Jean C.
West Roxbury, MA
Joined September 2018
Lifelong tent camper, now in a teardrop. Love hiking, photography, exploring in New England & beyond! Visited all 50 states,more than 70 countries.
Ranger Review: Grub Sticks at Monadnock State Park

Ranger Review: Grub Sticks at Monadnock State Park

Campground Review: It’s been a rainy, drizzly spring in New England and this weekend was no exception, but I had reservations for Gilson Pond campground at Monadnock State Park, so I headed out. I’ve hiked Mt Monadnock several times), but had never camped here before. It’s a newer campground, opened in 2010. Before I left I received a call notifying me that there was a problem with the water system, so there would be no running water during my stay. So much for a warm shower after a muddy hike up the mountain! Upon arrival they provided me with a gallon of water and a bundle of firewood to compensate.

The campsites are large and wooded; I had a better view of the campsite across the road than the ones next door. The bathrooms/showers are centrally located, but there are pit toilets distributed throughout the campground. The pit toilets are clean and, this early in the season at least, odorless, with waterless hand cleanser available. Because of the water outage, I didn’t get to see the interior of the bathrooms, but they do have a large dishwashing area with coin-operated hot water.

I had a standard site (A13) with ample space for my teardrop camper and a 12x12 canopy; I could easily have pitched a large tent as well. When choosing a site, note that the tent only sites often have small parking areas with 1-2 platforms and are not suitable for an RV/trailer. Only 7 sites are suitable for a trailer/RV, 4 of them with electric hookups (add $10 to the site rate), but none with water. There are 5 remote sites, but I only made it to 2 of them (R1 & R2). The trails were quite wet. R2 is nice, near a small waterfall.

There’s a long approach to Mt. Monadnock that leaves from the campground (Birchtoff), with shorter trails leaving from the State Park headquarters 2 miles down the road. Because of the puddles and muck I encountered when trying to find the remote sites, I decided against hiking the Birchtoff trail for my Saturday afternoon ascent and drove to the Headquarters entrance instead, where my camping pass covered the entrance fee. Pond trail run around Gilson Pond. There is a large playground for kids <12 and a wide open day use area for picnicking. It would be a great place to run around and play games.

If you want a treat after your hike, head into Jaffrey for homemade ice cream at Kimball Farm.

Grub Stick Review:

As a Ranger for the Dyrt I sometimes get to review equipment. On this trip I was testing Grub Sticks Deluxe and Intro kits. My current camping gear includes an assortment of hot dog sticks and skewers, so I was interested in checking out these sets that give you solid handles with interchangeable heads. Here’s how I used them:

1.      Forks: chicken jalapeno sausage and vegetables

2.      Burgcage: hamburger (I pre-mixed the ground beef with hot salsa)

3.      Grubcage:

a.      S’waffles: I made gingerbread waffles at home for a twist on this; also tried waffles with cinnamon

b.      S’mores: standard recipe

c.      Silver clouds: peppermint patty and marshmallow inside crescent rolls

d.      Nutella and strawberry inside crescent rolls

4.      Grubtube: biscuit dough- filled with chocolate pudding; crescent rolls – rolled in cinnamon sugar before and after cooking; filled with chocolate pudding

5.      Grubpocket & bacon clip – fail

The telescoping handles are sturdy and substantial, with a rubbery grip that feels comfortable in your hand. I liked being able to adjust the length and it still felt sturdy; a groove in the extension keeps them from rotating. In addition to the handles and heads, the kits include a carrying bag (drawstring for the intro kit; zippered for the deluxe) and a tool for opening the cages. The deluxe version also contained silicone trivet and fingertip protector, plus a bacon clip (more on that later).

Forks: straightforward, it’s great to have 2 spikes at the end of the stick. It enabled me to cook 2 of the sausages at once and to spike slices of vegetables across both. The sausage cooked quickly and evenly.

Burgcage: also straightforward; the cage closes securely and it’s easy to open while hot with the special tool they include.

Grubcage: Besides shape, the difference between this and the Burgcage is the depth, making it better suited to cooking something thicker/multi-layered like the s’mores and s’waffles. I tried the gingerbread s’waffles the first day and found it held everything securely in place; my biggest challenge was patiently holding it far enough from the coals that it would melt the chocolate and marshmallow and not burn the waffles. It was good! I tried the s’mores the next day and found this a little harder to manage. I used fun-sized chocolate bars, so when I flipped it, one of the bars was not held securely by marshmallows and fell against the cage. I’d love to try these with the new chocolate filled marshmallows that are out, but I couldn’t find any in time! Using a hazelnuet spread would be an alternative.

Be sure to fill the full depth of the Grubcage to make sure your pieces stay together. I tried these with slices of vegetables as well, but they have to be very large to not fall through the gaps between the wires. Some of the suggested recipes with larger vegetables wrapped in bacon, etc. might be a better choice.

Grubtube: Ever make doughboys as a youth camper, wrapping dough around a stick? This takes those to a new level. Wrap the dough around the tube and it slides off effortlessly when cooked. I contemplated mixing dough, but ended up using refrigerated biscuits the first time and crescent rolls the second time. The trick is to ensure the seams are sealed. Two crescent rolls are a perfect fit around the tube. One time I rolled it in cinnamon sugar before and the second time after I cooked it. Rolling it in the cinnamon sugar before cooking it makes a nice glaze. It reminded me of a treat I’d had in Romania a couple of years ago where the dough is spiraled around a larger tube and then roasted, sometimes dipped in cinnamon sugar or coconut. I opened it at the seam afterwards and spooned chocolate pudding into it, making a pudding boat. It was easier than spooning it into the tube as I did the night before with the biscuit dough. I could see filling these with taco meat, string cheeze, or pizza filling, etc.

Grubpocket: I watched the videos showing how to make a bacon pocket, but try as I might, this was a fail. First piece of advice is not to use thick bacon! The bacon clip won’t fit around it. I found the clip very hard to operate; I couldn’t open it far enough and long enough to easily slide it down over the bacon. I was thinking about this and I would have liked a nesting cage (think the two sides of the Burgcage nested) instead, so I could weave bacon in it, holding the bacon in place. I didn’t try this again with dough to form a cup. The downside of making the cups is that you either need to fill it with something cold or heat the filling separately. I think I’d rather have an extra Grubtube rather than a Grubpocket.

I’m a simple camp cook and expect I’ll use the Burgcage, Forks, and Grubtube most often. You need to upgrade to at least the Deluxe kit to get the Grubtube. These are a higher quality than your standard hot dog/marshmallow sticks, but you’ll have to decide for yourself if they’re worth the extra cost and if you’re interested in the windows they open for some more creative meal options. They fill a fun niche, but I wouldn’t call them a need.

Great location to explore Cades Cove Loop

I'll give it 5 stars because there is no way to beat the location of the Cades Cove campground located at the entrance to the Cades Cove loop road that is dotted with old homesteads, trails to waterfalls, and wildlife. Stay here because the road itself is crowded enough during peak seaon; you'll be glad you won't have to fight the traffic just to reach it!

Some of the B loop sites are starting to look a little older, with cracking pavement. There's been some tree loss here as well. The back of the campground offers slightly larger, more level, and quieter sites. bathrooms are no frills, clean, flush toilets, no hand soap. The C loop is open year round, but not all of it. The front rows tend to have more of a slope and are closer together; the ones on the back side of the loop are larger, more level, and more secluded. No showers in the park; ask at the visitor's center for a list of area campgrounds that will allow you to shower for $3-5.

This is one of two year-round campgrounds in the park. Make your reservations online. You need to spend a couple of days here, but not your entire stay. The camp store is heavy on souvenirs, also has take out food. Bike rentals make it easy to take advantage of the bikes only mornings on the loop road. Firewood is available here, but you may also gather downed firewood in the park. Otherwise, it must be heat-treated firewood.

No cell service; head into Townsend, TN for that.

Less crowded campground; stay while exploring this part of the Smokies

I was too early in the season to stay at Cosby (it doesn't open until id/late April), but I was exploring this area of the park and spent some time wandering through the campground. I wished i'd been there a few weeks later to enjoy this area. A beautiful river runs along the road into the campground and there is a picnic area and amphitheater for Ranger programs in season. Of all the no-frills campgrounds in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this one falls on the more basic end of the spectrum and the low cost reflects it.

Unlike the more popular campgrounds where sites are practically on top of each other, Cosby’s sites are generally farther from each other, offering a little more privacy. Most of the sites are better suited to tent campers, though a few of them are designated RV sites offering a back-in parking pad. The parking at the sites is parallel to the road and then the picnic table, fire ring and tent pad are either above or below the parking area, sometimes a dozen stairs or more. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but you’re in bear country, so all food needs to be secured in your car when not in use. You won’t want to haul your cooler up and down a few times each day, etc. A few of the sites are small, with limited space around the picnic table and/or fire ring. The B loop seems steeper than the A loop. It also contains 3 group camp sites. As with other campgrounds in the park, bathrooms provide flush toilets and sinks with a dishwashing sink outside. No showers. Buy heat treated firewood outside the park or you can gather firewood in the park. No camp store here.

Several trails leave from the campground, including the popular Hen Wallow Falls trail. A beautiful river runs alongside the road into the picnic area and campground. The Roaring Fork Auto Road isn’t too far away, with hikes to more waterfalls and Mt. LeConte; Greenbrier is another starting point for hikes, including Ramsey Falls. There’s rafting available during the summer just outside the park. It’s about 25 minutes to Gatlinburg in the spring, probably longer during peak season . I wouldn’t make it my home base for a week-long visit to the Smokies, but it’s worth a night or two here to explore this side of the park, away from all the crowds. It’s at least 90 minutes from here to Cades Cove and that’s a spring, low crowd estimate; I can’t image how long it would take during peak season. 

100 of the 140 sites are online reservation only; if you have an RV you'll probably want reservations to be sure you get a spot that is optimized for an RV. No cell service.

Ranger Review: Wenzel Sun Valley Screen House at Elkmont Campground

Campground Review

On a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you quickly learn that you’ll enjoy your visit a lot more if you are located close to what you want to see and do. This means you may find it worth your while to move from one campground to another during your stay, as I did. My final night in the park found me setting up camp at Elkmont Campground, < 5 miles from the Sugarlands entrance, so I would have a shorter drive to view sunset and sunrise from overlooks along the beautiful Newfound Gap Rd. This is also the viewing area for the synchronous fireflies in late May/early June (dates vary; parking passes by lottery in April) if you don’t have a campsite reservation).

Elkmont is open early March – October and reservations are required. If you arrive without a reservation, there is a phone line there that you can call to make them, or you can return to town where you have cell service and make reservations online. This early in the season (mid-April) the campground wasn’t full, some of the loops were closed. I was in site A14, beside a branch of the Little River with a large tent pad, fire ring, picnic table, and paved, slightly sloped, parking pad. It was a compact site;  the location of the picnic table between the tent and fire ring made it a challenge to set up a screen house over the picnic table and maintain sufficient distance from the fire. I was pleased with my site and the privacy, though I liked the looks of A13 even better. It was somewhat larger and more secluded. Many of the sites, particularly those on the western side of A - F loops, are along the river. Most of the sites are shaded. A few of the B-loop sites are walk-in. It’s bear country, so your food and toiletries need to be locked in a vehicle or hard-side camping unit; there are some food storage lockers provided for the walk-in sites. There’s a small camp store with limited supplies and hours (open late afternoon); Cades Cove has a much larger one, though it tends more toward souvenirs.

There’s cold running water, flush toilets, and a dishwashing station available, but no showers or hookups (a couple of accessible sites do have electricity for medical equipment). Bathrooms are basic, no frills, but clean; The one in the A loop didn’t even have an outlet or hand dryer. If you ask at the visitor’s center, they’ll provide you with a list of area campgrounds that allow you to take a shower for $3-7. The nearest dump station is a seasonal one at the Sugarlands Visitor Center (doesn’t open until late May); the one at Cades Cove is open year round. Buy firewood in the park or, better yet, pick up deadwood around the park.

One of the more intriguing areas to explore at Elkmont is the Daisy Town ghost town. Once you’ve set up camp, walk or drive down the road toward the Little River and Jakes Creek trails (leaves the camp road to the left before the ranger station on your way into the campground). Follow the signs for additional parking and you’ll find yourself at the end of a road lined with assorted cottages and cabins that used to be vacation homes. Some are open for exploration, others are cordoned off, and some are undergoing renovation. Another nearby, popular highlight is the hike to Laurel Falls.

Product Review

As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I sometimes I get to test and evaluate products. This is a review of a Wenzel Sun Valley 12’ x 12’ Screen House As a camper with a teardrop, I’m always looking to maximize my outdoor living space in subpar conditions, so I was excited to try this out at Elkmont.

I set this up alone the first time in 14 minutes without reading the instructions. The instructions are attached to the inside of the bag and recommend 2 people for set-up, but if you’ve pitched a dome tent in the past, you’ll find this inituitive. Continuous sleeves for 4 of the fiberglass poles and the “Fast Feet” made set- up easy. I did wish the sleeves for the cross-poles were continuous as well, but the gap allows for a hook to hold the ceiling up and it didn’t take much extra effort to slide the poles in. The hardest part was getting the 4th end of the cross poles for the roof into place. I couldn’t bend them enough to slide it in while on the ground, so waited until everything else was up…should have figured it out while it was at ground level rather than over my head! This part would definitely be easier if there were two people pitching it.

The zippers on the two doors close tightly and easily without extreme tension, though it was definitely easier to open and close with 2 hands rather than one. There was no gap at the junction of the 3 zippers. Once you are inside, you have a crystal clear view of the outside! It’s quite tall, I couldn’t touch the ceiling in the middle with a raised hand. It doesn’t have a floor, just a wide border around the perimeter, so you can place it over a picnic table. The picnic table (about 6’) fit inside it easily with plenty of room to walk around and even add a chair in a corner. I had to be careful about making sure the bottom of the walls lay flat on the ground, otherwise there were gaps.

It comes with 10 thin metal stakes for the feet and 4 plastic ones for the guy lines. A word of advice: USE THEM.  The first time I set this up, this experienced camper made a rookie mistake. The weather was nice, but it was getting dark, and I wanted to move it over the picnic table in the morning…so I didn’t stake it down. That night a wind storm blew through and blew it away! Found it at 4am in the next campsite,  astonished to discover it was still intact! No broken poles, just a slight abrasion on one sleeve and a tiny tear in one part of the screen that will be easily repaired. A couple of the poles slid out of the Fast Feet during its overnight adventure, allowing the screen house to collapse and preventing damage to the poles themselves (I’ve seen MANY other screen houses/canopies with bent and broken poles from wind). Truly impressed.

Pitched it again the next afternoon with the wind still blowing and as you can see in my video, the screen house was like a kite until I staked it down. Once staked, it stood up well to the wind, though it did cause the bottom edge of the screen house to lift a bit. If bugs are out in that weather (there were wind advisories), they probably deserve a chance for some shelter, too.

Taking it down, it easily fit back in the storage bag, with the zipper extending down one end to open the bag a bit more. Oh, and it weighs so much less than many of the canopies do, coming in around 20# and not requiring a wheeled case to lug it around. If you’re looking for a  screen house, this one has a lot going for it!

Black fly season is coming and with the Wenzel Sun Valley Screen House packed, I’m ready! MY fuller video review is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ealCyAi02HA

Gorgeous lakefront campground, state park with hookups

Sebago Lake is a great state park, one of the few in Maine that offers hook-ups (W/E; there is a dump station). Its popularity results in higher rates and demand for resevations. Reservations open up in February a week before other state park campgrounds, with rates higher for non-Maine residents. Site are level and large, some of them along the waterfront. there are trails for walking along the lake and it's easy to launch a kayak. There is also a trailered boat launch. The beach is beautiful! Wonderful place for a family! I was there in autumn, but I imagine when it's busier in the summer, noise may be more of an issue.

Another rustic campground great as a hiking base, more RV sites than SL1

For site selection, sites 22-26 border Zealand Rd, so you will hear the traffic heading to and from the Zeland and Sugarloaf trailheads. Tent only sites have tent/campfire areas that are a few steps up or down from the parking area. All sites are large and relatively level. This side has a large open area in the middle, great for playing games, running around, and stargazing (though the tall trees will limit the scope of your view). More of these sites are suitable for an RV than the ones at Sugarloaf 1.

As I noted in my review of Sugarloaf I, you won’t have cell service, but you’ll be in a prime location for hitting the trail early, whether you want to head up to Zealand, Hale, or over to Mt Washington. The Mt Washington Cog Railway and Bretton Woods are also just a few miles down the road.

For a short, family-friendly hike, you’ll find the trail to the Sugarloaf Mountains just after Sugarloaf II. There’s a small parking lot just before the Zealand River crossing and the trail is on the far side of the bridge. It hits a saddle and you can bag both middle and north sugarloaf in turn. Venture to the end of the road and you can catch the road to Zealand Falls and Hut, a nice place for a picnic. In addition to Zealand, longer more strenuous nearby hikes include Garfield, Galehead, Twins, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower and more. WMNF trailhead parking is $3/day or you can buy a weekly pass at forest service and other locations; your annual National Parks pass covers parking, too.

Zealand Rd is closed during the winter, opening in the spring only after mud season has passed and the road is dried out. The campground opens after that, in late May and is open until Columbus Day. Print your reservations before you come.

For a shower, head south through Crawford Notch to Dry River Campground where there are coin-operated showers. If you are hiking or exploring in Franconia Notch, there are coin-op showers at Lafayette Place, too, but parking on weekends is a nightmare.

Fosters’ Crossroads in Twin Mountain and Bretton Woods Market and Deli are your closest spots for picking up snacks or forgotten items.

Rustic Campground offers great base for hiking

Just a half mile off 302 is the first of the two Sugarloaf Campgrounds. Offering large, wooded sites with more seclusion than the Zealand campground directly on 302, Sugarloaf I and nearby Sugarloaf II offer reservable sites with flush toilets and running water via hand pumps. More of the sites here are better suited to tents rather than RVs. I haven't stayed here, but I've driven through a few times this summer/fall to get a sense of it.

You won’t have cell service, but you’ll be in a prime location for hitting the trail early, whether you want to head up to Zealand, Hale, or over to Mt Washington. The Mt Washington Cog Railway, Franconia Nothc, and Bretton Woods are also just a few miles down the road.

For a short, family-friendly hike, you’ll find the trail to the Sugarloaf Mountains just after Sugarloaf II. There’s a small parking lot just before the Zealand River crossing and the trail is on the far side of the bridge. Venture to the end of the road and you can catch the road to Zealand Falls and Hut, a nice place for a picnic. In addition to Zealand, longer more strenuous nearby hikes include Garfield, Galehead, Twins, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower and more. WMNF trailhead parking is $3/day or you can buy a weekly pass at forest service and other locations; your annual National Parks pass covers parking, too.

Zealand Rd is closed during the winter, opening in the spring only after mud season has passed and the road is dried out. The campground opens after that, in late May and is open until Columbus Day. Print your reservations before you come.

For a shower, head south through Crawford Notch to Dry River Campground where there are coin-operated showers. If you are hiking or exploring in Franconia Notch, there are coin-op showers at Lafayette Place, too, but parking on weekends is a nightmare.

Fosters’ Crossroads in Twin Mountain and Bretton Woods Market and Deli are your closest spots for picking up snacks or forgotten items.

Year-round campground with riverfront tent sites & standard sites

I haven't stayed here, but I checked it out on Columbus Day weekend because it's one of the few campgrounds open year-round (plowed, unlike Lafayette Place, which is walk-in) in the White Mountains. Most of the reviews talk about the walk-in tent sites, but there's more to this campground that is located along the Kancamagus Highway just before the Lincoln Woods Visitors' Center.

If you're a tent camper and don't mind carrying your gear downhill to a site, drive straight ahead to a parking lot. A few of the sites (3 & 4) are accessible from the far end of the parking lot, but for most of them you'll head down the steps in the middle with sites in two levels branching out on each side. Sites are large, but close together and although you're in the woods, there's not much to separate you from your neighbors. Even sites 10-20 are directly on the water.

Sites 22-55 are suitable for RVs and tents. Those on the back side of the loop are close enough that you can hear the Pemi River running below. A few of the sites are pull-through. There are no hook-ups, but water available via spigots and flush toilets are available - except in winter. I'd recommend sites on the back side of the loop to provide some more distance from traffic noise. I chatted briefly with a host who remarked that sites on the western end of the loop have some cell phone coverage, unlike the rest of the campground.

If you stay here, you're only a few miles from Lincoln where you can pick up any necessary supplies. This end of the Kanc your nearest hiking options are Lincoln Woods and Greeley Pond for family friendly trails, or Lincoln Woods to head into the Pemi wilderness, including peaks in the Pemi loop and Owl's Head. The Hancocks are via a trail at the hairpin on the Kanc. Franconia Notch and its many hiking trails and the multi-use trail are a short drive away.

Bring cash or a check to pay your camping fee in the iron ranger. Fees cover the first vehicle; a second vehicle is an additional $5.

Spacious wooded site, but a lot of tree thinning; great base for hiking

Jigger Johnson is a first-come, first serve campground on the Conway (eastern) end of the Kancamagus highway, not far from Passaconaway Campground to the west and Bear Notch Rd to the east. Moose like to frequent the wallows between these campgrounds, so drive cautiously around dusk and dawn.

Sites are large and level, some offering access to the Swift River. They've cut/thinned a lot of the trees around sites on the interior of the loop as you'll see in some of the photos I've shared, so there's more sunlight making its way through. This campground is one of the few WMNF campgrounds offering showers (bring quarters for the $2.50/7 minute shower).

This is a great location if you want to hike Mt Chocura or some of the more family-friendly trails up Hedgehog or Potash, Sabbaday or Champney Falls, or Rocky Gorge. I tend to explore on foot, but a ranger at the Saco Ranger district did recommend some mountain biking off Bear Notch Rd and in Conway. If you need to pick up a map or other information about the area, stop by the ranger station at the beginning of the Kanc (there's one on either end). Bear Notch Rd. also offers some nice views. If you want to go tubing, head over to Conway (avoid this late in the season when water levels are low) where multiple outfitters offer tubing on the Saco. All the shopping you need is in Conway & North Conway, but the summer weekend traffic can be offputting.

No cell service or wifi. Bring cash or check to pay your camping fee ($24 in 2018; $5 for a second car).

WMNF rustic campground on the Kanc

There are 2 Big Rock Campgrounds in NH and they are very different! This is not the resort campground convenient to ATV trails, but a rustic campground offering large, level, wooded sites along the Kancamagus Highway just 2 miles east of the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center. It's a great location for exploring the sites and beautiful vistas along the Kancamagus, easy access to Franconia Notch and Lincoln, NH. Lincoln also offers a grocery store, restaurants, stores selling outdoor gear, moose tours, and adventure tours (zip/climbing).

Some of the sites are tent only, with parking separated from the tent pad/fire ring/picnic table. Others are large and level with ample space for RVs. You'll get some traffic noise, but there's less here than at places along 3 & 93.

There are no reservations; all sites are first-come, first serve and it's open from mid-May to mid-October. Bring cash or a check to pay for your campsite. It's self-service with an iron ranger. Fee (2018) is $22, an extra $5 for a second car.

Water is available. There are vault toilets and no showers. No cell phone service.

Off the grid, plenty of things to do and can't beat the price

This small, family run campground is a nice spot to get off the grid and explore western Maine. I stayed here because of its proximity to the Fire Warden trail up Mt. Abram; I like to get up and on the trail early, so this was an ideal location. It's not far to the peaks in the Bigelow Preserve, Sugarloaf, Spaulding, or the Crockers, either. It is a 4-hour drive from Boston, so it's not a quick getaway from there.

Each wooded site is relatively level and offers water and electric hookups, all for a price on par with state parks without utilities (even after tax is added to fees, you're still under $25/night). Bring cash or a check because they don't accept credit cards. Although they don't offer sewer, they do offer a dump station. I was in a tent. They do not offer wi-fi and your cell phone isn't much good either. Bathrooms are clean and hot showers are free. I was there late in the season, so the campground wasn't full. It was quiet.

Although I was there to hike, I checked out the Tufts Pond, a short walk across the street from the main campground, It is a nice place to swim, canoe/kayak, or fish in season. And at the beginning of my hike I saw a lot of ATVs out on the trails. There is also an open field area and a playground at the campground.

I bought wood when i checked in and there is a small store. Kingfield offers a grocery store as well. Kingfield also offers a few dining options if you're not up to cooking your meals.

Nice base for exploring Crawford Notch

This state park campground located between Rte 302 and the Dry River in Crawford Notch is a great location for exploring family friendly trails to (Sawyer Pond, Arethusa Falls, Willard Cliffs to name a few) or longer excursions to Mt Washington and other peaks in the Whites & Presidentials. Story Land is an easy drive, too, if you have young children.

Fees are a reasonable $25/night. Facilities include clean bathrooms with showers. In addition to the full-service, handicap accessible wash house, there are vault toilets around the loop. Cell service is poor to absent throughout Crawford Notch. If you need to connect, drive south toward Bartlett or North to Bretton Woods.

Sites are spacious, level, and wooded, though some have no real demarcation between them. This can be good if you are with friends and reserve sites side by side (2 & 3; 12 & 13), Because most of the sites are on the outside of the loop or opposite sides of the road, you won't feel surrounded. There are no hookups. Site are back-in. A few of the drive-to sites include small lean-tos. In addition, there are a few sites that are more secluded, set back further in the woods and providing a tent platform as well as a fire ring and picnic table. The entire campground is close to the road, so you will hear traffic noise. Sites 27-31 are particularly close to the main road. Although sites 2-7 appear to be far from the river, it's still just a short walk. There's a formal trail to the river from the back of the loop, near 16B (lean-to). Reservations open 11 months in advance. Mid-Oct to Dec 1 sites are walk-in only. Pre-register online and bring your print-out with you to save yourself some time.

There's no camp store, though they do have firewood for sale if you see someone. During the peak season, i expect the sites fill up in advance, but this early in the season there were sites available for Friday night when I checked in (though most only for 1 night; Saturday night was definitely harder to come by). If you haven't stocked up in advance, your best bet for groceries when coming from the south/east are Grant's Supermarket at the junction of 302 & 16 or your choice of major supermarkets in Conway.

Awesome location: dark skies, great hikes, Ledge Falls for cooling off

I always struggle with the notion of rating a full amenities campground with a no-frills place like this, so when it comes down to it, I'm rating the experience. If you want to get off the grid (no wi-fi, cell service, or running water) to a quiet, dark campground with opportunities to bag some peaks, see some wildlife, and cool off in a river after a long day on the trail, and you don't mind traveling over miles of dirt roads to get there, then it is hard to beat Nesowadnehunk Field campground.

I stayed in a lean-to, drove up to it and pitched my tent inside…grateful for a little extra protection in the tent as I listened to animals scratching around the lean-to at night. There was a large bush in front of the lean to and woods behind. I could see and hear my neighbors, but wasn't disturbed by them. The site also had a picnic table. Trails led to the river behind the lean tos. There are also a number of tent sites that you park and walk back to, plus a small bunkhouse.

As the sun sets, it is the sky that catches your attention and doesn't want to let it go. Without light pollution, you'll see more than stars than you imagined you could see (tip: if you need a light, use the red setting on your headlamp so your eyes don't have to re-acclimate to the dark).

I used this as a base for bagging Coe, South, and North Brother, finishing the Maine 4000-footers here. It was so windy I decided to forego the bushwhack to Fort. It's nice to be able to get an early start because you're already in the park.

Things you need to know about low frills Baxter State Park:

  1. Make reservations online, though if you want a group site or a bunkhouse, give them a call or send a letter. Reservations open 4 months ahead of time.
  2. Plan to arrive before 8:30. It takes a while to get to the campgrounds from the gates, wildlife starts moving around at dusk, and you don't want to have to set up camp in the dark
  3. Bring either water or a filtration/treatment system so you can use surface water.
  4. Bring what you'll need…don't expect a convenient store to replace that missing item! It's a long way back to Millinocket. Pack out your trash.
  5. The general camping season is May-Oct, though winter camping (Dec-Mar) and activities are also possible. Snow may arrive early (which is why they sometimes have thru-hikers jump ahead to Katahdin and hike backwards if they aren't likely to make it to Katahdin ahead of the snow)
  6. No pets. No alcohol in public places (i.e. don't celebrate on a summit with a sip of your favorite beverage)
  7. There are a lot of rules, conditions of the donation. Take time to read the rules on the website.
Full amenities - stay for a few days or a season; lots to keep you occupied

It took me a while to identify a campground that was convenient for exploring the Hyde Park area, in particular the FDR National Historic Site (20-30 minutes away) and the Walkway over the Hudson, but this campground also offers plenty to keep the whole family occupied. It was Christmas in July while I was there, with decorations and planned activities to accompany it. All these amenities do come at a price. This year the most basic site with water costs $46; add electric on up to sewer and cable tv and you'll pay as much as $60/night.

With that you get free wi-fi, a heated pool, a lake for fishing and boating, a game room and snack bar, movies, other sports, and the security of a gated entrance. That's great if you're a family looking for entertainment for your kids, but I spent so much of my days running around exploring the area that I didn't feel I got my money's worth. Sites are close, some are sunnier than others. I was below the bath house/rec hall, but wasn't disturbed by lights or noise (I was in a tent) except from my next door neighbors.

If you don't need all the amenities, check out state parks in the area, but if you've got kids and want full hook-ups, want a snack bar so you don't always have to cook, I doubt you could beat the offerings here at Interlake RV Park.

Small family campground convenient to Greenville

As you make the final approach to Greenville from the south, the Moosehead Family Campground will be on the right. The first time I arrived, I missed the turn-in and had to do a u-turn.

You can make reservations online, although they're contemplating some site changes, so for now, you'll need to call to make reservations for 2019. Season opens around Memorial Day and when I visited midweek in late June it was still quiet. Most sites are back-in, though they offer some pull throughs, and most are wooded or in the orchard. Rates vary depending on the dates, special events, and utilities you select. They provide a discount for a week-long stay. Bathrooms are clean with odorless composting toilets. Although they don't offer sewer connections, there is a dump station and they also offer collection service. They offer wifi and I had good service with Verizon (you'll lose coverage just a little farther out of town). Hosts are friendly and offer free hot drinks in the office on weekend mornings. You will hear some road traffic.

There's a small playground, but the real playground is beyond the campground. Explore the many small ponds in a kayak or canoe, ride your ATV on area trails, capture wildlife with your camera, take on the Pinnacle Pursuit, or cruise Moosehead Lake on the Steamboat Katahdin. Drie and hour and you can go white-water rafting. Moose come out at the Maine DOT, so you don't have to go far to see some, though the ponds and backroads provide a better background. There's a firetower nearby that provides a nice view, too. It is a little far if you want to drive toward Kokadjo and smaller, remote pounds to look for moose on your own in the early morning hours, but if you are joining a wildlife viewing tour out of Greenville, it's convenient.

Family friendly campground on Maine pond with eagles, loons and herons

This campground has numerous activities to keep the whole family occupied (pool, rec hall, volleyball, baketball, and bocce ball). The waterfront offers a beach and a place to put in your boat (paddle or <10hp). A friend and I camped here not for the family fun, but because we wanted to be able to slip into our kayaks for an early paddle with the loons, bald eagles, and herons. Had an amazing experience when loons took off from the far end of the lake and came in right beside and over us for a landing. We visited in late August and enjoyed seeing mature and immature bald eagles, too. In addition to kayaking in the morning, we also took a drive to Weld to hike Tumbledown Mountain.

We tent camped in a loop where the sites were wooded and close together, but others are well suited to larger rigs and offer full hookups. The noise you hear will largely be the sound of kids and families having fun. Generators are not permitted. Bathrooms are clean The gate is is secured; plan to arrive by 9pm for check-in. If you're tenting and don't need electric, sites 101-106 offer slightly more seclusion and are close to the water.

Great location for exploring midcoast Maine

Camden Hills is ideally situated for exploring midcoast Maine with its rocky shores, islands, and lighthouses. I made reservations for several nights in mid-August, hoping to catch the Perseid meteor showers from the top of Mt Battie. The weather cooperated for one night! That said, I enjoyed exploring trails in the park and the town. There's a road to the summit of Mt Battie which offers views of the town and harbor below. Climb the tower for a view of the sunset. Other trails lead to Megunticook and different views. Camden has a pretty harbor to explore and nice seaside shops plus a few homemade ice cream stands. Put your kayak in and explore the islands. Drive farther afield and check out some classic lighthouses or take a ferry to some of the offshore island.

There are rustic sites as well as those with water and electric. They offer a mix of reservable and first-come, first-serve sites and require a minimum of two night stay on peak weekends. This place really clears out Sunday afternoon (at least in mid-August), leaving a lot of sites empty. I made reservations late and was in site 106, in a field area surrounded by trees, with 4 spots. The site was level and easily accommodated my small teardrop trailer. I would NOT recommend this site however, nor do I recommend 102-104 because they are very close to the dumpster. A full dumpster, high humidity, and warm temperatures lead to a ripe odors wafting to your site. I was grateful I wasn't there much during the day, but I didn't want to sit outside by my fire in the evenings. I have no idea why they placed the dumpster so close to the sites…and then don't get them emptied often enough. It was nearly full when I arrived on Friday and didn't get emptied all weekend. Sites are on the hillside, but generally level. Those on the loop higher up the hill do not offer hookups. Rates vary, higher for hookups and also higher for out-of-state guests. If you make reservations online, be sure to print and bring your permit with you.

The road to the summit closes at 8:30pm and the road into the campground & park closes at 10pm (with check-in by 9pm), so plan to arrive before that or park outside the gate. I wanted to leave early one morning, so I moved my car to the parking lot outside the gate to facilitate a departure before sunrise.

Your firewood purchase helps support the wi-fi in the park and it is available at most sites. Each site may have 2 devices on the wi-fi and it's adequate for basic browsing, but don't count on it for data-heavy activities. Cell phone coverage (Verizon) is spotty; I had better luck closer to the restroom in the lower loop than I did at my site.

Something for everyone

Lovely wooded campground where you can swim, hike, kayak, bike, canoe, fish, boulder, geocache and explore to your heart's content. Generally large and level sites, many with water access, Make your reservation well in advance if you're planning to visit during peak season or if you want a prime waterfront site. Sites on Horse Island will cost you $5 more than those on Big Island, but many of the sites are directly on the water, making it easy to slip your boat into the lake from your site. There's a campers only boat launch on Horse Island. Much of the lake is better suited to paddle craft rather than motor boats due to it's shallow nature and rocks. The an expansive beach as well, a camp store and boat rentals.

I've had a weekend when my neighbors were playing loud music all afternoon and stumbled drunk through my campsite after dark and other weekends when it was hard to tell there was anyone around.

Driving around this past weekend I did notice that some of the sites had damp spots; site 71 was the worst with deep mud on the long approach. Site 73 is near the bath house, but it has a long approach that provides a little privacy and it's higher than the surrounding sites with water access. Sites in the 3-15 range are waterfront, but they're higher off the water. Site 43-45 are great. Those along the southern edge of Horse Island offer a more level entry. Roads are narrow and many of the site entrances are narrow with rock/tree obstructions in places that may make backing in more of a challenge to thsoe with trailers or RVs. No hookups.

The bath houses are tired, but they offer free showers. Would love to see them renovated and brightened up. Big Island also has cabins available. Phone coverage is poor (Verizon); can usually get texts out. If you want to geocache, download the info for offline use!

If you are used to camping with pets, you'll need to visit outside of peak season as they are not allowed in the campground Memorial Day to Columbus Day and never on the beach.

It has a longer season than many campgrounds in New Hampshire, running to the end of October, and you can generally get a site last minute if you're waiting on the weather and don't need/want a water site. Its proximity to Boston makes it great for a quick getaway.

Fantastic base for day hikes in Franconia Notch

The best reason to stay here is if you are planning to hike in the Franconia Notch area, esp. if you want to hike Franconia Ridge, doing the loop up Falling Waters and down Bridle Path. You won't have to fight for a parking spot and it will be easy to get an early start, which is particularly important if you plan to do this hike on a pleasant weekend day! On the same side of the park are trails to Lonesome Lake and on up to Cannon and the Kinsman range. The Pemi River and Trail run through the campground as does the paved multi-purpose trail, so if biking's more your thing, it's a nice way to explore attractions through the Notch.

It's sandwiched between the mountains and the highway, so sites are close together and you WILL hear traffic, but it offers bathrooms with flush toilets and hot showers ($) and dishwashing sinks. The majority of the sites are reservation only and summer weekends you'll want to plan ahead. There's a camp store with a few camp essentials, dry firewood, souvenirs, and a table to sit and explore hiking plans, etc. They post weather information out front and there is a hiker information center out front as well.

Some of the sites along the river are better suited to tents than trailers, with the tent/table/fire on a pad closer to the river. Most sites are wooded, though there are a few (15 & 16) in an open grassy area in a separate loop that is up the hill behind the camp store.

Large sites, few amenities, convenient for hiking

Just a few miles from the AT and about 10 miles west of North Woodstock, convenient for heading up to Mt Moosilauke or up the Kinsman Ridge. Other activities in the area are Clark's Trading Post, Franconia Notch State Park, all the hikes and adventures along the Kanc.

There's potable water available and pit toilets. Sites are large and level, as they usually are in the White Mountain National Forest campgrounds. Some of them are better suited to tents than trailers/RVs.

Sites are first-come, first served, and because it's on a less-traveled stretch of 112, I suspect it fills later than other campgrounds. Cell phone coverage is poor to absent. You can hear some road traffic, but not as much as other campgrounds in the Woodstock/Lincoln/Franconia area. Fees were only $18 summer of 2018; an extra car was $5 more. Campground is open May-October, closing at noon on Columbus Day.