On a whim back in August, our family decided we wanted to camp for a night and discover some new mountain biking trails. I did some research and poking around on the interwebs, and discovered Mt. Ascutney State Park in Windsor, VT. The state park had everything we were looking for: close proximity to mountain bike trails, beautiful hiking trails, available leantos, and less than two hours from our home.
I am going to talk about the positives first, and then lay out the few negatives at the end. Sound good? Great!
The state park is located off of a paved road, about 15 minutes from the closest interstate exit. It is situated on the side of Mt. Ascutney, a 3200+ mountain. There is actually an toll-road that goes up the mountain. The campground has two distinct loops. We stayed in the loop to the left of the entrance in one of the lean tos. Our campsite was a prime site. It was very large, and quite private. As a bonus, it even had direct access down a path to a large recreation field that included a volleyball net. Our children and their friends loved biking around the field and exploring it while waiting for meals, etc. The lean to was very clean, and recently painted. It had ample room for 6, and could fit 8 as well. The lean tos come with a bench that can be used inside, or out by the fire which was a nice touch.
Our site was situated under large pine and hemlock trees, with some small deciduous trees mixed in. This kept the site shady, but rays of sunshine did break through at times. Our lean to faced east, so we had a view of the sunrise in the morning.
The bathroom was clean, and the shower area was recently tiled with nice tilework. Outside of the bathroom there was a little library book case with books for campers to borrow. Such a fun idea!
The state park maintains its own mountain biking trail loop, which accessible directly from the campground. It is a 3 mile beginner friendly loop, with some nice rollers and moderate terrain. Down the road about 10 minutes at the Mt. Ascutney Outdoor Center, there is a whole network of mountain biking trails that range from novice to expert. I checked out some of the trails there, and particularly enjoyed the trails in the Mile Long Field. Beautiful switchbacks traversed an idyllic Vermont field.
The hiking trails are also pleasant--there is a sweet little nature loop in the campground with signs identifying different trees. There are also other trails that lead to the summit of Mt. Ascutney. We decided to drive up Mt. Ascutney to see the sunset our first night. Sunset was at 7:30. HOWEVER, the toll road also happened to close at 7:30, which we had ignored on the sign. Well, the state park staff enforce their rules, and they came up to the top before (sadly) the sun had set to tell us we had to drive back down. Half of our group decided to stay at the top and watch the sunset and then hike down in the dark. It was quite the adventure--thankfully we always carry headlamps and flashlights in our car.
It was a bit disappointing that the auto road closes before sunset, but I understand that the park needs to have rules to keep folks safe. There are 6 cabins that the state park rents out that are partially up the mountain on the auto road. Folks who rent those sites actually do have access to the summit at sunset. So if you are looking for an easy sunset experience, that would be the way to go.
Overall, our experience at the campground was fantastic. The other campers were quiet, everything was clean, and access to local recreation was convenient.
The road nearby is noisy. Because of its location, you can hear both the local highway and I91. If being in the quiet wilderness is important to you, than this campground might not work out.
From time to time, as a Dyrt Ranger, I am given gear to test out and review. On this camping trip, we tested out a Gregory Endo 15 3D Hydro Pack. Gregory specifically designed this pack for mountain bikers. We chose the one in Carbon Black. Our first impression of the pack was that it was made out of sturdy, rugged materials, which is important for a pack that has to take the abuse of mountain biking. Our second observation was that it didn't have any external water bottle pockets the way a regular day pack would. This of course makes sense as water bottles would easily fall out while biking. The waist belt is unique as it can slide into a few different positions in order to change how the pack rides on your back. The back panel is lifted away from the users back, which provides excellent ventilation. Inside the pack are sever pockets, including a removable pouch ideal for storing bike tools. My husband really appreciates that feature as it makes it much easier to find his tools on the go. The included reservoir is easy to fill, and we like that it is also very easy to hang to dry. It seems to dry faster than the reservoirs that we have from other brands.He has also used the pack a few times on hikes, and it is comfortable for that as well. The straps are low profile, so it doesn't work for carrying super heavy stuff.
My husband says the pack is comfortable. He says it does bounce a bit while descending rougher trails, and he wished there was a way to prevent that. Overall, it does its job well, stays out of the way, and holds the gear and water that he needs when biking. It is great that companies are starting make mountain biking specific packs.
Stillwater State Park in Groton VT is a delightful retreat, nestled on the shores of Lake Groton. The campground has a mix of lean-tos and tent sites. There are waterfront, waterview, and regular sites. Depending on the site booked, the price can vary by a few dollars. I made a short notice reservation, and we managed to score a waterfront site that someone else had cancelled.
Having our own personal shoreline was wonderful. I was camping with a group of 12-14 year old girls. They enjoyed sitting on the large rocks, watching the ducks and fish in water. We also brought kayaks, which were fun to launch from our site. Our site(site 8) had two fire pits--an older, stone hearth one, and the newer round metal type with a grill. We ended up using the stone hearth to store wood and supplies, and primarily cooked over the round fire pit. The site was large enough for an 8 person tent, a 4 person tent, and a whole bunch of bikes.
We were within easy walking distance of the beach and pavilion. The girls mostly biked everywhere. There is even a nice path through the woods to the local camp store. This was very helpful the first morning when I discovered the bowls had been left at home! The prices at the camp store are reasonable, and they sell many essentials, including ice cream!
The lake water was beautiful and clear. There was enough sand at the camper beach for sand castles and other beach games. We did see a few leeches here and there--none right at the swimming area, but more to the side, close to the vegetated areas.
Stillwater's bathrooms were clean, and there were enough bathhouses that it was never far to one. On our second day, there was an interpretive program at the the pavilion. The ranger led visitors in making bark boats out of materials found in the park. The project was a great idea, as the kids could test their boats right there in the lake. Our group had varying degrees of success, but all the girls agreed it was a super fun activity.
We stayed at the campground on a busy weekend when every site was booked. I was impressed by how quiet the campground ones considering the number of people. The resident campground staff do a good job patrolling to keep things quiet. He even came and check on us because the girls were a little too loud!
In trying to come up with a list of cons, I am having trouble! It was a very positive experience. My only piece of advice would be to make sure you bring the right provisions. This area of VT is 25-30 minutes from any type of grocery store. There is the camp store, but their stock is limited. Just FYI. Also, there is cell service near the water, but it is very inconsistent. Generally, I like limited service since leaving technology is one of the things I love about camping!
Overall, a highly recommended camground. If you have a certain week you want to camp, make sure you book early in the spring, otherwise you might have to wait for a cancellation like I did. The proximity to hiking, boating, swimming, and biking in Groton State Forest makes this a very popular summer campground.
As a Ranger for the The Dyrt, I periodically am given gear to review. This trip, I was stoked to review gear from Banner and Oak. I tested out their women's Pathfinder hat during this trip. I selected it because it had lighter colors, while still looking stylish. I was not disappointed! This hat is structured enough to stand up to abuse and still look good. It is a more feminine riff on the tradition trucker hat style. The back is made out of a stiff mesh, while the front is made of cotton duck fabric. It adjusts with the classic plastic tab system on the back. I loved this hat! It is perfect for throwing on over a braid or pony tail on those messy-hair camping days. It also hides dreaded "helmet hair" after biking. It is now a permanent part of my outdoor gear kit. My 12 year old daughters want their own, and keep wearing mine.
The one area I see room for improvement is in the plastic mesh back. I felt it could be a bit softer, but overall found it comfortable. Definitely check out Banner and Oak if you are looking for solid options for hats!
Kettle Pond State Park is located in Marshfield, VT only 30 minutes from our home, yet going there still managed to feel like a retreat. We booked a group site with a couple other families for August back in the winter. We were thrilled when the weather ended up being perfect for camping. Low 80s during the day, and 60s at night, without any rain. A few of the mornings, the kids even swam before breakfast because the water was warm enough that it was warmer than the cool morning air temperature!
The group sites all have 5-6 lean-tos, with each lean-to having privacy and its own fire ring with grill. In addition, each group site has a large, community fire pit, picnic tables, and out house. Our group site (which was labeled Group Site 12-15) also had direct access to the camper kayak/canoe launch on Kettle Pond.
Kettle Pond State Park also has about 12 remote paddler campsites, most of which are lean-tos. All the campers that stay in the group area and the remote sites launch their boats from the launch that was within our group site. This meant we had a little less privacy than the other group sites, and that we had cars rolling down to the water to drop off boats, but overall, the disruption was minimal. We enjoyed being that close to our boats and swimming for the kids.
This state park also was conveniently located with an access trail to the Cross Vermont Trail. The Cross VT trail is a multi-use bike path that travels much of the width of VT on old farm roads, snowmobile trails, railroad beds, and occasional roads. We took a half day bike trip on it one day to go to the town of Marshfield to visit Rainbow Sweets, home of some of the best French pastries in Vermont. We biked through marshland, seeing Great Blue Herons and other wildlife. We passed by a waterfall, and even stopped at a little farm stand to buy pickles. There were so many fun things to discover! Via the Cross VT trail, you can also travel to other state parks in the Groton State Forest, such as Boulder Beach (excellent lake swimming with sand, playground, and picnic areas), Ricker Pond, and Owl's Head.
Kettle Pond State Park is primitive. There is not ANY running water. The running water is accessed by going to New Discovery Campground, which is is about 3 miles down the road. New Discovery is also where you check in for Kettle Pond. So bringing several large water vessels is important so you can pick up plenty of water, or bring a water filtration system so you can use water from the pond.
So, the jewel of Kettle Pond State Park is really Kettle Pond itself. It is a glacially-carved shallow pond. I was pleased to discover that the bottom of the pond was not mucky at all, as it is all ground of rock silt and rocks. The kids especially enjoyed their time swimming in it at all hours of the day. We also spent lots of time in boats, exploring the pond. The park does not allow any motorized boats on the pond, so it is extremely peaceful and serene. Wild life abounds here, including fish, beavers, and loons. One evening, during a sunset paddle, we got to float alongside a loon family, which was VERY cool.
The lean-tos were in great condition. The floors were flat and easy to sweep out. The overhang was large enough to hang a hammock under. We did not bring mosquito netting for the opening, and the bugs were hardly noticeable. All the lean-tos are far enough apart that you can't hear your neighbor's snoring, which was a plus. However, one night during our stay, a new group arrived at the group site next door. We couldn't even see them, but we could hear them way too late at night, even past the quiet hours. That was only one night, however, and then the next day the campground staff heard and dealt with it promptly. The bathroom was clean, and always stocked with toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
Biking on the Cross Vermont Trail
Sunset and Sunrise paddles
Biking in the campground loops
Enjoying the large group fire pit
Night time loon calls
Playing games at the large group picnic tables
Things to consider:
INH540 Vertical Hang Bike Rack Review
As a Ranger for The Dyrt, I was given an opportunity to review this rack from INNO while camping. As a family of 7, we have a ton of bikes to haul. We were able to test out the rack with several different bike frame styles and sizes.
The initial impressions of the rack were great. The rack is designed to fit two different sizes (1 1/4 inch and 2 inch) of hitch receivers. They allow for the 2 different sizes by using metal sleeve that slides over the smaller metal pipe. We have a 2 inch hitch, and so used the rack with the adapter. My husband was super impressed by how easy the rack was to install. The rack installs solidly and securely on the hitch without needing additional tools (a big plus in our minds!).
Ones the rack is installed, you flip the arm up to load the bikes. There are two arms on the rack. The beauty of this rack is that only the upper arm goes through the frame of the bike. Basically, the frame hangs off of the top arm, and then the lower bar of the bike rests on the lower arm. The bike is held into position by a cambered, rotating plastic ratchet-type strap that tightens on to any sized frame. So far, this attachment system seems more durable and universal than the stretchy rubber-type bike straps used by other racks.
The rack holds 4 bikes total. It holds our two adult sized mountain bikes quite well--each one takes just a couple of minutes to load on. However, it is a bit more of a struggle to load the 24 inch kids bikes on, as their bars and frame geometry are tighter. This requires a bit more messing around and adjusting. So smaller bikes take a bit more time to load--probably 5 minutes per bike.
Once the bikes are loaded, there are velcro straps to hold the front wheel rigid, which prevents it from rubbing on the other bikes during transit. There is a locking cable mechanism built into the rack, which is great for longer trips. The rack also has a foot-pedal activated tilt-down feature for accessing your trunk, which is awesome, and easy to use.
When the bikes are unloaded, you can collapse the swing arm of the rack, giving it a lower profile if you don't want to remove it from the car.
Our overall impression of this rack is great. The components are all super-sturdy. The aluminum framing of it is rigid, but not too heavy. The rubberized frame contact points where the bike sits really help keep the bikes stable. We like the included tools, with the storage bag. This makes it way easier to have what you need. Nothing like looking for a tool when you really need it! The rack is a great way to carry mountain bikes for camping, riding, or local recreation.
The one improvement we would make would somehow make it adjustable for smaller framed bikes, but we know that might not be possible! In the meantime, we still use it for smaller framed bike, and it works fine, just takes a little longer to load. It is a keeper, for sure!
How first impressions don't always hold true…
My first impressions of this campground were less than stellar. We arrived from VT, after driving 14 hours in traffic, at 9:30 pm. We arrived in the tent camping area, and were dismayed to find that the campground was PACKED. Not only was it packed, but there was zero privacy from other campers, as only a split rail fence separated each "site". To make things worse, it turned out the campground staff had directed us to the wrong site….and shortly after we began setting up, another group came in and told us it was there site (it was). However, the office staff was VERY helpful and kind, even though it was late, and they were obviously very busy. It was the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend, which apparently is one of their busiest weekends.
Finally we got sorted out which site to set up it. At this point, it is 10 pm, and our 5 children our bouncing off the walls, full of excitement. The campground is loud, as everyone else arrived that night as well. My husband and I brace for a terrible night of sleep, stoically putting earplug in and hoping for the best. The campground quiet hours were supposed to start at 11 pm, however, there was noise later than that. People driving around in golf carts cheering, people playing board games at the campsite next door…sleep was difficult.
The next day, we did the normal campground stuff--the kids took off on their bikes with their new radios from Midland Radio. Eventually, we motivated our sleep deprived selves to go off on the planned adventures at Assateague Island. Assateague is a magical place for those of us who like their beaches wild--there is zero development on the island. Most people drive to the regular, car access beach where there is parking for many car, rinse off showers, and primitive bathrooms. Tom's Cove Visitor's Center is also at the beach, and has a great touch tank with horseshoe crabs, whelks, and clams for folks to investigate.
Inside Tip if you like QUIET beaches:
Assateague Island also has TWO bike/hike access beaches, and those are our favorite. You can drive to Assateague from Chincoteague with your bikes, and then park. One bike beach is off of the Wildlife Loop, and is on pavement the whole way. It is less than a 2 mile bike ride to get there, and there are far less people. The other hike/bike beach is a bit further off of the Wildlife Loop, and requires biking down the gravel Forest Service Road. However, this beach is framed by magnificent sand dunes, and has even less people than the first bike beach. We loved it there. It also has more shells, if beach combing is your thing. Get a map from the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Visitor's Center (free) and ask one of the rangers there to mark the beach locations.
So, back to the campground sleep saga. The second night was better---the campground was quiet by 10:30 pm, and we all slept fine. Well, we did get woken up by terrible thunderstorms, but that is not the campground's fault. By Sunday night, many campers had left to go home, and we spread out into the empty sites around us. By Monday night, we nearly had the tent camping area to ourselves.
The tent camping area is in a beautiful grove of well trimmed Loblolly Pines. The trees were great for hanging hammocks, and also provided the perfect amount of partial shade. Our site was very close to the bathroom/shower houses, and across from the pool as well. The tent camping area also has some of the closest sites to the waterfront/boat launch, and crabbing piers. We loved be able to walk right over to the pier early in the morning and enjoy the sunrise.
The campground staff told me that the tent camping area is nearly always quiet during the week. The campground is filled to max capacity on only the holiday weekends and Pony Penning. This campground has quality amenities, and its location is fantastic enough that we would stay there again--just not on a holiday weekend.
Restrooms were cleaned at least twice a day, but the high volume of campers meant they got dirty relatively quickly. The showers were not as clean as the restrooms, and were dark, and the water tended to pool at your feet, which was unpleasant.
The campsites themselves were grassy, and mostly level. We were able to set up both of our tents, including the 17 foot long one. Each site has its own picnic table, but they do not have fire pits, although you are allowed to dig/build your own.
As I mentioned previously, the sites are very close to eachother, but on a less busy week, this is less of a problem as the camping area isn't full.
The campground is large--it caters to tenters and RVers, including seasonal RV renters. There is a laundromat (prices are reasonable); well-stocked camp store with wood, ice, and many essentials; a club house with small arcade, pool, and air hockey; additionally, there is a spot to rent bikes, scooters, and golf carts within the campground. There is also a play ground that my kids enjoyed biking to. The pool is fairly large (bigger than most hotel pools, but smaller than a competition swimming pool). The employees of the campground are friendly and helpful.
Inside tip: If you like kayaking, this is a great campground to stay at. My husband and son kayaked from the campground over to a lovely sand bar off of Assateague Island. They got within very close range of a herd of ponies grazing at low tide, hung out, and enjoyed their private slice of nature. It is great that this campground has water access so close to Assateague.
Midland Radio Review:
and the X-Talker T20X4 Walkie-Talkie Four-Pack. We had been talking about getting radios for a while for camping. We have 5 kids, and 4 of them are all on bikes now, and love to bike around the campgrounds exploring. Radios are nice because they allow us to find out where they are, without having to hunt them down or holler to find them. Additionally, we are a hiking, biking, active family, so having a decent radio for my husband and I helps with family management when out in the wild.
The Walkie-Talkie four pack was awesome for the kids.
Being that they are cheaper radios, the build quality isn't super robust.
Their range is less than half a mile in normal settings, however, for kids' use in a campground or hike, they were perfect.
The X-Talker T7-1VP3 2-Radio set was perfect for the parents to use. I took the radio on a hike, and it was great to touch base with my husband who was still at the beach, in addition to keeping track of the kids on bike rides in the Refuge and at the campground.
Imp Shelter and Tentsite is a remote campsite maintained and authorized by the U.S Forest Service. During the summer months, it staffed and maintained by a caretaker, however, we were there during the off season. Imp Shelter is right off of the Appalachian Trail, down a short spur trail along the Carter-Moriah ridge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
NOTE: This shelter cannot be accessed without hiking in. It is is at least 5 miles from any trail head. Furthermore, there are no supplies stored at the site, so bring your own of whatever you need--even toilet paper! Make sure to have a water filtering set up, a cooking stove, and ample sleeping set up. NO FIRES ARE ALLOWED.
We were quite impressed by the Imp Shelter site. There are 5 tent platforms, nicely spaced through the woods. The outhouse is centrally located, but not too close to anyone's sleeping spot. We especially liked the bear box, because it is one less thing to worry about--and especially important when there are marauding squirrels about!
The shelter itself is well built. There is a lower floor, and then a loft that is about 4 feet above the main floor. The floor and loft were both level, and the boards were even and free from snags and splinters. There is not a door on the shelter, so be sure to protect your food and gear from the very curious squirrels that lurk about. There are pegs on the wall to hang gear on. We slept well--a few times the playful squirrel noises woke me up, but otherwise it was quiet. We had the whole place to ourselves.
We learned form the log book that all the timbers used for constructing the shelter were harvested from the woods nearby. Pretty neat!
The water supply is a freely flowing little flume just down a little path from the shelter. The water seemed to have tannins, but was fine, and were filtered it anyways. Make sure you get plenty of water here, as there is no other easy sources on the Carter ridge.
There is a bench in the campsite, right where there is a small clearing for views, which we thought was a nice touch.
All in all, this would be a great spot to spend a night while doing a hike along the Appalachian Trail, or while exploring many of the other beautiful trails in the region. There is a fee during the summer season, but in the off season the caretaker leaves and there is no charge.
As a Dyrt Ranger, I am given opportunities to test out cool gear from outdoor companies. Earlier in the summer, I received items from Wild Zora Foods to test out. We didn't use up all of the product,so for this trip, we brought along our remaining pouch of freeze dried Summit Savory Chicken. Basically, it is similar to a standard freeze-dried meal--a zip top, heat resistant bag with a meal inside. The bag is designed to even be eaten from if necessary. The thing that sets Wild Zora apart is that they don't use any artificial ingredients, they source organic where possible, and all sweeteners are natural and simple.
We had been backpacking in cold, damp conditions for 7 miles, so we were quite excited to get into camp with the promise of a high-protein, easy meal. We fired up the alcohol stove, an d watched the water slowly begin to boil. After pouring the hot water into the pouch and stirring, it took about 10 minutes for the food to be fully saturated and ready to eat.
We dug in and were impressed by the freshness of the flavors. However, it was a bit bland, and did feel like it could use more seasoning, and also additional salt. However, the chicken tasted like real chicken, as apposed to some sort of weird meat by-product. Also, there are not any artificial flavors, yeast extracts,, or other flavor enhancers common to freeze tried foods.
There is a ton of protein--the bag says it serves one person, which means there was 45 grams of protein for one person. However, my husband and I split the bag, and with some instant noodles on the side, it was a perfect amount of food. In terms of calories, given the amount of protein per bag, there was not a lot of extra calories. The vegetables used for the meal were not high-caloric ones, so bring along noodles, or other dense carbs if you want to refuel properly while hiking.
The Takeaway: I was very impressed by the simplicity of ingredients. The ingredients were all real food--someone on the AIP or Paleo diet could definitely eat this. The flavor was not exciting, but it was totally tolerable. I have heard that since I bought this meal, Wild Zora has actually reformulated ALL of their freeze dried meals, so I bet this tastes even better now. Here is the link to the updated version.
I will definitely be buying meals from this company for future trips. The simplicity of use, and the high quality ingredients are worth the price.
First off, the campground review. Sugarloaf I campground is located on Zealand Road in Carroll, NH. This is a basic, no-frills US Forest Service site. Zealand Road is the access road for 3 different popular trail heads for hikes in the White Mountains. We chose to stay at Sugarloaf to be closer to the Sugarloaf Mtn. trail head since we planned to do a sunrise hike up to Middle Sugar loaf with our children the next morning. Sugarloaf Campground is less than half a mile from the trail head.
Zealand Rd. is off of Rt 302. The campground is far enough down Zealand Road, that there was not any road noise. We visited the campground in the beginning of October on a Thursday. There are were plenty of extra sites, though several sites had signs indicating that they were already reserved for the weekend. You can call the campground management office to reserve, which would be wise for holiday weekends such as Labor Day or Columbus Day. The website is here.
The top of the campground had nice views of Middle Sugarloaf and Mt. Hale. Our campsite, #5, did not have views, but we were not bothered by this! The campsites are spaced a nice distance apart--we camped next to our friends and did not hear them at all when we were in our separate sites. There was a more energetic group two sites down, and we could hear them, but it wasn't loud.
The bathrooms are basic flush toilets, with a sink for hand washing, but no soap. Fresh water for drinking is available at several pressurized spigots that are interspersed throughout the campground.
The campground would be a PERFECT home base for hiking, or for exploring the area during foliage season. There are many maple trees in the campground, and it was exceptionally beautiful while we stayed there. Even with a little rain, the experience was magical.
As a member of the Dyrt Ranger team, I am given opportunities to test out gear from various companies. This trip I was chosen to test out a RoM Pack from RoM Outdoors. I chose the pack in the Tan color.
The RoM pack is a creative design--basically an origami style design that allows it to transform from a pack to a waterproof blanket and also into a hooded poncho. The outside of the pack has large, detachable zippered pouches which are great for things like headlamps and maps. The inside of the pack is made of a soft, brushed microfiber, while the outside is a super tough nylon fabric.
I was excited to test the pack out on this particular trip because we were undertaking a sunrise hike with a bunch of kids ages 4-12, and I needed a pack that would be comfortable, while also holding plenty of gear. I was also excited because the temps on the mountain would be below freezing, and I knew the kids would want something insulating to sit on instead of bare rock. The hike I tested it on was 3.2 miles round trip.I overloaded the pack with hats, sweaters, granola bars, plenty of water, and a down sleeping bag.
I found the straps to be surprisingly comfortable, considering they are wider than any of my other pack straps. The distributed the load well. The waist and sternum strap system was a little tricky, but they did help disperse and balance the load.
The true test of the pack was when I ended up needed to give my 4 year old a ride up the mountain. I carried her in my arms, and the pack stayed secure and comfy while I huffed and puffed my way up the mountain. I really liked that once we were on the mountain, and I had unfolded the blanket, the little removable pouches kept everything small organized, so it was easy to reattach them and not lose things when we were ready to hike back down.
9 kids ended up sharing the waterproof blanket as a seat, and they all thought it was great!
IMPROVEMENTS: I wish there was a way that the back of the RoM pack could be stiffer. It tends to morph to the shape of whatever is inside it, so a bit of stiffness would distribute the load even better. Because of this, I wouldn't take it on long, strenuous hikes, but it is perfect for shorter distances where you want the option of a nice place to sit, and don't mind the slightly heavier weight.
I also wished that the water bottle pockets were slightly larger--I have Klean Kanteen regular sized bottles, and it was a tight fit to get them in.
Nestled among the tall pines halfway between Lincoln and Conway New Hampsshire on the Kancamangus Highway is Jigger Johnson Campground. The campground has 73 campsites well spaced throughout this mostly wooded campground. The road through the campground is paved and mostly flat, making it ideal for kids to ride their bikes.
We loved waking up to the sun rays filtering through the trees. One can hear noise from the road nearby, so it isn't perfectly silent, but the campground itself is tranquil. It looks like they had logging done recently, so while most sites are shaded, sun still gets through at certain times of day. It is a perfect spot to relax if frills are not your thing--this is a U.S. Forest Service managed campground, so it lacks certain programs and amenities that state parks and private campgrounds often offer. There is also zero cell service or wi-fi, making it a perfect retreat from the digital world,
It is first-come, first-served, so if you want a site with a path to the water it is best to arrive earlier in the day, around 1 pm when new campers are welcomed. We arrived around 5 pm on Friday in September, and while there were not any water access sites available, there were plenty of other options. I imagine that in the summer or peak foliage season the campground might fill up completely.
Our campsite (number 28) was LARGE and flat. We fit our 8-man and 6-man tents in, with plenty of room for parking our gear trailer, and having room to hang out. The water spigot was right next to our site, and we had a path through the woods to the closest bathroom.
Closest cell service is 6-7 miles away, at the high point on Bear Notch Road.
Location between Conway and Lincoln NH is great. The area is rich with waterfalls, hikes, beautiful sunsets, and peace. The campground is quite close to several trail heads, along with out local natural attractions such as Rocky Gorge and Sabbaday Falls. The campground has water access to the Swift River, which is deep enough for swimming in several spots. There is even a a rope swing that we all enjoyed. There are mountain bike trails 2 miles from the campground up off of Bear Notch Road as well. Right next to the Russell-Colbath Historic Site and Cemetery, which has fascinating info about the early logging days of the region.
The camp sites have lots of space between them--we rarely heard our neighbors, even when they were up and about. It was quiet at night when our kids needed to sleep.
The Swift River is BEAUTIFUL--on a warm day, you could spend the entire time exploring it and hanging out.
We got to see a moose! There was a pair of moose that were hanging around while we were there which was quite fun.
Just one shower house for all the sites. The showers required 10 quarters for a 7 minute shower--and there is not money changing place on site. Bathroom maintenance was adequate, but toilets seemed to have problems, and the bathrooms are rustic. Bears are active here (which is normal for campgrounds lately), so food needs to be stored in car. The hosts are friendly, but strive to maintain order, so they enforce the rules accordingly. This could be annoying for some, but we didn't mind. Motorcycle traffic on the Kancamangus can be loud, but it quiets down at dark.
Great campground for folks who want to enjoy nature , hiking, and local swimming holes. Rustic bathrooms, but flush toilets and running water are a plus. Sites are large, and well spaced, and flat. We will definitely be returning, as we love getting away from the digital world and finding our own mini paradise.
Burton Island is a 2.5 mile long island state park off of the shoreline of Lake Champlain. It is a car free paradise that requires a boat or ferry to get to but yield the rewards of peace, nature, and gorgeous shoreline.
Campsites at Burton Island book far in advance. When we booked our Labor Day weekend tent site back in March, there were only 2 leantos (out of 26) left and a handful of tent sites (out of 14). You can visit https://vtstateparks.com/burton.html to book a reservation. The campground is open from Memorial Day Weekend through the Tuesday morning after Labor Day.
We stayed at site 7 in the main tent site loop. While we didn't technically have shore line access, there was a short path through the woods that led to a rocky shoreline where we left our canoe and kayak. There was ample space among the trees for hanging hammocks. The dirt and gravel pad was mostly flat, without any pesky roots to poke us. The site also drained very well--it rained all night our last night and we had zero seepage into the tent floor.
The tenter section was just a short walk to a clean bathroom up on the hill. Each side had one shower that cost 50 cents per 5 minutes of shower time. There are two other bathrooms available but a further walk. The tent site section was also nice and close to the Marina area, which included a store that serves coffee and sandwiches (the coffee was decent!). While one could hear the folks docked down in the Marina when they hung out on their boats, our site was not close enough for their noise to be a nuisance. There is a water access point within 300 feet of most campsites--which was perfect.
Dogs are allowed at Burton Island, but there are areas at the State Park that they are not allowed, such as the beach area. Alcohol consumption is also allowed, but there wasn't any problem with people partying loudly or obnoxiously.
There are beautiful trails that cover the island. The south tip of the island gets more wind, and therefore waves, which my children greatly enjoyed for swimming. The northern part has shale beaches, and a few areas of mucky/pebbly beaches. Lots of old trees abound as well. There are also tons of frogs! The trails are all short enough that they could be explored during one day--or go on them multiple times for sunsets and sunrises.
Getting to the island was the hardest part. Depending on the weather, the 3/4 mile crossing from Kamp KilKare State Park can be rough and windy. If you are an experienced paddler, have a good copilot, and not too much gear, you would be fine. Also, if you have a boat with a motor, most of the time the water is not too rough. However, the Island Runner Ferry is likely the best option for most people who want to enjoy the island without being stressed about swamping a boat! The ferry is $8 per person, with no extra charge for gear. They do charge $2 for bikes. If you want to use the ferry, but still want a kayak or canoe at the island, you have to paddle it across separately
Overall, we had a fabulous time. We watched a sunset on the South tip, caught frogs at our shoreline, rented a paddleboard, played int the waves, and enjoyed the icecream sandwiches form the camp store, skipped stones in the lake, and explored the island. Our kids can't wait to go back.
Since I am a Ranger for The Dyrt, I have the fun task of testing products every now and then.
This camping trip I was quite thrilled to be chosen to test out a product from Nature's Coffee Kettle. We LOVE coffee, and generally bring our French Press and hand coffee grinder along camping so we can have a good cup of joe.
As parents of 5 kids, we always need LOTS of coffee while camping. During this trip, we tested out the International 16-Cup Pack. We even left our own coffee at home so that we would not be tempted to use it instead.
-- Nature's Coffee Kettle is basically an ultra-lightweight version of a pour-over coffee system. The basic component of the system is a heavy duty plastic bag with a spout and built-in funnel. Their coffees are really ground coffee (not instant) packaged in portions for 4 cups. The envelope of coffee gets placed into the funnel portion of the plastic reservoir, and you pour boiling water slowly over it. Sometimes you have to pause for the water to finish trickling down. The whole process takes about 4 minutes. The trickiest part of the system is the need to hold the bag upright while pour--a few times it tipped over since the base didn't have enough weight in it.
Coffee verdict: It tasted GOOD! Not quite as amazing as the stuff we brew at home, but honestly, as good as most coffee I have had at coffee shops! We liked the Sumatran and Guatemalan flavors the best, though we also tried the Columbian and French Roast.
System verdict: It was a little tricky to use at first--be careful not to burn yourself! I did love how lightweight it was, and how little space it took up. The plastic brew system folds flat, and is reusable. It would be fantastic for backpacking. It was so much better than instant coffee.
I found this campground in a totally roundabout way, while searching for lodging during a field trip to Plimouth Plantation. After discovering it, I decided that we HAD to plan a trip here sometime soon.
Ponkapoag Camp is run by the AMC. The camp is on a beautiful piece of wooded land surrounding a large pond/lake. There are about 25 rustic cabins, and a few tent sites dispersed throughout the camping area. There is a year round caretaker there to help folks check in, and she also sells firewood. Reservations are by mail only, although you can call the caretaker to confirm availability.
Before I continue my review, it is important to note: THERE IS NO ELECTRICITY OR RUNNING WATER.
We brought all our water from home, and it worked well. Make sure you bring campsuds or other eco-friendly soap since the toilets are just outhouses without running water much of the year.
Each cabin has between 2-6 beds. The mattresses in our large cabin were brand new dorm style mattresses, which were slippery but comfortable. The cabins have assorted dressers and shelves for storage, and a table for dining on those bad weather days. The floors are wooden. Many cabins have wood stoves, which is great for the cooler parts of the year. We were there Memorial Day weekend, and needed the stove when it dipped to 40 degrees. Outside of the cabin is a pedestal grill, and a picnic table. My children found trees close by to hang their hammocks.
Upon departure from the camp, you are required to sweep and tidy up the cabin.
Hiking trails abound on the property. While none of the trails are steep, they all go through beautiful ares, with views of the pond, and interesting rock formations. Blue Hill is within hiking distance, and it is a favorite spot for seeing the sunrise. Apparently you can see all the way to Boston!
The pond itself is a wonderful place for kayaking and canoeing. There are several rocky boulders poking out of the water that make fun spots to discover. The sunsets over the pond are spectacular to watch from the dock.
Getting there: The driveway to the camp is totally unmarked. It is a gate studded with two american flags. When you confirm your reservation (by mail), the caretaker will give you the access code for the gate. We enjoyed being somewhere that was so close to people, but felt so remote and had no traffic.
Downsides: One of the nights we stayed, the flight path to Logan International Airport was right over the campground. We all slept fine, but it was distracting. Thankfully, they change the flight path every night, so it should not happen every night!
WILD ZORA FOOD review:
As a Ranger with The Dyrt, I was given the opportunity to test out food from Wild Zora Foods. https://wildzora.com.
This is a premade meal company, focusing on Paleo and Primal recipes. We tried out a sampler pack of their meat bars, and then two meal-in-a-bag freeze dried entrees. We ended up eating several meat bars while making the trip to the campground, since we were stuck in traffic and everyone was hungry. Our 5 children helped do the sampling. Out of the six flavors (Parmesan Beef, BBQ beef, Mediterranean Lamb, Curry Turkey, Chili Beef, and Taco Pork), our favorites were Parmesan Beef ad Mediterranean Lamb. The other flavors seemed a bit too sweet for our liking. However, the bars were a great substitute for junk food when everyone is hungry. Everyone enjoyed eating them. I liked that they used food such as dates and dried apricots as sweeteners. My children all wanted more. I'd say that one bar would be a good snack for an adult.
We also cooked up a batch of a berry breakfast cacao bowl, and their Chicken Caldera Curry. Both meals were super convenient in their pouches that could be cooked and eaten in. We just poured boiling water in, and let them sit. The Caldera Chicken Curry was well seasoned, and very meaty. I was impressed by how filling it was without needing any rice. The texture was a bit chalky, but overall, it was a great option for a Paleo freeze-dried meal. The berry breakfast meal was less satisfying--but it tasted very fresh, and not overly sweet.
It was fun to test these foods out. When camping with kids, it is often hard to have time to cook a camp meal each night, so having quick options can really make a trip go more smoothly. I recommend checking out Wild Zora if you are interested in a preservative free, high protein freeze dried meal option.
If you want the convenience of camping, but love the basic nature of backpacking, Passaconaway might be a good fit for you. The 30 or so sites are nestled among a grove of tall, white pines and other mixed hardwoods. The campground borders the Kancamangus Highway on one side, and the tranquil Swift River on the other.
The sites are level and clean, and many are large enough to pitch two large tents (we use an 8 and 6 man). Plentiful trees for hanging up hammocks. Fire pits and picnic tables at every site. The toilets and water set up is where the rustic adjective enters. The toilets are pit toilets--basically glorified outhouses. There is not any electricity anywhere (great if you like your peace and quiet). There are pumps that provide clean, fresh, cold water interspersed through the campground. There is a nice little picnic shelter that would be great for a rainy day for eating and hanging out. Apparently, coin operated showers are available 1 mile down the road at Jigger Johnson Campground. Additionally, there is ZERO cell service for at least 6 miles.
One of the hidden gems about this spot is the hiking trail to Church Pond that leaves from the campground. It is a beautiful, 2.2 mile round trip hike to some wild spots, with abundant moose sign. It would be stunning in the autumn.
Additionally, the campground is about halfway between Lincoln and Conway on the Kancamangus, which makes it close to many great waterfalls, hiking trail heads, and other natural wonders. However,it is NOT close to any stores or camp stores, just an FYI.
The biggest drawback to this campground would be road noise--but we picked a site that didn't border the Kancamangus and it was fine. The car sounds also seemed to die down after 10 at night. We loved our last night here (a Sunday night) when there were only 2 other people in the campground. It was so quiet and peaceful. Definitely worth looking into if you don't need fancy facilities. And the price is great!
We visited this campground on a beautiful Labor Day weekend. We were not able to select a site close to the water since those sites all get reserved in the early spring! However, we had a large site, not too far from the shower house, on a dirt road in the woods. This campground is unique because it is surrounded on 3 sides by ocean. There are numerous coves and larger beaches to swim at. One can easily bike to all the rocky coasts or sandy beaches. You can see the sunrise from one side, and the sunset from another. There are great hiking trails. There is an outdoor volleyball pit, a game room, and snack shop/camp store near the entrance. We never needed to use them since the weather was good. The camp store was super handy though, since the nearest grocery store/quick mart is at least 15 min. away.
The camp sites are well maintained, and most guests are quite mannerly. No one is allowed into the campground who isn't registered to camp, which can be frustrating, but it keeps the spot private and quiet.
The main detractors is the need to book it so far in advance, unless you want to do it last minute, based on what they have available.
This campground has sites on cliffs right above the water, in sandy coves, in the woods, within walking distance…the options are many. We biked everywhere--since there isn't much parking at the swimming spot. Overall, is a beautiful, relaxing, natural place that we highly recommend.
We visited this campground with a large group of extended family. Some families stayed in great little cabins, and some of us tented. The bath house was clean, the sites were well spaced and quite private. The lake is wonderful for kayaking and canoeing--we loved the many blueberry bushes scattered around the shores. There seemed to be good hiking trails as well--however during our particular visit the mosquitoes were quite ferocious and didn't make it too far down the trail.
The children all had fun biking around too. There are fun bridges to some of the smaller islands in the park.
Although we didn't end up visiting the ocean during our stay, one of the reasons we chose Pawtuckaway was because it was within a reasonable drive of the coast,
There were gas stations, grocery stores, and a drug store not more than 20 minutes from the campground
We visited and camped here 3 years ago with children. We love how private the camp sites were. There are less than 20 sites total, and all sites are near walk-in paths to excellent views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks or the Green Mountains. The facility is small, but adequate. If you want to camp in the Champlain Valley, this is a great place to check out.
We visited here with our 5 kiddos for 2 nights late July 2016. The facilities were clean, the small playground was great, and the small boat launch and beach kept us in the water. The hiking trails are really good--the actually pretty steep. There are lots of old foundations hidden on the trails that are fun to discover.
We stayed here in early August 2016 with friends and kids. The tent only loop is so private and perfect for kids biking and swimming. Nice pavilion and the pond was wonderful for canoes and kayaks.