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Camping on the Maine Coast – Portland

I love camping. Caroline had never camped before.

Two good reasons to go on a camping trip and see how that would work out for us. We decided on Maine, the only state in New England we hadn’t yet spent time in together and which also happens to be an outdoor paradise. Maine truly is the great outdoors. The coastline consists of natural harbors, peninsulas, inlets and bays, and is a whopping 5,500 miles (8,850 kilometers) long. In inland Maine you find vast forests, mountains, more than 6,000 lakes and no less than 32,000 miles (51,500 kilometers) of rivers and streams. A quick fact to illustrate how wild this state truly is: the number of black bears exceeds 30,000, which means that there’s one bear for practically every square mile.

Choosing between a trip to the coast or an adventure in the inland wilderness was easy. There are plenty of forests and mountains surrounding us here in Vermont and neighboring New Hampshire. And after seeing the gorgeous coastline in Massachusetts, we absolutely wanted to see more sea in Maine. And some lighthouses too, of course.

Panorama of the Portland Head Light, Maine.
Panorama of the famous Portland Head Light

So, camping on the Maine coast it was.

History and Lighthouses in Portland

First we headed to Portland, located on the coast and almost halfway between Vermont and Acadia National Park, our ultimate destination on this trip. Portland is the largest city in Maine – although not the capital; that’s Augusta – and was described by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as

“The beautiful town that is seated by the sea”

Colorful Old Port in Portland, Maine.
Lots of color in the city center
Old Port district in Portland, Maine.
Victorian-style house in the Old Port district

The city does have a fantastic location, on a peninsula and overlooking Casco Bay and the Calendar Islands. It used to be a wealthy port, especially during the whaling age, and the state’s capital, but major fires put the city to ashes no less than four times. Now the city’s Victorian-style buildings are made of stone.

Street in the Old Port district of Portland.
The streets of the Old Port are lined with shops, restaurants, cafés and stores

The harbor has always been the heart of the city, maybe now even more than ever. Restaurants, breweries and fish markets line the waterfront. The Old Port district used to be a decaying neighborhood near the harbor, but a successful restoration project transformed the area into a once-again lively place, probably even the city’s liveliest. The district’s old and narrow streets are filled with bars, shops and stores, art galleries and restaurants.  The buildings are beautiful examples of classic Victorian commercial architecture. Besides strolling around, eating, drinking and shopping, you can also go on excursions and harbor tours or go fishing, sea kayaking and swimming on nearby beaches. There even is a ferry to Nova Scotia, Canada, 850 miles (1,370 kilometers away) for people who are sick of driving.

Victorian architecture in the Old Port of Portland, Maine.
Classic commercial architecture of the Victorian era
Store window in the Portland Old Port district.
Again, a very colorful store window

We had an afternoon to spend and meandered through the streets of the Old Port, along the waterfront and sampled a few local brews – trying local beers has been an activity on all of our recent trips. We drove to South Portland to see our first two lighthouses. Lighthouses are a symbol of Maine, dating from its seafaring days. Most of them still operate, but are now automated. The Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse is open the public and is located on a short rocky pier. You can walk to it, around it and throw out a fishing line from the pier.

Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, Portland, Maine.
Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse.
You can walk right up to it and maybe try to catch a fish or two

A true highlight of Portland is the Portland Head Light, first illuminated in 1791 by orders of President George Washington himself. This iconic lighthouse has been the subject of paintings, poetry, postage stamps and several thousands of photos. There is a museum with exhibitions on the history of lighthouses in the world.

View of the Portland Head Light.
Great view of the Portland Head Light
The Portland Head Light, Maine.
Portland Head Light, a much-photographed Portland icon
Portland Head Light, seen from a hiking trail in the park.
Portland’s famous lighthouse, seen from one of hiking trails in the park

We spent some time admiring this beautiful lighthouse, walked around on the trails in the surrounding park and continued our coastal trip in the late afternoon. After arriving at our campground in New Harbor a little past six, we pitched our tent, bought a bundle of firewood and lit our first campfire…

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4 thoughts on “Camping on the Maine Coast – Portland

  • Great pictures! Ive been spending the summer at my parents house just an hour south of Portland in Massachusetts. All summer I have told myself to get up there and visit, even if it is just for the beer! Your pictures have finally motivated me to go, this week it is! I’m told i would love it because it is very similar to Burlington (Vermont) where I live.

    • That’s so great to hear, Katie. I’m happy I was able to motivate you to go. That’s exactly what this website is about. (I love Burlington by the way!)

  • Beautiful pictures, Bram. Brought back great memories. We do love camping in Maine. You do such a wonderful job. Really enjoy your work!

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