George

History meets hospitality at Maine sporting camps, and no more so than at Bradford Camps on Munsungun Lake in the north woods. Guests from all over the northeastern United States once traveled five days to get to the camps beginning on a train, transferring to a buckboard and, for the final two days, paddling canoes upriver. Today, many guests fly there in a float plane or travel up to Ashland and take a leisurely drive to the lakeside camps — paradise.

As we drove into the yard, we stepped out of the vehicle and went back in time. Dotting the shoreline are log cabins made from logs that were floated across the lake more 100 years ago. In all that time, the camps have had only five owners. Igor and Karen Sikorsky knew immediately, after searching the state for years, that these were the camps for them, and they’ve been providing the age-old sporting camp experience for 20 years.

On the wall of the lodge, I recognized the famous photo of Will Atkins with a canoe full of moose heads. Atkins built the original camps here in the 1800s. While the camps retain the old — including the gorgeous log siding — they offer modern-day comforts including full bathrooms in each cabin. Gas lights and instant hot water are nice features, too. Chad, who has worked here for 21 years, helped us move our gear into the cabin and we settled in.

Before we knew it, the dinner bell was ringing. Yes, they have the traditional dinner bell. Chef Tiffany, originally from Dexter, is a great cook. This far off the grid and more than 50 miles from a grocery store you have to be imaginative, and she is.

One thing I love about sporting camps is that you get to meet so many interesting people and always leave with new friends. There was one group of four guys from South Carolina who come here twice a year to fish and hunt. But they spend their first and last days in camp, relaxing. Smart! As we gathered around a hole in the ground to watch Igor drop in the kettle of beans to bake all day and later enjoyed a skillet-tossing contest, I recognized that there are many reasons to visit a sporting camp.

Igor, Karen and all the staff here, including Callie, our server, are friendly and helpful. We are lucky to still have Bradford Camps and the few dozen other sporting camps that have been able to transition to this new day and economy, while maintaining such a wonderful and timeless tradition.

Linda

You don’t have to be a die-hard sporting enthusiast to fall in love with Bradford Camps. George brought me here for a tour last summer and that was all it took. Are you looking for a place to relax, partake of great meals and enjoy nature? This is your spot. Don’t feel you have to fish all day. But if you want to, Igor will help you get there, and the kitchen will have a packed lunch ready.

The staff is welcoming and so friendly that they feel like family. It’s a place where you are welcome to visit in the kitchen, help yourself to coffee and cookies any time, or just hang out for great conversation.

And you are really pampered here. Each day, Callie, who also serves the meals, tidies up your cabin and makes your beds. I have never stayed in a log cabin that was so clean. These are gorgeous old log cabins with sealed walls, a process called chitting. This lightens up the inside and makes it homey. A skylight in the bathroom makes it look like you’ve left a light on. There is nothing like being able to enjoy the wilderness of the north woods and still be able to have a hot shower.

Our first morning — on a walk along the gorgeous Norway Falls stream, then down a woods road — we saw eight kinds of warblers, a boreal chickadee and lots more. We even saw a moose. Munsungun is peaceful and pristine, and there are boats, canoes and kayaks available for use at the lake.

The food is heavenly. Homemade bread, hot soup and multi-course dinners are all things to look forward to. The grits, potatoes au gratin and the only brown bread I’ve ever liked were so tasty. Then there was the dinner of grilled ribs and beanhole beans, followed by a rousing competition of skillet tossing — another example of how the staff interacts playfully with the guests.

I was pleased to birdwatch and sit in the Adirondack chairs overlooking the lake while reading and relaxing. I was also happy to see George motor down the lake to fish a nearby stream, spending an afternoon catching small brook trout. He returned a very happy man.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed by town in the “Best of Maine” section.


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