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Summer Travel | Magazine

Can camping and comfort go together? Check out these 9 New England spots

Commune with nature and get a good night’s sleep, too, at these cabins and campgrounds around New England.

A Wanderlust “glamp tent” at Sandy Pines.
A Wanderlust “glamp tent” at Sandy Pines.(Douglas Merriam)

With our Scouting days long gone, we no longer pine for the sense of accomplishment that comes from pitching a tent, building a campfire, and sleeping on the hard ground in a musty sleeping bag. But sometimes we fantasize about withdrawing from the urban hubbub to experience life at its most elemental — squishing a twig-impaled roasted marshmallow between graham crackers or watching the popping sparks of a fire ascend into an inky sky. For people like us who need to press pause on city living but have no inclination to rough it, there are a couple of excellent options.

A company called Getaway tapped some pulsing cultural veins in 2015 when it set up three self-contained, HGTV-worthy tiny structures in the New Hampshire woods. Four years later, 42 modernist Getaway cabins dot 20 acres in Epsom, New Hampshire, just east of Concord and offered them up for nightly rentals.

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The tiny houses blend the design DNA of a rustic cabin with the efficiency of a self-contained intergalactic spaceship. The architects anticipated the necessities — LED lighting, an extra-compact shower, a high-tech toilet, a mini-kitchen, and a queen bed with linens, if not a lot of headroom. To avoid temptation, we secure our devices in the handy cellphone lockbox, and now we’re ready to stare off into the woods through the expansive windows and roast hot dogs on sticks while sitting around the fire.

A “camp  cottage” cabin at Sandy Pines.
A “camp cottage” cabin at Sandy Pines. (Douglas Merriam)

Each cabin comes with a few books and games to entertain those of us unable to amuse ourselves without being connected to the Internet. By the seventh round of Yahtzee, though, we decide to give Zen mindfulness a shot. The goal is to stop thinking and start being. Sadly, the play of light through the fluttery, pear-shaped birch leaves, the iridescent green brilliance of mosses and ferns, and the avian chatter ringing through the forest canopy can hold our attention for just so long. After a while, we decide to lace up our boots and explore the area’s rustic roads to see where they lead, taking note of landmarks to retrace our steps. Birds, we realize, would gobble up any trail of bread crumbs.

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The posh canvas-sided accommodations of a glamping tent are diametrically opposed to the minimalist monasticism of a Getaway house. We had never thought of camping in designer terms until we checked into Wanderlust, a 430-square-foot “glamp tent” at Sandy Pines Campground in Kennebunkport, Maine. Each of the 16 tents is the creation of a different team of designers. We feel like we are inhabiting one of several showcase homes arrayed in a picture-perfect landscaped village.

All our creature comforts have been anticipated — including campground-wide Wi-Fi. The king-size bed is so plush that we feel like we are sinking into an enormous and deeply feathered bird’s nest. The mini-fridge keeps our stash of sodas chilled and we turn an outdoor beverage cooler into a giant ice bucket for bottles of sauvignon blanc. We don’t need it, but our tent even has an air conditioner. The whimsy of the tent with its antler bedside lamps, leather-seated camp chairs, and faded oriental carpet on the deck beneath the bed feed into our sense of roughing it like a raj — assuming that the raj wouldn’t mind padding to the shared bathhouse in the middle of the night.

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A modernist cabin at Getaway.
A modernist cabin at Getaway. (Michelle Watt)

Sandy Pines also has several traditional recreational vehicle and tent sites. The social setting of a campground, even one as spacious as Sandy Pines, encourages a sense of community. We could have joined other campers at the heated saltwater pool but instead find ourselves chatting around a toasty fire pit with a mother and daughter from a nearby glamp tent. Alas, since we are camping midweek, we miss the Sunday ice cream buffet. This place is more about action and interaction than solitary introspection. Bikes, kayaks, and paddle boards are available for rent, and pickup games of volleyball, badminton, and bocce reprise summer camp of yore.

Sandy Pines is expanding its options this year to include some family-size “camp cottage” cabins on wheels, and six “unique retreats” that range from a Conestoga wagon to a decked-out Airstream. But it’s hard to beat zipping up the mosquito net on a tent and gazing out past the dying coals of a fire to the Milky Way splashed across the southern sky. Like a raj, indeed.

IF YOU GO

■ Getaway: Exact location and entry code revealed after booking. No phone, getaway.house. Cabins $99-$199 per night.

■ Sandy Pines Campground: 277 Mills Road, Kennebunkport, 207-967-2483, sandypinescamping.com. Glamp tents $199-$379 per night.

SEVEN OTHER WAYS TO GET BACK TO NATURE WITHOUT PITCHING A TENT

A campsite at Huttopia White Mountains.
A campsite at Huttopia White Mountains.(Romain ETIENNE)

1. CAMP LIKE A CANADIAN

Huttopia White Mountains — Albany, New Hampshire

Canada has so much of the Great Outdoors that our neighbors to the north consider a summer cabin on a lake a birthright. Quebec-based Huttopia brought family-centric cabin camping to the White Mountains in 2017. This year, the company added five more two-bedroom wooden chalets to its original mix of 87 tents and five chalets. The accommodations lean more toward comfort camping than glamping. Real beds with fresh linens go a long way toward creating happy campers. “Trappeur” wall tents, which sleep up to five, also feature full indoor plumbing and small kitchens. Amenities reflect the young-family demographic. The community has a supervised swimming pool as well as a private beach on Iona Lake, and campers can rent canoes and paddle boards. The Airstream bar and grill serves wine, beer, and pizza — and since Huttopia hails from Quebec, French crepes. The adjacent terrace has Wi-Fi for sending “wish you were here” e-mails to friends back home.

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57 Pine Knoll Road, 603-447-3131, canada-usa.huttopia.com. Tents $65-$260 per night, chalets $175-$350 per night. 

2. FAMILY TIES

Normandy Farms — Foxborough

Three generations of the Daniels family operate this 400-site luxury RV resort on the rolling pastures and wooded glades of their 1759 farm, which might explain why Normandy Farms is so attuned to the different generations who stay there. Boomers gravitate to the six luxury cabins (one wheelchair accessible), while Gen Xers and millennials are captivated by the coolness factor of the three 24-foot-diameter luxury yurts. With full baths and kitchens, the cabins feel like ski country condos, while the yurts have slightly fewer amenities — only one TV and no dishwasher. Both options sleep up to six, though pricing for the campsites is based on double occupancy. The sprawling park features four swimming pools (one adults only); a recreation building with massage room, sauna, yoga classes, and an arcade; a disc golf course; and a fenced dog park with a kennel for Rover when campers are out sightseeing. A slight step down, the resort’s three safari tents are closer to a traditional camping experience, but with a queen bed, microwave, and mini-fridge. They share the park’s bathhouses with the traditional tent camping sites.

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72 West Street, 866-673-2767, normandyfarms.com. Cabins and yurts: June-Labor Day weekly $1,795; spring and fall weekends $525, weekly $1,150, midweek $125 per night. Safari tents: $125 per night midweek, $225 per night on weekends, holidays, and peak season. 

3. CAPE COD CHARM

Bourne Scenic Park — Bourne

Location, location, location. This expansive wooded campground on the mainland side of the Cape Cod Canal has been a fixture since 1951. Although Bourne Scenic Park boasts 439 tent and RV sites, it also has five rustic wooden lodges and five rustic wooden cabins available for comfort campers on a one-week minimum during peak season, two-night minimum in the spring and fall. Both have four bunks and a full or queen bed. The “cabins” are essentially wooden tents, though they now have low-wattage electricity — enough to charge your phone but not enough to run appliances. The “lodges” are handsome small houses with heat, air conditioning, microwave, refrigerator, cable TV, outdoor shower, and ingenious incinerating toilets. Park amenities include two swimming pools, but the big appeal is the proximity to the canal. Fish, just watch the boats go by, or cycle down the bike path to Scusset Beach.

370 Scenic Highway, 508-759-7873, bournescenicpark.com. Rustic cabins: $80 per night, $480 for seven nights. Rustic lodges: $142-$179 per night, $852-$1,176 per seven nights. 

4. MOUNTAIN HIGHS

Sterling Ridge Resort — Jeffersonville, Vermont

Set in a sugar maple forest about 4 miles north of Smuggler’s Notch ski area, this woodsy complex of 24 log cabins offers a quintessential Vermont escape. The property is crisscrossed with walking trails through the woods and there’s an in-ground pool for a refreshing dip. Most people use Sterling Ridge as a base for hiking, rock climbing, and touring the northern half of the Green Mountain State. Each cabin is a little home, right down to Wi-Fi and cable service, a fully equipped kitchen (no dishwasher in the three studios), and full linen service for the bathrooms and beds. Willow, a gregarious Bernese mountain dog, often greets guests, and dogs are welcome in most cabins for an extra fee.

155 Sterling Ridge Drive, 802-644-8265, sterlingridgeresort.com. Studios $155-$205, one-bedrooms $205-$285, two-bedrooms $225-$305, three-bedrooms $265-$370. 

5. WALKS IN THE WOODS

Savoy Mountain State Forest — Florida, Berkshire county

Perched atop the first mountain barrier west of the Connecticut River, Savoy Mountain State Forest in the town of Florida has a lot in common with Thoreau’s Walden. It feels wonderfully remote, but it’s not really that far from civilization. Most campers opt to pitch a tent here, but four rustic log cabins will provide a more Thoreauvian experience. Three of them sleep four, with a table and chairs, and a wood stove for heat and cooking, while the fourth sleeps five and has electricity. The juice is handy, since you might want your phone’s GPS for exploring. More than 50 miles of hiking trails lace the state forest. The most popular routes lead to Tannery Falls and Parker Brook Falls. Follow the Haskins Trail to Bog Pond to see the floating peat “islands” and an abundance of water lilies and carnivorous pitcher plants in the quaking bogs around the pond. Download trail maps in advance.

260 Central Shaft Road, 413-663-8469, mass.gov/locations/savoy-mountain-state-forest. Cabins: $50-$60 per night for Massachusetts residents, $65-$75 per night for non-residents. Reservations: 877-422-6762 or reserveamerica.com.

6. NEAR THE THRILLS

Northampton/Springfield KOA — Westhampton

The KOA Campgrounds chain ticks all the boxes for most family campers, and this Pioneer Valley facility is no exception. It has a fishing pond, a wading pool, a big swimming pool, an inflatable bounce house, and arts and crafts activities, among other amenities. The four cabins with private bathrooms and kitchens (two have outdoor gas stoves) sit on the grounds of a full-feature campground . One cabin sleeps six, the others four. One big draw of the campground is the availability of steeply discounted tickets to nearby Six Flags New England. Many families come to spend a week, designating one day for the park’s thrill rides, a day or two for Pioneer Valley attractions, and a couple of days of campground decompression.

    139 South Road, 413-527-9862, koa.com/campgrounds/northampton. Cabins $100-$150 per night.                         

7. DAYS OF YORE

Colonial Gables Oceanfront Village — Belfast, Maine

All that’s missing from the mid-century tableau are some behemoth chrome-bumpered cars parked outside the 53 tourist cabins (and 13-room motel) on a gentle slope leading from Route 1 down to a more-or-less sandy beach. Located just over a mile and a half away from the iconic Perry’s Nut House and Young’s Lobster Pound, these updated cabins give today’s travelers access to the tourism of yesteryear, when road trips were still called auto touring and the crisp breezes along Penobscot Bay were a novelty for some Massachusetts and New York flatlanders. Renovations have given these one- and two-bedroom cottages modern bathrooms with abundant hot water, comfortable beds, and kitchenettes in case guests don’t want to go out for lobster. Modern air conditioning units keep them cool for sleeping on the rare occasions when ocean breezes don’t do the trick. Each cabin has a porch facing the ocean, though some are more spacious than others. Hardy souls can swim at the beach but the water is bracing.

7 Eagle Avenue, 207-338-4000 or 800-937-6246, colonialgables.com. Cabins $135-$295 per night, motel rooms $95-$215 per night. 

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Patricia Harris and David Lyon are frequent contributors to the Globe Magazine. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.