17 Jan

RV Family Travel Atlas #18: Adventure Guide to the White Mountains of New Hampshire

This week’s episode of RV Family Travel Atlas is a special Adventure Guide to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We traveled to the Granite State last summer and spent an amazing two weeks exploring the rugged White Mountains.

We will be talking about the all hiking, kayaking, swimming and amusement parking that this great region has to offer. We start off in Franconia Notch and then move on to Crawford Notch.

Plus we review two campgrounds, the Lincoln/Woodstock KOA and the Twin Mountain KOA, that we stayed at during our visit, white knuckle driving on the Mount Washington AutoRoad, and the beautiful scenery of the Kancamagus Highway.

To read all of the posts and find more specific information about any of the places mentioned, visit the New Hampshire tag in the sidebar.

All of this on Episode 18 of RV Family Travel Atlas: White Mountains, New Hampshire Adventure Guide!


 

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22 Jul

Two Hikes and a Swim: Artist’s Bluff, Bald Mountain, and Echo Lake (Franconia State Park, New Hampshire)

On our second day in Franconia Notch, we were excited to see more of the mountains. However, we also knew we had to take it a little easy with the kids since the day before had been relatively long and physically demanding for our three young children. This is a regular pattern for us during our travels. We like to alternate busy days with more relaxed days to make sure the boys never hit the ’tilt and meltdown’ point.

We went looking for two types of activities…

  1. A short, rewarding hike
  2. A great swim

…and we found them both at Echo Lake.

Echo Lake, located at the foot of Cannon Mountain, has a beautiful swimming area, fishing area, boat launch and rentals. There is a small fee for use of the lake, but we entered the parking lot before 10 am so we didn’t have to pay (hint, hint).

Hike #1: Artist’s Bluff

Once we parked in the Echo Lake parking lot, we crossed the street to the Artist’s Bluff trailhead. Here we were presented with a couple of options.

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We could have stayed to the right and completed a very short but very STEEP rock scramble up to Artist’s Bluff, or we could go to the left and complete a longer loop leading up to the same place. We chose the latter option and then descended from the bluff along the steeper, rockier path.

This was a 1.5 mile loop that was just perfect for a family hike. It had all of the changing landscape, kid-friendly challenges, and stunning views that we look for in a trail.

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The boys had a great time practicing ‘careful footing’ on the way down. I had Wes in the backpack, and I was just fine navigating the rocks.

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Hike #2: Bald Mountain

This hike is in the same location, but we completed it on a different day. You could easily combine the two hikes into one if you have older children (or just adults!) who have greater trail stamina.

For our climb up to Bald Mountain, we parked in a lot that was just up from Echo Lake on your right coming off of Interstate 93. The ascent was short and dramatic, requiring a lot of rock scrambling and some butt-shuffling on the part of the boys.

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This was the perfect difficulty level for our boys since they had to concentrate and exert quite a bit of effort, but only over a short period of time. The summit is only .4 miles from the trailhead, but the whole trail is engaging and interesting.

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And the views.

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We read over and over that these two hikes offered some of the most rewarding views of Franconia Notch. This is absolutely true. Make sure you bring some snacks or a lunch and relax a bit on the summits.

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These were probably our two favorite mountaintop locations during our entire New Hampshire trip.

The Payoff: Swim at Echo Lake

It is never disappointing to come down off the mountain when there is a beautiful lake for a refreshing swim. We thought that Echo Lake would be cold. Freezing, New Hampshire water cold. Actually, that turned out not to be the case. It felt like a crisp, invigorating high 60’s, and the kids dived right in and splashed around comfortably.

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One of the best things about this lake was the very large swimming area. We often feel like big, beautiful lakes that we visit have ridiculously small, roped-off swimming sections. There was also an additional shallow area sectioned off for the kids. We loved that feature since our boys still need that visual cue for how far they can swim out.

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There was the coveted sandy bottom and clear, fresh water that we love in a lake. The views of the Notch and Cannon Mountain that surrounded us as we floated in the water were truly idyllic.

There is a bike path (and bike rentals) right there as well. We didn’t get to explore the path, but if you do, let us know how you enjoy it. Our boys also looked longingly at the paddle boats, but we promised that for another time.

Just one more thing to put on the list for our next visit to New Hampshire.

18 Jul

A Perfect First Day in the White Mountains: Franconia Notch State Park

It always takes us a day or two to get the lay of the land when we arrive in a new location. I find that I can do all the research in the world, but we don’t really get a good feel for a place until we drive around a bit and chat with the locals and other guests at the campground.

The White Mountains of New Hampshire can be daunting simply on account of how many amazing places there are to see and how much there is to do. We were staying in the southern part of Franconia Notch, near Lincoln, so we decided to start our explorations nearby at the Flume Gorge. I am so glad we made this decision because I think our itinerary for that first day would give any visitor a perfect introduction to the landscape and history of the White Mountains. By the end of our day we also had a much better idea of what we wanted to do with the rest of our time in Franconia Notch.

The Perfect First Day Itinerary

1. Begin your planning by looking at this wonderful website maintained by the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation. I found it easy to navigate, with all of the pricing, attractions, and trail information I was looking for. Print out this Flume Gorge Scavenger Hunt before you go (there are no printed copies available at the visitor’s center).

2. Purchase the Discovery Pass which includes entrance to the Flume Gorge and a ride on the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway. At first I had a little sticker shock at the $29 ticket price. But we definitely wanted to do a tramway ride, and this was by far the most affordable option. All three of our children were free, so $58 for a full day of amazing experiences ended up seeming like a great value.

3. Start your day early by hiking the Flume Gorge first (it opens at 9 am). We got there before the tour buses arrived and had the place mostly to ourselves. By the time we were coming back down at 11 am, it was much more crowded. The Flume Gorge Loop Trail is a great 2-mile hike taking you up one side of the Flume and down the other. There are options for longer hikes if you want to spend more time in that part of the park.

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4. Eat lunch at the Gilman Visitor Center. After the Flume Gorge Hike, we wanted to feed the kids before heading to the Aerial Tramway. We thought we were making a decision of convenience by ordering lunch at the visitor center restaurant. Turns out the food there is absolutely amazing. Seriously. The burgers were delicious and cooked perfectly. The grilled cheese was made with Texas toast. Everything was fresh and made to order. We were shocked and delighted.

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5. Take the Aerial Tramway up to the top of Cannon Mountain and then walk the Cannon Mountain Rim Trail to the summit observation tower. It is an easy, short walk with lots of opportunities for panoramic views.

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6. Once you are back down the mountain, take some time to learn about the history of the Old Man in the Mountain at the new memorial site.

7. Return to the campground for a relaxing refreshing swim in the pool.

This first day itinerary was exciting, stunningly beautiful, and kid friendly. It helped us understand the geography of Franconia Notch and gave us more than enough ideas for the rest of our days in this area of the White Mountains.

We can’t wait to tell you all about it!

18 Apr

Sleepy Cypress Trees and the Silvery Ocean: Myrtle Beach State Park

When we pulled into Myrtle Beach State Park, Wesley was fast asleep.  His twin brothers, however, were not.  So we found a parking spot between the playground and the beach so Wes could rest and the boys could play.  Max informed me that I was going to be “the bad pirate” and that he and Theo were going to be “the good pirates.”  Then he informed me that I had to go over to the kiddy playset because that was my pirate ship and they were both about to raid it.  Things were not looking good for dad.

Much to my relief, the boys soon become engrossed on the larger of the two play sets—which allowed me to become engrossed in the warm southern charm of this majestically wooded state park.  While the boys ran and screamed I soaked in the stunning contrast of the sleepy cypress trees and the cool silvery ocean just beyond the dunes.

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I was hoping to run up to the beach for my first ocean swim of the season, but Wesley was awake and we decided to go for a stroll and check out the campground and the nature center instead.  We are staying at the Myrtle Beach KOA, and we have really loved it, and plan on coming back again, but this state campground looked fantastic too.  The sites were spacious and there were dozens of families riding bikes and making the short walk up to the beach for sand, surf, and sun.  The campground had no vacancy and was filled with a nice mix of tents, pop-up campers, travel trailers, fifth wheels, and motorhomes of all shapes and sizes.

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The Myrtle Beach State Park Nature Center is tucked away in a cozy little corner at the south end of the campground near the horseshoe and bocce ball courts.  Stephanie commented that all campgrounds should have bocce ball courts.  They are cheap, easy to build, take up little real estate, and can provide hours of family friendly fun.  We also decided that every campground should have a nature center.

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Our whole family loved this place.  It was charming on the outside and colorful on the inside.  The boys were particularly attracted to the chalk board wall and each one of them drew a masterpiece or two before we all decided to head up to the beach.

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It was a little windy, but warm, and we were all so thankful to be in South Carolina, instead of back home in New Jersey, where it was 20 degrees colder.

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While Max and Theo played with their sand toys, Wes showed off his sweet new Myrtle Beach hat.  But the fun really started when the boys saw a teenage girl dribbling a soccer ball on the wide open sand.  She inspired them.  They asked to play soccer and I was happy to oblige–I had left a ball in the bed of my pick-up trunk for just such an occasion.

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Stephanie and I kicked the ball around with them for half an hour and had a blast.  It had been a perfect day and I couldn’t imagine it getting any better.  But I still had something that I really wanted to do.  As mommy played with the boys I waded out into the sparkling ocean for a quick swim.  It was a little cooler than I had imagined.  When the waves started crashing around my knees I was shivering and contemplating heading back to the beach.  Why was I hesitating? After all, I have surfed all winter long in New Jersey in 30 to 40 degree water temps–and I have always loved a cold water swim.  Maybe because the day had been long and fun and I was tired?  Or maybe because I was in an unfamiliar place?

Just then I looked to my right and saw an eight or nine year old boy swimming further out than I was.  He was diving under the waves and laughing.  He inspired me.  I dove under the next wave and popped up feeling cold but invigorated.  Another wave rolled in and I swam over to it, turned towards the shore, and bodysurfed it all the way back onto the beach of my new favorite state park.

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Myrtle Beach State Park costs five dollars per person for a day pass, which can also be used at Huntington Beach State Park for free admission on the same day.  Ages five and under are free at both locations.  If you want to camp make sure you book early–the campground is very popular–and for good reason. Peak season rates run from 27 to 42 dollars.  They offer full hook up sites, water and electric sites, rustic tent sites, and cabin rentals. Don’t forget to visit the nature center and bring your bathing suits and bocce balls!

 

 

 

17 Apr

Alligators, Architecture, and the Atlantic Ocean: Huntington Beach State Park

I’m going to go ahead and admit something. I have never once in my life seen an alligator in the wild. I’m a little confused by this myself. I mean I’ve traveled quite a bit in my life, and a lot of that travel has been in natural environments with tons of wildlife. But somehow…no alligators.

Well, check something off the bucket list that I didn’t even know was on there.

The alligators are the first thing you get to experience when driving into Huntington Beach State Park, so I couldn’t help but stop on the causeway and gawk…something that we were specifically instructed not to do. We did, however, refrain from feeding them.

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When I finally recovered from my childlike excitement, stopped blocking traffic, and parked in the appropriate parking lot, we walked the path along the causeway that cuts through the freshwater lagoon and the saltwater marsh. Wesley got his first ride in the hiking backpack (last year he was in the Ergobaby)…

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…and we discovered that the only way to push the mute button on Theo and Max is to place them in the presence of large reptiles. (These are not staged photos)

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After the walk–which allowed me to trot out some waterfowl knowledge gained from my recent birding craze–it was historical architecture time. We toured Atalaya, a home built in the 1930s by a sculptor, Archer Huntington. There is a self-guided tour (really numbers with room designations) that actually is quite useful in piecing together the house. If you have watched Downton Abbey (or any upstairs/downstairs drama) that might help considerably as well.

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Here’s the real skinny: if you have kids that need a lot of running around in life, Atalaya is for you. Our boys ran from room to room, up and down hallways and around in circles. They found themselves stuck at dead ends and then just turned around and raced somewhere else. It really is the perfect kind of historical landmark, where the adults can explore the beauty of the past and kids can scream. Win/Win.

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We hadn’t been planning on doing the whole beach thing, but it was gorgeously warm and the ocean called…by which I mean that Max and Theo ended up stripping off their shirts and diving into the waves in their shorts. Wes held his own, experiencing the whole walking on sand thing for the first time in his life.

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For these winter-embattled North Easterners, the sun, sand, and sea was intensely therapeutic. Our day at Huntington Beach State Park was the sort that left you saying, we will come back here…over and over and over again.

The nitty-gritty: We paid $5 per adult (all three kids were free). That entry price is also good for Myrtle Beach State Park, if you choose to do both in the same day. Make sure you pick up coupons for Brookgreen Gardens (good for $2 off each paid admission) at the ranger station. There is a great 2-mile hike, and lots of ranger-led activities, so look at an activity calendar before you go.

 

 

 

27 Mar

Planning that Vacation? Let a State Park Surprise Your Family…

National Parks get a whole lot of attention and rightfully so. They are (across the board) breathtaking and phenomenal experiences, and one of the highlights of our national heritage.

State Parks don’t get as much exposure, but over the last four years they have become a foundational part of our family travel. In general, state parks can be more accessible and affordable, offering wonderful hiking, fishing, canoeing, and swimming without the crowds that many of the national parks attract.

Owls Head State Park, Maine

Owls Head State Park, Maine

Camden Hills State Park, Maine

Camden Hills State Park, Maine

High Point State Park, New Jersey

High Point State Park, New Jersey

Two summers ago we set off for a 16 day jaunt through New York State. I didn’t realize at the time that I was pregnant, but that fact might explain why I had done little to no preparation for our trip. I was definitely in the tired and cranky for no apparent reason stage.

We spent one of our first days in the Finger Lakes Region at Keuka Lake State Park and had an amazing time swimming and kayaking. We ended up leaving the park that day with an Empire State Pass and a plan for the rest of our trip. We would hopscotch from state park to state park until we landed at Niagara Falls.

Buttermilk Falls State Park

Buttermilk Falls State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park, New York

Letchworth State Park, New York

Niagara Falls State Park

Niagara Falls State Park

North / South Lake State Park

North / South Lake State Park

This was definitely an ‘aha’ moment for us as a traveling family. Most state parks charge a day-use fee, so a season pass can be a budget friendly way to plan out a vacation if you are going to be exploring a few of them in one trip. State parks also have great educational programs, so you can pair a hike with an activity and everyone is happy.

The prices vary dramatically from state to state, so you definitely have to crunch the numbers and see if they work in your favor. South Carolina has a 7-day pass option, so I am looking into that for our trip to Myrtle Beach next month. However, New Hampshire’s pass for out-of-state residents is pretty steep, so we probably won’t purchase one for our trip this summer.

We bought our New Jersey State Park Pass a few weeks ago on a sunny day in February when we were feeling hopeful about spring being right around the corner. For $50 we gained unlimited access to 50 state parks for the next year. Feels like a bargain to us.

A funny thing happens when you buy a pass to anything. You try to use it as much as possible, right? I think about a pass as a form of encouragement. Once you have it, you look for opportunities to use it. If that pushes you to explore a new park, take a guided wildflower walk, or get that kayak down to the boat launch, it is worth every penny.

We would love to hear about your favorite state park. Near or far, we will put it on our list. After all, we plan on getting there one of these days.

Think Spring.

23 Aug

Watkins Glen State Park: Next Stop on the Great Empire Pass Tour

Once we had purchased the Empire Pass at Keuka State Park, the rest of our Finger Lakes’ itinerary fell neatly into place.We headed off to Watkins Glen State Park in search of the boys’ much-beloved waterfalls. I had originally been angling to camp in the park, but the thought of dry camping after purchasing the new luxury camper sent my husband into fits of despair. If you are in the region, you absolutely MUST make a trip here. It was truly more beautiful than any of us had expected.

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Couple of tips…

1. Get there early! There was a huge difference in the crowds when we arrived at around 10 am and when we left around 1pm. This place is best enjoyed with a bit of peace and quiet. You will be in even better shape if Max and Theo aren’t there to practice their ‘echo’ calls. Although I would take them over a tour bus any day, I understand that I may be in the minority.

2. Start from the North Entrance and work your way down to the main entrance on the Gorge Trail. It is much more serene at the top and the views looking down the Gorge are stunning.

3. Loop back up the Indian Trail, or if you have little ones like us, get in line at the bottom for the shuttle to bring you back to where you parked. The shuttle was a welcome amenity, however it gets a little tricky…there is not an official line or tickets or anything. So basically people race and shove their way to the front while trying to appear mature and dignified. There are better ways to finish out a hike, but hey, it beat dragging the boys back up the trail.

4. When you are done, go eat at the Glen Mountain Market in downtown Watkins Glen. We had delicious sandwiches here, and the boys devoured their egg and cheeses. The pastries were perfect, and we left with some loaves of bread for our BLT dinner the next night. I wish this deli was in my hometown.

5. Rest up for tomorrow’s trip to another State Park, because you, like us, should eke out every last penny’s worth of value from that Empire Pass. I may have issues, but at least they lead us to some pretty fabulous places…

11 Aug

Oops. I forgot to plan our trip to the Finger Lakes…

Keuka Lake State Park

Jeremy and I have a well-established division of labor when it comes to our camping trips. He obsesses for months and months over campgrounds and reservations and traveling itineraries while I pointedly ignore any specific questions, offering up irritating shoulder shrugs and grunts in response to his frequent overtures.

I’m pretty sure I know why I do this. As a working mom, my life is full of schedules and to-do lists. I have very little daily mental ‘down-time’ and I guard it jealously. I just can’t think about an enjoyable family activity that might take place a month from now when I am furiously trying to figure out how I am going to get  the boys to their doctor’s appointment on time when they just scheduled a late meeting at work.

Jeremy puts up with my recalcitrant attitude because of this one fact: about a week before we leave on any trip, I kick into rabid vacation planning mode. I search high and low for the best of the best in the region that we are visiting. I find off-the-beaten-trail activities that are just the right blend of fun and kid-friendly. By the time we leave on a trip, my husband and our camping buddies are always confident that I have assembled a daily itinerary that will keep everyone happy.

Except this time I didn’t. For a variety of reasons, the weeks leading up to our 14-day New York State Excursion were jam-packed for me. It was all I could do to get the clothes packed in time for our departure. We left on our trip with exactly one activity planned: a day would most certainly be spent at Niagara Falls. The rest was a bit fuzzy.

Lucky for us, we have gotten pretty good at this game. On our first morning in the Finger Lakes’ Region, we knew that we wanted to spend the day relaxing, swimming, and kayaking so we headed to Keuka Lake State Park, about 30 minutes from where we were camping. The drive to the park was gorgeous, leading us up along the west side of Keuka Lake and giving us a glimpse of the many beautiful houses perched right on the side of the hills and looking like they were about to tumble into the lake.

The state park was perfect: easily accessible with a great recreation area and sparkling clean facilities. The boys spent the day wandering back and forth between the playground and the lake…

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…while the adults swam, kayaked, and kicked back.

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Jeremy and I found a place to stash the kayak and took a quiet swim far away from the ‘crowds’.

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It was here that I finally hatched my plan for the trip. I decided that all of our vacation days must be just like this one. We had paid the daily entry fee when we arrived, but on our way out of the park at the end of the day, we stopped at the ranger station and bought an Empire Pass.  For 65 dollars, this pass would get us into all of the New York State Parks and Recreation Areas for an entire year. We planned on recreating this first day of vacation as we travelled across the state.

And that is exactly what we did. Brilliant planning on my part, don’t you think?

10 Oct

High Point in the Rain: As Peaceful as a Family Hike Can Get

I might have to change the name of our blog to “Exposing Your Children to the Elements: 101 Days of Camping in the Rain.”
We had a bad spell of weather in Cape May a few weeks ago, and then the storm clouds followed us up to Sussex County despite forecasts of beautiful, crisp fall days.
Nevertheless we hiked, biked, and puddle-jumped on.

I’m not encouraging anyone to take their kids to the pool during a thunderstorm, but seriously, I think we throw in the towel far to quickly when we wake up to a gray sky. First of all, the only thing worse than being stuck in the house all day with rambunctious toddlers is being stuck in a camper with those same-said bundles of energy. Second of all, my kids would find a way to get wet during a walkabout in the Australian Outback, so what is the difference if the water comes from above or below?

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Having embraced this mentality, I think that we have actually enjoyed some of our rainy-day excursions even more so than the ones that take place on those typically perfect days.
I have noticed that the crowds empty out and probably head for the nearest matinee, while we can let the boys wander freely and shout ‘echo’ at the top of their lungs without receiving those ‘keep your children in check’ looks.

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I have also noticed that the leaves look brighter, the woods feel more romantic, and the animals seem more social when the rain is falling at a conversational rate.

My boys aren’t hot. We don’t get so sweaty. We can point to the next puddle as a goal with its own intrinsic reward.

I want you to take your kids to the Cedar Swamp Trail in High Point State Park. It is the perfect family-friendly trail: light grading, under three miles, and naturally enticing. But here’s the catch: I want you to try to do it on a drizzly day. The water was perfectly clear with emerald algae that you never would have been able to see in the bright glare of the sunlight. The mist kept the noises of the woods close by for my boys to tune into to. And the weather kept all the other hikers at bay.

And why is that a bonus? Well, truth be told, it was really great that no one was around to see Max lose his marbles when we had to take away the walking stick with which he hit his brother. He earned it back rather quickly with sorries and promises and pleadings. And then we started hiking again. The woods didn’t seem phased by the presence of toddlers one bit.

17 Aug

A State Park You Can Visit in a Dress: Owls Head, Maine

In the spirit of the New York Times Photography (see my last grouchy post), I wanted to mention a lovely morning we spent visiting the Owls Head State Park and Lighthouse.
When we left the campground that morning, I didn’t actually think we were going to be traipsing about in the great outdoors, much less climbing steep stairs and fighting off gusts of wind that wanted to lift my linen dress clear over my head and send me sailing out to sea. The loose plan was to take in a bit of ‘town’ with some shopping, a light lunch, and then maybe a swim at Sand Beach in Rockland. So when you normally leave the campground in hiking boots and shorts that have more pockets than a fisherman’s vest, it is nice to switch it up and dress like a lady.

That is unless you then happen to meet up with a friend who recommends a beautiful walk to a lighthouse just minutes out of town and it all sounds so much nicer than going into stores so you agree without hesitation before realizing you are just a wee bit inappropriately attired. Your husband however has lucked out: since he dresses the same whether attending a BBQ or a rehearsal dinner (think cargo shorts and a baseball t-shirt), he is perfectly prepared for a visit to the state park.

Well, Owls Head Lighthouse is the perfect park to visit if you happen to be wearing a dress or some other traveling finery. In fact, a scarf around the hair would probably make the experience even better. It is an easy, beautiful walk up to the lighthouse. We were able to bring up the jogging stroller since we didn’t have our backpacks with us, but the kids walked most of the way themselves.
You can’t climb to the top of the lighthouse, but the view is worth the trip up anyway. On a clear day you can see all the way to Mt. Desert Island. It was also a wonderful view of Mt. Battie, where we were staying in Camden Hills.

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We even cheated and put the Owls Head State Park Stamp in our National Park Passport. It felt a little dirty, but I couldn’t help myself. I mean, how many Passports can a girl carry around anyway? Especially in a dress…

28 Jul

Campground Review: Camden Hills State Park, Maine

                                                   Camden, Maine

I pulled up to the ranger station at Camden Hills State Park with the usual site-anxiety that grips me upon entering each new campground.  Would our site be spacious? Would there be room for the boys to play and scream?  Or would we be staring at a 50 foot RV’s sewage lines all week and yelling at our boys to get out of our neighbors dirty fire ring?  It may seem greedy for me to always expect a really big site–but when your kids wake up at 5 am each morning with 1000 AMP energy you don’t want to be 10 feet away from your (temporarily) sleeping neighbors.

We don’t want a huge site because we don’t like other campers.  We want a huge site because we really do like other campers and we want them to like us.  Waking strangers up at 5 am is no way to make new friends–if you don’t believe me try it sometime.

After I filled out the registration forms the ranger pointed to a huge field to the right of the station and said, “your site is all the way at the end of that field.”  “Field,” I thought.  I don’t want to camp on no stinkin’ field!  When I reserved the site in March the ranger told me that we were at the edge of the woods.  I assumed that this meant that we were in the woods and the field was right past that. Here we go again–another stinky site reserved months ago after extensive research.

It was a warm July day and I suddenly had images of sitting around the campground and sweating profusely all week.  I could also hear the non-stop cries for “milk, ,milk, milk” ricocheting across the campground from the boys bright red faces..  My boys sweat bullets like I do.  I imagined lots of sweating and the boys pounding down milk by the gallon.  A gallon of milk is still more expensive than a gallon of gas, right?

I grumpily drove through the woods and pulled onto the single lane of sites on the field at the edge of the woods.  Our camping buddies had already arrived and set up their Jayco pop-up and their kids where playing on the grass.  Then I started to lighten up a bit.

It was just one single row of sites.  No campers in front of us. No campers right behind us.  We had the site at the end of the row.  So no campers to the right of us either.  Our camping buddies had the site to our left.  Then I really started to lighten up. Our campsite was huge!  This was no pie slice of a site, this was a genuine piece of central Maine real estate.  I could have built a home on this site and started a new life.  These sites were about three times the size of a site at a private campground.  The photo below is of just the two sites that we occupied with our friends and the field in front of us!

We also realized that, at 3 pm, the entire row of campers was in complete shade while the rest of the field was bright and sunny.  While I set up the camper the boys began to romp across the vast lawn.  They had never had so much room to run and wrestle and bonk each other over the heads with their Styrofoam pool noodles at any other campground.


As I raised the roof up and extended the bed-ends on our pop-up I could only hear shrieks of laughter and pure joy.  My first impression was dead wrong.  This place was heaven.  The sun was very intense in the mornings–so we did leave early for each mornings activity to avoid the heat.  We returned from each activity at about noon to feed the boys lunch and give them a nap.  When they woke up from nap time each day our site was shaded and cool and the filed was warm and bright.  Perfecto!

We loved Camden Hills State Park.  There was nothing not to love.  Loads of open space, spotless bathrooms with hot showers, a quick drive into a lovely town, ice-cream up the road, great swim spots a short drive away, and at 40 bucks a night with electric and water, it was a great bargain.  But most importantly, the campers loved the magic drainage grate in the middle of the field. This drainage grate made a terrific, clanging sound when jumped and danced upon–and our lively little campers jumped and danced until their hearts (and the campground)  were filled with that joyful sound.
If you cross Belfast Road to the other side of the park there is another world to explore.  There is a long, sloping grassy field with Adirondeck chairs and an ocean view.  If you walk down to the edge of the park there is a pretty path along the water with grills and picnic tables.  Not appropriate for campers our age, but perfect for a family picnic with older kids.  There is also a path that leads right down to the rocks with a spectacular view of the sea.  There is group camping back up the hill and clean bathrooms and showers.  What a lovely, lovely place to camp.  I know our family will be back.

Oh, and did I mention the panoramic view at the top of the park from Mount Battie? It’s just a short hike or an even shorter drive from your campsite to one of the most famous spots in Maine.  It’s not as cool as the magic drainage ditch, but you can jump and dance up there too, and you won’t wake up any of the other campers if you do.

06 Jul

Road Trip Pitstop: Dinosaur State Park, Connecticut

We left for Vermont at 8:19 am sharp and headed north through New York City at the start of a holiday weekend. We knew the drive might be a bear, and I had our first stop all worked out. A friend of mine had told me of a hidden gem in Rocky Hill, Connecticut–Dinosaur State Park. It was only about a mile off of Route 91 and the perfect place to stop with a picnic lunch, which we had of course packed in advance.

There are nice picnic tables, little nature trails, a gem mining station, and a casting area. The only thing you have to pay for is the exhibit, which details the history of the dinosaur tracks which were discovered in the area. If our boys were a few years older, we would have sprung for the exhibit. As it was, they were perfectly happy scrambling down the marsh trails trying to spot snakes after I had pointed the first one out.

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You want to hear the fairytale ending? The boys did not dive into the swamp, or even touch a foot in. Do I dare say we are entering a new period of maturity? The belly flops in a puddle by the pool at our campground this weekend tell another story. But a girl can dream…