Finding the Views: Campgrounds from Maine to North Carolina

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It was early, just before sunrise. I could see a line of light at the horizon as the night sky gave up its reign. I dropped my phone into my robe pocket and carefully opened the door so as not to wake Jim, then closed it, oh so softly, behind me. It was cool, and a soft breeze stirred the air as I walked to the water’s edge to catch the sunrise on my phone camera. I knew Jim would be up soon since we leave today, but I wanted to spend a few quiet moments enjoying this priceless view of Penobscot Bay.

Penobscot Bay campsite
View from our campsite on the Penobscot Bay

We were parked at the seawall, which is one of a handful of campsites that looked directly onto the bay. The tide was changing, and the sea grass waved in the current just below the water’s surface. A rock labyrinth laid out on the bay floor would be visible in just a few hours. What a curious surprise it was that first day I saw it at low tide – and somewhat surreal as I walked the spiral of rocks to its center and then back to the beach. I sat down at the picnic table and took in the scene. We had launched our kayaks off the beach just steps from the campsite and paddled down the coastline spotting an otter, then an eagle. It had been a terrific day with sunshine and warm temperatures. It was a big difference from August back in Georgia, where daily temperatures soar into the 90s and the humidity with it.

Searsport Oceanside Campground was a surprise right from the start. When we arrived, we were greeted by a large group of musicians rehearsing for an “Old Time” music concert to be held over the weekend. If you have a uke, fiddle, guitar, banjo, or whatever, you can join in with the other members! The camper on the site next to us played banjo, so we enjoyed hearing him practice in the afternoon. The buildings are eclectically decorated in bright colors, and a decidedly laid-back, hippy vibe surrounds the whole place. In all, a fun and unexpected “second-choice” campground!

Rock labyrinth on Penobscot Bay
Labyrinth on the Bay floor

This was our first trip to Acadia National Park, and we found the campground by default since the campgrounds around Acadia were full. It was an hour’s drive from the Park and offered a different view. A tranquil scene overlooking Penobscot Bay, a pebble beach, offers wonderful kayaking. Facing the Atlantic, Acadia’s coastline is all rocks and crashing surf. It is a spectacular view, and we enjoyed it while hiking. We found so many “Instagram” moments in Maine that I had to upload the photos from my phone camera to make room for more photos.

Rocky coast and surf through tree branches
The rocky shore of Acadia from the Ocean Trail
Bay with sailboats at anchor in Belfast, Maine
Belfast, Maine, has a lovely harbor

We had planned to take a one-month east coast tour, just stopping a day or two in towns along the way. But the views we encountered made us throw away the timeline. For years our vacation travel was hurried, the time measured out in two-week intervals. There was little room for side trips and serendipity – we had a schedule to keep. Now retired, time was no longer a task-master, so why not slow down to soak in the scenery?

So many beautiful views. But that is why we travel by RV – to take in the beautiful landscapes, quaint towns, and coastlines. And this is the trip we began to say, “Let’s stay longer” – maybe another day or two. All for a beautiful view. And for us, the views we appreciate most are ones at well-located campgrounds. If you have traveled by RV for long, you know most campgrounds are tucked away. Some are in a lovely wooded setting or convenient to the local towns or attractions, but the ones we keep on our “favorites” list are those with a scenic view or a perfect location near a scenic view.

A brief list of our favorite coastal campsites includes the one described above in Searsport, Maine. But not all of our favorites have such a spectacular view. Dune’s Edge Campground, further south, on the Cape Cod National Seashore, is run by the Trustees who monitor development on the Cape that might infringe on the wildlife or the natural setting. The Campground, set in a coastal forest, is small and rough, but its proximity to the National Seashore and lovely Provincetown cannot be overstated. Take a bike because in this area cars are not an asset. And with that bike, you can access the maritime forest at the campground’s entrance, ride to the National Seashore,  or go into Provincetown to enjoy its art galleries, shops, restaurants, and attractions. It’s the proximity that makes this campground unique. There are others nearby Truro, but Dune’s Edge is at the National Seashore.

Dune walkover at Cape Cod National Seashore
The dune walkover at Cape Cod National Seashore

We have also enjoyed a few “corporate” campgrounds, like the KOA in Mystic, Connecticut. This area is busy but still retains its small towns and greenery. The KOA is located on what used to be a farm, and the white fencing still lines the road to the campground. This is a KOA tucked into the countryside with many trees and open spaces rather than the “parking lot” arrangement we found in other areas, and it is a large campground with spacious sites and all the amenities you might expect. Its proximity to downtown Mystic and the Mystic Seaport Village was its initial draw for us. When we visited, the leaves were just starting to turn their autumn colors, and the sunsets were amazing with the high vantage point overlooking a nearby meadow. We spent our days exploring Mystic and returned to camp to enjoy campfires and sunsets!

Mystic Seaport Museum sign
A delightful trip into the past at this living museum and art gallery.

New Jersey is a tough nut to crack when it comes to RV campgrounds. There isn’t much along the coast other than Seashore Campground and RV Resort in Cape May. We took a ferry from Lewes, Delaware, to reach Cape May and found the campground in just a few minutes. The campground is large, with seasonal “park models” as well as RVs. Each site is paved with white gravel, making it look clean and bright among the tall pines. Though we were disappointed it was not on the water, the beach was a short drive away. It faces Lewes, Delaware, and a World War II bunker on the sand – a twin to the one in Lewes. The two towns, Cape May and Lewes, each kept watch over the channel during the war, ready to defend from those bunkers. Now, half-buried in the sand, they are monuments to history.

World War II bunker on Cape May beach
World War II bunker half-buried in the sand at Cape May beach.

A walk through downtown Cape May is all Victorian charm, with dozens of restored homes turned into bed and breakfasts. Their cheery colors and fancy gingerbread trim make them look like a line of doll houses. On the way back to the campground, we discovered Cape May Winery – complete with a vineyard, tasting room, and restaurant. Their award-winning Chardonnay was added to our cellar! All of this is within easy reach of a terrific campground.

Row of victorian homes
Downtown Cape May is filled with charming Victorian homes.

Camping close to a city can be quite challenging, but we found a little waterfront haven just 30 minutes north of Baltimore, Maryland. Set on the Chesapeake Bay, Bar Harbor RV Resort and Marina in Abingdon, Maryland, offers bay-side campsites. It is situated at the end of a residential neighborhood with campsites well-positioned for great views over the Chesapeake Bay. Because it sits on the northern tip of the Chesapeake that means it provides a direct route to the Eastern Shore – avoiding the city traffic. On the Eastern Shore, we visited St. Michaels, Oxford, and Easton – probably the most picturesque harbor towns in the country. So, in all, Bar Harbor RV Resort is a pretty convenient option to explore the area as well as offer beautiful bay views.

Trees and sundown views over Chesapeake Bay
Our campsite on the Chesapeake Bay provided wonderful sunset views.

We discovered the Outer Banks in North Carolina a little further down the east coast. We have stayed with friends at a beach house in Kitty Hawk and even camped in their driveway with the RV on one trip. The beaches in this area are protected by tall sand dunes, but the sea is relentless, and in Kitty Hawk, we watched a massive beach reclamation effort. A barge offshore brings sand pulled from the ocean bottom a few miles away and then pumps it through a pipeline to the beach, where it spewed out like a fountain. Specially-outfitted bulldozers move the new sand into dunes along the shore and then smooth and stretch it down to the water’s edge.

Bulldozers shaping the sand dunes
The beach reclamation project at Kitty Hawk

We fell asleep to the sound of heavy surf and bulldozers. It turns out the bulldozers and barge work in tandem 24 hours a day. The next morning, I walked down the beach to watch at close range and talked with one of the homeowners there. They were grateful for the work and didn’t mind the night’s noise and bright lights. That “noise” meant their home was being secured against the tide. The noise and lights didn’t bother us a bit either. It was good to know that this favorite beach spot would live on for a few more seasons.

beach with gentle waves
Gentle surf today at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore

For a more tranquil OBX experience, we drove just a little bit further south to Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Although there are a number of campgrounds in the area, we stayed at the Cape Hatteras RV Campground. Our LTV group – The Carolina LTVers, held a Rally there, making it that much more of an enjoyable stay. The campground offers views of the Sound on one side and ocean-side campsites tucked behind the dunes. The Sound side is flat and open, so the views are expansive. We watched, mesmerized by kite surfers whose colorful sails dotted the water and sky throughout our visit. It is close to many attractions, including several lighthouses, the Wright Brothers Monument, and a herd of wild horses on the beach. The National Park also has a wonderful exhibit on the Hatteras Light, which was moved inland from its original location on the beach when the rising sea threatened to claim it. The whole process of how it was moved is documented in the exhibit, and the lighthouse stands proudly at the center of the property. This is a campground with a great view, access to the National Seashore, some very interesting attractions, and it could be a vacation in itself.

Lighthouse and visitors center
Fascinating story about how the lighthouse was moved!

I have only scratched the surface – there are many more great campgrounds along the coast. What makes a campsite a place to linger longer is more than just a beautiful view. It’s a combination of elements – from the view (probably the most important) to the campground itself, its convenience to attractions and restaurants, and access to outdoor activities like kayaking or hiking. That ” package ” draws you in and holds you there.

We have always kept a list of the campgrounds we visit and rate them according to their beauty and their convenience factor. Sometimes convenience wins out over beauty, depending on our agenda for each trip. But we always put a star by the ones we want to re-visit and stay a little longer next time.


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