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Active Outdoors

Active Outdoors: Planning a park-and-go getaway

The kayaks are loaded with camping gear and we won't see our car again for a couple of days as we head out on the Maine Island Trail with H2Oufitters. (Tim Jones/ photo)

The kayaks are loaded with camping gear and we won't see our car again for a couple of days as we head out on the Maine Island Trail with H2Oufitters. (Tim Jones/ photo)

As longtime readers probably know, my sweetheart Marilyn and I really enjoy “Active Outdoors” vacations where we park our car and travel from place to place – by skis or snowshoes in winter, by foot, bike or kayak in the summer, not returning to our car until it’s time to come home. These can be camping trips, hut-to-hut adventures, or inn and B&B luxury outings. They are all fun.

In our experience, if you have your car available, you’ll generally do more driving and less of whatever you planned to do, especially if

the weather is less than perfect. Think about it: If you’ve planned to go biking or hiking or kayaking on a given day, and it rains, you aren’t as likely to go. But without the car as an option, you simply have to get out and be more active, whether the weather cooperates or not. With our car miles and miles away, we’ve biked through downpours and through the aftermath of hurricanes … literally.

With that in mind, it’s time to start planning your own park-and-go getaways this summer.

You’ll have to answer some questions for yourself: What do you like to do (or what do you want to try)? When do you want to go? How long can you get away for? What do you have for skills, experience and equipment?

Once you’ve answered those basics, then you can begin looking at specific trips ideas and making plans.

Duration is probably the biggest factor in determining what you can actually do, and it’s one of the places people set themselves up for problems. Based on our experiences, we find it’s better to slightly underestimate how far you can travel in a day, however you choose to travel. If you think you can walk 15 miles in a day, paddle 25 or bike 40, it’s better to plan to walk 10, paddle 15 or bike 30. You can always do more after you arrive at your destination if you still have the energy, but it’s tough to wear yourself out by doing too much in one day, then have to get up and do it all over again the next.

Another decision you’ll have to make is whether to do it completely on your own, have some help, or join a pre-planned group where almost everything is done for you. We’ve done all three options and enjoyed each immensely. But if you are just starting out on this kind adventure, a “fully supported” trip is much easier. After you have more experience, you can plan on-your-own adventures.

Whether you’re leaving your car behind for the first time, or heading out on trip number 100, planning a park-and go getaway is a sure guarantee that you’ll create summer vacation memories to carry though the rest of the year. Email me if you want more details on any of these ideas.

Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Park-and-go biking

Our favorite park-and-go getaways happen on our big, red Co-Motion tandem bicycle. The fun starts the instant the car is out of sight, and we are already looking at several for this summer. We often do self-supported overnights with just a change of clothes and a toiletry kit in panniers on the bike. These can be as simple as parking at one end of a rail trail, biking along it to an inn, staying overnight, and then biking back. We are looking to do a one-night like that on the 26.4-mile Mississquoi Valley Rail Trail ( in Vermont and, possibly, on the Northern Rail Trail ( and in New Hampshire. A new group called Bike The Northern Rail Trail ( is offering self-supported tour packages with inns in that area.

In Maine, we’ve done two of the loop rides outlined in the Explore Maine by Bike book (, one each in Aroostook and Washington Counties, and have decided we want to do all of them. Summer Feet Cycling ( offers several supported and semi-supported bike treks along the coast of Maine.

And in Quebec last August we did a wonderful one-night, bike-and-ferry tour along Saguenay Fjord (

We have also done several on-our-own multi-night tours to Cape Cod and the Islands and on the Route Verte in Quebec (, with our luggage in a handy BOB trailer ( This is one of the easiest places in New England to do an on-your-own park-and-go vacation, especially in the “shoulder seasons” (May-June, September-October).

Another option is a semi-supported tour where you ride your bike while someone else shuttles your luggage. We’ve done this near Lake Champlain in Vermont with Country Inns Along The Trail ( and around Lac St. Jean in Quebec with the Veloroute des Bleuets (, which was the best bike tour ever.

The other option is a fully supported tour where all you have to do is supply a credit card number, then show up and pedal. They do everything for you. We’ve done Vermont with Vermont Bike Tours ( Great experience.

Park-and-go hiking

Hiking is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other until you get where you want to go. One night or months at a time, parking your car, donning a light pack, and hiking from place to place automatically makes for a great summer getaway.

For a quick out-and-back adventure, try the hike-to Johns Brook Lodge ( run by the Adirondack Mountain Club. They do the cooking, and you don’t need a tent. Easy.

Any of the individual huts maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club ( and Maine Huts and Trails ( are great for an overnight – or they can be combined into a multi-night getaway. The four Maine Huts can also be reached by mountain bike and two of them by canoe or kayak.

Country Inns Along The Trail and VBT do semi- and fully supported inn-to-inn walking tours in Vermont.

Park-and-go kayaking

Maine is the epicenter for camping and inn-to-inn kayak getaways. If you are set up with your own gear, the Maine Island Trail ( is a tremendous resource. We’ve done two trips with H2Outfitters ( and would like to do more. They do both camping and inn trips.

We’re also looking at The Northern Forest Canoe Trail ( and Lake George in New York ( as possible choices for getaways this summer.

(Tim Jones can be reached at

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