My family just had a great week camping at Lakeside Camping campground in the Northeast Kingdom in Island Pond, VT. Okay, okay, at 3.5 hours away by car it is hardly the Greater Boston area. But it is perfectly doable for an inexpensive vacation or even a weekend away.
And it has a beautiful playground! Honestly, my family usually find the state or national parks most appealing for camping for both atmospheric and affordability reasons. We’ve found private ones can have too much of a commercialized or trailer park feel and as tent campers, we lean towards rustic or even backpacking.
But Craig’s family has been coming here for nearly 40 years. Since before he was born–he actually turned 33 on the trip, complete with cake around the campfire. I can see why they made the exception! There are beautiful spots right on the lake but if you’d prefer to avoid those (as well as some equally gorgeous ledge-y ones) with small kids it works out nicely because many of the remaining sites wind around a lightly wooded hill so you get the full view without the risks.
The playground! You all love playgrounds! It’s a big-kid structure with swings and see-saws. No wildly unique attributes but it is perfectly fun and makes up for it with location. It’s nestled right between the front sites, the beach, the camp store and a picnic area and you can safely supervise all but the very youngest kids from any of those comfy locales.
There are boat rentals (feel free to bring your own, too), a raft to swim out to, and there is lots of loon watching. They frequently sponsor free kid-friendly events like ice cream socials and DJs on the beach.
One caveat that is actually a perk for many: active train tracks go through the edge of camp. Keeping kids away from the tracks is not an issue–there are fences or wooded areas everywhere except the main driveway. The main concern is the rare one that might come through post-bedtime and disrupt light sleepers. But usually the one or two that pass through a day are at an hour that make for some great trainspotting for curious and choo-choo crazy kids.
As if there isn’t enough to do on camp, there is plenty to do nearby. The region is sparsely populated but they’ve got a lot of culture and are ready for tourists.
–The Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte Wildlife Refuge complete with a moose viewing station (we saw 5 this year, including a mama with her baby!) and boardwalks around the bogs
–A state park with even more camping and hiking
–A free private dog park, with galleries, special events, and a memorial dog chapel
—Derby Line, the town with the library/opera house that famously straddles the international border
–The Cabot Cheese Factory with tours and loads of free samples. Did someone say free cheese?
And much more, including all the hiking, horseback riding, geocaching, skiing and other outdoor activities you could ask for.
You’ll only be a few miles from the Canadian border, so bring your passports for more options (American children should be okay with just their birth certificates until they are 16). Franconia Notch in the White Mountains is less than an hour away, too, with even more to do.
If you’re looking to get away from it all in less than a half day’s drive from Boston, we’d recommend this destination!