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Active Outdoors

Active Outdoors: Three short summer outings

Summer Camp: The campsites at Cardigan Lodge are a few hundred yeard from the parking lot, which makes for a quiet escape, even on a beautiful summer Saturday. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

Summer Camp: The campsites at Cardigan Lodge are a few hundred yeard from the parking lot, which makes for a quiet escape, even on a beautiful summer Saturday. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

It was a beautiful summer Saturday morning, with sunny blue skies, low humidity, temperatures in the 50s and headed for the high 70s. If July were always this nice, I’d be a big fan. Over breakfast, my sweetheart Marilyn and I decided we had to get out and enjoy it. We rarely plan far ahead in the summer; when it’s hot and humid, we hide.

“Let’s go camping,” she suggested.


I began a quick mental rundown of the possibilities. We could backpack or kayak to one of “our” hidden spots, but I hadn’t visited any of them yet this summer and usually like to check everything out before I take her.

We could visit any one of the dozens of State Park or National Forest campgrounds that dot New England and upstate New York. But on a beautiful summer Saturday we were likely to find a limited choice of campsites. At some of the more popular “dispersed campsites” (look under “recreation, then “camping and cabins”) in the White Mountain National Forest (fs.usda.gov/main/whitemountain/home) and Green Mountain National Forest (fs.usda.gov/main/greenmountain/home), we might not find a spot at all on a weekend.

But there’s another option available, one that seemed perfect for a quick getaway like this: the campsites at the AMC’s Cardigan Lodge (outdoors.org/lodging/lodges/cardigan/campsites.cfm). Like Goldilocks’s bed choices, this one seems “just right.” A quick check of availability on the website showed openings, and a call (466-2727) reserved a site with the understanding that we could choose among any unreserved sites once we got there. Note: The campsite map on the website is out of date. They’ve added some new sites, including several more remote ones, removed some others that were too close to each other, and generally improved the whole place.

If you “camp” in an RV, trailer or popup, and require flush toilets and showers, or even if you absolutely have to have your car within arm’s length, this isn’t going to be the spot for you. All the campsites at Cardigan require walking – anywhere from a couple of hundred feet to a mile from the parking lot. For the closer sites, you can load all your gear into one of the wheelbarrows or garden carts they provide. The more remote sites will require a backpack.

I’d stayed in one of these campsites for the first time last summer while testing a bunch of two-man tents and other camping gear for EasternSlopes.com (easternslopes.com/2013/09/24/gear-roundup-mid-priced-two-man-tents). Marilyn and I have stayed in the lodge (outdoors.org/lodging/lodges/cardigan) together a number of times, but she’d never camped there.

All our camping gear is put away clean and ready, so it only took a few minutes for me to gather the tent and sleeping and camp-kitchen gear. While I was doing that, Marilyn put together appetizers, dinner and breakfast. Less than two hours after camping was first mentioned, we were on our way. We stopped in nearby Bristol for a big lunch at the friendly Bristol Diner (try the burgers … hand-made, perfectly cooked) and arrived at Cardigan in the early afternoon. It took about an hour to pick a site we liked (there were lots of open choices, even on a beautiful Saturday), wheel our gear in, and set up our tent and kitchen area. Then it was time to explore a little.

There are lots of lovely hiking trails on the Cardigan Reservation, and we walked some of the easier ones. Lots of folks were climbing Cardigan this day, but the humidity and heat were building as the afternoon progressed and we stuck to the lower slopes and cool woods. Before dinner we took a swim in the little spring-fed pod near the lodge to cool off, and read and relaxed a bit.

Dinner was curried pork brought from home and just heated on a Primus two-burner propane stove. We spent the evening alternately reading and strolling around the property. A number of families with small (some very small) children were camping nearby and we enjoyed the sounds of happy play. Kids and camping just go together.

At bedtime we happily crawled into lightweight sleeping bags on top of air mattresses on some nifty new cots from Thermarest. The night was cool and we slept soundly. I awoke twice in the night, once to the cries of what sounded like an unhappy toddler, but that was far away and quickly stilled. Marilyn never heard it. Just before dawn a whole family of barred owls started a conversation in the surrounding woods. The “who cooks for you” chorus was the perfect touch. I’d rather hear owls than road noise any time.

Up early, we cooked and ate a big breakfast, then packed up all our gear, trundled it out to the car and were on our merry way.

Next time, we’re going to do two nights and have a full day to hike, swim, explore and relax. But this time, with no prior planning at all, one night was perfect. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Seacoast Discovery Paddle

I recently joined a dozen or so other paddlers on a Sunset Birding Paddle out of the Great Bay Discover Center (greatbay.org) in Greenland. This program is open to paddlers of all ability levels and is a great way to “dip your toe” into the wonders of this particular bit of salt water.

Great Bay is a tidal estuary, less salty than the ocean, that supports a wonderful diversity of plant and animal life. Trip leader Jill Bartolotta and her volunteer assistants not only ably shepherded a diverse group of kayakers, but also gave us a fact-filled tour of the area around the Discover Center and the mouth of the Squamscott River.

What a wonderful way to spend a warm, calm summer evening. The day before had seen big thunderstorms most of the day, but this evening was perfect for paddling. The tour was supposed to be two hours, but we were on the water longer than that.

As for birds, we saw seagulls soaring overhead, cormorants drying their wings on pilings in the river, swallows dancing and dipping, redwing blackbirds, kingfishers, great blue herons, and a pair of ospreys guarding chicks in a huge nest atop a platform built just for them.

There are more kayak and SUP programs coming up, including a trip from Odiorne Point in Rye on Aug. 23. For more details, go to greatbay.nh.gov/documents/kayak2014flyer.pdf and greatbay.nh.gov/documents/PSAWordsWatershedSeries.pdf), or, easier still, give them a call at 778-0015.

A note for Connecticut readers

If you don’t want to travel to New Hampshire, you can find similar paddling/ecology programs at the Meigs Point Nature Center (meigspointnaturecenter.org) at Hammonasset State Park

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

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