Maddie R.
Dover, NH
Joined May 2019
Exploring drainage ditches since 1995
Go-To Campground for Annual Excursion

My friend's family has been going to Acadia every summer for probably 15 years, and myself and other friends would tag along and have a big ol' fun time. And every single year, we stay at the Blackwoods campground. You would think I'd have more pictures, but there's so much to do around the site that you forget to document!

The campsites themselves are usually completely booked throughout the season, so make sure you plan and book in advance. However, never have I once got the feeling of things being really busy of overrun with people. The sites are decently sized and well taken care of. Even though there are a ton of individual sites, you really feel like you're in the forest and each site is separated by dense trees, giving you the feeling of peaceful solitude. The campsites themselves are pretty standard; fire rings, picnic table, flat ground for tents. Bathhouses are always in walking range. I think quarter showers are in select ones (though you don't need it--splash around ion Hunters Brook where is crosses route 3. You can even jump from the road when it's deep enough!). What I really like about these sights are the intermingling of trees, making good bases for hammocks, slacklines, and whatever things you need to hang between trees.

One of the best parts of staying in the Blackwoods campground is the proximity to the cliffs over the ocean. From Loop A, there is a little trail that takes you to to Park Loop road. Cross it, and you're on some rocky cliffs over the ocean. Amazing views. Awesome for bouldering too, if you're into climbing. And one night every trip, my friends and I bring our sleeping bags and sleep on the rocks over the ocean. 10/10 would recommend. Just make sure you're above the high tide line! The stars are unbeatable, as well as the sunrise. We really stay at Blackwoods campground just for this being close by.

Cozy Hideaway on Awesome Hike!

The Camp Penacook Shelter is a nice stopping point on a moderately difficult hike up to the peak of Mt. Chocorua. As you head up the Piper Trail, as you're nearing the 3 mile mark, it starts to get steep and mostly stone steps. Luckily, right as you begin to tire, the branch for the Spur Trail appears! A little bit down this trail, and boom, you can see the Camp Penacook shelter tucked away in a little clearing with a vista.

This is a 3-sided shelter with a fairly low roof. You could fit one larger tent or two smaller tents, but I highly suggest sleeping in the open air! When I stayed here, there were 7 of us, and we comfortably laid side by side with our packs tucked against the back wall. The roof peaks in the middle, and it was nice to have the extra space in front of the shelter that is still covered by the roof (it was a little drizzly the morning we left). There is a fire pit with a grill rack, but I highly recommend a personal camp stove for reliability.

Back towards the main piper trail is a brook where you can pump water if you have a filter. It can be hard to determine where the bank is if there's still snow on the ground, so be careful! But the proximity of the stream was very convenient. Also nearby the shelter is a pit toilet. There's a social trail down to the toilet which is kind of tough to spot, so make sure you find it in the daylight! And bring your own TP.

The Camp Penacook Shelter is a first-come, first-serve deal, so get there first! It's not really out of the way, so drop your big packs off in the shelter to mark your spot, and then finish the hike to the top with just your water bottle (and camera!). The mile and a half to the summit is scrambles up some slick rock, which can still be icy in spots in the spring. It was very helpful that I removed my pack to do this! The views from the summit are breathtaking, and with a place to sleep not far below, you can stay at the summit as long as you want. This shelter has many amenities for being stuck on the side of a mountain, and I highly recommend making the trip with some friends.

Treacherous Drive Worth It for the Breathtaking Views

The camping on the BLM land around the Smithsonian Butte Backcountry Byway is my favorite area I've camped up to date. Incredibly close to Zion National Park, yet we hardly ran into a single person.

My boyfriend and I were planning to explore Zion for a few days, so we were looking for a free place to camp close by to the park, and the area around the Smithsonian Butte road hit all those marks. Though there are many of what appears to be campsites right off of the road, NO CAMPING is allowed within 1/2 a mile of the road. The "sites" are marked with no camping signs, so please respect other visitors and their views by not camping there. I very highly recommend going up the road to where we camped, on the Wire Mesa.

The Smithsonian Butte road from Rockville is not for the faint of heart, and is only passable when completely dry. A 4-wheel drive is highly recommended, as well as a vehicle with high clearance. Lots of rocks, ruts, and washed-out areas on this dirt road. It is uphill all the way if you're coming from Rockville. Going up is questionable, but going down is downright scary. Do not attempt after a rain. Was driving down to Zion one morning after it rained at night, and genuinely almost slid the car off a cliff. However, the adrenaline made it very fun and the spot we found was completely worth it.

The first major road off of the byway (to take you the obligatory 1/5 mile away to camp) is the road to the Wire Mesa (there's a clear marker). Farther down is the larger Grafton Mesa. We went with the Wire Mesa, and wouldn't trade it for anything. Down this road, you can see a solid amount of areas that have been used as campsites, most of which have clear fire rings. You can camp at any of these, surrounded by the native plants and wildflowers! There are some car-wide paths that you can drive down that jut off the main road. Google maps satellite view was very helpful in picking one that went to the edge of the mesa; I wanted a view! We followed the first offshoot, passed a bunch of perfectly adequate campsites, but found THE ONE at the very edge of the mesa. Could drive the jeep right up to it, was a nice durable surface to camp on (shout out to those LNT principles), and near the mountain biking trail, which made for amazing sunrise strolls by our east-facing campsite. The BLM allows downed would to be collected to fires in existing fire rings, and there was lots of dry wood on the ground to be collected.

There are no water sources nearby, so make sure you have enough water with you for drinking, cooking and washing. Carry out all your trash, including toilet paper, but solid human waste can be buried in appropriately deep cat holes. It may get a little breezy on top of this flat mesa at times, so make sure tents are really tied down! I would be highly surprised if any sort of camper/trailer/RV could make it up the Smithsonian Butte Byway. As an unexpected perk, I had full LTE cell service--and I have Sprint. That never happens. The stars at night are also incredible.

The drive from our site right at the east edge of the mesa to the south entrance of Zion was about 30 minutes, mostly due to the snail pace the dirt road requires. We were there mostly during the week and were completely alone up until Friday, where we saw some more mountain bikers and a few more campers. Again, this was the best camping site I've ever had. Camping in this area has that awesome back country feel with front country car accessibility (if you like thrill rides). So close to Zion, but I never even got to the National Park, I would have been okay with it. The area has so much to offer on its own.

Sorry for the very long review! Really wanted to share my experience and talk this place up. Here's a really helpful map of the BLM land in the area. Please respect the rules and private land!

https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/upload/blmcampingsouth.pdf