How did we come up with this master list? We are the Rubys. We have been to every Maine State Park as a family and have camped at all of the Maine State Park family campgrounds. Lucky for us, we’ve camped at some of them on multiple occasions. What started as a silly idea back in the fall of 2016, before our first daughter was born, has now turned into something we could have never dreamed of. Our blog www.rubysontheroad.com has grown a following that still surprises us with each post, largely because it’s become an unfiltered resource for residents and tourists alike.
Four years ago when we were about to become first-time parents, our lives were already busy but we knew things were going to get busier. As we thought things through, we asked ourselves, why do we have to completely change or put our lives on pause as we enter this new stage? When kids become top priority, many times passions can get pushed aside. We thought, just because we will be parents now, why couldn’t we continue doing what we loved and at the same time expose our daughter to it all, right out of the gate? It seemed simple, we loved Maine, we loved the outdoors and if we started early, maybe it would just become second nature for the three of us. Then following our own advice it didn’t seem crazy when our second daughter was born and her first camping trip was at two months old, and her older sister started at six months. We won’t go into all of the benefits that the outdoors has on children because folks a lot smarter than us have laid those out in studies and books.
We live in Portland, work full-time office jobs, and our kids go to daycare full time. There had to be a concentrated effort to continue to spend time outdoors across the state in our free time or we knew we would get caught up in the chaos of parenthood. We thought what better way to do that than to utilize some of the most inexpensive and family-friendly options available to us all, the Maine State Park system. We made an unofficial goal back then to visit them all, but also to camp at the 12 family campgrounds. One unwritten rule we came up with was to never see more than one park in a day, and if we were camping somewhere, we were there to camp and without a full itinerary of things to do off-site. So this meant that many times we would actually drive right past parks and not stop, even being hours away from our home. These trips were real opportunities to derail the groundhog daily/weekly routines and reconnect as a family. It was never about crossing park names off a list and doing something to just say that we did it.
When hobbies start to feel like jobs, you’ve lost your way at some point. Being outdoors is no different. At times we can focus so hard on a goal that we end up missing the greatest part, the process. Like summiting a mountain, many times you don’t know if you’ll have a view at the top that day so you may as well enjoy the hike. For example, when we recently visited Roque Bluffs for a day visit to that park, we had already been to this region several times, but it was also a good excuse to camp again back at Cobscook Bay State Park. At the end of the day, our only true mission was to spend distraction-free time together as a family and then experience the most incredible outdoor spaces across our home state. So yes, many times we drove by destinations on our list, because it meant someday we would have a reason to return and fully experience it on our terms.
There wasn’t an official starting line for us at park number one: Owls Head, or a finish banner at Mt. Kineo. No crowds at any of the 30 plus parks in between. No big party on Warren Island to celebrate the last campground, though we did bring champagne and sparkling apple cider. It was as simple as we did this for us as a couple, we did this for our girls, and we did this for anyone else out there who might just need a little nudge of confidence to do the same. Lastly, we took the time to write about it so we could help do our small part in showing what Maine has to offer. Not just the same old destinations on a list that gets republished a few times a year, but to really cover the whole state. We ended up in parks we’ve never been to or heard of like Swan Lake or Shackford Head. Two Lights is minutes from our house, and never once did we think to visit before kids. Camping at Aroostook State Park would have never been a priority before all this started, and that is a shame to think back on now after our wonderful trip there. Whenever people ask us about Acadia, it’s not long before we are sending them over to Lamoine State Park instead to avoid the crowds. Maine’s landscape has many different faces, and we are all spoiled in a way. Like living in a city with a ton of great restaurants, and picking what and where to visit, really depends what you’re in the mood for.
So which Maine State Parks do we recommend you visit? All of them!
And what is next for us? Hopefully a lot of the same but maybe adding more of the Maine Public Reserved Lands and Preserves to a new unofficial list. Thankfully because of organizations like the Natural Resource Council of Maine, our options are endless and most importantly, will be protected for our children and the generations that follow.
—by Ray & Danielle Ruby