Jones: Enjoy the ebb of tourist season by camping

  • A wooded campsite is a wonderful place to be after the “tourist tide” goes out in the fall and campsites are open. TIM JONES /

Published: 9/2/2019 10:36:09 PM

By Tim Jones

For the Monitor

Living as I do in an area that very popular with vacationers, I’ve grown acutely aware of what we call “The Tourist Tide.” It has an ebb and flow very much like the tides of the ocean, and it’s impact is particularly noticeable in campgrounds.

After ski season ends the tide is definitely low, low, low. You can camp anywhere you want pretty much any time you want. There have been many times in April and May when I’m the only camper in a popular roadside area.

Memorial Day Weekend, the tide flows in – but only briefly – before it flows out again and pretty much stays out until around the Fourth of July. You might see a little bump on a nice weekend in June, but the campgrounds are usually quiet and uncrowded.

From about July 1 to Labor Day, it’s high tide. Campgrounds are busy (if not totally full) all week long. Summer weekends, especially if the weather is nice, are like a full moon flood tide – much higher than normal. The two big holiday weekends, July 4th and Labor Day, are like storm surges on top of a flood tide.

Then school starts and the tide mostly ebbs. Which is kind of a shame because, barring a hurricane coming to visit, September and October are definitely the nicest months of the year for camping in New England. The weather is cool enough to really enjoy your days afield. The evenings are long and cool, wonderful for enjoying a campfire. And the nights are usually chilly enough to make snuggling down inside a sleeping bag pure pleasure. I especially like getting up early, when the world is still sparkling with dew. Yup, fall camping is the best.

There will probably be a couple of high tourist tides on nice weekends in September and October, and maybe a flood tide on Columbus Day, but generally you’ll find roadside campsites quiet and backcountry campsites mostly empty. Why not throw a tent in your car and get out and go exploring this month. If you don’t do it now, winter’s going to be here before you know it.

State parks are great place to start if you’re new to camping, or even if you’re a seasoned camper. Connecticut has more than a dozen wonderful state parks and state forests with campgrounds that empty out once the kids are back in school. Massachusetts has 29 state parks with camping, Vermont has 37, New Hampshire has 20 and Maine has around 40.

Add to that total the campsites run by the White Mountain National Forests (22) and Green Mountain National Forests (nine) and the handful maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers (Winhall Brook in Vermont is a personal favorite) and you have more options than you could easily explore in a whole season of camping.

Most of these can be searched or booked through or through Reserve America ( The trick is to do your first one. After that, it’s easy.

Speaking of winter being here before you know it, it’s after Labor Day weekend and skiers, snowshoers and ice climbers are now officially in “waiting for winter” mode. If recent history is any indicator, we should be able to ski on man-made snow at Sunday River ( in Maine and Killington ( some time around the end of October. Shortly after that, you’ll probably find skiing at Sugarloaf ( in Maine, Okemo in Vermont ( and Bretton Woods ( in New Hampshire.

If you haven’t already purchased a season pass at a ski area, there are still a bunch of deals floating around on web sites. If you can’t spring for a season pass, or if you like skiing lots of different areas in a season, check out the “frequent skier” cards that go on sale around now. They aren’t as cheap per day as a season pass, but they will save you a significant amount on every lift ticket you purchase.

If you like the idea of skiing for free, consider working part time at a ski area. Most areas are looking for additional help, it’s usually a lot of fun and the perks are great. It’s one way to make sure you get out more this winter.

(Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel and can be reached at

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