I heard about this place three different times before deciding to explore it. The first time was from a camp counselor who was in WFA training with me. The second, from a postcard that arrived at my house. The third, from google when I searched "mini golf near me". When something keeps showing up in your life, just take the bait. In my experience, it usually leads to something good, as was the case with this curious desert located in the woods of Freeport.
The 20 acres of rolling sand dunes found here have been a tourist destination for nearly 100 years. Seeing a desert within a lush forest - it's just a surreal experience. It almost feels like a mirage...but this very real place was originally formed by glaciers.
Ten thousand years ago, large glaciers covered a good part of Maine. The glaciers scraped rocks as they grew, grinding the pebbles down to sand (glacial silt). Over time, the glaciers receded and topsoil covered the silt. But when the Tuttle family purchased this land in 1821 for farming, their methods of farming and overgrazing eroded the topsoil, exposing a deposit of glacial sand lying underneath. They abandoned the land by the early 20th century and in 1919, Henry Goldrup bought the property and opened it as a public tourist attraction. This is a walking, talking cautionary tale for the risks of poor farming practices.
The Heestands of Freeport bought the Desert of Maine in 2018 and I must say, these new owners are doing a great job of providing an educational and fun experience. This destination now includes mini golf, a gemstone village, a natural playground, a self guided tour buried spring house, hiking trails, a snack bar, gift shop, fossil dig, campground and clean bathrooms. They are currently restoring the old Tuttle Barn, which will eventually become a performing arts venue...good things still to come.
There are two tickets options: you can either purchase general admission tickets, or general admission plus mini golf. We chose the latter and it was $19 per kid (loads cheaper than Fun Town Splash Town). I do think this is a great place for younger kids, but I had a group of 7 ranging in age from 8-14 yrs and they all had a blast. Mini golf was definitely the hit for them.
Second to mini golf was finding gems in the labyrinth known as Gemstone Village. Part of the reason they loved this - they were each allowed to take home their 3 favorite finds. Trading was part of the fun in this game. The third favorite activity here was just playing in the desert and finding this cool tree to hide in.
Open daily through October 10th, you still have time to visit this wild mix of natural history and modern conveniences. Located 2 miles north of exit 20 off of 295, at the end of Desert Road. Their goal is to make the Desert of Maine accessible, which the owners are still working on. Currently, the parking lot, welcome center, and cafe are all accessible. For more information, visit: https://www.desertofmaine.com