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S’mores and more: Best camping spots in New England

White Caps Campground was named one of the best in New England by Campspot.com.
White Caps Campground was named one of the best in New England by Campspot.com.Diane Bair for The Boston Globe

Thinking about a camping trip this summer? You and everyone else, it seems. Traffic to the camping search app The Dyrt (www.thedyrt.com) is up 400 percent from this time last year, says CEO Kevin Long. According to Google Trends data, searches for “camping” are the highest they’ve been since 2011. Outdoor goddesses that we are, we’ve seen ‘em all, camping-wise, from pristine backcountry spots to camping “resorts” with pony rides and lobster bakes. Therefore, choosing the “best” camping spots — our assignment — was tough, so we zeroed in on a few categories. As always, please check current quarantine guidelines before heading off to a neighboring state.

Best place for a serene getaway: Shawme Crowell State Forest, Sandwich

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As woodland retreats go, it doesn’t get better than this. Located close to downtown Sandwich, this Cape Cod campground flies under the radar compared to wildly popular Nickerson State Park in Brewster (which booked up instantly when reservations opened this year on June 22.) This gorgeous swath of pitch pine and scrub oak forest is not on the water, but Scusset Beach is close by. (At press time, the campground was working to arrange free day-use privileges for campers. Here’s hoping!)

Campsites, 285 in all, are arranged in two loops: Area 1, hilly with mixed forest, and Area 2, set in piney woods. You’ll be setting up your tent on a carpet of pine needles; sure beats dirt and gravel. Many of the sites have long driveways and most offer plenty of privacy, although you might have to drive to restrooms and showers. The park is laced with hiking trails (15 miles’ worth), and the paved park roads are fine for cycling. Plus, the Cape Cod Canal Rail Trail — a bonanza for biking — is nearby. The town of Sandwich is low-key and cute, and you’ll find good places to grab some food (say, Café Chew) if campfire cookery isn’t your jam.

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Be warned: There’s no Wi-Fi. And you’ll have to use one of the public outlets (or the restroom) to charge your phone or inflate your air mattress. We’re talking State Park Basic: Sites have grills and picnic tables, and a space to pop that tent. You’re in the woods, baby! 42 Main St., Sandwich; Massachusetts residents, $17 per campsite; nonresidents, $27 www.mass.gov; www.reserveamerica.com

Bradbury Mountain State Park is a good place to introduce newbies to camping.
Bradbury Mountain State Park is a good place to introduce newbies to camping.Diane Bair for The Boston Globe

Best for the reluctant camper: Bradbury Mountain State Park, Pownal, Maine

Not sure your significant other is too keen about this whole camping thang? This 800-acre forest — located halfway between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn — is a good place to introduce newbies to the concept. There’s so much to do here, you’ll basically just sleep at the campsite. Camp, hike, shop, eat, repeat is our strategy here. A series of multi-use trails are accessible from the campground, offering easy-going day hikes with pretty views of the area. Freeport is about 5 miles away, home to outlet shopping and all things L.L. Bean, including the Mothership, open 24/7. Freeport’s restaurants are geared toward outdoor dining, and include mainstays like Broad Arrow Tavern at the Harraseeket Inn (with a pretty landscaped terrace) and Tuscan Bistro, purveyor of tasty brick-oven pizzas served on a patio facing Main Street. Just outside of town, Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park offers lovely coastal hiking (you can do the woods one day, and the ocean the next) on a narrow peninsula between Casco Bay and the Harraseeket River. Osprey watching is big here, too. Stretch out on a rocky outcropping and watch the world (and the birds) go by.

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Back at the campground, sites are not terribly private, but they’re wooded, and the campground has a nice extra: a communal area with a sink, microwave, and beverages and snacks on an honor system. And if you’ve forgotten anything, two words (or is it three?): L.L. Bean. 528 Hallowell Road, Pownal, Maine; $15 per campsite for Maine residents; non-residents, $25 per campsite. www.campwithme.com

Best base for family fun: White Lake State Park, Tamworth, N.H.

Picture a crystal-clear, sandy-bottomed lake ringed by a stand of stately pitch pines with a backdrop of mountains. Pretty pleasant, huh? White Lake’s natural-sand beach (with its shallow, kid-friendly swimming area) is popular with day-tripping families, but after they depart, the park is a haven for campers. Sites are rustic (no hookups), but spacious and private, buffered by trees. Some are on the water. Campsites are set into two pods, along each side of the beach and picnic areas. Paths lead to the beach. A 2-mile walking trail traverses the lake though the Pitch Pine National Natural Landmark, a 72-acre span of one of the most virginal stands of northern pitch pine in North America. Into longer hikes? Take on 3,475-foot Mt. Chocorua; the Champney Brook trailhead is a 25-minute drive away.

We’ve visited this one with and without the kiddos, and enjoyed it every time. Most memorable moment: getting up with the sherbet-hued sunrise to take a quick dip in the lake. If the beach gets too tourist-populated for your comfort, pop over to North Conway (20 miles north) for an al fresco lunch, and play tourist yourself. Then land back at the campground when the day guests head home. This is a lovely place to hang out, toss a Frisbee, and reflect on family vacations of yore. The only downside here: coin-op showers. Bring some quarters if hygiene is your thing!

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94 State Park Road, Tamworth, N.H.; $24 per campsite; www.nhstateparks.org

White Caps Campground overlooks 5-mile-long Lake Willoughby.
White Caps Campground overlooks 5-mile-long Lake Willoughby.Diane Bair for The Boston Globe

Best waterfront spot for the RV set: White Caps Campground, Westmore, Vt.

Overheard last weekend at White Caps Campground (one teenage boy to another): “I thought there was a topless beach here!” Response: “Where do you think you are, Canada?” In fact, (exotic, topless?) Canada is just a few miles away, but Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom (a.k.a. NEK) has its own virtues. This RV-focused campground — named one of the best in New England by Campspot.com (www.campspot.com) — overlooks 5-mile-long Lake Willoughby, a glacier-formed lake wedged between humpy green mountains Pisgah (2,751 feet) and Hor (2,648 feet).

Enjoying it all is super-easy here; the campground — located at the south end of the lake — rents a variety of watercraft, launch-able from a small beach across the street. The lake is sand-bottomed and shallow; fine for swimming with small fry. Less than a half-mile away, there’s a trailhead for the South Trail, leading to the summit of Mount Pisgah. Just shy of 2 miles each way, this moderate hike is a must-do. Lookouts at the top reveal glorious views of the lake, distant mountains, and Canada. A half-hour’s drive gets you to the Kingdom Trails in East Burke, a 100-mile network of mountain biking trails. Back at the campground, folks play cornhole, lounge in beach chairs, and socialize (with varying degrees of social distancing and mask-wearing, sigh). The campstore/coffee bar sells snacks (try the Amish donuts), sandwiches, breakfast items, and camping supplies.

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Four tent sites sit atop a wooded hill at White Caps, but they’re not too spacious or private. In-the-know tent campers opt to go the rustic route, setting up camp near the lakeshore in Willoughby State Forest, where primitive camping (no designated sites or services) is permitted. As one camper put it, “Who knew a place like this existed in Vermont?”

The campground offers lean-tos and cabins, in addition to RV sites with full hookups (water, sewer, and electric), water and electric, plus tent-only sites. RV sites from $45-$60 per night. 5659 Route 5A, Westmore, Vt. www.whitecapscampground.com

Wompatuck State Park in Hingham offers 12 miles of paved bike paths and another 40 miles of forest trails.
Wompatuck State Park in Hingham offers 12 miles of paved bike paths and another 40 miles of forest trails.Lisa Irwin

Best quick escape for cyclists: Wompatuck State Park, Hingham

A mere 19 miles from Boston, 3,526-acre Wompatuck State Park is a dandy two-fer for outdoors enthusiasts: cycling by day, camping by night. The park offers 12 miles of paved bike paths and another 40 miles of forest trails that wind through woodlands and along freshwater ponds. Wompatuck — named for Indian chief Josiah Wompatuck — is also popular for geocaching. Up to 30 geocaches are hidden within the park’s boundaries. Fishing is allowed in the Cohasset Reservoir. The nearest ocean swimming is at Nantasket Beach, about 10 miles away.

The 260 campsites are located in two areas, one with electrical hookups (Camping Area 2) and one without (Camping Area 1). Sites along the perimeter road, backed by forest, are primo for privacy, especially sites C-1 through C-14. In general, the sites in Area 2 are set farther back from the road (the better to accommodate RVs and trailers) and offer more shade and seclusion than Area 1. Tent campers can use either one.

One unique feature of this park: Mt. Blue Spring, a source of fresh drinking water. Visitors can help themselves for free. Another nice element: Fireplaces have grill tops for campfire cooking. If you’ve had enough S’mores (although that is highly unlikely!), head to the Norwell outpost of Hilliards Chocolates. There’s a Boston Pizza Company shop next to Hilliards, if your outdoor cooking proves unsuccessful. You’ve earned some carbs with all that cycling. $17 per campsite for Massachusetts residents; $54 for nonresidents plus $6 for electric hookups. 204 Union St., Hingham; www.mass.gov; www.reserveamerica.com



Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com