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Active Outdoors

Active Outdoors: Cardigan camping – close to the road, but not too close

  • The campsites at the AMC’s Cardigan Lodge are a few hundred yards from the road but a world away. That  let us carry in five tents for final evaluation, plus four others for a first look. These sites are also perfect for family campers. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    The campsites at the AMC’s Cardigan Lodge are a few hundred yards from the road but a world away. That let us carry in five tents for final evaluation, plus four others for a first look. These sites are also perfect for family campers. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Big garden carts are the perfect way to transport loads of gear to the tent sites at the AMC’s Cardigan Lodge. Go ahead and bring everything you need for comfort! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Big garden carts are the perfect way to transport loads of gear to the tent sites at the AMC’s Cardigan Lodge. Go ahead and bring everything you need for comfort! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • The campsites at the AMC’s Cardigan Lodge are a few hundred yards from the road but a world away. That  let us carry in five tents for final evaluation, plus four others for a first look. These sites are also perfect for family campers. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • Big garden carts are the perfect way to transport loads of gear to the tent sites at the AMC’s Cardigan Lodge. Go ahead and bring everything you need for comfort! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

Cardigan Camp

Three hundred yards makes all the difference.

That’s how far it was to our campsite at the AMC’s Cardigan Reservation (outdoors.org/lodging/cardigan/cardigan-campsites.cfm) from the lodge and parking lot. That mere 300 yards, less than a fifth of a mile, is what makes the experience of camping at Cardigan so different from most campsites. A lot of folks just won’t leave the amenities of civilization even that far behind. Some of the other sites at Cardigan are closer, only 100 yards or so, others are farther away, but the point is, you can’t drive to any of them.

To get your gear from your car to the tents sites, you load it into a garden cart and wheel it in. So you can, basically, take everything you want. They have nice, flat, smooth spots to pitch your tents (in a lovely setting I might add). Many of the sites have shade. They all have a picnic table and a firepit – with firewood provided. And, finally, a tap nearby provides potable water and there are several 5-star outhouses.

There’s no electricity, so you can leave the TV, the computer and the air conditioner behind. No cell service, either, which is a major plus in my world. You won’t get a hot shower, though there’s a wonderfully cool, spring-fed swimmin’ hole near the lodge. If you don’t feel like cooking, you can even have dinner and an outstanding breakfast in the lodge with prior reservations.

What more could you ask for?

My buddy David and I spent a night earlier this week camped there. We didn’t arrive until late afternoon and left early in the morning. The weather wasn’t particularly nice – hot and muggy in the afternoon and evening, barely cool enough for sleeping overnight and drizzly in the morning. But we really enjoyed the getaway.

This was a “work” trip. The staff of EasternSlopes.com has been testing five two-man tents for a review to be published soon. Our standard procedure is, when the individual testing is done, set them all up together, take photographs and measurements, crawl inside for a final look and compile all of the feedback from testers while actually looking at and comparing the tents side by side. We were hoping other campers would notice the tent array, get curious and add even more feedback, but we had the whole campground to ourselves.

We also used the time to set up two new four-person tents for car camping and two new solo tents to take a first look at them, cooked dinner over a new car-camping stove and tested some really cool campware and cooking utensils. In all, a very productive trip.

Of course, we had fun, too, just being away from everything, taking a cooling swim just before bedtime, spending a quiet night (no stars, alas) serenaded by the rushing brook nearby and the slight breeze rustling the leaves overhead. No human sounds at all. The original plan had been to climb Cardigan in the morning (about 4.4 miles round trip by the Holt Trail), but the drizzle and fog made that less than appealing, so we packed up early.

While I’ve stayed at Cardigan Lodge a number of times in both summer and winter, this was the first time I’ve ever camped there. It won’t be the last. These campsite are the perfect place for trying new equipment before you take it to the backcountry, for introducing someone to camping away from roads, or just for a quick getaway from the real world. Maybe I’ll see you there. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

More options

Roadside campsites are everywhere in New England, and while some have separate tent sites, they also have RVs, trailers and electric hookups, which changes the whole dynamic. Options that are close to the road, but not too close, are much harder to find.

Adirondack Mountain Club’s Heart Lake Campground (adk.org/page.php?pname=wilderness-campground), located at the end of a l-o-n-g dead-end road outside Lake Placid, has several lean-to shelters a short walk from their roadside campsites. The roadside spots don’t have electricity and will only fit the smallest trailers. Beautiful spot.

Merck Forest (merckforest.org/shelters.php) in Rupert, Vt., is much like Cardigan Reservation, except that most of the campsites are farther from roads. You pretty much have to backpack.

The Green and White Mountain National Forests both have a number of tenting areas close to roads, but not actually on the road. With the exception of the busy Tripoli Road Camping area right off Interstate 93 in New Hampshire, these are tough to find. Backcountry rules state you have to be at least a quarter-mile off most roads. My suggestion is to simply go exploring while you are in the area (maybe stay at one of the many roadside campsites for a night or two?), stop at the district ranger stations and see if they’ll offer any suggestions.

Volunteer weekend

On the weekend of Aug. 2-4, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (northernforestcanoetrail.org) needs volunteers for a weekend trail project at the Long Falls Dam Carry on Maine’s Flagstaff Lake. The project includes constructing a stone staircase, a causeway, and canoe and kayak rests. No experience is needed.

You’ll be camping near the work site, and have time to paddle.

All meals are included with the cost of the trip ($60 NFCT members, $75 non-members). Participants bring their own camping and paddling gear. Get details and preregister on the website or contact Walter Opuszynski at 802-496-2285, ext 2.

Family camping weekends

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Becoming an Outdoorswoman Program is offering weekend family camping experiences designed specifically for beginning campers.

The weekends are July 20-21 at the Otter River State Forest in Baldwinville (Templeton); July 27-28 at the Harold Parker State Forest in Andover; Aug. 3-4 at Nickerson State Park, Brewster; and Aug. 10-11 at Tolland State Forest in Otis.

Registration materials at can be found at mass.gov/eea/agencies/dfg/dfw/education-events/outdoorswoman-events.html.

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

Photo Cutlines:

Tent Lineup. The campsites at the AMC’s Cardigan Lodge are a few hundred yards from the road but a world away. That let us carry in five tents for final evaluation, plus four others for a first look. These sites are also perfect for family campers. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

Packing Out: Big garden carts are the perfect way to transport loads of gear to the tent sites at the AMC’s Cardigan Lodge. Go ahead and bring everything you need for comfort! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

Camp Kitchen Because the campsites at Cardigan Lodge are so close to the road, we were also able to test other car camping gear including a new stove, campware and utensils. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

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