News & Events

Wilderness camping is a remote retreat, but not a sure thing

Jul 13, 2020

LAMOINE — During the coronavirus pandemic, state agencies and conservation groups have broadcast an important message when it comes to playing outside: Have a Plan B.


LAMOINE — During the coronavirus pandemic, state agencies and conservation groups have broadcast an important message when it comes to playing outside: Have a Plan B.

When going hiking, birding or fishing, have a backup plan so that when the parking lot at the trailhead is full, you can move on to a less crowded spot, social distance and help stop the spread of the virus.

Well, let’s add to the list of outdoor activities that require a Plan B – wilderness camping. Tents today are a snap to set up. Ideally, should also should have a tarp underneath to keep them dry and stakes to secure it. But that’s not how this camper rolls. Sometimes I forgo the tarp and use boulders to hold down the tent lines.

Just as it sounds, wilderness camping is the practice of sleeping in a tent with nothing provided but a fire ring, outhouse and picnic table. It’s enjoyed at remote locations far from grocery stores, gas stations and, usually, paved roads and cell service. You might think that also means far from people. But not this year.

In 2020, with so many Mainers clamoring to get outside during the pandemic, many wilderness camping sites across Maine might as well have “No Vacancy” signs.

“I believe June, 2020, was the busiest we have been for the same month for many years, primarily due to the virus pandemic and interest by Maine people to get outside,” said Al Cowperthwaite, the 45-year director of the North Maine Woods, which manages nearly 3.7 million acres of working forestland in northern Maine for forest companies that allow recreation on their properties.

Most wilderness sites on forestry or conservation land are almost exclusively first-come, first-serve and do not take reservations. Some land trusts and sporting camps that offer backcountry sites take reservations – and in a small section of the forestry land managed by the North Maine Woods, the section around the Appalachian Trail, the sites can be reserved.

This year across all of the wilderness camping sites in the North Maine Woods forests – those that can be reserved and those that can not – there has been a surge in use by campers going off the grid, an increase of at least 15 percent over last year – which was a record camping year at Maine state parks.

Full feature article here