Car Camping at Cranberry Lake
I recently read a report, generated by the national forest service, stating 85% of the camping that takes place in the United States occurs within one mile or less of a paved roadway. While there is a certainly sense of serenity, peace and tranquility that one experiences when they hike miles into the backcountry, the simple truth is that many of us simply do not have the time, physical strength or know how necessary to accomplish these off the grid excursions safely and enjoyably.
Car camping affords busy families and those with physical limitations, an effective means of escaping into nature with much smaller time commitments and fewer toils wrought upon the body.
With car camping, a vehicle is parked in close proximity to a camping spot, thus greatly facilitating the unloading of gear and affording the ability to bring luxurious camping items (large tents, cots, air mattresses, coolers, etc.), fun games and lots of food. While all of these items surly do not ensure that everyone will have a good time, they certainly go a long way making sure everyone stays happy, comfortable and well fed.
An army marches on its stomach and so does a family. Camping success can often be dictated by the quality and quantity of the food, so be sure to bring plenty of favorites. With my family pizza is king and this meal can easily be cooked in a Dutch oven. A Boboli pizza crust, spaghetti sauce and each camper’s choice of topping are put together and placed inside a 12 inch Dutch oven. The lid is shut and 4-5 charcoal briquettes are placed under and on top of the Dutch oven. In approximately 15-20 minutes, out comes hot pizza! Desert often consists of brownies or cookies, cooked next to a roaring evening campfire in a Sproul Baker reflector oven (http://www.campfirecookware.com).
While car camping may be considered by some camping purists as a blasphemous way to enjoy nature, be assured it is not. Vehicles provide an effective means of transporting at home comforts into some very unique and interesting sections of Maine, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the real world.
The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer lists 3 campground types. Those facilities listed simply as “campgrounds”, are members of the Maine Campground Owners Association (MCOA) and typically have posh amenities such as RV sites, showers, flush toilets, camp stores and wireless internet. “Maintained forest campsites”, usually have pit toilets, tent sites only and firewood available for purchase. The last classification “primitive campsites”, have tent sites available on a first come first served basis, firewood usually has to be scavenged and cat holes must be dug to safely dispose of human waste. Of the 3 available campground configurations, my favorites are the maintained forest campsites, as they provide a nice balance of easy vehicle access and basic facilities, while still offering a serene wilderness experience.
Cranberry Lake Campground (Delorme’s The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (MAG), Map 35, E-2) sits just a few miles off Rt. 9 yet affords campers quiet isolation. (*A warning, that popular weekends like Memorial day, 4th of July and Labor day most campgrounds in the state can be quite boisterous, so if you wish for a quiet campground experience, avoid those weekends.)
The campsite’s amenities do not include water for drinking or flush toilets and showers but it does have two outhouses, fire rings, picnic tables and well-maintained tent and RV sites. A small beach is available for swimming and a hand carry launch is accessible for those wanting to cruise the lake or go fishing. Cranberry lake campground has 11 tent/RV sites. Costs are $20 for the first night stay and $10 per night after that. A primetime Friday/Saturday night stay is $45. For reservations, please contact Lois Keenan (546-3828) or for additional information Arthur Keenan (664-3198). Lois and Arthur also maintain the Deer Lake (Map 34, E-5) and Lower Sabo Lake (Map 35, E-1) campgrounds.
Campers can ride the largest ATV trail system East of the Mississippi, fish local streams and ponds, boat, hike and moose watch. All three campgrounds are open Memorial Day and close when snow flies.
A 20-minute drive from the campground is a small restaurant/general store located at the northern terminus of Rt. 193, perfect for restocking camping supplies or eating out should weather make cooking outside difficult.
Fishing the Cranberry Lakes
Cranberry Lake campground is situated on the eastern shore of Upper Cranberry Lake. Upper Cranberry flows into Lower Cranberry Lake which in-turn flows into the West Branch of the Machias River. Canoes and kayaks are perfect for exploring and fishing these lakes, as long as a watchful eye is kept on the horizon to watch for late afternoon thunderstorms. When fishing Cranberry lakes, Master Maine Guide Matt Whitegiver of Eagle Mountain Lodge suggests going somewhere else! The Cranberry Lakes are not know to be epic producers of trophy fish but they do provide entertainment for someone wanting to get out in the early morning or evening and wet a line. Upper Cranberry Lake contains mostly small pickerel, while Lower Cranberry is a decent white perch fishery. Matt suggests that anyone camping at the campground paddle north to the outlet and put into Lower Cranberry to fish for a few of the delectable white perch to put in the fry pan. Boat launches for both Upper and Lower Cranberry also exist about a ¼ mile from the Cranberry Lake campground for those with larger watercraft.