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Active Outdoors

Active Outdoors: State parks mean inexpensive outdoor getaways

  • Bear Brook Campground Beach This beach was just a few steps from our campsite and very quiet on a warm early-summer evening.  Watching the sunset was much better than watching TV. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Bear Brook Campground Beach This beach was just a few steps from our campsite and very quiet on a warm early-summer evening. Watching the sunset was much better than watching TV. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Evening vacation. Even sandwiched between two long work days, an evening at Bear Brook State Park in New Hampshire seemed like a vacation. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Evening vacation. Even sandwiched between two long work days, an evening at Bear Brook State Park in New Hampshire seemed like a vacation. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Bear Brook Campground Beach This beach was just a few steps from our campsite and very quiet on a warm early-summer evening.  Watching the sunset was much better than watching TV. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • Evening vacation. Even sandwiched between two long work days, an evening at Bear Brook State Park in New Hampshire seemed like a vacation. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

‘With three school-age kids in sports leagues and summer activities, we don’t have the time or energy or money for more than our traditional vacation week away.”

“My wife and I work too many hours, we’re saving every penny we can for retirement and can barely afford to go out for dinner and drinks once a week, let alone have money for outdoor recreation.”

Those are snippets of two conversations I’ve had recently, but I’ve heard those same ideas expressed in many different ways over the years. Lots of people wish they could get away more, they just think they can’t afford the time or money to

do it. Notice I said “think.” The truth is, you almost always can, if you want to. Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at some easy, inexpensive, close-to home options for summer outdoor fun, focusing on pastimes where a relatively small upfront investment in gear can open up years of easy-access opportunities.

One of the great joys of my life is the quick-and-easy overnight or weekend camping getaway. With the right setup and a little practice, this is something you can accomplish in less than 24 hours but feel like you’ve really gotten away from your stressful work-a-day world.

Now “camping” means a lot of different things to different people, everything from parking and plugging in a $200,000 air-conditioned motor home to throwing a (very) few essentials into a backpack or kayak and searching out unexplored territory.

Most of us can’t afford an RV, and not everyone is willing to give up the luxury of flush toilets, showers and a nearby vehicle. Fortunately, there’s a lot of middle ground that allows everyone to enjoy easy getaways. By far the easiest way to do a quick overnight or weekend “vacation” is to have all your camping gear packed in the car, check the weather, and head out for however long you can get away.

As far as I’m concerned, New England’s state parks are among the very best options for these mini-vacations. I’ve camped at a number of state parks in all six New England states, and have never had a bad experience. Only once have nearby campers gotten too noisy, and the park rangers quickly put a stop to that. Far more often, it’s been a quiet night in a lovely setting with a flat, well-drained spot to pitch a tent, a sturdy picnic table and a fireplace with a grill. Nearby you’ll find clean bathrooms with running water, flush toilets, coin-op showers. Everything you need, in other words. All for $30 or less for two adults and a couple of kids. Talk about a bargain!

A camping getaway is a “gateway drug” for other outdoor pastimes. Often, there’s a pond with a beach for swimming, canoeing, kayaking and fishing, and hiking or mountain biking trails right in the state park to add to the adventure.

So, summer has just started, and fall is really the best camping season in New England. That means you’ve got at least four, maybe five months of great camping getaways awaiting you. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Bear Brook State Park

EasternSlopes.com publisher David Shedd and I recently attended a trade show in Manchester. We could have commuted from my house or taken a hotel room at the venue (for a couple of hundred dollars by the time you added in meals). But we chose to pitch a tent at Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown, about 45 minutes from the show venue. Once we left the show, the vacation started.

Bear Brook is a huge, largely undeveloped area, criss-crossed with hiking and biking trails. Our campsite was about 200 feet from a nice beach. Campsites are $30 a night for two adults and two children. We spent the same on food as if we’d eaten at home. This was a cheap getaway.

Interestingly, even at the start of summer vacation, we were able to book a campsite last minute. I’m told that the tent sites at most NH state park campgrounds rarely fill up. Another advantage of tents over RVs.

After a full day of work, we stopped at a grocery store on the way and pulled into the campsite just in time to enjoy appetizers and wine as we pitched the tent and set up camp. Our tent was a four-man from Kelty we are testing; high quality, but still less than $200 brand new. Then, we cooked and ate dinner, took a quick swim on a warm evening, and generally relaxed and talked until bedtime.

We were perfectly comfortable in very lightweight sleeping bags on thick air mattresses. If it had been any warmer, a sheet would have been enough. You don’t need a lot of ultralight, ultra fancy, high-priced gear to comfortably camp near your car. As long as a tent sets up easily and keeps out rain and bugs, it’s perfect.

We had to pack up right after breakfast and get back to work, but the next time we visit Bear Brook, we’re going to bring either kayaks and fishing gear or mountain bikes and enjoy more of what this great park offers.

Resources

∎ New Hampshire: State Park campgrounds (nhstateparks.org/experience/camping); White Mountain National Forest (fs.usda.gov/activity/whitemountain/recreation/camping-cabins).

∎ Vermont: State Park Campgrounds (vtstateparks.com/htm/camping.htm); Green Mountain National Forest (fs.usda.gov/activity/greenmountain/recreation/camping-cabins).

∎ Maine: State Park campgrounds (maine.gov/doc/parks).

∎ Massachusetts: State Park campgrounds (mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks), then click on recreation activities and camping.

∎ Connecticut: State Park campgrounds (ct.gov/deep), then click the button for “Parks and Forests.”

∎ New York: State Park Campgrounds (nysparks.com/camping).

∎ Quebec: Provincial and National Parks (sepaq.com/hebergement/camping/camping-tente.dot?language_id=1).

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)

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