Camping Isn’t Canceled – Time to Experience the Great Outdoors
Discover the joy of camping in the Granite State
As this issue went to press, Gov. Sununu announced Stay at Home 2.0. Included in the new rules were guidelines for reopening state parks and campgrounds. Among other requirements, reservations will be limited to New Hampshire residents. Visit nhstateparks.org for updates on opening dates and more information related to COVID-19.
The what, where and how of camping is as diverse as the landscapes and activities we live for across the Granite State. Maybe when you close your eyes and think of camping you picture an oceanfront RV site in a 40-foot motorhome. Maybe you see an ultralight tent nestled among the trees somewhere deep in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. There is something for everyone in New Hampshire and for that we’re grateful. Though many of our trips may be on hold, there’s still joy to be found in planning ahead for good times outdoors in the future.
My husband Ben and I both grew up in New Hampshire. We share a deep love for camping, hiking and biking in nature. We’ve spent countless nights in the backcountry after long hikes. From 2018 to 2019, we worked remotely and glamped through 39 states in our 31-foot motorhome, I mean, our 1989 bus that we converted into a tiny home on wheels. I’m not surprised that after all of our travels we’re drawn back to New Hampshire. There are over 1,000 lakes and ponds, hundreds of mountains, and countless miles of wooded trails for hiking, biking and ATV exploration here. There is so much to love and so much left to explore in the seasons ahead through activities like camping.
Camping is not as simple as booking a hotel room or vacation rental, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. There is more to consider, plan, pack and prepare. Get the family involved and keep things light. Give yourself time to plan ahead, but if you forget something, it’s OK. Every camping trip becomes a little easier as you get to know the essentials. It doesn’t matter how fancy the camping unit is or even what the campsite looks like; it’s all about who you’re with and what you do once you get there.
Choosing where to camp is a good place to start. New Hampshire has seven regions in the state with hundreds of different camping options, ranging from resorts, campgrounds and state parks to Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) huts and National Forest shelters, cabins and campsites. (Editor’s note: As this issue went to press, AMC announced it will be closing its high mountain huts for the season as well as other facilities, but both Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and the Highland Center at Crawford Notch are still slated to open July 1.) All seven regions have their own unique charm and things to do. From sandy beaches on the seacoast to miles of thick forests in the Great North Woods, it’s easy to find the perfect place to set up camp.
Now more than ever, it’s crucial to research in advance to make informed decisions about our travels. Planning a camping trip can be just as fun as the camping itself. Sit back, grab a notebook, settle in with a cup of tea or coffee, and start planning for future fun outdoors. Thankfully, we have plenty of resources online to draw from in the comfort of our own homes. There’s nothing worse than arriving to a destination to find out it’s closed or full. When in doubt, call ahead.
Ben and I have become big fans of planning ahead. Driving a 30-year-old bus around is challenging enough. Before I choose a camping destination, I like to review the website, property map and guest reviews. Our preferences are usually guided by pet-friendly policies and access to outdoor fun nearby. The same goes for state parks and backcountry sites as well if we’re out with the van or our tent.
If you’re new to New Hampshire or aren’t sure where to start, check out Visit NH, where you can explore the state by region or season, and Camp NH to really dig into the wide variety of campgrounds across the state.
Brainstorm what your trip preferences and needs are, based on your family, camping unit and desired activities. Do you have pets or children? Would you prefer to be secluded in nature or closer to amenities and conveniences? Once you have a basic idea, start finding answers to your questions. Are there dirt or paved roads? Is it wooded or an open field? How close together are the sites? Are there any extra fees upon arrival? Should I bring cash? Are campfires allowed?
If you don’t have an RV and tenting is not for you, don’t fret. There’s always an option to rent a camping unit for a weekend, week or more. Many campgrounds and state parks in New Hampshire offer rental cabins or RVs onsite. You can also search for “RV rentals in New Hampshire” to find places where you can pick up a rental RV or have one delivered to the campground you’re staying at. Prices range from $50-$200 per night for this option. If you’re unsure of which camping unit you’d like to invest in, renting is a great way to test and try before you buy.
Primitive campsites (also known as basic) have no hookups or services onsite. They are the least expensive option and are suitable for tents, vans and some small campers. Most state parks and campgrounds include a fire pit and picnic table on each site. We have a portable power station that always comes with us on our car camping adventures. It has USB and AC outlets for all our power needs at the campsite, and we can charge it in our van as we drive. With that and a jug of water with a spigot, it’s almost like we have a water and electricity campsite.
When reserving a tent site, I like to confirm how level the site is and if the site is on gravel, sand, dirt, grass, or if there is a tent platform (usually made out of wood). I also want to know about proximity to water, restroom facilities, showers, and a sink to wash dishes. Check if the showers are free or coin-operated so you can gather some change before arrival. We always have antibacterial wet wipes (Wet Ones) and body wipes (Epic Wipes) on hand to save water and clean up at our site.
If we’re not in our bus, we either car camp or backpack. The benefit to car camping (driving to your campsite) versus backpacking (hiking to a remote shelter or backcountry) is that weight is not a concern. You can bring extra items to feel right at home, like folding chairs, a small table, extra blankets, a tarp, games or even an air mattress.
RV campsites on the other hand, have one or more services like water, sewer and electricity available. A full-hookup site features all three services. Naturally, they’re more expensive and typically larger. They’re suitable for pop-up campers, fifth wheels, tow-behind trailers, motorhomes, etc. Always confirm the length of your site and how level it is to plan accordingly.
Parking your camping unit will either require backing in or pulling through, depending on the site type. Pull-through sites are always reserved first because they are much easier to pull in and out of. Back-in sites require a bit of experience and guidance from a partner or friend, but with practice you’ll be a pro in no time. A backup camera helps too.
Most RVs have holding tanks for their gray water (sinks) and black water (sewage). This provides more flexibility for where you can camp and what you need when you get there. If there are no full-hookup sites available at a campground, ask if there is a dump station onsite. This enables you to save some money, camp at a water and electricity site, and just dump your holding tanks before you depart.
Overflow camping includes areas like parking lots or extra parking that campgrounds and parks offer if the main sites are at full capacity. Ben and I stayed in overflow sites a few times around the country; they’re usually less expensive and include a longer walk to the restrooms. I honestly didn’t mind it.
CAMPING AT HOME
Camping right at home in your backyard is a fun alternative or last-minute idea when you have the camping itch. I have such wonderful memories of doing exactly this as a kid with my family. Set up your tent, plug in some string lights, get the grill, and get your lawn games ready. Remember, the most important reason we love camping is the process of it all — it’s exciting. It’s about setting up camp, building a fire, and laughing and sharing time with those we love. Camping reminds us to pause and find joy in the simpler things: the nature around us, our loved ones, the peace and quiet, the meals, activities and memories we share together. Simple can be joyful too.
If you’re new to backcountry camping, tenting for a night in your backyard can be great practice. I know it sounds a little lame, but it’s better to work out any gear kinks at home than to be stuck 15 miles in the woods with a tent that leaks or a sleeping bag that leaves you freezing your tush off. You can even take it one step further, and fill your backpack and walk around for a couple of hours. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than making it a few miles in before you realize your pack weighs as much as the Titanic. Try to use a little imagination, it could be fun.
The typical camping season in New Hampshire is from mid-May to mid-October, and there are mini-seasons within that season too. Camping at different times during the season offers you an entirely different experience. It’s all about deciding what vibe, activity level and setting is most important to you and planning your dates accordingly. Those few highly coveted toasty warm summer weeks are the most popular times to camp, but there is plenty to love about the earlier and later parts of the season too.
Many destinations are still waking up during these early season weeks. You’ll likely find lower prices at private campgrounds and quieter settings. Some facilities and seasonal businesses may still be closed or have limited hours. Make sure to call ahead to confirm these details before you hit the road. The outdoor temperatures are mild, but cooler, and can be unpredictable at times. The leaves are their richest green and you can spot many ephemeral wildflowers during this time. This is the perfect time to put on some layers and head out for a bike ride or scenic walk. Check out the annual Lupine Festival in Sugar Hill for some of that wildflower magic.
Peak summer season lasts through the months of July and August, with another short burst around Labor Day in September. During this time period, you’ll find some of the warmest weather and plenty to see and do around the state. Remember, this will be the busiest time of the year to travel so it’s essential to plan ahead with reservations as soon as you know your preferred travel dates.
This is my personal favorite time to camp. Similar to the early season, the weeks following the Labor Day holiday tend to be calmer overall. Expect crisp days with some warm bursts here and there and cooler nights in the 30s and 40s. You’ll observe the outdoor landscapes begin to change as temperatures cool, giving way to brilliant foliage throughout the state. This is the perfect time to take a drive along one of the many scenic byways throughout the state, which you can learn more about at visit-newhampshire.com/state/scenic-drives.
Once you decide on the campground, it’s important to make sure you can get there safely. We’ve had to adjust our travel routes many times in order to accommodate the limitations and size that our bus camper presented. Always research and verify in advance if your trip plan involves roads with low-clearance bridges or high grades that should be avoided. We used mobile apps like Trucker Path and CoPilot.At least a week before you leave for your camping trip, make a packing checklist. It helps to break the list down into three categories: kitchen, bed and bath, and recreation. Be prepared with plenty of at-the-campsite games, books and supplies. Bring a mix of options for independent and group activities to keep things interesting.
Meal planning is a great way to save time, money and energy on your camping trip. There’s never a wait for a table at your campsite. Stock up on staple meal ingredients at your local grocery store before hitting the road. Focus on simple to prepare meals like tacos, burgers, sandwiches and salads. Bonus if your dinner makes enough for lunch leftovers the next day.
As we collect more experiences through our lives, the recollection of the ready-made, overly convenient hotel vacations seem to fade into the background. What shines through are moments we spent setting up camp and creating our own fun in the outdoors. As a matter of fact, two of my fondest memories involve having to rest an injured ankle for two days deep inside the Pemigewasset Wilderness and hiking into the Grand Canyon in a torrential downpour only to wake up the next day in a green oasis exploding with waterfalls and wildlife. These deeper sensory memories are the ones that stick with us.If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t take our health and relationships for granted. The ability to enjoy the grandeur of nature is a privilege that we should take advantage of and appreciate while we can. So get outside, have fun, and experience. Time is too fragile to be spent on the mundane.
There are many backcountry areas to love and explore. Here are a few highlights.
By Meag and Ben Poirier
There are backcountry camping guidelines in place to protect you and the wilds of New Hampshire. You can’t just go pitch a tent and roast some hotdogs anywhere in the woods. In most cases, you have to be at least 200 feet from a trail, trailhead, road or body of water. In some parts of the Whites, you need to be a minimum of 1/4 mile from a trail or body of water, and many areas prohibit fires. Before you head out, make sure that you are prepared with water, food and knowledge, and a plan for where you are going.
Practice “leave no trace”
This one’s just like it sounds. Don’t disturb the wilderness. That means packing out what you take in and disposing of your waste properly.
Search online for “10 essentials for camping and hiking” and commit the list to memory. Here are a few highlights:
Even if you know the area by heart, still bring a real map. Best not to rely solely on technology. Know where you’re going and tell a friend.
Bring enough (and a bit extra) high-energy, nonperishable food. Remember that if you’re hiking you’ll be burning extra calories.
Water is the heaviest thing you’ll carry. Drink often to stay hydrated; a good rule of thumb is one liter for every two hours of hiking. Research whether there are safe water sources in the area you plan to hike or visit. New Hampshire is teeming with streams and ponds, which makes it much easier to plan your trip. Boiling and chemical treatment are the safest ways to be sure there are no organisms left in fresh water, but filters have come a long way. Even if you don’t plan to rely on natural water sources, it’s important to bring a means to purify water safely.
Don’t forget, many prepared backpacking meals require boiling, so it’s a good idea to make sure there is a water source within walking distance of your site, just as long as you are the proper distance away according to the area you’re in.
Backcountry camping is allowed in all of the White Mountain National Forest as long as you follow a few important guidelines. It’s free to camp, but most parking areas require a parking permit that you can fill out at a kiosk onsite and hang on your car. There are spots within the National Forest that usually have more restrictions on camping, so be sure to check your area and confirm the rules before heading out. For a full guide on backcountry camping rules, including geographical specific information, go to fs.usda.gov. You should also visit fs.usda.gov/whitemountain for specific information related to COVID-19 and the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). As of early May, the WMNF was beginning a phased approach to reopening trail heads and other sites.
The Great Gulf Wilderness
Cradled in the northeastern side of the Presidential Range is the Great Gulf Wilderness. The Gulf and its surrounding forests are home to some of the best remote spots in the Whites. Many of the presidential mountain streams feed into the west branch of the Peabody River, which flows toward the quaint town of Gorham (a great place to snag supplies).
Home to the infamous Pemigewassett Loop trail, a 29.9-mile ridge traverse that will buckle the knees of even the most experienced hikers, the Pemigewassett Wilderness, aka the Pemi, is a must-see. It’s made up of three different mountain ranges that form a ring around the wilderness. At the epicenter is Owl’s Head Mountain, one of the most remote hikes in the Whites. The Loop can be busy but boasts a perpetual stunning view (weather permitting) almost the entire hike, including the iconic Bond Cliff (no yoga poses, please, Instagrammers). Thru-hikers don’t typically use the heart of the Pemi because of how out of the way it is, and day hikers steer clear because it’s not a “there and back again” type of story.
Sandwich Range Wilderness
There’s something old world, ghostly even, about the Sandwich Range Wilderness. The way the morning mist snakes through the old hardwoods at the base of the peaks feels like something out of Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
Presidential Range — Dry River Wilderness
Home to Crawford Path and established in 1819, it’s the oldest hiking path in the United States, and it shows. Generations of foot traffic have carved deep grooves in the landscape on some parts of the trail that wind through the southern Presidentials. Originally used as a bridal path for horses, this is a moderate hike for all experience levels but the views are spectacular. I highly recommend sunscreen on long ridge hikes like these.
Wild River Wilderness
The forests east of the Carter-Moriah range were a major hub for logging in the late 1800s. In a time when little regard for sustainability was exercised, much of the land was wiped of anything that could be harvested. After a major fire set by careless campers decimated what was left of the landscape in 1903, the Forest Service stepped in and purchased the land from the logging industry. What can be seen today is a wonderful example of a forest in the making.