Imagine stargazing or making s’mores with your kids, then getting up the next morning to paddle along streams and around ponds, pointing out painted turtles or an old beaver lodge. Such experiences are easy to organize at the following campgrounds, which offer paddling options on site. Say good-bye to hassles getting a canoe or kayak on top of the car. Just step out of your tent or cabin and walk to the waterfront, where boats, paddles, and life vests—and great family adventures—await.
Umbagog Lake State Park
Pristine Umbagog Lake measures 11 miles long from north to south but averages less than 15 feet deep (the name Umbagog is said to come from the Abenaki for “shallow water”). The lake is protected as part of a national wildlife refuge. This park’s campground includes three cabins, 35 sites with electrical and water hook-ups, and 34 campsites in remote locations all around Umbagog Lake that are accessible only by boat. The park also has a swimming beach, playground, showers, flush toilets, and a store, as well as canoe, kayak, and rowboat rentals. Contact the campground two weeks in advance to rent canoes or kayaks and make arrangements for transportation to isolated sites if you want it (there’s a per-mile fee). Canoes may be rented overnight, so you can paddle right from your campsite the next day. An extra bonus: You are likely to see signs of deer and moose, or perhaps the animals themselves.
Tully Lake Campground
This popular tent-only campground in central Massachusetts, managed by The Trustees of Reservations, offers 35 walk-in campsites along the shores of a 200-acre lake. Campers can choose from inland or waterfront campsites, and carts are available for transporting gear. “Renting a canoe or kayak is as easy as walking up to the office,” says Kim Foley MacKinnon, author of AMC’s Outdoors with Kids Boston and a big fan of Tully Lake. “There are lots of small inlets and even a couple of tiny islands to enjoy a picnic, so don't forget your cooler. You can even rent fishing poles.” The campground also rents GPS devices for geocaching. The bathhouse has toilets and coin-operated showers.
Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
This Mass Audubon sanctuary north of Boston is best known as a day-trip destination offering more than 10 miles of trails to explore. The trails include kid-friendly boardwalks and the “rockery,” a network of tunnels and stairways made of rocks brought in for an arboretum many years ago. Mass Audubon members can spend the night at the sanctuary’s one cabin or camp on Perkins Island (three sites for up to 15 people each), and rent a canoe to paddle along the Ipswich River.
Harriman State Park
The Harriman State Park campground on 310-acre Lake Sebago offers tentsites, 40 popular rustic cabins, and two full-service cottages, all within walking distance of a playground, swimming beach with lifeguards, and boat launches for nonmotorized craft. Rowboat rentals are also within walking distance of the campground. “As Harriman’s largest lake, Sebago features many quiet, tree-lined coves, and shady shoreline walks. Once you leave the beach area, Sebago is the quintessence of quiet waters and a deep-woods getaway,” says Cheryl de Jong-Lambert, co-author with her husband William of AMC’s Outdoors with Kids New York City.
North-South Lake: Catskill Mountain House
The campground at this mountain lake includes more than 200 tent and trailer sites, two picnic areas with charcoal grills and fireplaces, two swimming beaches, restrooms with flush toilets and hot showers, a playground, volleyball court, and horseshoes. “This was once one of the most fashionable mountain destinations in America, and it remains the most popular public campground in the Catskills—with good reason,” says William de Jong-Lambert. “The combination of natural beauty and history appealed to our family and the facilities offer lots of fun for kids.” Hiking trails surround the area, and you can rent rowboats, kayaks, canoes, and paddleboats at the campground. Motorized boats are not allowed on the lake.
Meacham Lake Campground
The only development on a 1,200-acre lake in the Adirondack Forest Preserve, this campground offers 224 campsites, including 21 on the west shore of the lake that require you to walk in (a plus if you like a more natural experience, since you get away from the crowds). Family-friendly amenities include a playground, swimming beach, picnic area, and hot showers. A junior naturalist program for children ages 5 to 13 is offered, along with an activities area staffed by environmental interpreters. You may rent rowboats and canoes. Powerboats are allowed on the lake.
Mohican Outdoor Center
AMC’s Mohican Outdoor Center, about 90 miles northwest of New York City in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, sits on the shore of a 60-acre glacial pond. Accommodations range from 10 secluded walk-in sites with outdoor privies, to group campsites, tent platforms, and small and large cabins, some with full-service kitchens and bathrooms. Canoes and kayaks are available to rent. Families that like to hike will enjoy numerous options, including the Appalachian Trail, which passes by less than half a mile from the center.
Pickerel Point Campground
At this campground, 50 walk-in campsites line the shore of a peninsula at the southern end of Promised Land Lake and share a swimming beach. A few of the campsites and three camping cottages are open year-round. The campsites have easy access to a picnic area, showers, and hiking and biking trails. You may rent canoes, rowboats, paddleboats, and one- and two-person kayaks by the hour, day, overnight, or week. The campground is one of four in Promised Land State Park.
AMC Full-Service Camps with Paddling
AMC offers other lodging options for families interested in camping and paddling, including the following two full-service camps.
Echo Lake Camp
Mount Desert Island, Maine
This family-friendly summer camp on Echo Lake is in the heart of Acadia National Park, although not part of the park itself, and is surrounded by terrific hiking and bicycling opportunities. The camp offers comfortable platform tent camping with beds, a dining room, regularly scheduled activities, and shared bathhouses with hot showers. The lake has a sandy beach for swimming, and rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and sailboats are provided. One-week reservations are required and children must be at least 4 years old.
Three Mile Island
This family-friendly, full-service summer camp on a 43-acre island in Lake Winnipesaukee offers 47 small cabins with kerosene lamps and two single beds each (some with adjoining tent platforms), shared bathhouses with composting toilets, and a “sun” shower at each cabin. The camp also features a main lodge with electricity and running water, where meals are served family-style and campers relax in reading and game rooms. Several canoes, kayaks, and sailboats are available for rent for nominal fees. One-week reservations are given preference and children must be at least 4 years old.
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Tip of the Day
Make a leaf sailboat. A fallen leaf can be the sail, a stick the mast, and a pinecone or piece of bark the boat body. Head to a nearby pond, stream, or backyard kiddy pool to sail it.