“I suggest that you go to a sporting camp,” Charlene, a Maine native, said to me as I was getting advice on what to do on my trip in Maine.
“Okay….” I said with a little hesitation wondering to myself if I should know what a sporting camp was. Was it a place to play baseball and volleyball? Or maybe a kid’s camp in the woods? Oh lord…I hope it’s not a kids camp in the woods!
I love being exposed to new cultures in my own country. This was my first trip to Maine and I found myself being surprised and delighted by little Maine ‘oddities’ that I knew nothing about. Sporting Camps was just the beginning.
So you might be wondering, what exactly is a Sporting Camp?
A sporting camp is your gateway to the wilderness, and they’ve been a part of the Maine outdoor culture since the mid 1800’s. Wealthy “sports” from New York, Philadelphia and Boston rode the then ‘new’ train from Boston and made the arduous multi-day trek to the Maine woods in pursuit of rustic lakeside views and ‘manly’ hunting and gathering activities. It really was an escape from the big, stressful city life. The camps (otherwise known as cabins) typically had wood stoves, oil lamps, big porches, a ‘camp dog’, lakes views, and a campfire. And there is typically one larger communal cabin where everyone eats home cooked, meat heavy meals.
Most of these camps were family owned and ‘handed down’ through generations. Libby Camps, where I stayed, was celebrating their 125th year of family business!
What is today’s sporting camp like?
It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that these are ‘man camps’ full of hunters and fishermen, as that’s sort of how they were marketed for years. However they’ve had to adapt with the times, and quite frankly do a bit of a ‘makeover’ to keep up with the demands of travelers these days. Through the years these camps have evolved and started to market themselves as the ‘get close to nature’ vacations with vegetarian options. Many of the camps have built en-suite bathrooms and added more electricity (via generator) and even wifi at some camps.
Because nature never gets old, they are still a big draw today for city folk looking to escape. Some of the old camps have died out, but the ones who have figured out how to change with the times still live on offering more then just hunting and fishing. They now offer complete family packages that simply emphasize a wilderness getaway.
What I loved about my visit to Libby Camps was that it was real authentic wilderness. It was not some spa-like, sterilized city version of wilderness. It wasn’t luxury, it was real. If you aren’t comfortable with the concept of hunting and antlers hanging on a wall above a fireplace, then sporting camps probably aren’t the place for you.
What can you do at a Sporting Camp?
There are many more options than simply hunting and fishing these days. Most offer adventures like hiking, paddling, biking, wildlife watching, clay shooting, and photography. However if you do like to hunt and fish, just check the hunting season schedule and be prepared to plan in advance as things like Grouse season fills up fast.
Many camps are open year round and also offer things like ice fishing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and cross country skiing. Libby Camps are adding more and more snow mobile trails each winter due to the growing interest in wilderness winter adventures.
Or if you just want to relax, pick a hammock or sit by the fireplace and read a book all day with a dog curled up at your feet. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?
Why go to a Sporting Camp?
That’s simple…it’s an escape. And really, who doesn’t want to secretly escape and have their own Walden Pond for a weekend? Going to a sporting camp is just another way to slow down in this busy world of ours. I was actually surprised at how easy it was to get so remote just a short plane ride from New York City. Quite a change from the 1800’s!
In recent years the idea of doing big group events at Sporting Camps has been on the rise. Weddings, family reunions/trips, girlfriend getaways – they can do it all as you can normally rent out a number of cabins at once if you plan far enough ahead.
What are the Cabins like?
The cabins were originally built more for families, as whole families would come as a summer tradition to a sporting camp. So many of the cabins are large. Depending on what camp you stay at you may have a bathroom and electricity or you may have a communal bathroom/outhouse and gas lamps.
For me the gas lamp experience made it even that much more of an escape. There’s something freeing about leaving electricity behind.
Each cabin normally has a porch with a woodpile and comfy chairs or hammocks. At Libby Camps there were ice chests on each porch to store your fishing bounty.
Normally a camp has multiple cabins situated nearby each other, however some camps also have outposts that are even more remote. Libby Camps offered 10 outpost cabins allowing the “sports” to fish, hunt, or escape in a much broader region than at a typical lodge. These are single cabins often with no electricity or plumbing. However, what you lose in creature comforts you gain in luscious remote views.
How About the Food?
Think about your favorite comfort foods, and that’s what you get at the camps! It’s as if my grandmother was baking in the Libby Camps kitchen making up hearty bacon and egg breakfasts, blueberry pancakes, massive bag lunches, meat and potatoes dinners, and baking up homemade pies. The food is homemade and delicious, and based on my experience this is not the place you come to diet!
Is it Man Overload?
My guess is back in the day it was probably man overload, but times have changed. My Maine fishing guide, Jeff, told me that the biggest change he’s seen is that more women are coming to learn to fish or hunt. The woods are no longer a man’s world!
Ok Great I’m in! How do I get there and which one should I go to?
Do you want a rustic camp or a more connected one? Do you want to be completely remote with only fly-in services or do you want to be near pavement?
Check out the Maine Sporting Camp Association Website to get a complete list of camps and what they offer.
I stayed at Libby Camps celebrating their 125th year of business.
I was a guest of Visit Maine during my stay, however all opinions stated are mine.