but dump you out on a rock near the ocean to have lunch... anything like that.

I know this is a pretty touristy area and there may not be much left like that... but when I heard about the Owl Head museum from one of the posts here I went "ohmygosh that's not all over Tripadvisor, but it sounds awesome and we must go". Things of that level are most welcome.
posted by jammer to Travel & Transportation around Camden, ME (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
It's a little out of your way, but kids seem to like the Desert of Maine, in Freeport.
posted by JanetLand at 1:05 PM on May 14, 2015

Traffic, you are going to be in lots and lots of traffic on Rte 1 in August, so leave plenty of time and if you can, get up and out early.

If you're going to Mt Desert Island because Acadia is on the list, how about stopping in Northeast Harbor and walking up to Thuya Garden? It is kid-scale and the little pond and wishing well are memorable for a 5 year old. Peaceful place. There is a trail from the Garden to the Jordan Pond House for popovers (super touristy, yes).
Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor.
College of the Atlantic natural history museum, taxidermy by students.

Non Mt Desert Island recommendations:

Horsepower Farm in Penobscot. Check first so they're expecting you.
Boat to Isle au Haut, which is part of Acadia but on a different peninsula, and visit Stonington.
Drive down to Castine, there are elm trees.
posted by xaryts at 1:12 PM on May 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have family in the area (Islesboro) and I'm pretty familiar with Camden and environs.

Some thoughts:

Acadia: Is a looooong way from Camden. I wouldn't do it as a day trip from an overnight in Camden. I'd make plans to stay in a cabin near Bar Harbor for a night (or lodge / hotel in Bar Harbor if you prefer). A highlight of Acadia is the Jordan Pond House for tea/brunch and a nice hike around Jordan Pond itself.

Lobster: I've never actually bought a lobster in Maine, it's always just showed up in large quantities in time for dinner. The Lobster Pound in Lincolnville Beach gets good reviews. Cappy's in Camden makes good lobster rolls and lobster omelettes, etc. It's touristy, but not overtly so -- locals eat there, too. Hell, in Midcoast Maine, even McDonalds serves lobster rolls.

The Maine Lobster Festival is July 29 to August 2

Portland: I can't imagine.

Whale watching: I think you'll have better luck departing from Bar Harbor than Camden/ Rockport/ Rockland. Don't forget about puffins, the penguins of the north.

Sailing: This is a complicated one. Many many lovely boats depart from the Camden - Rockland area for 1, 2, 3 overnight excursions, and day cruises. But a sailboat -- even a big one -- is not a floating hotel -- and your cabin will not be like a hotel room. It's pretty cramped. I don't know about taking the kids, either. But the food is always excellent, the company self-selects for cool people (often rahther monied), and if they ask you to help pull a rope, it's because they're actually somewhat under-manned and can really use your (unskilled) help.

Wine: Maybe take in Cellardoor Winery in Lincolnville. I recommend it. This is the real thing, not sodapop wine for the tourists. Even the blueberry wine is good.

More, maybe . . . ?
posted by Herodios at 1:21 PM on May 14, 2015

I've never been (intend to go soon), but the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden is supposed to be great. It's about an hour from Camden.

Portland is just over 1.5 hours from Camden, maybe more with summer traffic. And I love the city, but it might not be worth it for a day trip. If you do decide to drive down, the Children's Museum in town is super fun, the narrow gauge railway is good for little ones into trains, and Flatbread Pizza is very kid friendly and has a sweet brick oven that's fun to watch. If you have slices of time to kill, there's a fun toy store in the Old Port, Treehouse Toys, and the narrow gauge is close to the Eastern Prom, which has a good playground.

If you're willing to drive a bit farther south, Fort Williams is a nice big park with old military installations all over and a lighthouse. Two Lights State Park is a small but beautiful section of rocky coast with a decent playground on site. And there are lovely beaches like Kettle Cove (limited parking) and Crescent Beach (entry fee) in the area.
posted by that's candlepin at 1:41 PM on May 14, 2015

Diver Ed -- highly recommended for adults and kids!
posted by Prawn at 1:42 PM on May 14, 2015

This may be redundant to other plans or suggestions, and it's not exactly nearby, but I've got to throw out Pemaquid Point Lighthouse. You get to admire and explore the same awesome craggy rocky shoreline they have in Acadia, complete with starfish and crabs and other sealife to hunt for in low tide (this can be a really fun kid activity, if you can trust them to not fall and crack their head on the rocks)--AND not too many tourists. I believe it's the most photographed lighthouse in the state, or somesuch (so, super scenic). There's also a small restaurant and ice cream stand next-door, and a little museum and an art barn. I think most people probably pass it up because there's basically nothing else down on that peninsula, but it's really a gem.
posted by gueneverey at 2:24 PM on May 14, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for everything so far, guys, a lot of these look great. The Thuya garden looks amazing, I know the munchkin would love Diver Ed, and the Dorr Museum interests me. I hadn't planned on heading south (unless we went into Portland) but having looked at it we might need to do it just for Fort Williams. Cellardoor has been pencilled in for sure.

I know it's going to be a haul to some of these places, especially Acadia during peak season, but it's not a huge deal for us. Last summer's vacation included putting 2400 miles on a rental car driving to national parks all over the southwest. This will be small change by compariosn. :)

Keeping my eyes out for anything that follows...
posted by jammer at 2:29 PM on May 14, 2015

In August I am not sure, but I think climbing that big rock at Popham Beach could be a hit.
posted by Shylo at 4:20 PM on May 14, 2015

I can't recommend Owl's Head enough, but it looks like you have that covered.

If you head to Acadia and/or Fort Knox you'll pass Bucksport's Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory which has a 447 foot tall tower that you can visit for some great views.

For Portland:

Fort Williams is a good idea but you could also take a ferry out to Peaks Island and walk around - there is an old fort structure called Battery Steel that's old, funky, and kind of fun to explore (bring a flashlight!).

For weird personal museums (but not in a house) there is the Cryptozoology Museum (and by "museum", they mean "room", but it sure is quirky).

Also also while near Fort Williams, you could walk out to Spring Point light which is a kind of fun (short) walk. I also second Kettle Cove.

Finally, there isn't a lot of reasons I'd send someone to Augusta (aka Disgusta) but the Maine State Museum is actually a really great time and it's about an hour from Camden (and not via Rt 1!).
posted by mbatch at 4:55 PM on May 14, 2015

What's kind of cool is that the view from Mt. Battie at Camden Hills State Park lets you see Acadia and Mt. Desert Island, Deer Isle, the whole bay etc. from the top, to the left. Then you can do the drive and have the kids follow the map.

You have to go through Ellsworth to get to Bar Harbor. Just outside of town is Birdsacre bird sanctuary.

If you take Route 1 a few miles outside of Ellsworth, you get into Hancock, just before the tidal river (Taunton). There is a little road on the right that leads you down to a small park right on the river, where you can look at the reversing falls.

You can also keep going on Route 1, over the river, and take it all the way to Schoodic Point, which is technically part of Acadia National Park, but on a different peninsula. You can see Mt. Desert Isle from there. It's a bit of a drive, 45 minutes from Ellsworth, I think, and there is probably zero cell service and no pit stops after a certain point (so, if you see a store, stop, otherwise no bathrooms until you get to Schoodic and they have some porta potties, I think). But to stand on the rocks there and look at the waves breaking over them is awesome. Much less crowded than Mt. Desert Isle and Bar Harbor.

In fact, if you drive down the Point Road from Route 1 in Hancock, take it all the way to the end, you will see some grand old summer homes (know as "camps", ha-ha) and some neat views of Mt. Desert Isle. Thinking that's the same road that Pet Sematary was filmed on. That actually loops back to East Side Road and you can probably catch the tidal falls from there.

There's also some guy on Route 1 out of Ellsworth who carves animals out of logs, might be worth a stop and looksee if you decide to visit Hancock and/or Schoodic.

If you are in Bar Harbor for breakfast, Cafe This Way is yummy, but if in season, there will likely be a wait, however, they have a nice porch and flowers and such, so it's not on a hot sidewalk.

If you are coming up from Camden area on the Bucksport Road (Route 1), just before you get into Ellsworth downtown proper, you will come up to a fork where traffic will be merging from the right, that is Route 172. If you take a right and double back on that fork, you will come to Woodlawn Museum, which might be kind of cool to see.

Downtown Ellsworth is nice, there are women's clothing shops, a bookstore with lots of stuff for kids, and if you want lobster, Union River Lobster Pot (at the bottom of the hill coming into town from Route 1, on the Union River, natch) is pretty awesome. They make a good lobster boil and have things like cedar planked salmon, etc. It's family friendly, and unlike Bar Harbor, easy to park and plenty of room.

There is also a Mexican restaurant (The Mex), and a cool little wrap/burrito place that's taken off called 86 This. And an Irish pub (Finn's). Listing a few places that might be kid-friendly, because once you get to Bar Harbor, it might be crowded and you might be driving around looking for parking, where to eat, etc. so don't get there all hangry, okay?

Also on the way to Bar Harbor is Trenton, which has a small airport, and a few places that do airplane tours. In that same general vicinity is at least one lobster pot place, usually with outdoor picnic seating (but I like Union River better, nice grassy area the kids can run on, etc.).

Highlights of Acadia, yes, Jordon Pond and the Bubbles (mountains) is cool, but kids lurrrrve Thunder Hole. Must stop and see it. Must. Also cool is Sand Beach, lots of parking (if you get there early, 10 a.m.ish) and you walk down some stairs to the beach, which is a lot of crushed shells that stick to your feet and legs like crazy (they have little foot showers at the top, bring some baby powder too, helps get 'em off). The waves can be strong there (like, if you stand at the shore's edge when the tide's coming in, your feet get sucked down quickly, which is kind of cool if you have an adult next to you), and it's a totally awesome place that kids love.

That's all I can think of for now.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:02 AM on May 15, 2015

Oh yeah, been to Owl's Head, the beach and lighthouse, that's a neat little hike to stand right next to the light house and the beach has a ton of cool rocks and you can see boats coming in and out the harbor area.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:07 AM on May 15, 2015

One more: if you are coming back south via I-95, stop off just north of Waterville and visit the natural history museum at Good Will Hinckley. That houses some really weird stuff on a few different levels in a ginormous old building.

Note the weird hours, Wed-Sat, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30, Sun 1-4:30 and all others times "by appointment or chance." So if it's a Monday or Tuesday, you could call ahead and see if they will open up for you. I'm taking stuffed vultures, huge rock collection in the basement, all kinds of shells, it's a really interesting place. The building is cold, so bring a jacket inside.

It's on Google maps, think it's the Fairfield exit. Definitely worth a stop.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:44 AM on May 15, 2015

I live in Portland, and I would NOT recommend you come all the way to Portland just for Fort Williams. Its basically just a grassy lawn with an abandoned cement building and a lighthouse attached. Maybe stop if you're driving through, but otherwise there is far too much fun to be had in central Maine for you to spend basically four hours in the car just for that. (And I say this as someone who has been to Ft Williams hundreds of times.)

Also, if you go to Owls Head on a day they are driving/flying things, bring ear protection for the kid and probably for yourself. A lot of those vehicles are REALLY LOUD.

Before you go to Camden you should read about Andre the Seal. Andre is gone now, but there is a statue of him, and his legend lives on.

I highly -- HIGHLY -- endorse Fort Knox. Be sure to visit the The Penobscot Narrows Bridge Observatory on your way there.

Maybe the Farnsworth Museum sort of fails the "its all over trip advisor" test, I don't know, but it is a world class art museum with a focus on the Wyeth Family and I highly recommend it.

If you go to the Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, be sure to stop at the Boothbay Railway Village as well.

Maine Lighthouse Museum. (formerly the Shore Village Museum.) There are also literally dozens of lighthouses in the area. I do love Pemaquid, but a lot of the smaller lights have big fans.

Aldermere Farm might be open while you're there.

If remote is your thing, I believe you can take a ferry from Rockland to Matinicus Island. Its more than two hours each way (so a boat tour without a stop might work better), but Matinicus has a year round population of 51, and is one of the most remote inhabited places anywhere on earth. There isn't a ton to do there (birdwatching and hiking mostly). Vinalhaven is less remote and more "touristy" (but not by much), and is the home of the Huber Preserve.

Finally, be sure to read One Morning in Maine with your five year old before you come.
posted by anastasiav at 12:38 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

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