Vermont and New Hampshire Adventure, Day 3 | September 8, 2016 | Hiking in Groton State Forest and driving to the White Mountains of NH
For being in a state park and having several other campers around the area, our night in New Discovery State Park was very peaceful, quiet, and enjoyable. We woke up well-rested and excited for this new day. Our plans for today were mostly to take it easy — we had just done one of our two big hikes for this trip, and it was important to us to have a more laid-back day in order to be energized for the next big hike. I’m thankful that we had the freedom to do that during this longer trip. So many of our vacations are go-go-go, driving, hiking, touring, and fitting in as much as we can into each day. This trip felt more like a rejuvenating and enjoyable one, with a few longer hikes thrown in. Our main goal was to see what the Green and White Mountains had to offer, and some days that meant just driving through and enjoying the views. Today was one of those days!
After breakfast (kielbasa and granola…not mixed together 😉 ) we packed up and set off. Luckily, because we had camped here, we had a pass to visit any other VT state parks that we wanted that day, so we headed a little farther South to do a short hike. All along this road, there were several different state parks that made up Groton State Forest, so I’m not entirely sure which one we were in, but we drove to the trailhead for Owl’s Head Lookout and set off on the half-mile path to the top. There are ways you can make this hike a lot longer, by starting in New Discovery State Park or even further, but we were okay with skipping that and just enjoying the end. We managed to get a couple of letterboxes, and the top all to ourselves for a while. We sat down on a rocky ledge overlooking the lakes and the sea of trees, and just talked about life. Charlotte stayed nearby, sniffing around and enjoying the peak the way she wanted. It was glorious.
A while later, another couple arrived, so we chatted with them for a bit then left the top for them to enjoy. We made our way back down to the car and began our drive further East. Oh, I also met a guy on the trail who arrived to this parking lot and was quite disappointed because all along, he thought he had parked at the closest lot when in fact he had not, and had hiked for much longer than he anticipated. Whoops!
We began yet another beautiful drive on highway 2, loving everything that we were seeing. The towns we came across were so “cute” as well — with beautiful architecture on the historic churches and buildings. We decided to stop in St. Johnsbury and just walk around to admire it all up close (and perhaps find a place to eat with free wifi so we could look for attractions/letterbox clues).
Unfortunately, once we were on foot and around the people of this town, the whole place lost its charm. We tried in 2 different locations, but felt very uncomfortable around the locals and just wanted to get out. We’d never felt like this while walking through cute little towns, so this was surprising and very disappointing. I guess the best parts of Vermont for us were truly just the Green Mountains and the gorgeous countrysides. If we lived here, we would probably love every minute on our own private homestead and on the trails, but we would dread the days we’d have to go into town. We started reminiscing about one of our favorite little towns — Abbeville, SC. While we were there, people were so friendly, and I guess that’s the Southern Hospitality coming out that everyone talks about. Funny how you don’t realize how great that is until you’re in a place where people don’t naturally make you feel welcome.
Once we left, we continued on highway 2 into New Hampshire — our first time in this state! With a motto like “Live Free or Die”, how could we not like this place? Haha! We saw on a visitor’s map that there were a couple covered bridges nearby, but the map wasn’t detailed enough to show us exactly where so we ended up taking a roundabout way and never actually finding them. We were a little disappointed but hey…there are SO MANY covered bridges in New England, we knew we were bound to see more! After a little more confusion on where we were actually going (my bad! haha) we headed South on 115, then South on 3, and finally East on 302.
Now, let me tell you about a little something I recently discovered that has become a game changer in our travels: freecampsites.net. Type in where you’re going, and it will show you different places in the general area where you can camp for free! Sometimes it’ll just have Walmart parking lots, sometimes it’ll list spots off of trails that you can backpack to — there are a variety of different options that may not be your traditional style of camping, but you can use the filters to help find something that you’re looking for. Some of these include if you’d rather hike in or drive up, if you have a pet, if you need hookups for an RV, and if you’re willing to pay a small price. So it’s not always super easy and it won’t always give you the perfect spot — and if it does, there’s no way to guarantee that you’ll get it because you can’t make reservations. For that reason, it’s better to be flexible and have multiple options.
However, for our first try using the site, we hit the jackpot! We drove North on Old Cherry Mountain Road and found that there were a handful of dispersed drive-up camping spots in the forest. We had to drive on a windy gravel road (that isn’t maintained in the winter and closed during that season — just a warning if you’re interested!) and after passing the first 5 sites and seeing them all occupied, we were able to claim #6 for the weekend! There were no amenities, but that wasn’t a problem for us. We had everything we needed, and this was exactly what we wanted. Our back-up option had been a large camping area off of 302, where you could be surrounded by others and have outhouses for $18/night, but we were happy to not have to use that. Because of this discovery, we were able to go 3 full days with having no expenses!
We set up our tent, and since it wasn’t quite dinner time we decided to drive around a little more. We continued down the road to see where it led (back to 115), we drove to the trailhead where we’d start our hike the next day, then decided to do a really short hike to see a waterfall just off of Old Cherry Mountain Road. It was a quick and easy hike to Lower Ammonoosuc Falls, but one we enjoyed all alone. I’m pretty sure that waterfalls are Charlotte’s favorite thing ever. She loves to wander freely, jump from rock to rock, and drink straight from the stream. Of course, I’m pretty protective of her so we’re never far away…and most of the waterfalls we hang out around are smaller cascading ones. It’s still so fun to see her happily wandering around and enjoying this so much.
Finally, we went back to our campsite to settle in for the night. We had more kielbasa with sweet potatoes and baked beans for dinner. We’re slowly trying to expand upon the meals we make while camping. Kielbasa/pre-cooked sausage is generally something we stick to because we just have a little cheap cooler that doesn’t necessarily keep things cool for very long, and those seem like safer meats to bring along. We’ll have a little variety of veggies along with that, and then this time we also had canned soups and baked beans for easy breakfasts or sides. For lunches, we stuck to sandwiches while on the trail or the road. If you have any tips or meals you like to make on the road or while camping, we’d love to hear it — anything to keep meals interesting and save on the food budget while traveling!