Menu

Finding the Views: Campgrounds from Maine to North Carolina

Editor’s Note: This post is written by a member of LTV’s sponsored content team, the Explorers. Do you own a Leisure Travel Van and enjoy writing? Learn more about joining the team.

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.

Portland Maine: The Food & Drink Guide

Editor’s Note: This post is written by a member of LTV’s sponsored content team, the Explorers. Do you own a Leisure Travel Van and enjoy writing? Learn more about joining the team.

Nestled along the shoreline of southern Maine amongst the small coastal northeastern towns is one of our favorite food destinations in the United States. When we lived in New York City, Portland was an escape from the city’s congestion and high prices. Little did we know that those were the good old days and that this seaside town would be discovered. Today we don’t bat an eye at a $30+ Lobster Roll, and the days of $12 lobster rolls are a precious memory of the past. Ultimately, if it weren’t fantastic, I wouldn’t be paying those kinds of prices, nor would I be recommending that you plan a trip entirely around food. Granted, there is plenty to see and do, but the fare is the highlight of any trip to Portland.

The Lobster Roll Round-Up

Let’s face the hard truth first. You go to Maine, you have a lobster roll, and you consider your trip to Maine a success. But there is more to the lobster roll than you see on the surface. There is a huge rivalry of sorts amongst lobster roll aficionados: Maine vs. Connecticut. It comes down to cold vs. warm and mayonnaise vs. butter, respectively. Wondering where I stand? Would you ever admit to loving one of your children more than the other? No. I’m equal opportunity, mayo, and butter.

Eventide Oyster Co.

If you’re coming here and expecting cold lobster tossed in mayonnaise on a buttered roll, you might be surprised with what you get. See, Eventide does things differently. Cold lobster salad? Nope. The lobster is lightly warmed. Mayonnaise? Wrong again. Think warm lobster claw and knuckle pieces tossed in a decadent brown butter vinaigrette. Buttered New England hot dog bun? By now, you know that’s not the case. A spongy steamed bao bun. It’s so distinct and so delicious that Eventide has gone as far as to trademark its lobster roll. It’s that good. Pro-tip, the wait at Eventide is often 2+ hours, so place an order online and eat them on the picnic tables on the grassy area half a block away.

Bite Into Maine

If you’re looking for a classic Lobster Roll, Bite into Maine is our top option. If you’re also looking for a lobster roll with a twist, Bite into Maine is also our top option. My favorite is the “Picnic Style.” It has a lightly dressed, finely chopped coleslaw and is sprinkled with celery salt. Typically, I’m not a coleslaw person, but it works here for whatever reason. John goes for the wasabi lobster roll. It’s light on the wasabi but adds a touch of heat that offsets the cool mayonnaise. Oh, and did we mention that there is a kettle of clarified butter that they drizzle on top of your lobster roll when you retrieve your order? Not for the light at heart. Bite into Maine has a few locations: Allagash Brewery and Portland Head Lighthouse are their food truck locations, and their Scarborough location menu is more extensive.

Beyond the Lobster

When you tire of lobster, you know there are good (in fact, stellar) options that aren’t seafood-focused. We always like to try the new restaurants in the area, but these are the tried and true restaurants that we always make our way to.

Noodles at Honey Paw

Honey Paw Wings and Khao Soi

The Honey Paw

Southeast Asian fare is brought to you by the same restaurant group that runs Eventide Oyster Bar. Often times we will opt to dine here when we cannot fathom waiting for hours at Eventide. Typically the wait is not very long. Honey Paw shouldn’t be missed if you’re looking for bold flavors. Khao Soi is highly recommended, especially if you’re here on a cool Autumn evening. Braised lamb and thick egg noodles come nested in a curry-laced coconut milk broth. Wings come crispy, sweet, and savory…and addictive! Leave room for dessert. Their rotating soft serve and cake options are worth stopping for even if you aren’t having a meal.

 

Scratch Baking Company

I’m making a bold statement – these are the best bagels in the U.S. Scratch Baking only offers a few flavors of bagels: sea salt, sesame, poppy seed, and everything. They are best early in the morning when the bagels maintain their airy interiors and chewy exteriors. Sea salt and poppy seed are true winners here and don’t pass on the whipped cream cheese either. Toasting is not necessary if you’re eating them fresh. Be prepared to get there early, or place an order online to reserve your bagels if you like sleeping in. Scratch Baking is only a short drive from the Portland Head Lighthouse, so if you can resist not tearing into your bagel, you will be rewarded with a fantastic bagel with a view. They also have a large selection of baked goods, all of which have been delightful.

Central Provisions

Get the raw beef salad. Don’t question it, and you can thank us later. Like most Portland restaurants, you’ll want to make a reservation or be prepared to wait. Dimly lit and incredibly inviting, try to budget enough time to sit at the bar for a pre-dinner cocktail. Central Provisions is an ideal choice for group dining since many dishes are meant for sharing, and you’ll get to sample more of the menu with a group of 4 or 6. Their menu is ever-changing based on seasonality and intentionally balanced across proteins, vegetables, and seafood options. Great cocktails and a thoughtful wine list will likely keep you lingering past your meal.

Eventide Oyster Co. (Listed Twice for a Reason)

You’ll notice that Eventide is on the list twice and not by mistake. While they make insanely delectable brown butter vinaigrette lobster rolls, sticking around and sampling their extensive oyster offering would behoove you. Cocktail sauce and Mignonette are offered as standard accouterments, but their kimchi ice and pickled red onion ice is an enlightening approach to the oyster experience. If, after two lobster rolls and a dozen oysters, you don’t think you can have another bite, think again. The Maine lobster stew is worth undoing your pants’ top button. Not traditional in any sense, the Eventide lobster stew is a green curry stew with large and small pieces of lobster, sweet potatoes, and coconut milk. Mind-blowingly good.

The Beer Guide

When you need a break from the vast culinary landscape that is Portland, you’ll be overjoyed to know that Portland has one of the most breweries per capita in the United States. While there are too may good breweries to visit in one stay (although John has!), we have narrowed our recommendations to those that are most inviting, social, and have food.

Maine Beer Company

In addition to having great beer, wood-fired pizzas, and a beautiful indoor and outdoor space, Maine Beer Company is a downright upstanding company. They are committed to treating their employees right (they pay 100% of their health insurance and provide ample time off), and they pledge a portion of their proceeds to environmental organizations. Their facility has a ridiculous amount of solar that will get any Leisure Travel Van owner thinking about how they can add more panels to their roof. While this brewery isn’t in Portland per say, it is in Freeport, which is about a 20-minute drive away. There is plenty to do in the area to make the drive worthwhile, such as outlets and the very popular L.L. Bean.

Bissell Brothers Brewing

Bright and airy and filled with intensely colored murals, your mood will be instantly lifted when you walk into Bissell Brothers. It’s a fun space to have a meal, a quick beer, or linger and get some work done. Their beer offering tends to be heavy on the IPA, but there are generally various styles available on tap. Bissell Brothers frequently have can releases, where you can purchase one or two beers that are small batch produced. Food options are fairly standard pub fare, but they have plenty of vegetarian-friendly options as well.

Allagash Brewing Company

One of our favorite autumnal breweries to visit, Allagash is a great place to spend an afternoon. They have a vast outdoor space with games and food, which makes it popular amongst families and tourists. Probably a safer bet for people who like beer for recreation as they generally have lighter beers but no less variety. Their beer is distributed nationally, but this brewery feels local and homey.

You’ll be sure to find us in Portland in the fall when the air is crisp, some of the crowds have thinned, and the leaves are putting on a spectacular show. Let us know if you have any favorite places to check out next time we’re there. Even better, if you plan to be there in the fall, let us know, and maybe we can even have a lobster roll and beer meet and greet!