Lake Dennison Campground and Wilder/McKenzie Nature Trail: Good Times, Dirt Cheap!
August 31, 2013

By Melissa Macdonald, Kids Outdoors Boston Parent Ambassador

For the past couple of years, my friend Jean and I have rounded up our respective troops and camping gear and made for the woods. An outdoorsy friend of ours suggested Lake Dennison State Recreation Area in Winchendon, MA, as an inexpensive and family-friendly spot. At $12/night for a tent site, we were sold.

This 150-site campground and the adjacent Otter River State Forest (which was the first campground in the state park system) are managed by the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Our sites at Lake Dennison were good-size and felt nicely private. The bathhouses have hot water, a non- coin-op shower stall, flush toilets, and a generous dish sink outside.

We were camped on simple, wooded clearings with a small fire grate for cooking and a picnic table. Many other sites were within easy view of the lake (though none near us permitted swimming). Several small areas along the shore were ideal for some quiet fishing.

The lake offers no shortage of recreational opportunities: we saw kayaks, canoes and rowboats during our stay, and we tried (unsuccessfully) to find a local place to rent one, as the DCR staff told us the ones we saw were all privately-owned. (Moral of that story: bring your own!)

That said, the five boys (my three and Jean's 10-year-old twins, Austin and Graham) were all plenty entertained with the public swimming area. The big guys played catch in the shallow water, while Teddy tooled around with a skin-diving mask, happy as a clam.

At the campsite, they played baseball and catch to amuse themselves, and got into a pickup game of kickball with some boys from across the way during the pre-dinner lull. They were having so much fun that Jean and I – accustomed to involving the boys in meal prep – decided to just let them enjoy making new friends.

On our last morning, we decided to try a hike on the nearby Wilder-McKenzie Nature Trail in the Otter River State Forest. After a big fireside breakfast and packing up our campsites, we headed out. Because our time was limited, Jean and I parked our cars at either end of the trail so that we could hike one way.

It was an easygoing trek through a nice variety of terrain. We found the trailhead by walking back toward the Lake Dennison beach parking entrance from the day-use parking lot, then took the first right at a gated road and almost immediately saw the sign on our left for the trail. We finished at the Otter River campground, about two miles and 45 minutes later. We made sure the boys were in bathing gear, as there are swimming areas at either end of the hike.

We followed the trail's easy-to-spot blue blazes alongside a patch of wetland, through tall pines and over a few muddy spots. Along the way, we passed patches of blueberries, raspberries and other unidentified species of flora and reminded the boys that it's best not to eat anything along the trail unless you have an ironclad means of identification.

After plenty of opportunity to admire the scenery (and for Teddy to befriend his second caterpillar in two days), we emerged from the trail in the midst of Otter River's own 85-site campground. We made a quick stop at the shiny new bathhouse at the top of the campground (Will's dead-earnest comment to me: “Mom, this bathhouse is of high quality”) and headed down to Beaman Pond for a quick splash to round out our trip.

Despite a few initial worries about all the stuff we didn't bring (bikes, canoes, kayaks), this trip was a solid reminder that all you really need for a successful camping trip with the kids is a dry tent, a good fire and great friends.

Planning your trip:

Directions (from the Boston area): Rt. 2 west to exit 20 (Baldwinville Rd.)
Turn right at the end of the exit ramp on to Baldwinville Rd.
Drive 2.5 miles on Baldwinville Rd. and turn right onto Rt. 202 north.
Drive 2.3 miles on Rt. 202 north.
Beach entrance is on left.

Campground entrance is a short distance further up on the left.

For trail maps and campground information:

Lake Dennison State Recreation Area

Beach: 1366 Main Street
Winchendon, MA  01475

Campground: 219 Baldwinville State Road
Winchendon, MA  01475

Otter River State Forest

86 Winchendon Rd.
Baldwinville MA 01436
978 939-8962

Visited these two areas? Tell others about your trip! Rate and review Lake Dennison State Recreation Area and Otter River State Forest at Kids Outdoors.

About the blogger: Melissa Macdonald is a featured guest blogger as part of AMC’s Kids Outdoors Boston Parent Ambassador program, which partners with local parents to share their outdoor experiences with this online community and beyond. Melissa lives west of Boston and enjoys exploring outdoors with her three boys: twin 10-year-olds and a seven-year-old. 

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