Picture a remote lake, a cluster of log cabins and the smell of wood smoke and bacon. Waking up here to the call of loons on a glorious Maine morning, you have the opportunity to fly fish for native brook trout or go hiking in a pristine wilderness with a very good chance of spotting a moose. That’s the promise of a stay at a classic Maine sporting camp, where century-old rustic cabins and a main lodge are your base camp for days of adventure. Whether it’s paddling a canoe at dawn on a lake that sees more bald eagles than people, discovering the joys of taking a landlocked salmon on a fly or spending the afternoon hiking a scenic trail, the choice is yours.
Much more than just rustic lodging, Maine sporting camps are part of a century-old tradition that’s still going strong. Harkening back to the 19th century, when “sports” from New York, Philadelphia and Boston made the then arduous multi-day trek to the Maine woods in pursuit of legendary brook trout and “rusticated’” lakeside, these family-owned camps can still be found in remote and pristine locales throughout the state.
Typically based on an American plan that offers three hearty meals each day, these are getaways with wood stoves and oil lamps, front porches with rockers, and gatherings around a campfire in the evening. Some are quite remote, like Red River Camps near the Canadian border, while others, like Fish River Lodge, offer such 21st century conveniences as WiFi. At Libby Sporting Camps, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, you can paddle from the lodge or arrange to have a floatplane drop you off at one of several remote ponds for a day of fishing. Many sporting camps offer the services of Registered Maine Guides, experts who are trained to take “sports” deep into the wilderness for an extraordinary day of angling and exploration. These guides have honed their backcountry skills to professional levels and can awaken your senses to the wild world around you.
Sporting camps have an extraordinarily loyal following, and many people return year after year, in many cases for generations, for the fishing and hiking and canoeing or a lazy afternoon of swimming and paddle boarding. Loyal guests return for leaf peeping during foliage season and late fall is when the hunters arrive. Once the snow falls and winter settles in, it’s time for snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing.
Traditional family-owned camps, such as Grant’s Kennebago Camps, Wilson Pond Camps and Bradford Camps, have been joined in the past decade by camps owned by the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). The AMC had the vision and largesse to buy and preserve large more than 70,000 acres of Maine wilderness as part of the Maine Woods Initiative, restoring two remarkable wilderness camps: Little Lyford Lodge & Cabins and Gorman Chairback Lodge & Cabins. A third lodge, Medawisla Lodge & Cabins, is being restored and will open in 2017.
Whether you’re just learning to fly fish or an experienced hiker seeking creature comforts at a welcoming lodge, there are more than 50 sporting camps and wilderness lodges in the state, each one a little bit different. What they all share is the ability to offer a classic Maine woods experience, something found nowhere else in the country.