Pitch your tent and smell the pines
Region offers full range for outdoor communing, fun
After a long, cold, damp spring, warmer weather has finally arrived, and summer is officially here on Tuesday. This time of year one great possibility for a quick, inexpensive getaway is camping, and there are a variety of options in the region for all levels of outdoor adventurers — from car campers, to those who want to disappear into the wilderness, to those who get panicky without a bed, a power outlet, and little Wi-Fi.
If you are anything like me and don’t plan far enough ahead to book one of Martha’s Vineyard’s seaside bed-and-breakfasts, don’t fret. One of the island’s best kept secrets is its campground. Martha’s Vineyard Family Campground (569 Edgartown Road, 508-693-3772, campmv.com) has a friendly staff and features modern facilities with flushing toilets, clean showers, laundry services, and a small general store.
Located just a mile and a half from where the ferry docks in Vineyard Haven, the campground is the ideal starting point for biking the island. I and my friend Karla loaded backpacks and panniers with camping gear and biked from the ferry at the Steamship Authority along Edgartown Road to the campground ($50 per day for a tent site, $315 per week). We had both been camping as kids, but never just the two of us, and excitedly set up the site as the sun set. In the absence of daylight, we realized we had not brought a lantern, and huddled around our only flashlight as we attempted to light a fire and play cards.
If roughing it isn’t exactly your thing, the campground also offers one- and two-room cabins ($130/day, $840/week and $150/day, $980/week), which sleep up to four and six people, respectively. These adorable outposts include electricity, bunk beds, a mini-fridge, and gas grill and have the added benefit of keeping you dry if it happens to rain.
Spread out on 626 acres, with nearly 3 miles of woodsy oceanfront edging tidal Casco Bay, Recompence Shore Campground (134 Burnett Road, 207-865-9307, www.freeportcamping.com, campsites $25-$45, cabins $90-$125) delivers peace, quiet, and a low-tech camping experience just minutes from the shopping frenzy of downtown Freeport. This especially eco-sensitive campground is part of the nonprofit Wolfe’s Neck Farm, dedicated to sustainable agriculture and education. More than 100 campsites are divided among inland sites at East Bay, which have electric and water hookups; tent sites in the woods and along the shorefront of Middle Bay; and mixed sites amid the trees and pastures of West Bay. Also available are some camping cabins.
The shorefront access is perfect for launching a canoe or kayak (rentals $30-$50) or casting a line for stripers (registration required). The farm raises several breeds of cattle, including Belted Galloways, also known as Belties or Oreo cookie cows for their distinctive white belly stripe, and the beef is sold in the camp store. Also on the farm are the Barnyard, open to visitors and home to sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and ducks; demonstration gardens; and more than 3 miles of hiking trails.
Amenities here include a snack shack, playground, recreation field, coin-op showers and laundry, outhouses, free morning newspapers, and — proof that low tech doesn’t mean no tech— Wi-Fi.
Mollidgewock State Park (Route 16, 603-482-3373, $21-$23 per site per night plus reservation fee, www.nhstateparks.org.) sits in the middle of moose country, about 210 miles north of Boston. Here it’s not uncommon to spot a moose ambling through the campground along the banks of the Androscoggin River, once the site of log drives from the deep boreal forest to the paper mills of Berlin.
Nowadays, kayakers and canoeists of all abilities come to paddle both the fast-moving and placid currents as fly fishermen (a New Hampshire fishing license is required) ply the waters from shore and in drift boats for trout, bass, yellow perch, northern pike, and other fish. Wildlife sightings abound with deer, black bear, and other mammals in the spruce and fir forest and osprey, herons, and the occasional eagle overhead.
Situated within the protected Thirteen Mile Woods, the primitive campground with its 40-plus sites, south of the small town of Errol with its groceries, restaurants, and outfitters, is remote in atmosphere yet easily accessible from Route 16. Sites come with fire rings and picnic tables, and tap water is available in the main building. There are pit toilets and no showers. Wade into the river from the wooded shore and splash around with the youngsters. Still too civilized? Paddle to your choice of one of two remote campsites appropriately named Moose and Osprey.
Looking for a perfect car camping getaway? Then Nickerson State Park (Route 6A, 508-896-3491, information at www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/southeast/nick.htm; reservations at www.reserveamerica.com) is for you. Most of the more than 400 sites in this family-friendly jewel provide ample space between sites, reducing the odds of a sleepless night thanks to noisy neighbors, and all for rates that start at $15 a night. Campsites fill up fast, so reservations are suggested, but the park usually holds a limited number of spots for walk-up customers.
Cape beaches too crowded? Take a dip in one of Nickerson’s eight freshwater kettle ponds, carved out by retreating glaciers. They are a cool respite after a day of biking on the 22-mile Cape Cod Rail Trail, (www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/southeast/ccrt.htm) which runs through the park. Kayak, canoe, and sailboat rentals available. For a night diversion, grab the camp chairs and head over to the Stony Brook Field to take in a Brewster Whitecaps game (384 Underpass Road, www.brewsterwhitecaps.com, donations accepted). The Whitecaps play in the 10-team Cape Cod Baseball League, which attracts some of the country’s best college talent. Not much for campfire cuisine? Come dinner time check out JT’s Seafood Restaurant (2689 Main St., 508-896-3355, www.jt-seafood.com, fried seafood platters $12.99-$14.99) for dinner or ice cream. It offers outdoor-indoor seating and great people-watching.
GRAND ISLE, Vt.
I sometimes enjoy hacking my way off the beaten path for a true backwoods adventure. But other times, especially when traveling with less experienced campers, I enjoy the ambience of roughing it — with a little less of the rough part. That’s where Vermont’s Grand Isle State Park comes in (36 East Shore South Grand Isle, 802-372-4300, www.vtstateparks.com/htm/grandisle.htm. Basic tent sites $18 per night; for added luxury, put your tent on a platform under a roof for $25; cabins $48).
The campground sits right on Lake Champlain with awesome views and easy swimming access. Its bathroom facilities are clean and convenient. Yet when the campfire goes out, it’s so quiet you can hear the lake’s gentle lapping and feel a thousand miles from anywhere. The sky is so dark at night, it’s hard to believe that Burlington, with its great dining and drinking options, is an easy 25-minute drive. The campground can serve as an inexpensive hotel alternative for exploring Burlington and Lake Champlain, or the staff will be more than happy to suggest awesome day hikes right on the nearby islands or in the Green Mountains.
There is more solitude before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, but even in the middle of summer the sites here are well spaced, and you have the feeling of being pretty much away from it all.
A mere 2 miles north of the town’s picturesque harbor, Camden Hills State Park (280 Belfast Road, 207-236-3109, reservations: 207-624-9950 or www.campwithme.com/doc/parks/reservations. Walk-up, per-night fee $16 for Maine residents, $26 for nonresidents; $2 per night fee for reservations) is an outdoor playground. It rewards hikers with miles of trails and is near the ocean, so you can take a windjammer cruise out of Camden or go sea kayaking along the rugged coast.
The park has 106 campsites nestled in a forest just inland of Route 1. It also offers picnic shelters, RV hookups for electricity and water, showers, flush toilets, some Wi-Fi, and trails that branch off in every direction like the spokes on a wheel.
One of the finest hikes, the ascent to the 780-foot summit of Mount Battie, is only 30 minutes long, but expect to sweat as you clamber up the steep rocks. Once on top, the view is commanding. Camden’s white steeples and schooners’ masts surge to the sky, surrounded by tall pines.