Happy Campers: Casco, Maine
The perfect rustic getaway for families
Photo by Mary Deland Strain
Wednesday night bingo is the social event of the week at Migis Lodge, a rustic luxury retreat on the shores of Lake Sebago. It’s so popular the staff had to turn dessert into a self-serve buffet on Wednesdays because guests were abandoning after-dinner sweets in favor of a good seat at the bingo table.
Pleasures of a bygone era echo throughout the 99-year-old resort in South Casco, Maine. Grandfathers take boys and girls out for their first canoe rides, and multiple generations—from octogenarians to eight-month-olds—gather for meals in the family dining room. Tweens swap electronics for backgammon, chess, or a multitude of other board games, and strangers gather around the piano for impromptu sing-alongs in the main lodge, where gentlemen are required to wear jackets after 5:30 p.m.
Migis, which local lore translates from Native American as “place to steal away and rest,” is set on a peaceful stretch of Sebago Lake that has welcomed guests to its shores since 1916, when travelers arrived by steamboat from Boston. Charlotte Gulick, founder of Campfire Girls, purchased the property—then known as National Camps—and changed the name to Migis in the 1920s. Acquired by the Porta family more than 40 years ago, the resort continues to reflect those origins, feeling very much like a summer camp for grown-ups—albeit one with craft cocktails and 350-threadcount sheets.
Cast an eye around the woodsy setting or peruse the decades of photo albums in the main lodge and see that little has changed. The 100-acre property is still shaded by tall pine trees that reach the water’s edge, where lounge chairs are thoughtfully arranged to either invite conversation or allow for seclusion. Pine needle-cushioned paths lead to cottages with names like Bittersweet, Whippoorwill, and Daybreak. Lining the walks are stacks of wood destined for fireplaces that feature prominently in most of the cottages. Early morning quiet is broken only by the occasional call of a loon.
The private cove offers guests row boats for touring the lake / Photo courtesy of Migis Lodge
Swim out to the dock, then shake off the lake’s chill with a sweat in the property’s wood-burning sauna. Clustered near the sauna and at other strategic points on the waterfront is a fleet of people-powered boats—from stand-up paddleboards to kayaks to dories. Or whip around the lake on the end of a rope—waterskiing and wakeboarding are both available from the main dock.
All non-motorized vehicles, as well as the water skiing, are part of the per-person price, which also includes three meals a day. Feast on pancakes in the morning, perhaps a barbecue lunch or a picnic on the resort’s private island, which is a pleasant boat ride from the dock at midday. Dinner is a more formal affair—guests take seriously the tradition of dressing for the evening meal, which starts with a relish plate and tomato juice, the height of sophistication or a gentle throwback, depending on your generation.
The resort offers a family dining room, where groups with younger guests are seated, as well as a separate child-free zone. For parents who would like to enjoy a romantic dinner for two, kids can be whisked off to The Zoo, where a lively dinner and supervised evening activity could include games, a visit to the playground, or a movie. Camp counselors also run the Migis Kids Camp, an afternoon program that enables youngsters to go on scavenger hunts, swim, and even take a boat ride to a nearby candy store. Parents find their own sweet spot lounging by the lake in the midday sun, after giving paddleboarding a gentle, not too strenuous, go of it. migis.com
Catch and release on New England’s deepest lake. The water in Lake Sebago is so clear, you really have to sneak up on the fish, says Brooke Hidell, who has been guiding visitors to the best fishing spots in and around the lake for more than 20 years. But it’s worth the trouble. The lake is one of the few spots in the country to catch landlocked salmon, a gorgeous rainbow-colored relative of the Atlantic salmon that flourished with the damming of local rivers. “They are bright and beautiful and fast,” speeding up to 32 miles per hour, says Hidell. The rich fishing also offers up bass and lake trout that enjoy the chill of New England’s deepest lake.
When guiding visitors from Migis Lodge, Hidell encourages people to “catch, shoot, and release” (shoot with a camera, that is). He guides a lot of families and feels it’s very important to teach young anglers to be good sportsmen. “If it’s their first fish, you want them to learn to respect the animal,” he says.
While there are no guarantees guests will catch a fish, Hidell guarantees they will have a good time. “I’ve had some of my best days on the water when we haven’t caught a single fish. Of course we try to avoid that at all costs,” he quips. mainelandlocked.com