the dyrt
Tara S.
Bennington, VT
Joined September 2017
Vermonter, writer, photographer, and lover of beauty.
Loved the Walk-In Tent Sites!

Hancock Campground is one of 6 national forest campgrounds along the Kancamagus Highway. Campsites can't be reserved and the campground does fill up on the weekends. We were lucky to score a walk-in tent site on a Saturday in August, and while it did feel a bit like a tent city, we loved that there were no cars at the campsites. It made the tenting area feel more like a community. This is a busy campground, but lovely all the same.

We got site #19, which was one of the last sites available. It had a picnic table, fire pit, and bear box. There were awesome waterfront sites nearby, but they were taken, of course. Cost was reasonable - $22 per night. Pit toilets were near the parking area, but there was a real bathroom with a sink and a flush toilet in the car camping area. There is also a fabulous swimming hole. Clear, cold and deep just off the car camping area.

Hancock Campground is a five-minute drive from Lincoln, NH, and very close to awesome hiking trails in the White Mountain National Forest and Franconia Notch State Park.

Ranger Review: Ethnotek Premji Pack at Point Lookout State Park

From Civil War prison camp to one of Maryland’s most diverse and popular natural areas, Point Lookout State Park is located at the confluence of the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River in St. Mary’s County. We chose Point Lookout State Park to spend Memorial Day Weekend, and were thrilled with everything but the weather, which flip-flopped from stormy to super hot and muggy.

Point Lookout State Park Campground Review

This is just one of those parks where there are a million things to do. We were last minute campers on Memorial Day Weekend, so we didn’t have many sites to choose from. We also brought a dog with us, and while the park is mostly dog-friendly, there are definitely some restrictions. Dogs are not allowed in Loop C or D of the campground, and are prohibited from some of the beaches and day areas as well. While we didn’t score a waterfront site, or even one with a view of the water, we did get a nice shady site with lots of privacy (in the Tulip Loop).

All of the sites are plenty big, and the loop we were in came with water and electric hook-ups. We were originally hoping for something in the B Loop, but we ended up being really happy in our spot because while the B Loop was beautiful with waterfront campsites, the bugs were awful and there was no shade anywhere. I think it would make for pretty miserable camping, at least in the summer.

As for activities, fishing is probably the biggest draw here. There are piers for fishing, separate piers for crabbing, and a fishing beach. There is also a full-service boat launch with a fish-cleaning station and a park store with provisions, including bait.

The swimming beach was busy, but the water was clean with a sandy bottom. There is a separate beach for dogs. Other attractions include the original Point Lookout Lighthouse, which was built in 1830 (currently closed for renovations), a Civil War and nature museum, kayak and canoe rentals, and a nature trail.

What We Loved:

  • Clean restrooms
  • Spacious, private sites
  • Nice, sandy beach
  • Designated dog beach

What We Didn’t Love:

  • So many horseflies in the B Loop, on the nature trail, and near the shore
  • Not a lot of hiking opportunities
  • Plenty of poison ivy
  • The lighthouse was closed

Ethnotek Premji Pack Review

As a Ranger for the Dyrt, I am occasionally offered products to test and review while camping. On this trip, I tested the Ethnotek Premji Travel Daypack, which I used at this campground, and on a 2,000-mile road trip exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park.

First, a bit of background info about the Premji Daypack:

This is a 20-liter pack. It is roomy enough for all your day-hiking essentials, including extra layers, lunch, water bottles, and your 10 essentials. When I ordered my pack, I was able to choose the outer fabric from a collection of 14 different fabrics from around the world. The ethically sourced fabrics are handmade in villages across five countries (Ghana, Guatemala, India, Vietnam, and Indonesia). I fell in love with almost all of the designs, but settled on a blue and white pattern created using a batik dyeing method in Indonesia.

The pack features a very roomy main compartment, is lightly padded, and opens from the top or the side for easy access. There is a separate partition for a small laptop in the main compartment, but if you’re looking for a designated laptop bag, I would definitely go with the Setia Laptop Backpack, which is a bit slimmer and more padded.

There are a bunch of things to love about the Premji Daypack, and I only have two small complaints. Let’s start with the awesome:

  • In addition to the main compartment, there are two strategically placed pockets. First, a large, flat pocket on the front of the bag. This is where I keep my trail maps and my journal. There is also a smaller compartment on top, which is perfect for a phone and wallet. Both pockets are easy to get to quickly. I love that this bag isn’t full of pockets and partitions that I’ll never use.
  • There are side straps on both sides of this bag so you can carry a beach towel, yoga mat, etc. I used it to carry my tripod, which was so awesome! Where the side straps cross the front of the bag, they form two loops, which are great for attaching a carabiner to. This is how I carried my sandals when hiking.
  • The molded high-density foam back panel and the contoured shoulder strap make this pack extremely comfortable. I maxed out at 7 miles while wearing it, but I’m sure I could wear it all day without a problem.
  • The main fabric of the bag is 100% recycled PET plastic bottles. The interior fabric is ripstop nylon and very easy to clean. Both fabrics are water resistant, and you can buy an optional rain cover if you want it to be totally waterproof.

My minor complaints:

  • There is a handle on top of the bag for carrying and/or hanging. While I love this in theory, you can’t hang the bag from a hook and keep it open for easy access. I would rather see a handle on the back of the bag above the straps so there isn’t so much pressure on the main zipper. This would allow you to hang the bag open or closed.
  • The side zipper to the main compartment is supposed to make it easy to access things at the bottom of the bag without pulling everything out, but the zipper opens from top to bottom, and a few times while hiking, it worked its way open a bit. This wasn’t actually a big deal because I had my rain jacket in the bottom, but if I had smaller items, I would worry that they would fall out while hiking.

All in all, I’m thrilled to have discovered Ethnotek. The bags are beautifully and sustainably made, the price is reasonable, and there are so many cool designs to choose from. A great product from a great company!

Amazing Park - Busy Campground

We stopped at Cape Henlopen State Park on a road trip from Virginia to Vermont. We didn't make reservations, but because there was a storm threatening, there were tent sites available. The campground is divided into three sections - one for tenters, one for RVers, and a row of awesome cabins. We stayed in the tenting area, which offered little in the way of privacy. The campsites were flat and sandy, with a nice mix of sunny and shady sites. From the campground you can easily access bike and walking trails, but the beach is more than a mile away.

While the campground was kind of busy and crazy (summer at the beach), I wouldn't hesitate to stay here again. There was so much to do. The beach is huge, and there are sections for swimming (with lifeguards), surfing, fishing, and dog-walking. You can climb a lookout tower, rent a free bike, take a guided kayak tour, visit a nature center or museum, or head to the bay to check out the lighthouse. There are tons of trails to explore too, which makes this the perfect place for campers who don't want to lie on the beach all day.

In conclusion, the campground isn't anything special, but it's got all the amenities and clean bathrooms, but the awesomeness of the park makes it worth visiting for sure. Campground - three stars. Park - five stars.

Great Base Camp for Exploring Stowe

Smuggler's Notch State Park has a small campground with 20 tent sites and 14 lean-tos. We almost always splurge on a lean-to so we can camp comfortably rain or shine. This year we stayed in Hemlock, and it was so secluded and quiet. The whole place has a real wilderness feel, but it is very close to lots of hiking and the attractions in Stowe. You can easily walk to Bingham Falls across the street, which I think is one of the most lovely waterfalls in the whole state. There's also easy access to lots of hiking trails, although I would suggest driving to the trailheads as route 108 is not fun to walk along.

A favorite Smuggler's Notch weekend in the summer would include a visit to Bingham Falls, hiking to Sterling Pond, and possibly up to the top of Mt. Mansfield. When we don't have time to hike up Mt. Mansfield, we splurge on a drive up the toll road. Then we can hike around on the summit. Lastly, we always stop at the Alchemist for a case or two of Heady Topper to bring home.

Waterfront Camping in the Heart of Groton State Forest

There are several campgrounds in Groton State Forest, and we've stayed in most of them. I think Ricker Pond is our favorite, but I also think it depends on what site you get. Some of the sites are a bit close together. Our favorite (aside from the cabins) is Aster because it's right near the boat launch, and we always have a canoe or kayak with us. There is nothing like making camp coffee and heading onto the pond as the sun rises. It's magical. Anyway, if we had small kids, we would probably be tempted to camp at Stillwater because there's more going on there. When we have dogs, we camp at Kettle Pond because it's secluded, and when it's just my husband and I, we choose Ricker Pond.

Aside from getting out on the water, we also love the hike to Peacham Bog and the short hike up Owl's Head for sunset. There are lots and lots of trails we haven't explored yet. I wish summer was longer!

Climb Mt. Olga then relax by your campfire

This park is close to my house in southern Vermont. We usually visit during the day to hike to the top of the Mt. Olga firetower. It’s always clean and very quiet, so this summer we decided to give camping a shot. We stayed in one of the lean-tos because it was threatening rain. I wish I could remember the name of it. We love the site. The only thing we didn’t like is that is was facing the neighbor’s campsite, and we felt like we were always staring at them. They were friendly, though, so it all worked out.

The hike up Mt. Olga is 1.7 miles (round trip). There’s a fire tower at the top, which provides awesome views of the Green Mountains. It’s also fun to explore the relics of the old Hogback Ski Resort. They are rested remnants of the ski lifts and warming huts, and they are slowing crumbling back to the earth. The trails from the park connect to the Hogback Mountain Conservation area trails, so there are actually many miles of trails you can explore without having to drive anywhere. If you do want to embark on a little road trip, check out the little town of Wilmington, which has an awesome lake for swimming, or the bustling town of Brattleboro, which is perfect for shopping and nightlife.

No Shade and No Privacy

Lake Havasu is a beautiful lake with lots of wildlife and it's very scenic too. We visit every year, either in January or April because we have family in the area. The Best Park of Camping at Lake Havasu State Park is using it as a base for kayaking and fishing on the lake. The park itself has decent amenities, but it definitely caters to motor boats, and people with lots of toys. We only bring a small tent so we kind of stick out among the huge RVs. The place is packed in the evenings, but it thins out during the day when everyone is on the water. Because there are so many boats on the lake and at the boat launch, the fumes can be a bit overbearing. Also, there is no shade at all, which I guess I kind of expected. Luckily we were there in January, so that part was okay.

There is a nice playground and swimming area for kids, but there were also very loud campers on either side of us. Next time, we are going to stay at one of the BLM sites on the lake. We've heard they are very quiet and peaceful.

Beautiful spot, busy campground, no privacy...

Sites at Sunset Campground can not be reserved, and at 11 am on a Friday morning, we snagged the very last site available. I’ll admit that the site itself wasn’t the best - no privacy at all, and ground that was a bit eroded. We did manage to find a flat spot to pitch the tent, which was the most important thing, and we were super happy to be able to explore many of the trails right from the campground.

The campground had basic amenities - toilets and drinking water, but nothing fancy. There had been a mountain lion spotted a few days before we arrived, so campers, especially those with pets, were on high alert. We took the trail leading from the campground early in the morning, and were excited to have it to ourselves. What a beautiful spot for watching the sunrise.

Beautiful spot, busy campground, no privacy...

Sites at Sunset Campground can not be reserved, and at 11 am on a Friday morning, we snagged the very last site available. I’ll admit that the site itself wasn’t the best - no privacy at all, and ground that was a bit eroded. We did manage to find a flat spot to pitch the tent, which was the most important thing, and we were super happy to be able to explore many of the trails right from the campground.

The campground had basic amenities - toilets and drinking water, but nothing fancy. There had been a mountain lion spotted a few days before we arrived, so campers, especially those with pets, were on high alert. We took the trail leading from the campground early in the morning, and were excited to have it to ourselves. What a beautiful spot for watching the sunrise.

Beautiful spot, busy campground, no privacy...

Sites at Sunset Campground can not be reserved, and at 11 am on a Friday morning, we snagged the very last site available. I’ll admit that the site itself wasn’t the best - no privacy at all, and ground that was a bit eroded. We did manage to find a flat spot to pitch the tent, which was the most important thing, and we were super happy to be able to explore many of the trails right from the campground.

The campground had basic amenities - toilets and drinking water, but nothing fancy. There had been a mountain lion spotted a few days before we arrived, so campers, especially those with pets, were on high alert. We took the trail leading from the campground early in the morning, and were excited to have it to ourselves. What a beautiful spot for watching the sunrise.

Gorgeous Views, Quiet Campground

We camped at Desert View in April. We were originally hoping to book at Mather Campground, but it was totally booked for the dates we wanted. Desert View does not accept reservations, so we decided we’d head over early and try and snag a site. We got to the campground at about 12 pm on a Friday afternoon, and there were plenty of sites available. Camping at Desert View ended up being one of the best decisions we made for our Grand Canyon trip. Although it’s farther from some of the major attractions, it’s also really quiet, and the canyon views are spectacular.

At the time of our visit, my husband was recovering from a leg injury. Instead of hiking into the canyon with me and the kids, he stayed behind at the campground. He found a little trail that he could walk on with his crutches (between sites 46 and 48). He was able to walk to the edge of the canyon and relax under a tree for the whole afternoon without seeing a soul.

The Desert View General Store is within walking distance and sells food, along with a great selection of local wine and beer. The Desert View Watchtower, also walking distance from the campground, is incredibly beautiful. Beware of sneaky ravens who will steal your food the minute you leave it unattended.

A Desert Oasis

We road tripped through all of Utah’s national parks this year, and were most surprised by Capitol Reef. It is probably the least popular of the parks, but it was our favorite, by far. By chance, we stayed here just as the apple crop was ripening (August), so we got to pick some of the heritage varieties that were available. We treated ourselves to baked apples over our campfire. There’s a lovely little gift shop right near the campground, and while they sell mostly souvenires and the like, they also have homemade cherry pies. The main petroglyphs are within walking distance, as are many incredible hiking trails. If you’re there on the weekend, be sure to take advantage of some of the interpretive programs. We did a full moon hike, which was really incredible.

The campground is fairly open, with some big trees for shade. There’s a river running through the back side of the campground - perfect for cooling off on hot summer days. We did see a snake on the river bank while we were wading in the water, so be warned. Amenities are very basic - just toilets and cold water - no showers.

Worth it for the Views Alone

Vermont’s oldest state park has just 10 campsites (7 tent sites and 3 lean-tos). We’ve stayed there a few times, and even during high summer the campsites aren’t usually full. The park itself is busy during the day, in part because the views from the top of Mt. Philo are incredible, and you can drive your car right to the top for an impromptu picnic.

My favorite part about camping here is getting up early and hiking the short trail to the top for a spectacular sunrise. The sites are very private and shaded, and it’s close proximity to Burlington make it a good choice for travelers, but because the road is steep and winding, it’s not suitable for RVs. Bathrooms are small and clean with hot showers. If you want to cool off in the summer, head to Kingsland Bay State Park on Lake Champlain, which is just a few miles away.

Awesome park for kids!

This is, by far, our favorite park to bring young kids to. First of all, the ranger-led programs are the best we’ve seen. When we were there in the summer, we went on mushroom hunts, a guided paddle, a ghost walk, and we learned about bird migrations. Programs are offered on the weekends through the summer. The park is right on the Waterbury Reservoir, so there are lots of opportunities for swimming, fishing, and paddling.

There are two camping loops, and two beaches in the park. We prefer the B beach because it is grassy and the swimming area has a sandy bottom. We also prefer the B loop for camping, but all the sites are lovely. When reserving, we always try and get a spot close to the water, some spots are a bit of a walk, but the park is busy through the summer, so we take what we can get.

There are lots of trails for hiking - one leads to an old abandoned house and another to an old cemetery. I recommend bringing bikes here to get around. Also, there’s no cell service anywhere in the park.

Wild Camping and Good Wildlife Viewing

We try and make our way north to Green River Reservoir every summer. It’s a primitive park, perfect for paddling, wild camping, swimming, and watching wildlife. The reservoir is 653 acres with 19 miles of shoreline. There are 27 campsites and two group camspites. Most sites are within a mile of the boat launch, a few require closer to a 2-mile paddle. Each campsite includes a fire pit and access to an outhouse. Usually the outhouse is shared between 2 to 3 campsites, but there is plenty of space between each site. A few sites have makeshift tables or benches, but often we use our flipped canoe for food prep.

We have camped is several different sites - most recently, #12. This was definitely not our favorite. It was difficult to find a flat tent spot, and the site seemed very overused. Our favorite spots are # 13, 24, and 30, and the earlier in the year you reserve, the more choices you will have. Be sure to paddle out to the Beaver Meadow - we have seen moose there several times.

Despite the fact that Green River Reservoir is only open to paddlers for primitive camping and limited day-use activities, it can still get pretty busy on the weekends. Definitely recommend trying to reserve for a weekday, or in the off season. Did I mention that the swimming and fishing are awesome here too?

10 Reasons to Love Burton Island State Park

I've been exploring Vermont State Parks since before I could walk, and Burton Island State Park is my all time favorite! There's a million reasons to love camping here, and if you are visiting Vermont in the summer, I think it's one of those must-visit destinations. Here's why it's my favorite place to camp in the whole state.

  1. It's like going to to a tropical island without leaving Vermont.
  2. There are no cars on the island. You have to paddle yourself out or take the VT State Park passenger ferry from St. Albans.
  3. It's super family friendly - maybe it's because there aren't cars all over the place, but the island is full of free range kids, and they're having a blast.
  4. There's a camping bistro where you can buy pancakes, coffee, local beer, and fine wines
  5. Sunsets are magical - if you can, get a lean-to right on the water. If not, hike to the western shore for the main event.
  6. You can bring your dog - there's even an off-leash dog beach!
  7. You can stay in a cabin! If you don't want to rough it, you don't have to.
  8. There are lots of trails to explore, and almost all of them lead to the water where you can cool off in Lake Champlain.
  9. There are kayaks and canoes to rent.
  10. There's a marina (with WiFi), and you can rent slips for the night.

Waterfront sites book very quickly (like 11 months in advance), but if you don't mind being farther from the main campground and running water, you can almost always rent one of the four primitive sites, which are secluded and waterfront. You can paddle out to Burton Island on your own from Kamp Killcare State Park, where you'll leave your car. It's a very short paddle and shouldn't take more than 10 minutes. The passenger ferry runs throughout the day, if you don't have a boat of your own.

Once you're on the island, you can borrow a cart to bring your gear to your site, or you can pay one of the park rangers to haul it in one of their golf carts. We have stayed in a few different sites over the years -- we aren't picky, because we usually get one of the last sites available. We've never been disappointed a site. They're all great, and within easy walking distance of the beach.

Beautiful trails, busy campground

We visited 6 state parks in the Finger Lakes region of New York this past summer. Fillmore Glen State Park was our favorite for hiking, but probably our least favorite for camping. The trails are uncrowded and well maintained. We hiked along the south rim trail and the gorge trail. The gorge trail is especially cool, with 9 foot bridges crisscrossing over the river. There are several gorgeous waterfalls, and the walk was shady and cool, even though it was a hot day. After hiking through the glen, we were hoping to cool off with a swim, but the swimming area was closed. Not sure why, but you can only swim when lifeguards are on duty, and there were No Swimming signs everywhere.

The campground at Fillmore Glen was totally full when we stayed there. The sites offered little privacy and were very close together, plus you could here road noise loud and clear all through the night. The water faucet near our site was out of order, and the bathrooms were only clean in the morning. The sites were all wooded and shaded, with nice flat spots for tents, but I probably wouldn’t stay there again during the busy summer months. If you’re headed out that way, I would definitely recommend Fillmore Glen for a day trip, but I’d camp at either Robert Treman or Buttermilk Falls state park in Ithaca.

Best Fall Camping Ever!

We just returned from two nights at Grout Pond. We were lucky to have 70 degree days and 50 degree nights in October. We were the only campers along the waterfront, but there were a few car campers in the sites near the road. We have camped at Grout Pond a few times in the summer, and while it’s always beautiful, it’s just too busy in July and August. Early October is just about perfect - no bugs, no people, and fantastic views all around.

The campground is maintained by the National Forest Service, and for many years the sites were free. In 2018, the cost will be significantly higher than free - $16 per night with a limit of 14 consecutive days. There are about 18 sites in total. 7 near the road for car camping or RVs, 5 that are hike-in (the farthest is about a mile from the parking lot), and 6 waterfront sites that you can either hike or paddle to. We really love site #2 for the awesome views and proximity to the toilet, but #11 is bigger and probably the most private of all the sites.

If you’re paddling in, you can unload all your stuff in the day-use area, and then park your car in the lot. It’s an easy 5-minute paddle to most of the sites. There are lots of well-marked trails. The only water is in the day-use area, so I recommend bringing a filter so you can drink right from the lake. All tents must be set up on tenting platforms, so you’ll need a smallish tent. Sites 10 and 11 have two platforms.  

After camping here in July and October, I would never camp here in the summer again - come in the fall - you won’t be disappointed!

Like Camping on Another Planet!

We camped here in January, which we had heard is peak season for climbers, and the place might be really busy. On our way into the park, we stopped at Hidden Valley Campground, just to see if there were sites available. It was late afternoon, and we weren't surprised that the place was packed - no sites available.

We drove on to Jumbo Rocks, and we're so glad we did! There were plenty of spots. We chose #16 because it was close to the toilets, but not too close, plus it backed up to a huge boulder, which we thought would protect us from the wind.

What a great spot. We were able to climb high onto the rocks to watch the sunrise and sunset. While the campground did fill up, it never felt crowded. I've read some of the other reviews, and I feel bad for people who had their camping experience ruined by loud and obnoxious neighbors. When we were there, the place was really quiet.

A few things to keep in mind:

There's no firewood available in the park - You have to buy it before you come in.

Jumbo Rocks doesn't have any running water, but you can fill up at the visitor center before you come in.

When we visited in January, it got COLD at night, and we weren't all that prepared. I would recommend staying in Cottonwood if, like us, you aren't ready for winter camping. We found Cottonwood to be 10 degrees warmer because of its lower elevation.

This isn't specific to Jumbo Rocks, but take the Keys (Desert Queen) Ranch tour. It's a photographers dream!

Awesome Place for an Overnight

We stopped here on a road trip last year. We were just passing through and saw a sign for a campground and decided to camp for the night. The campground is a little oasis in the desert, with just a few sites situated among small trees and scrubby plants. The night we stayed - on a weekday in July, there were just three other campsites being used.

What we noticed right away, before we even started exploring the park, was that the wildlife was super tame. The jackrabbits and lizards came right into our campsite to check us out, and there were birds singing everywhere - not what we expected from a desert landscape. We hiked the short trail over to the cathedral area. The sun was setting and we were greeted by a family of desert foxes. We didn't get to close to them, but they were super curious about us and wanted to investigate. The babies were running in and out of the labyrinth of rock pillars and caverns. It was the cutest thing ever. We didn't stay long because we didn't want to disturb them.

The next morning we hiked the main trail to an overlook, which was really awesome. We left before the sun got too hot. I'm not sure this park would be a great destination for a vacation, because you can pretty much see all there is to see in a few hours, but it is a beautiful clean campground for an overnight, and I will definitely stop by again if I'm in the area. Also, I hear the star gazing is amazing here. It was cloudy night we arrived.