Summer is officially here, which in New Hampshire probably entails camping for many people. Not all campgrounds are the same, however, and not all camping experiences are the same.
Here is the lowdown on some campgrounds in and around the Seacoast and the kinds of camping they offer, as well as some tips and ideas on how to maximize your outdoorsy vacation.
How do you want to camp?
“Roughing it” is not for everyone, but there may be no better place than the Seacoast to try tent camping. Regardless of where you pitch your tent, you are only a few minutes away from the ocean and the great dining and shopping options all along the coast.
Just because you are close to civilization, however, doesn’t mean you can’t lose yourself in nature along the Seacoast, as there are several campgrounds that feature great spots for tenting.
For Laura Ferrigno of Wakeda Campground in Hampton Falls, the magic of their campground begins with the land itself, which she said provides a rustic sort of feel. She said her family has owned the campground for three generations, which helps to create a family-like atmosphere.
“My grandparents started this place in 1965,” she said. “It’s not unusual to have third- and fourth-generation campers who continue to come back. My grandparents are 96 and 92, so they can still see the campground thrive. It’s a great atmosphere.”
A mile off the road and surrounded by woods, Wakeda Campground features more than 60 sites for tenting with some that offer no water or electricity and others that offer both.
“You get a picnic table and fireplace with these sites, too,” said Ferrigno.
At The Green Gate Campground in Exeter, there are roughly two dozen tenting sites, each with water and electricity. As with Wakeda, individual sites include a firepit and a picnic table.
“The sites here are beautiful,” said Jan Liu, owner of The Green Gate. “They are surrounded by mature trees and are very shady.”
Christine Infantine is the owner of Ferndale Acres Campground in Lee, which features about 10 tenting sites. She has several suggestions for tent campers.
“You want two tarps with one to put down on the ground for moisture under the tent and a second one for the top in case it rains — moisture collects easily in tents,” she said. “You should also bring a little outdoor rug to put shoes on, which will keep the tent clean.”
Infantine suggests bringing a power strip and an extension cord if your tent site has electricity.
“You may also want to bring some outdoor lights — Christmas icicle lights are a great idea — which help brighten your site up at night,” she said. “You can string them from the trees.”
Whereas tenting is fairly rustic, RVs provide a level of comfort and sophistication to the camping experience. One thing to keep in mind with RVs, though, is that every campground has different rules and regulations.
Noting they have well over 30 RV sites at Wakeda, Ferrigno said many campground sites have length restrictions.
“Be aware of the size of the rig — every inch matters,” she said. “Make sure you know how much electricity your rig requires, too, especially when it comes to air conditioning.”
At Ferndale Acres, which features several dozen RV sites, Infantine has a money-saving tip.
“For those staying long-term, we always suggest turning your RV fridge from electric to propane, too,” she added. “It costs a lot less.”
It also does not hurt to have a checklist of things to make sure you do upon arrival at the site. Some basic suggestions from campground owners include looking for low-hanging branches or items on the ground that could get in the way of your RV’s wheels; parking your rig close to the hookups and leveling it with blocks or stabilizing jacks; switching your appliances to the campground’s power supply; and attaching your sewer hose to the drain hook-up.
If tenting is a little too outdoorsy for you and you don’t want to deal with the work that comes from owning or even renting an RV, another option is renting a cabin. They can make camping much more manageable for new campers or those with younger children.
Some feature kitchens and running water and some do not, so be sure to call and ask what amenities are included with each cabin. The variables are significant and mean the difference between “barely more than a tent” cabins and more luxurious cabins.
The cabins at Wakeda Campground in Hampton Falls, for example, include twin bunk beds and a full-size bed, lights and electricity, a screened porch, and a picnic table, fireplace and water spigot on site.
Over at Exeter Elms Campground, a Full Cabin includes a full bed, twin bunks, sofa bed, loft, kitchen and bathroom. Kitchen includes fridge, stove, oven, microwave, toaster, coffeemaker, dishes, pots and silverware. But a Riverfront Rustic Cabin does not have a kitchen or a bathroom. It all depends on how rustic you want your camping experience to be.
Packing for your trip
For Rob Garneau, owner of Travel & Nature in Exeter, a successful camping trip begins months before the camping even starts.
“In my basement, I set up storage bins that hold everything I need,” he said.
In one bin, which he labels “Accessories,” he stores things like a camera, batteries, adaptor cords, a Swiss army knife and a headlamp.
“Headlamps are so superior to flashlights, because they provide hands-free lighting,” he said. “You can move branches when walking; it’s very handy.” Kids like wearing headlamps, too.
Other “accessories” include a toiletry kit, sunglasses, toothbrush, toothpaste and a few medical items, like ibuprofen, Tums and a first-aid kit.
In another bin, labeled “Kitchen,” Garneau stores a lightweight, rubberized collapsible pail, dishes and utensils. Citing their long shelf-life, he said he occasionally will store freeze-dried food in this bin as well.
In his last bin, “Clothing,” he keeps season-appropriate clothing.
“I have non-cotton pants, a wicking shirt and socks,” he said. “I don’t have to go through my closets and drawers. I’m ready to go in 10 minutes.”
Perhaps one of the most essential but easy-to-forget items is bug spray.
“It’s something you need here and ... especially places in the woods,” Liu said.
As far as camping gear goes, Garneau said modern campers possess distinct advantages over those who went camping in the past.
“We are lucky these days,” he said. “We have such a range in terms of price and quality. If it is your first time camping and you don’t want the best of the best, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg for that first time.”
Sleeping bags, for instance, should not necessarily comprise a big part of your budget, especially for kids.
“Kids grow so fast,” he said. “We carry inexpensive sleeping bags. It’s silly if you spend too much.”
Of course, if you do spend more on any kind of camping gear, you can expect better quality. He cited The North Face and Harman as two brands that put out products constructed with “real quality.”
“You pay for it, but the products are much lighter and withstand the rain much better,” he said. “If you plan on camping more, they can be a good investment.”
Whether you go RVing, go tenting, or set up camp in a cabin, the odds are that you will end up cooking outside over a grill or firepit at some point. Ferrigno said the key is to keep it simple.
“Hot dogs and kabobs are great things to cook over the grill and they are really easy,” she said.
According to Infantine, what to cook is largely determined by your method of camping.
“If you have a trailer, you can bring more items with you — you can definitely bring things to grill and barbecue,” she said. “For tents, there isn’t too much room except in a cooler, so you need to be mindful of that.”
For those who like to add a little bit of flavor to their food, Garneau said he brings a basic spice kit, which is composed of salt, pepper, garlic powder and seasoning salt.
He said he also uses fresh vegetables and adds them to many of his dishes. Some of his favorite vegetables include carrots, broccoli and onions. Instant mashed potatoes are another favorite, as is fish in a pouch and burritos.
“I love to make burrito wraps,” he said. “Add some dried beans, instant rice, and cheese to shave on there with my Swiss army knife. Everything tastes a little bit better when you’re out in the fresh air.”
For breakfast, Garneau said dried milk with granola is a staple along with oatmeal and Cream of Wheat, which he flavors with raisins or dried fruit.
“The nice thing with oats is that they do not have to be cooked,” he said. “You can eat it cold and add a little bit of water.”
He cited Seacoast-based company Good To-Go as another option for those who want to maintain a level of sophistication with their camping meals.
“They are based right out of Kittery and they dehydrate their foods and package them right there,” he said. “Their food is somewhere in between freeze-dried food and grocery store shopping — it’s instant convenience. They use really good ingredients and the food is really delicious.”
Here’s a list of a few Seacoast-area (and some slightly more inland) campgrounds offering everything from tent camping to cabin rentals.
Beach Rose RV Park
Where: 147 Beach Road (Route 1A) Salisbury
When it’s open: April 1 to Nov. 1
What it offers: Just a half mile from the Atlantic Ocean, this 50-site park has both shaded and sunny spots. Tenting is not allowed. Amenities include:
Sewer, water, electric and wi-fi
New one-acre nature path for you and your dog
Cost: Daily rates range from $45 to $65 depending on dates
How to rent a site: Visit beachroservpark.com or call 800-382-2230
Exeter Elms Campground
Where: 190 Court St. (Route 108) Exeter
When it’s open: May 1 to Oct. 10
What it offers: Exeter Elms Campground features a mile of river frontage on the Exeter River for fishing, canoeing and kayaking. Features well-spaced, wooded campsites and clean, modern facilities. There are tent sites, RV sites and rustic and full cabins. It is located 15 minutes from Hampton Beach. Amenities include:
Pool (hours 8 a.m. to dusk)
Free wi-fi (limited areas)
Renting golf carts
Cost: Prices start at $35 for a tent site without electricity. RV sites range from $45 to $55. Cabin rentals range from $90 for a rustic cabin to $130 for a full cabin.
How to rent a site: Visit exeterelms.com or call 866-778-7631
Ferndale Acres Campground
Where: 130 Wednesday Hill Road, Lee
When it’s open: May 15 to Sept. 15
What it offers: 150 sites, each equipped with electricity, water, fireplaces and picnic tables. Amenities include:
Large sites with 3-way hookups
Some 50-amp sites available (currently updating the entire campground)
Planned events & weekend activities
Minutes from 3 racetracks
Campground store with full line of supplies
Restrooms, hot Showers & laundry facilities
Fishing, canoeing, swimming
Playground area & basketball court
Horseshoes & cornhole
Baseball & volleyball
Game room / arcade
Large in-ground pool
Cost: $40 daily, $260 weekly, $850 monthly (with additional fees for extra children); seasonal sites are $2,500 without cable or $2,675 with cable
How to rent a site: Visit ferndaleacrescampground.com or call 603-659-5082
The Green Gate Campground
Where: 185 Court St., Exeter
When it’s open: Open May 1 to Oct. 1
What It Offers: The Green Gate is a family campground that has been operation since 1964 and features more than 100 shaded sites, including tent and RV sites. Cabin rentals are also available. Amenities include:
Newly renovated restrooms
Cost: Tent sites are $45 per night or $270 per week; trailer sites range from $45 per night or $270 per week to $59 per night or $354 per week. Pull-thru sites are $57 per night or $342 per week and cabin sites are $99 per night or $594 per week.
How to rent a site: Visit thegreengatecampground.com or call 603-772-2100.
Pawtuckaway State Park
Where: 7 Pawtuckaway Road, Nottingham
When it’s open: May 1 to Oct. 31
What it offers: Pawtuckaway State Park Campground is on the shore of Pawtuckaway Lake. The 192 sites are wooded and many provide views of the lake. Each campsite has an open fire ring, picnic table, flat areas for a tent and a parking space. The bathhouses are equipped with running water, flush toilets and 24-hour showers. There are no hookups at any of the campsites. Five cabins are available; each sleeps six people, has electricity, and includes a fire ring and picnic table.
Cost: Fees for campsites cover two adults and are $25 on Big Island inland sites and $30 on all other sites. There is a $10 fee per night for each extra adult. Campsites are limited to five adults, except on designated family campsites and in cabins. Cabins are $65 per night.
How to rent a site: Visit nhstateparks.org or call 603-895-3031
More campgrounds on p. 16.
Sea Coast Camping and RV Resort
Where: 115 Lafayette Road, North Hampton
When it’s open: May 15 to Oct. 1
What it offers: Just 8 miles from Portsmouth and 13 miles from Newburyport, this campground is perfectly situated to all major Seacoast attractions and also features tent camping. There are 158 RV sites, 69 with full hookups for RVs and travel trailers (30-amp), 9 full hookups (50-amp), 27 sites with water and electricity, 25 sites with 20-amp electric service. There are 28 basic tent sites (no water or electricity). Amenities include:
Grassy and shaded environment
Two bathhouses with metered showers
A large, well-equipped game room
A delightful playground area
A camp store furnishing essentials
A fire ring and picnic table on all tent sites (by request for full hookup sites)
Costs: Daily fees range from $38 (basic, no hookup) to $46 (full hookup, 50-amp); weekly fees range from $228 to $276; and monthly fees range from $960 to $1,104. Seasonal sites are $3,000.
How to rent a site: Visit seacoastcamping.com or call 603-964-5730
Where: 160 Lafayette Road, Hampton
When it’s open: Mid-May to mid-October
What it offers: Tidewater is the closest campground to Hampton Beach with tent sites, RV sites and seasonal camping. Amenities include:
Picnic tables and fireplaces
Large fenced children’s playground
Large playing field
Cost: Daily rates range from $41 (no electric) to $49 (electric, water and sewer); weekly rates range from $245 to $300 and seasonal rates range from $775 to $1,050
How to rent a site: Visit tidewatercampgroundnh.com or call 603-926-5474
Twin Brooks Campground
Where: 211 Lower Collins St., Seabrook
When it’s open: May 15 to Oct. 1
What it offers: This campground is for seasonal RV rental sites only. Amenities include:
The road is paved and sites have crushed stone
Town sewer and water
Sites that can take larger trailers with slides and sites that can take smaller trailers without slides
One mile from Seabrook Beach and two miles from Salisbury and Hampton beaches
Close to shopping areas
Cost: Seasonal only, $2,500
How to rent a site: Visit twinbrookscampground.biz or call 603-474-5163
Where: 294 Exeter Road, Hampton Falls
When it’s open: May 15 to Oct. 1
What it Offers: Nestled in the pines only eight miles from Hampton Beach and a mile off the road surrounded by woods, Wakeda first opened its woods to campers in 1965 and is owned and operated by three generations of the Savage family. Amenities include:
Free wi-fi hotspot
Ice cream available daily; “Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundaes” Saturday nights
Sunday morning pancake breakfasts (weather permitting)
18-hole miniature golf
Fully equipped playground
Cost: Daily rates range from $41 (no hook-ups) to $54 (pull-through). Cabins are $90 per day.
How to rent a site: Visit wakedacampground.com or call 603-772-5274