May 26, 2013

Take your pick - state campgrounds offer variety

By Elizabeth Lee

---- — In the past year I’ve been in almost all the North Country campgrounds. It’s almost summer and time to plan some overnights.

As new additions to public lands keep expanding the Forest Preserve, state parks and campgrounds that provide access to wild experiences are still incredible resources.

Many hardcore campers look down on state campgrounds as being too suburban — too soft and too crowded compared to the rugged mountains and rivers in the backcountry.

But the herons and otters and owls and lake salmon that I’ve seen this year are definitely just as wild as their counterparts in other parts of the Forest Preserve.

Memorial Day weekend is the opening weekend for most state campgrounds and historic sites. Within an hour’s drive, there are hundreds of sites for primitive camping, car camping and recreational vehicles. There are even lean-tos in some campgrounds. Since the 1920s, families have turned vacations at state campgrounds into historic campfires, uproarious adventures (and misadventures) and long-lasting memories.

The North Country has thousands of campsites that can be reserved for between $15 and $25 a night. Some campsites fall under the Department of Environmental Conservation and others under the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

An interactive online guide makes locating and reserving a campsite easy. Each campground listed provides a map of the layout so it’s easy to select sites to suit your expedition — whether it’s a solo overnight to position for an early launch or a group of families planning a weekend with bicycle rides and a volleyball tournament.

Campgrounds can reduce logistical planning and extravagant gear. For families working out the bugs in their outing routine, a car camping experience can hone the checklist of items needed — and not needed — for a trip farther into the backcountry.

All state campgrounds follow a basic set of rules about quiet hours (from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.) and pets (generally allowed on a leash or attended in your site), but each facility has its own character. Because the campgrounds are well mapped, it is easy to research sites that are only accessible by boat if you want distance. Many campgrounds also rent boats and have swimming areas. The online guide can locate the amenities that meet your needs, including hot showers, flush toilets, potable water or electricity.

Local campgrounds all offer special experiences. Macomb Reservation offers easy paddling up the Salmon River. Ausable Point showcases bird life. Taylor Pond has access to a long, low hiking trail and remote lean-tos. Lincoln Pond has a sandy beach and three island campsites. Rogers Rock offers boat moorings. Paradox Lake has access to the Peaked Mountain trail. Crown Point offers fantastic views of the Lake Champlain Bridge, a cool museum and good fishing. 

Other local campgrounds include Sharp Bridge, Putnam Pond and Wilmington Notch. Most local campgrounds also offer a Junior Naturalist Program that awards patches to kids ages 5 to 13.

The dawn chorus and the evening loons sound the same from tents in state campgrounds as they do from the most elegant private camps. Views over lakes and rivers can make thousands of acres of Wild Forest feel like they belong to you. Take your pick — shade, privacy and quiet or horseshoes, playgrounds and canoe races.

Elizabeth Lee is a licensed guide who lives in Westport. She leads recreational and educational programs focused in the Champlain Valley throughout the year. Contact her at

RESERVATIONS Reservations can be made by calling 1-800-456-CAMP or online at