After departing Bar Harbor we made a one night stop at Walmart again before continuing west into New Hampshire. Our research, along with every recommendation provided by those familiar with the state, lead us to the Kancamagus Scenic Highway, which cuts through the White Mountain National Forest generally along an east west line. Of the more than twenty national forest service campgrounds in the range, six are along the Kancamagus. We researched the easternmost four, which seemed to offer mostly the same experience: first come, first serve drycamping in the woods near the clear running Swift River.
At $22 a night they are a bit steep for drycamping, but hardly the most expensive we have paid. (MacKerricher State Park in CA was $36). It would be nice to have readily available free boondocking sites in beautiful and accessible areas, such as what we experienced at Lake Mead in NV, but here in the BLM-free east that’s a tough proposition. Even so, the $8 per night we paid at the Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas seems more appropriate for publicly funded federal areas. Ah well, we are moving west for the rest of the summer so perhaps we will find some of those more affordable or even free sites.
Sight unseen I suspected we would like the easternmost Covered Bridge Campground best, but due to a height restriction we would need to approach it from a different route, and if it was full we would need to back track the same way before reconnecting with the Kancamagus to continue onto the next campgrounds. Since we would arrive on a Saturday, and having heard that they can fill up on weekends, we thought it best to skip Covered Bridge and go straight to Blackberry Crossing Campground, which required neither an alternate route nor backtracking to get to the next campground should it have no open sites.
Blackberry is the smallest of the four we eventually checked out, containing around 20 sites. There were a handful still available when we arrived, and we selected the largest easily accessible one that did not have neighbors on both sides. Even if the campground had been full, the spots are so big and tree covered that any one of them would have provided reasonable privacy. Thinking we might still move to one of the other campgrounds after we had a chance to check them out, we only paid for two nights.
Though we had made the drive in clear weather, by the time we arrived a drizzle had set in which would continue through the night and sporadically the next day. During the clear parts we explored the area, including the nearby very quaint town of Conway, at which we resupplied, washed clothes at the laundromat, made phone calls, and scouted out the library for future WiFi use. The one downside to camping in the White Mountains was a complete lack of connectivity. We didn’t expect a drycamping facility to have WiFi, but none of the campgrounds had cell service either, requiring a drive nearly the full way back to town to get a couple of bars.
During both of our trips to Conway we tried in vain to find the mythical Moose Lodge that the Ellsworth Lodge from Maine assured us was here since they helped to establish it. Unfortunately they are not fully up and running yet, operating out of one of the member’s homes while their building is being renovated. It took us extensive research just to find this out since we could find no associated phone number, finally getting the scoop from the local American Legion Outpost that has conducted a joint event with the nascent Conway Moose Lodge. Ah well, maybe next trip to New Hampshire.
One of us took a swim in one of the larger sections of the Swift River, and we explored the other three nearby forest campgrounds. Covered Bridge, right across the street from Blackberry Crossing, is significantly larger but did not seem to offer anything significantly different. Ditto for Jigger Johnson (yes, Jigger Johnson,) six miles deeper into the mountains. The only thing of note was the existence of pay showers there, but at the outrageous price of $2.50 a shower (the few private campgrounds that still use pay showers usually charge 25 cents for 7-9 minutes) we didn’t see it as an actual useful amenity.
We met one of the camp hosts while exploring Jigger Johnson, and upon hearing that we were hoping for something with more direct river access she pointed us two miles further up to road to Pasaconaway Campground. There we would find three sites that backed up directly onto the Swift River, if they were not already taken. Check them out we did, finding the better two of the three empty. Though I was reasonably confident that they would remain open, the next morning I took Loki up there bright an early to secure one of these three coveted spots for a three day stay.
Man what an ideal campground for us! The same heavily wooded and very spacious sites that all of the Kancamagus campgrounds offer, but backing directly onto the water. We would step over the log defining the end of the site and stroll 30 feet down to the edge. From there we could explore either direction, finding a sandy beach and four foot deep crystal clear swimming hole just downstream. We spent the majority of our days lounging by the river, just as we had the Salmon River in Idaho.
Even the cat seemed to like the river beach, what with warm sand to rest on and clear water to drink, other than when she misjudged the jump across a side brook and ended up tummy deep in the cold water. Pad Kee Meow also appreciated the abundant and insanely overconfident small animal life in the region. She would have had a red ground squirrel that foolishly hung out on top of our cooler had I not spotted the impending mayhem and jerked her leash back at the last second. Even with my pull it was inches that separated the rodent from tooth and claw.
We completed our five day stay and reluctantly left behind the beautiful Pasaconaway Campground, assuaging our regret with the knowledge that Vermont will offer a wonderful experience as well. Should you get to New Hampshire, we strongly recommend the White Mounts, the Kancamagus, and the Pasaconaway Campground, particularly the three spots just beyond the camp host’s.