Local (near Keene, New Hampshire) Campsite Research – Day 1

Lee and I didn’t have any camping arranged this weekend, which made us sad… so Lee had the idea for us to visit local campsites and see for ourselves what was in the area.  Great idea in concept, really tough to execute.  We spent from 8:30am until 7pm and only saw 10 sites.   Of the 10 sites only one was an absolute winner. The others were a mixed bag.  Along the way we struggled with navigation (despite two iPhones, and Ipad, and a GPS), did a pretty lousy job of communicating, and generally got on each others nerves.  Keep that in mind when you read the reviews, we definitely weren’t in the best frame of mind.  That being said, we didn’t give up, and the very last one we visited was fantastic. So we are going to try it again tomorrow (Clearly we are gluttons for punishment and slow learners.-Lee) but I am going to route our map this time 🙂  The reviews are as follows and they are in the order we visited them. 

Hinsdale campground – 4 South Street, Hinsdale NH
Hinsdale is an old mill town and the campground is outside of the town on the back side of a trailer park.  The campground is separated by a manned gate and Passport America is accepted at the site.  The area also is monitored by CCTV cameras and the amount of security made me believe there had been issues in the past.  The big draw of the site is numerous ATV trails and there were numerous campers there.  The sites are all level  and clean and every one has a lamppost in front of it with the site number on it, which makes it like a little neighborhood.  Tons of very friendly seasonal people  who were talking to each other in the common areas.  There is also some tree division between every site. It is right across the street from the Connecticut river although there is no direct access from the campground  If you are looking for a reasonably pried seasonal ($2100) or are into ATV ing this might be the place for you.  Perkins Rating: Not for Us – Your Mileage May Vary

Forest Lake Campground -331 Keene Rd, Winchester NH
Gated entrance for after hours.  We received some unfriendly stares when we first pulled in but others were overly friendly.  I say overly friendly because as one guy noticed one of our headlights was fogged up and discolored, and told Lee he could fix it with toothpaste.  We were definitely being “checked out” by the residents.  The campground is right on a nice lake  with many seasonal sites with semi-permanent structures attached to them. There is a small meadow perfect for a large group  and some nice lake view sites if you are ok with just water and electric.   Tons of golf carts and most of the sites are really on top of each other although most are at different elevations so you get a bit of a view.  Visitors have to have a code when they are leaving to stop guests from taking advantage of the lake and not paying their day fee.   Perkins Rating: Not for Us – Your Mileage May Vary

No Name -100 Athol Rd Richmond NH. Big field,  no office,  wooded on the edge and open in the middle.  We saw several tents and some RV’s but where you would pay I wasn’t sure.  Power hookups but no sewer.  Perkins Rating: No Way 

Laurel Lake Campground (No website)  – 340 East Lake Rd Fitzwilliam NH
Fitzwilliam is a little spit of a town whose big distinguishing feature is that John Wayne used to vacation there.  The general store was closed with a paper sign on the door, but we also saw a sign for canoe race on beautiful Laurel Lake .  This campground was a huge disappointment.  It is a beautiful piece of property with terrific lake views that has completely fallen into disrepair.  The website is tremendously misleading, showing the only piece of the property that was somewhat well-kept.  The permanent trailers are falling down and scary looking, and there were numerous big pieces of equipment strewn throughout the campground which is being over taken by weeds.  It reminded me of a nice big piece of property in the country where the owner had cars up on blocks in his front yard.  The caretaker was polite and  let us wander.  Unfortunately none of the sites have sewer unless you’re seasonal and all the paths and roads are overgrown.  Again such a shame because it was a mostly wooded piece of property.  If I had a ton of money, I would buy it and fix it up.  Sadly that is not an option so … Perkins Rating: No Way 

Cold Springs Camp Resort 62 Barnard Hill, Weare NH

On the drive to Weare, I saw a man walking a horse down the side of the road…gotta love that, it’s always a good sign.  Weare is a nice country town with locally owned restaurants and businesses.  The campground is close by and has a nice entrance sign and three very nice pools (one with a kids fountain and another for toddlers) right at the entrance.  There were hundreds of  golf carts and a hayride was pulling out as we pulled in.  Also there was a DJ at the pool and he was announcing the day’s activities.  By the time we pulled into the store area, Margharittaville was playing poolside and I was entranced.   It’s very clean and obviously family oriented and the place was packed.   Tons of professional staff and many very nice seasonal sites.  What appears to be the older section of the campground has lots of  wooded sites although they were a little on the small side for us.  Our favorite site was W14A  although W14 would also work well.  In addition we thought we could make 149 and 151 work as they were on the larger side.  This campground would be great if you are a grandparent and want to bring your grandkids as they have a lot of activities and wonderful seasonal spots.  Their prices are on the high side $60 for Super Sites and a seasonal rate of $3,400 but if you can afford it and needed a kid friendly place this would definitely be for you.  Perkins Rating:  Worth Trying

Autumn Hills Campground  – 285 S Stark Hwy Weare, NH
Nice sign with a  nice entrance.  Large  group play area for kids and they were playing some water balloon games and there was a decent pool.  There are  several non-seasonal full hook ups at the campground and huge lots that are not right on top of each other.  Very wooded as well.  A few of the lots have a water view and our favorite (94) was very close to the lake entrance which would be perfect to launch kayaks or a canoe.  Unfortunately a metal chain link fence separates the sites closest to the water from the lake so you can only gain entrance in one central location.  Not sure what the purpose of that is, but really cuts into the experience.  Other sites that would work for us were T5 (elevated with a lot of trees), 90 (smaller site but with a view of the water), and 14 and 11 which are close to the kids area but nice big lots.  Essentially a nice basic campground without a lot of frills reasonably priced at $42 a night.  This was my second favorite site  Perkins Rating:  Worth Trying

Mile-Away Campground 479 Old West Hopkinton Rd, Henniker NH
A small Book store with 30,000 books close by the entrance got my attention and the sign stating 2 cars per site really sparked it.  I would like my daughters to be able to visit me and the second car could come in handy.  There is a heated saltwater pool which seems to be a big attraction and the campground is made up of mostly seasonals who seemed nice.  The camp allows no outside wood, which is a huge drawback since I am looking for something local and there were only two sites that could work for us since most of them were very small.   Nice miniature golf course, numerous golf carts, a beach with boats for rent and sites 20 and 21 are pull throughs right near the beach.  That being said most of the sites were very small and kind of on top of each other.  One site we liked, Lee pulled out a surveyors wheel and showed me how much room the trailer would take and it left little to no room on the site for hanging out.   This was Lee’s second favorite of the day but I am on the fence about it.  Perkins Rating:  Worth Trying

Sandy Beach RV Resort 677 Clement Hill Rd, Contoocook NH
All sites are full hookup and the people are very friendly.  Lots of seasonals and any of the sites can be seasonals or rentals if there is no seasonal currently in them which I like because the weekenders aren’t all batched together in the “crappy” part of the campground.  Neat, clean and tidy sites with a lot of trees but the sites are very close to each other.  Almost all the sites close to water are taken by seasonals but we saw several large sites are favorites being D30 and D35.  There’s also meadow parking if you prefer and the beach is nicely laid out and there were a ton of people in and around the water.  This campsite seems less communal than others, although it may have just been the time of day we toured it and we wouldn’t want to try it unless we got one of the larger sites.  Perkins Rating:  Worth Trying

Keyser Pond Campground 1739 Old Concord Rd,  Henniker Nh
The address wouldn’t work in GPS and  google maps took us to the wrong place also.  We called the campsite and got not great directions and finally flagged down a very nice policeman who showed us where the site was.  Once we found it we thought the people seemed nice.  It has a great playground and mini golf  and a couple of the sites have water views.  Site 82 is great but has a steep incline and would be very tough for us to get our 32 footer into.   Most of the sites were wooded, the seasonals were a bit run down but it was quiet and the small beach looked nice.  Essentially if you had a smaller camper it would be a nice place to go especially if you like to canoe or kayak.  Perkins Rating: Not for Us – Your Miles May Vary

Oxbow Campground 8 Oxbow Rd Deering, NH

Just when we were about to give up, we decided to try on more and it was outstanding.  By far the favorite of the 10 sites we looked at today, the campground has a little bit of everything.  Good signage,  nice people at the desk , and a lot of seasonals but interspersed throughout the campground.  There is a side meadow if you prefer that type of camping but numerous wooded sites, some near a dam and others near a babbling brook.  It was spacious, neat, and clean, and most importantly the sites are not on top of each other.  The sites have really nice fire pits, a swimming pond,  fishing pond, and a boating pond.  There was a party house and a graduation party was happening and the people seem to know each other and are friendly to each other.   There are several level sites either in the middle or on the edge away from folks.  Like I said a little bit for everyone.  Our two favorite sites were 121 and 118.  We liked it so much we rented 118 for a few weeks from now.  120 would also work fine and if you wanted something different site 62 has a babbling brook next to it and site 38 has a great view of the landscape.   Really like the campsite and can’t wait to give it a try. Perkins Rating: Reserved a site

Time to make the route for tomorrow…hopefully we will see more like Oxbow.


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Trial Run – Friday

Swanzey Lake Campground  

After the whirlwind experience of deciding to get a camper and buying one in just a few days, we were very excited to get started. We figured the only way to try out our new camper was to take it camping! We don’t really have space to park it or set it up at our house, we live in a regular neighborhood with pretty small lots, and a driveway with way too much slope for a camper, and the storage lot that it’s parked at isn’t very woodsy, so we picked a place about 15 minutes from our home to give it a trial run.  Picking someplace close was an excellent decision, because as things came up we had ready access to our house and the little things we needed there…like food and showers. Picking a site was the first step and Lee called the campground and told them we were first time campers.  This was smart because the campsite manager picked a great spot for us that would be easy to get in and out of.  Start with a pull through! The best sites are a tougher to get into, but it is your first time so why make it harder than you have to? Trust me: the challenges will come in other areas. (I’m really glad we went with a pull through site for our first outing. Contrary to popular belief, men are not born with the innate ability to back up a trailer, and I never had an opportunity to learn, so the last thing I wanted to do was start the weekend by knocking down trees, old people and little kids. Or damaging my awesome new toy. – Lee)

We took over the storage site from the couple we bought the camper from (think Storage Wars) and it only $43 a month.  The good news was the price, the bad news was that it was pretty tricky getting it out of there.  Bringing it back was a piece of cake, but we aren’t there yet!) Pulling it out required two people and some fancy maneuvering on the part of my husband, (who in addition to being very handsome, clever, and manly, is also very handsome, clever and manly. – Lee)  Once we were on the road, Lee drove very carefully.  He has a CDL license so he’s no stranger to driving 26′ straight trucks, but a trailer is different. Not to mention we were figuring out not only the camper but the features in the Ford F150 XLT we bought.  We also learned that campgrounds are usually at the end of long, twisty, turny, bumpy roads. (If you’re new, here’s a couple of very simple things to remember. The trailer is much wider and longer than a car, it takes some getting used to keep it between the lines. Take turns wide and slow, ignore the frustrated drivers around you, they don’t have to pay your insurance. Slow down, and you can always stop and reassess if you get in a bind. If you need to make corrections, make small ones. Leave LOTS of space between you and the idiot in front of you. It takes longer to stop pulling all that weight. Also, everyone but you is a bad driver, and they’re worse when you’re pulling a trailer. – Lee)

Once we got to the campground we signed in and again the manager was very helpful, telling us some basic ground rules and giving us a map of the site.  It’s amazing how nice and helpful people are once they know you’re a newbie! The most important thing she said was “If you need help ask the seasonals!” (the folks who keep their campers permanently at a site throughout the season)

By this time it’s starting to get a little late and we got to the site ready to deploy.  This was our big moment and we were incredibly excited. Except…and it’s a big except: we couldn’t get the camper to decouple from the truck.  Lee tried everything, cranked it up, cranked it down, put the trailer stabilizers down, put the trailer stabilizers up, and then down again.  Put some blocks under the tongue jack. Cranked it up, cranked it up some more. Cranked it up a lot more. It just wouldn’t come off the ball. At one point, the truck bed was up so far the wheels were nearly off the ground. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore and I started to walk over to one of the permanent campsites.  I knew it was permanent, because the couple had a porch and a huge stack of wood; obviously they were there to stay. Before I managed to get all the way to their site, I heard through the trees, “Would you like some help?”  “Yes, please,” was my prompt response (my mother didn’t raise a fool). They had been enjoying the show quietly; entertainment is scarce at campgrounds. Two very nice gentlemen in their 60’s came over to take a look, with lots of good-natured ribbing and teasing about “amateurs”. In all fairness to Lee,  it took them awhile to figure out the problem.  The hitch needed some WD-40 to loosen it up and you have to slide it back and then click up to release.  The slide part is what was confusing so it took another 20 minutes before we heard the blessed click of the trailer releasing. Then they had a few choice comments for people who sell things to other people without fully explaining how they work, which took the heat off us. (Here’s another word of wisdom: Leave your ego at home. There’s no shame in asking for help. Most of these people remember how it is to be new, and they’re thrilled to help. Let them, and pay attention. And ask questions. People love to tell you what they know. But also keep an ear out for the bad advice. – Lee)

Finally we could get started! Of course, we needed to listen to more sage advice from the two gentleman who helped us and Lee took this with grace.  That’s part of the deal when you ask for help, listening to all the other help…but I do have to admit we were pretty antsy to get started so I am not sure how much of the advice actually registered.

Now for the fun part.  We plugged in the power and water, set up the corner stabilizers, opened up the living room slide out, and lowered the canopy.  I have to say when the canopy went out I was VERY excited.  There was something about having a canopy of my own that really spoke to me and at that moment the camper really felt like it was ours.  (One of the first things I wanted to do was get the hot water going. For some reason that was really important to me. Maybe I expected casualties, and wanted to be able to boil sheets, I don’t know. We weren’t sure how much propane we had, and we had an electric site, so I decided to get started heating the water using the electric element. After about 30 minutes, there was still no hot water, but I noticed quite a lot of water running out of the outside access panel for the water heater. I opened it up and there was a hole where the water was coming out as fast as it could. Laying inside the door was the anode rod. If you don’t know what this is, you can Google it. It didn’t take me long to figure out that the anode rod and the hole were the same size, so I turned off the water, and put the rod in. Believe it or not, I had brought some pipe tape with me, because I’m smart. Just not smart enough to check the anode rod before turning on the water. Once I got it all put back together there was still no hot water, so I switched it over to propane. I think I might have fried the electric heating element by having it turned on with no water in the tank, but the gas heated the water just fine. I should have read the manual first. The moral of the story is: Read the manual. – Lee) 

As we went around doing the setup I started a list of things we would need to buy.  I’ll admit I am a bit of a list maker, and sometimes this can actually get in the way of having a good time, but in this case it turned out to be absolutely vital.  Make the list as you are gathering first impressions.  Write everything down.  You may not do it all on day 1 but it will give you a solid reference point for the next step.

By the time we set everything up (and created quite a long list) it was really late.  It didn’t occur to me that the refrigerator would take so long to cool down and in any event  I hadn’t brought any food, so we ran back to the house and grabbed a quick bite.  Another bonus to being so close!  A last-minute look to see if we forgot anything and then we went to Target to get all the stuff on our list. It was a long list. And it cost more than we originally thought it would.

We had negotiated $1,000 off the camper price with the couple we bought it from because we knew we were going to need money to get things started.   What I didn’t know was it is very similar to when you bought things for you first apartment.  You need one of everything, but there is no sense in spending a ton of money.  The balance between reasonably priced and still nice is interesting, plus in the camper you need to throw in the fact that you have very limited space.  As we made our purchases we were constantly thinking about space and storage which often lead us to the less expensive and smaller/lighter options. Finally it was time, and off to Target we went.   Now let me say here that any comparable store will do, but we like Target and it’s amazing what you can get for $800 there.  I think we filled three carts.  I won’t bore you with everything we bought but below are some of the key items that really mattered to me

  • Dishes –  I found some nice melamine dishes that were lightweight but felt like a real plate (update these got way to hot in the microwave so I replaced them with Corelle later which worked much better), but I will say I took forever obsessing about which pattern to buy.  Lee was very patientDishes
  • Outdoor rug –  This was a big item for me.  I had always wanted one and it was an expensive purchase (119) but I wanted it so we bought a large indoor/outdoor carpet to go under the canopy.
  • Can opener – spent a ton of time talking about these.  We wanted hand crank because we didn’t want to give up the counter space, but the decent ones were in my mind too expensive.  We bought a cheapie one, which we later had to replace, so this is definitely an area where you just have to spend a little extra money
  • Towels, linens, etc. – We got lucky and found nice towels in the right color in the clearance section so we snagged up extra.  One thing Lee is great about is his “No regrets” policy.  Basically if you are out somewhere and see something you want at the right price (that you couldn’t easily get someplace else), just buy it.  And buy extra.  Don’t make yourself crazy.  This has definitely been one of the most impactful things I have learned from him in our years of marriage.
  • Chair cushions – We had a couple of decent outside chairs but they were not that comfortable for sitting for extended periods of time which I definitely planned on doing.  Chair cushions are something that we never bought when the kids were young.  Multiply the purchase of anything by 5 and it gets expensive, plus what would be the point, since they would just get beat up.  But now with just the two of us, we could ensure the cushions would stay nice and for only two people much more affordable.  We did not skimp on the chair cushions 🙂
  • Ice Maker – This was the most expensive purchase and Lee’s idea.  It was an extravagance for sure, but I like my water ice-cold and I drink a lot of water.  On the weekends our ice maker at home often can’t keep up with me, so I am sure Lee (who knows me better than anyone on the planet) was thinking about weekend after weekend of buying ice and thought “no way.  I am solving this problem upfront”.  This is an area where years of marriage are to our benefit.  He felt it was important, I trust him to take care of me. We spent the $159.
  • Tiki Torches – The tiki torches meant to Lee what the outdoor carpet meant to me.  Good advice in this entire scenario is if something really matters to the other person just  go with it.  A lot of these feelings regarding camping seem to come from a pretty deep place (at least for us) so just let the other person work through it.  And the Tiki torches are a great way of keeping the mosquitoes at bay, so it’s a win-win.

(At the end of the trip we knocked a ton of things off our list, but there were many camper-specific items that Target doesn’t carry, more on that tomorrow. – Lee)

After filling up three carts and loading it all into the truck, it was back to the trailer to get some sleep.   A quick note here on the bed.  It’s a queen but a short queen. We didn’t even know there was such a thing. Our 2nd best sheets from home worked fine, but they do hang over quite a bit.  Also, the mattress is designed so the bed folds up revealing a great HUGE storage space underneath.  This is an ingenious design but unfortunately leads to a pretty thin mattress.  Lee slept really well, but I am a side sleeper and I have to say I woke up several times and it did feel like I was sleeping on a board somewhat.   The next day “fixing” the mattress definitely went on the list.  Either way it was exciting…our first night in our new place.


Lessons Learned

  • Pick a place close to your home to try the camper out for your first weekend.
  • Tell the manager you are new to camping so they can help you pick an easy site to get in and out of.
  • Always start with pull through sites when you’re a newbie.
  • Take turns wide and slow, ignore the frustrated drivers around you
  • If you need to make corrections, make small ones. Leave LOTS of space between you and the car in front of you
  • Leave your ego at home. There’s no shame in asking for help
  • Read the manual
  • Don’t turn the electric heating element on with no water in the tank…you will burn it up
  • Write everything down as you go.  A million things will occur to you that you won’t remember later.
  • WD-40 is your friend
  • The refrigerator takes awhile to cool down
  • Regular queen sheets will work just fine on a queen short bed


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