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Meet the great outdoors in your state park

Basic but roomy yurts sleep up to six people at Milan Hill, a hillside state park in northern New Hampshire. Basic but roomy yurts sleep up to six people at Milan Hill, a hillside state park in northern New Hampshire. (Marty Basch for The Boston Globe)
By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / August 8, 2010

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Hike a mountain, rally around the campfire, and spend the night under the stars. New England state parks are venues for reconnecting with nature. Go for a day of swimming, hiking, and paddling or camp for the night in a tent, a three-sided wooded lean-to, rustic cabin, or circular yurt. “There’s something for everyone,’’ says Priscilla Geigis, Department of Conservation and Recreation director of state parks.

October Mountain State Forest in Lee is the largest state forest in Massachusetts. The 47-site campground is augmented by a trio of yurts with electricity. “Yurts ease families into the camping experience without having to buy all that gear,’’ says Geigis. There’s the Appalachian Trail through the park while another pathway leads to stunning Schermerhorn Gorge. 256 Woodland Road, 413-243-1778, www.mass .gov/dcr/parks/western/octm.htm, camping $12 Mass. residents, $14 others, yurt $30-$40. Online reservations (charges apply) for state parks in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut are through www.reserveamerica.com.

A jumping off point for the Cape, bustling Myles Standish State Forest in South Carver is a place to camp, pedal, hike, horseback ride, and swim. There are 16 ponds, 400 campsites, wondrous pine barrens, and three new yurts planned this summer. The amphitheater hosts ranger programs and group hikes abound. “People can explore nature on their own or through a program,’’ says Geigis. Cranberry Road, 508-866-2526, www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/southeast/mssf.htm, camping $12 Mass. residents, $14 others

Rhode Island’s first state park is a day-tripper’s delight. North of Providence in the Blackstone Valley, Lincoln Woods State Park has separate trails for equestrians and mountain bikers and horseback riding lessons and trail rides through Sunset Stables. Learn to kayak on Olney Pond with Eastern Mountain Sports, or fish for trout. “There’s great fishing at Olney Pond, especially along the dam area,’’ says Steve Wright, Rhode Island state parks superintendent. Swim and try bouldering, a form of rock climbing. 2 Manchester Print Works Road, 401-723-7892, www.riparks.com, no entrance fee, equestrian fee $15

Big Burlingame State Park in Charlestown, R.I., has 750 campsites, 11 log cabins, and a yurt. The large park around Watchaug Pond, with swimming, paddling, a camp store, recreation hall, and nature programs, has a zero tolerance alcohol policy. “It’s nice to drive through and see young people and families on bicycles,’’ says Wright. Close to South County beaches, there are hiking trails leading to the adjacent Kimball Wildlife Sanctuary. Busy here on holiday weekends. 1 Burlingame State Park, 401-322-7994, www.riparks.com, camping $14 R.I. residents, $20 others; cabins and yurt $35 per night

In hilly northwestern Connecticut, the rambling Housatonic River is a playground for paddlers and fly-fishermen. Camp under the pines in the 95-site Housatonic Meadows State Park and Campground. Fish for bass and trout (catch-and-release, fly-fishing only) in a protected nine-mile stretch. “The river is stocked in spring and fall,’’ says Susan Frechette, Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection deputy commissioner. Housatonic Outfitters is near the park. Route 7, Sharon, 860-672-6772, www.ct.gov/dep, camping $17 Conn. residents, $27 others

Camden Hills State Park is Maine’s midcoast gem. Just north of Camden, the park is home to much of the low-lying Megunticook Mountains and 25 miles of hiking trails. Looking out from the rocky Mount Battie summit on Penobscot Bay is a must. Hike or drive up the auto road to the tower. “More people probably drive than walk,’’ says Bill Elliot, park manager. Stay in the 112-site camping area or Snow Hut, an old ski shelter that sleeps six. 280 Belfast Road, 207-236-3109, www.maine.gov/doc/ parks/, day use Maine resident $3, nonresident $4.50, children (ages 5 to 11) $1, Snow Hut $32 nightly, camping (no hook-ups), Maine residents $15, nonresidents $25, Wi-Fi

Western Maine’s Grafton Notch State Park is a bit on the rugged side. An easy drive from Bethel village, the 3,000-acre park slices through a mountain pass in the Mahoosucs on winding Route 26 with options for nature walks, picnicking, and hikes. Screw Auger and Mother Walker Falls are beautiful. Stretch your legs on a short loop walk by a gorge to Moose Cave or hike to 4,000-plus-foot Old Speck. The Appalachian Trail meanders through the park. 1941 Bear River Road, Newry, 207-824-2912, www.maine.gov/doc/parks/, day use Maine resident $2, nonresidents $3, children (5 to 11) $1

Off the beaten path, northern New Hampshire’s Milan Hill State Park contains four basic unheated, roomy yurts that sleep up to six and tent sites that serve as base camp for exploring the hillside park. The 1932 fire tower provides North Country vistas. Local schoolchildren developed a treasure hunt nature cache experience through the park. Route 110B, Milan, 603-466-3860, www.nhstateparks.org, camping $23, yurts $45

New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch State Park is set in White Mountain splendor with miles of hiking trails, a mountain tram, camping, winding bike path, rock climbing, and narrow Flume Gorge. RVers have their own area and campers have theirs at Lafayette Campground. Cool off in Echo Lake or fly-fish in Profile Lake. Bring a picnic. Interstate 93, www.nhstateparks.org, 603-745-8391. Flume Gorge and Cannon aerial tramway open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. through late October, adults $13, children (6 to 11) $10; RV park open year-round $35; Lafayette Campground $25

Mountain bikers can roll out of their tents in Ricker Pond State Park and onto the in-progress multi-use Cross-Vermont Trail for a ride along a former railroad line. The trail, on dirt, gravel, and sand, stretches by hillside farms, raspberry bushes, beaver dams, and under the cliffs of Owl’s Head Mountain. Located within Groton State Forest and on the shores of a small pond worth paddling, it is one of three state parks in the forest. 18 Ricker Pond Campground Road, Groton, 802-584-3821, www.vtstateparks.com, camping $18-$20. Day use adults $3, children (4 to 13) $2; camping Vt. residents $16, $18, others $18, $20; lean-to Vt. residents $23, $25, others $25, $27.

Marty Basch can be reached through www.onetankaway.com.