The 12 Best Under-the-Radar Camping Spots in New England
The city is great and all, but sometimes you need to channel your inner Thoreau and head to the woods. You know... to suck the marrow out of life and stuff. Or to make a campfire and play some Floyd on your acoustic. Thankfully, the natural wonders of New England are within easy reach, and we’ve got the scoop on the best spots to commune with said nature. Specifically, we picked two of the best under-the-radar campsites from each NE state.
Silver Hill Campsite (address and info)
Cornwall Bridge, CT
Along the Appalachian Trail near Cornwall Bridge, the secluded Silver Hill Campsite (on Silver Hill, duh) provides great sunrise views of the Housatonic River, proximity to trails and other sights (St. John’s Ledges), and definitely some peace and quiet. And it’s like a rustic Ritz with generous room for tents, multiple picnic tables, an overlook platform, a pump-well for water, a top-notch privy, a wooden swing, and a small covered pavilion for hanging out, cooking, or whatever (staying dry). As with many backcountry AT sites, it’s first-come, first-served, so plan accordingly.
Riga Lean-to Campsite (address and info)
It’s only a short, leisurely hike from Mt. Washington Road to Riga, but it feels like a different world once you’re there. Located high on a ridge, the shady grove opens up to valley vistas that hypnotize you at first glance. Beyond the prime real estate, Riga’s solid list of extras includes a sturdy lean-to (sleeps six), two water sources (stream, pump well), and a relatively new outhouse courtesy of the Appalachian Mountain Club. (Speaking of mountains, this locale makes a great base of operations for hiking nearby Bear Mountain.) Similar to Silver Hill, they it doesn't take reservations, and it definitely won’t take your Diners Club card.
Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land (address and info)
Solitude seekers need look no further than Cutler Coast’s three permitted sites, they are totally worth the four- to five-mile hike. Near Fairy Head along the Coastal Trail, the camps overlook the “Bold Coast” cliffs, Grand Mahan Island, and the Bay of Fundy... so there’s that. And much, much more: 12,234 acres of blueberry barrens, woodlands, and peatlands, 10 miles of trails, 200 species of birds (so don't forget your The Big Year DVD), and the occasional seal, dolphin, or humpback visible from shore. No big deal. (Only bummer, no campfires allowed.)
Swan Island (address and info)
Swan Island, just South of Augusta, sits at the head of Merrymeeting Bay in the middle of the mighty Kennebec River. After a five-minute ferry ride, a zippy tour truck takes you to your camp nestled on pristine land that's remained mostly unchanged since 1607. What they have added since the early 17th century: 10 Adirondack shelters, one group site, drinking water, modern restrooms, and a utility/dish room. Beyond the helpful infrastructure, there’s a wildlife-viewing tower, seven miles of hiking, 4.5 miles of biking, a picnic shelter, and canoe/kayak rentals. Note: FYI, there’s another more well-known Swan Island in Blue Hill Bay -- avoid it, you want this one.
Shawme-Crowell State Forest (address and info)
There are 285 stunning wooded sites at Shawme-Crowell, and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. Surrounded by endless pines, the spots are quiet and with enough room between them so not everybody hears you... playing Yahtzee, of course. Explore the 15 miles of roads and trails, or bring your horse and enjoy equestrian access to over 700 acres. For cyclists, the park connects to the Cape Cod Canal bike trails and you can get to both downtown Sandwich and the ocean pretty quickly, as well. Either a plus or minus, depending on your perspective: Shawme-Crowell is a bit less “wilderness-y” than other camps and is equipped with showers and restrooms.
Harbor Islands (address and info)
You probably didn’t even know that camping was allowed on the Harbor Islands, did you? Well, it is... and there are four island destinations to choose from: Bumpkin, Grape, Lovells, and Peddocks. Each has its own signature mojo, but if we had to choose, you're snagging one of Bumpkin’s three beachfront sites. It’s carry in/carry out (you can hop the ferry to get there), and you absolutely won’t mind because of the killer panoramas, cool ocean breezes, and campfires on the beach. Don’t forget your H2O, sunscreen, and s’mores. Lots of s’mores.
Pillsbury State Park (address and info)
A vital link in the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway, Pillsbury State Park features dense forests, multiple ponds, wetlands, 18th-century farm & lumbering relics, and diverse critters like moose and loons. It has 35 sites, and the blue-chip locations are on the water (for the most isolation, sites 1 and 1A share tiny Vickery Pond, while #26 and #40 remain tucked away on Mill Pond and May Pond). For tranquil coves and wildflower-bedazzled inlets to match your bedazzled jean vest, rent a canoe or kayak and explore, or just do some fishing. The park balances rustic with refined and provides pit toilets, drinking water, and a recycling station.
Umbagog Lake State Park (address and info)
Bordering Maine in Northern New Hampshire, Umbagog Lake State Park was rated as one of the best kayaking venues in New England due to its über-scenic lake shores. Luckily for you, it rents a variety of appropriate vehicles (kayaks, canoes, rowboats) and sells fuel for outboard motors, because you can't visit and not get on the water. Major bonus: you can claim the lone campsites on several mini-islands all for yourself, and each one has a fireplace, a picnic table, and a pit toilet. Wildlife abounds, and there’s a good chance you’ll see moose, birds, deer, et al chillaxing by the lake.
Fisherman’s Memorial State Park and Campground (address and info)
A “seaside village” atmosphere and manicured greenery pushes Fisherman’s campground into the realm of luxurious... as far as camping goes. (Still, not “glamping.”) There are six sites in Area 1 on/near Aguntang Brook, but any of the 182 spots puts you close to four state beaches (Scarborough, East Matunuck, Salty Brine, Roger Wheeler) and one mile from the Block Island ferry dock. Other modern amenities include basketball and tennis courts, showers, and bathrooms.
George Washington Memorial Camping Area (address and info)
On the shores of Bowdish Reservoir, the George Washington Memorial Camping Area is part of the 4,000-acre George Washington Management Area comprised of multiple state forests. Ergo, if you like trees, this is the place to be. And the sites you want are A1-A5, a cluster of semi-hidden platforms (12’x12’) along picturesque Angell Loop. Once you’re settled, explore the easy trails hugging the water, then head off into the woodlands for miles of challenging hiking. If you time things right, you can even catch the sunset overlooking the water. Campsites A1-A5 are hike in/hike out (.6 miles), but there’s a restroom nearby and water on tap.
Townshend State Park (address and info)
Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, Townshend State Park is where past meets present, and it hasn’t changed much since the 1930s. Or before, really. Campsites on the property’s West side can hear the pleasant sounds of Negro Brook... so you won’t have to pack your nature tapes. (This handy interactive park map has pictures of each camp for informed decision-making.) The main attraction here is direct access to Bald Mountain, where the trails lead you past waterfalls, pools, and chutes as you ascend to sweet views of the North, South, and East. Other campground comforts include restrooms, showers, and a picnic shelter with a fireplace.
Woods Island State Park (address and info)
Bottom line: this is the type of place to really get away from it all and relax. Only one mile long and a quarter-mile wide, Woods Island in Lake Champlain has five secluded campsites spaced evenly around the two-mile shoreline. (Again, this map helps with the choosing.) Spend your day in the water, on the water, or just looking at the water and you’re gonna have a pretty good time. Facilities are minimal, but there are privies and fire rings at each site. Also, there is no ferry service, and guests must make their own travel arrangements. Fun fact: the earth berms on the cross-island trail were once part of a runway. (For airplanes, not supermodels.)
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