Summer stretches ahead, and the best vacation value is only a few miles away from anywhere in Vermont. I’m talking about Vermont state parks. There are 57 parks scattered throughout the state, offering everything from paddle boats and playgrounds to rugged hiking trails in the Green Mountains.
Vermont public libraries offer a free day pass for up to 8 people in one vehicle. For $30, individuals can buy a season ticket or a book of 10 day passes with no expiration date. And for just $2, Vermont seniors – 62 or older – or military veterans can get a day pass for life.
A state park may be closer than you think, because many seem almost hidden in plain sight. Near Brattleboro, Fort Dummer State Park, with hiking, picnicking and camping, actually runs along Route 91, though the park entrance and buildings are a couple of miles away from the interstate. Emerald Lake, a little gem near Dorset where visitors can camp, picnic, swim, or rent a canoe or kayak, is only yards from Route 7, but it’s possible to drive by and never even notice it. Farther north, three miles on a side road lead to Kingsland Bay State Park, a former summer camp on Lake Champlain. It’s a quiet but spectacular spot to hike along the shore, swim off the rocks, rent a kayak to explore the bay, or just picnic in the shade and gaze at the lake.
Camp Plymouth, near Ludlow, is bigger, busier, and especially suited for kids with a sizable beach for swimming, a playground, and a snackbar. Still, it doesn’t feel crowded – one day I paddled a rented kayak close to a bald eagle perched in a tree on the shore of the lake.
State parks are a handy and cheap way to get away from it all – for whatever reason. Once, when my husband tore apart the kitchen floor to rebuild it from the dirt up, I took our two girls camping for two nights at a state park – just long enough to enjoy the playground and the novelty of sleeping in a tent and heating up canned food on a gas camping stove.
And a few years ago, two friends and I rented a lean-to and set up a tent at Ascutney State Park. We bought takeout food from the Hanover coop that tasted like a gourmet feast in the park’s piney woods.