When people think about National Parks, their minds typically wander to the western United States. And for good reason – that is where you find the dramatic landscapes of Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. But, if it’s history or rugged coastlines that you’re looking for, you’ll want to head east. That’s exactly what we did in the summer of 2016 when we explored the New England National Parks.
First, let me clarify that when I say national parks I mean all of the 419 sites managed by the National Park Service. This includes national historic sites, battlefields and other designations, not just the 62 “National Parks.” By including these other sites, we are exploring the history and beauty of the United States and ALL the important events, people and places that made an impact on our lives today.
Within the six New England States, there are roughly 20 park service sites, with most of them located in the greater Boston area. There’s also an international site just across the Canada border in New Brunswick. Starting our road trip in Atlanta, we, of course, added on several stops in the mid-Atlantic and the greater northeast region. Furthermore, we actually skipped all the sites in Boston. Taking the camper into a big city is not fun, so we’ll visit those when we have more time to spend in the city.
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Our First RV Road Trip
This road trip actually was our first summer trip with our camper. That presented new challenges for me during the planning process. I quickly realized that we weren’t as “nimble” and couldn’t just stop at a site on the way to our campground.
Check out our Tips for New RVers.
Thankfully, distances are small in the northeastern United States, especially compared to our previous travels out West. That meant we could easily visit many sites from one centrally located campground.
Overall, this itinerary worked well for us. Perhaps the biggest change I would make is to not move quite as often as we did. We found that only driving a couple of hours to a new campground wasn’t always worth the hassle. Additionally, we could easily have spent more time in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
Alas, our primary goal was to visit the national park sites and we did not allow much extra time. We did our best to pack a lot of sites into one short summer. And we succeeded – this itinerary includes all of the New England national parks (except Boston) and many others in neighboring states.
Of course, not long after our visit, Congress confirmed a new park in Maine: Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. We’re not too upset, though. The North Woods of Maine is beautiful and that just adds one more reason for us to return to New England!
So, here you go – our 38 day RV road trip from Atlanta to New England.
Greeneville, TN – 2 nights
We had only one reason to stop in Greeneville, TN… The nearby Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. Without the camper, this likely would have been a 2-hour stop as we passed through. With the camper, and especially since we were traveling with a cat, that just wasn’t feasible.
Ultimately, it was a good thing we stopped here. It allowed us the opportunity to stop at Walmart for supplies. It certainly seemed as though our first few trips with the camper required more trips to Walmart than I ever could have guessed.
We enjoyed the campground and the Baileyton RV Park and recommend it if you’re in the area.
Check out our full post on visiting Andrew Johnson NHS.
Harpers Ferry, WV – 2 nights
Our next stop in Kearneysville, WV was not far from the Virginia and Maryland borders. We used this as a base for our visits to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Antietam National Battlefield and Monocacy National Battlefield.
We spent our first afternoon at Harpers Ferry. I think we could have used a little more time here; I’d budget at least half a day. If you want to do any hiking, allow extra time for that.
The second day we split between Antietam and Monocacy. We had not originally planned to visit Monocacy, but had the time and enjoyed the spontaneous visit.
Kearneysville is not much of a town but nearby Martinsburg is just off the Interstate and has everything you might possibly need or want. Our campground, Nahkeeta Campsite, was not much more than an open field with hookups, but it provided what we needed for a couple of nights.
Hyde Park, NY – 5 nights
To explore the Hyde Park area, we stationed ourselves in Copake. Our biggest difficulty in this area were the prices. We were quickly reminded that this is relatively close to New York City. And, this is obviously where folks go to get away from the city. While we had a bit of driving to do, the Copake KOA proved to be a reasonably good campground and I’d certainly stay there again.
From here, we visited sites in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Even with traveling to a couple of different states, all of the sites were within a couple of hours of our campground.
We spent our first day doing tours at three national historic sites: Eleanor Roosevelt NHS, Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt NHS and the Vanderbilt Mansion NHS. Somehow, we even squeezed in lunch at the Culinary Institute of America.
On our second day, we did some hiking at Mills-Norrie State Park in Hyde Park. The third day took us to Kinderhook for the Martin Van Buren NHS. Finally, we spent the last day driving out to Weir Farm NHS near Danbury, CT and the Springfield Armory NHS in Springfield, MA.
This is certainly one stop that if I had it to do over again I’d probably add on one more day so we could have extra time to relax. We’ve gotten a little better about adding in “rest days” in recent years!
Find out more about all the park sites in and around Hyde Park, NY.
Adirondacks, NY – 3 nights
From Copake, we continued north into the Adirondacks. We chose a campground on the south end of the park in Chestertown (also referred to as the Town of Chester). Location was a factor here, but price perhaps a bit more so. Again, the RV park prices in this area seemed a bit high to us. Over the years, though, we’ve come to realize this is fairly normal, especially in areas that are common “get away from the city” spots.
We spent one day driving and hiking in the Adirondacks. On the second day, we drove out to Fort Stanwix National Monument and Saratoga National Historical Park.
This area is interesting. The mix of private and public lands in the Adirondacks is somewhat unique, though we are finding that more and more often as we travel. I’m not sure that the beauty of the Adirondacks compares to some of the scenic vistas of the west, but it is pretty nonetheless. When you consider the difference between this mostly natural area to the bustle of New York City, it is much more attractive.
We didn’t necessarily fall in love with the Adirondacks, but we could see ourselves returning for a visit. A winter visit could be interesting.
Find out more about how we spent three days in the Adirondacks.
Woodstock, VT – 3 nights
Located just minutes from the New Hampshire border, East Thetford provided a good base for exploring the two park sites in Vermont and New Hampshire.
We easily visited Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP and Saint-Gaudens NHS in one day. Our second day was spent exploring the surrounding area. Indeed, Woodstock, VT proved to be an interesting town.
Of course, you can’t visit Vermont and not try some of their homemade maple syrup. We also enjoyed a visit to Sugarbush Farms, where we found tasty maple syrup and cheese!
While the focus of our trip was to visit national park sites, we are certainly glad that we added in time for the surrounding area! We hope to return to this area to explore more in the future.
Shelburne, NH – 1 night
If there is one thing that we’ve learned after four summers of RV camping, it’s that we hate one night stays. The amount of work necessary to hook everything up is rarely worth it. But, on this first RV trip, we didn’t know that yet.
Our night in Shelburne provided the opportunity for us to visit Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in New Hampshire. It’s also home to some of the worst weather in the world. In fact, the Weather Observatory here recorded the world’s fastest wind speed of 231 mph. Whether you hike, drive, take a tour bus or the train, experiencing the change in weather from the bottom of the mountain to the top is incredible!
We spent the rest of the afternoon driving the Kancamagus Scenic Byway through the White Mountains. There are many stops along the way to stretch your legs and explore the dramatic scenery.
Again, we could easily have spent more time here!
Read more about touring Vermont and New Hampshire.
Millinocket, ME – 2 nights
We used our campground outside Millinocket to explore Baxter State Park, often named one of the best state parks in the country. We only spent one day exploring the park, which gave us time to do a couple of different hikes and spot a moose!
Baxter SP is a hiker and boater’s paradise, with those being the best ways to explore the park. Indeed, this is one of the most undeveloped parks we’ve ever been to – no food, no gas, no phones, no paved roads. You get the picture. Be prepared for a rustic visit.
Still, we loved our time here and are excited that we will need to return to the area to visit the newly established Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument.
There isn’t much to Millinocket, but it is a great place to escape civilization and relax.
Check out more of our tips for visiting Baxter State Park.
Robbinston, ME – 2 nights
Our next stop, in Robbinston, had us only minutes from the Canada border. In fact, we often received Canadian phone service. From here, we visited Saint Croix Island International Historic Site and Roosevelt Campobello International Park.
Saint Croix was the home of the first French settlement in the “new world” in the early 1600s. It wasn’t home for long, though as the harsh winter drove the settlers away within the first year. There isn’t much to the site other than a visitor center and an overlook of the island.
Roosevelt Campobello IP, on the other hand, will keep you entertained for the better part of a day. But, first, be ready for the border crossing, which means you’ll need a passport or a passport card.
Campobello Island was where President Franklin D. Roosevelt vacationed with his family as a child. As an adult, he and his wife, Eleanor, had a home here. Be sure to tour the large barn-style house and waterfront. There are also a few hikes that you can do.
You may also want to take a few minutes to stop at the Quoddy Head Light, just south of Lubec, on your way to or from Campobello. The lighthouse marks the easternmost point in the United States.
Read more about our visit to Roosevelt Campobello IP and St. Croix IHS.
Bar Harbor, ME – 3 nights
Finally, it’s time for the Northeast’s only park with a National Park designation: Acadia National Park. We spent 2 full days exploring the park and the surrounding area but easily could have spent more time. In fact, I’d probably recommend at least 3 or 4 days.
At Acadia NP, you’ll find plenty of hiking opportunities, both on traditional trails and old carriage roads. Some trails include a decent amount of elevation gain, others are relatively flat and easy. There really is a wide variety here.
A drive around Mount Desert Island, where Acadia is located, reveals numerous small coastal towns. Be sure to stop for some fresh lobster anywhere that looks inviting!
And, of course, you’ll want to spend some time walking through Bar Harbor. It is certainly more touristy than the smaller towns, but it is fun and you’ll still find amazing views once you get past all the people.
We stayed just outside the park at Hadley’s Point Campground.
Find out more about visiting Acadia NP and Bar Harbor, ME.
Camden, ME – 2 nights
For a quintessential coastal New England town, look no further than Camden, ME. This small town is easily walkable and provides plenty of opportunities for sailing, shopping and eating. Somehow, the town manages to provide all of this without feeling too touristy.
Sadly, the weather was a bit wet during our visit, but we still enjoyed a stroll around town and through some of the seaside parks.
We camped at Camden Hills State Park, which provided a fabulous campsite with water and electric hookups. Despite the rain, we even got to take advantage of some hiking trails for a little exercise!
One day is enough to see Camden, but you certainly could enjoy more time here, especially if you get out on the water or explore any of the other nearby towns.
Read more about our visit to Camden, ME.
Concord, MA – 2 nights
From here, it was time to head south towards Boston. Since we had the camper, we opted to not go into the city at all and just visit the outskirts. Of course, if you wanted to visit the city, you easily could. We just didn’t want any part of driving into town. And, honestly, didn’t really have time to do the city justice on this trip.
From our campground in Littleton, we visited Minute Man and Lowell National Historical Parks. Grant geeked out more than a little bit at all the history found in this area. At Minute Man NHP, you’ll be immersed not only in the birth of the American Revolution but also the cradle of American Literature. Seriously, this was Grant’s happy place!
Lowell was an old factory town and birthplace of the textile industry in the United States. The park site tells the story of the water-powered textile factory and the lives of its employees. We enjoyed the exhibits and seeing the working looms. The revitalized downtown area is offered some great choices for lunch.
I’m sure Grant could have enjoyed more time immersing himself into the history of the area. For me, two days was enough.
Find out more about how to explore the history of Concord, MA.
Plymouth, MA – 3 nights
Continuing farther south, we headed to Plymouth. We used our campground here to explore coastal Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including a day trip to Cape Cod. Honestly, there was no special reason we chose Plymouth as our base other than we found a decent campground there.
We spent our first day here touring various parks and attractions on the coast. First up, was the New Bedford Whaling NHP in New Bedford, MA. The park honors the whaling industry and shares the story of not just the work involved, but also the life of the families. The visitor center has a lot of information, but be sure to save time to visit some of the other sites around town.
From here, we headed to Newport, RI for the Touro Synagogue NHS, an affiliated NPS site. This means that you will not necessarily see park rangers or “normal” park service amenities. The Touro Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the United States. As an active place of worship, visitors do need to be respectful of operating hours and services.
We spent the majority of the afternoon at Battleship Cove in Fall River, MA. Here, you can tour a battleship, a destroyer, a submarine and more. Grant was like a kid in a candy store walking through all the ships!
The second day of our stay was July 4, which we spent at Cape Cod National Seashore. We drove the entire “island” and did a couple of hikes before dinner and fireworks in Hyannis. This was a great way to celebrate Independence Day!
Read more about how to spend a day at Cap Cod NS.
Thompson, CT – 2 nights
We decided to relocate just a couple of hours west for our next two nights. Honestly, if I had it to do over again, I probably would not have relocated. The distances around here really are short; we easily could have found somewhere a bit more centrally located to save ourselves a move.
First, it was back to Rhode Island for the Roger Williams National Memorial. This small park in Providence honors the founder of Rhode Island. Williams was also one of the first proponents of religious freedom. You’ll only need about an hour to tour the small visitor center and adjacent urban park.
Next, we visited the Blackstone River Valley NHP in Rhode Island and Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor in Connecticut. The Blackstone River Valley NHP is somewhat similar to Lowell NHP in that it preserves the region that once was booming with cotton mills. When we visited, it was a brand new park with very little park service presence.
The Last Green Valley NHC is an odd designation and not really even a park. Basically, it is just a region covering many small towns in rural Connecticut and Massachusetts. The idea is to preserve the not-yet-developed areas and historic landscapes.
While the parks we visited were small and somewhat odd, we really enjoyed our campsite at West Thompson Lake, a Corps of Engineers Campground that is part of the National Heritage Corridor.
Read more about visiting the various coastal New England park sites.
Scranton, PA – 2 nights
I suppose at this point it is fair to say that we officially started our return home to Atlanta. But, alas, we still did what we could to make the most of the route home with a few additional stops.
In Scranton, we spent about half a day visiting Steamtown National Historic Site. This park is all about historic trains. Indeed, it is probably a dream come true for most kids (and kids at heart). There is a fabulous museum and all kinds of train stuff to explore.
Since we had the camper, we did spend the night here. You could probably also do this as a short detour off the interstate. I’m sure any train enthusiast could stay entertained for the better part of a day. About half a day was enough for us.
Gettysburg, PA – 2 nights
Our final stop of the trip was in Gettysburg, PA where we visited Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site.
Honestly, touring a battlefield is not necessarily the most entertaining way to spend a day. Still, this one is worth it. In fact, Grant ranks Gettsyburg as the ONE Civil War battlefield that you must visit. You can drive the tour road yourself, do a bus tour or even hire someone to drive your car for you. There are also a few hiking trails if you want to explore on foot.
Eisenhower NHS preserves the home and ranch land of the former President. To visit the house, you’ll have to schedule a tour at the Gettysburg NMP Visitor Center. We have toured MANY homes on our various national park visits and, I have to admit, it sometimes gets old. This one, however, was really interesting. I suppose because it kind of reminded me of my grandparent’s house.
Read more about visiting Gettysburg NMP, Eisenhower NHS and Steamtown NHS.
Anniversary Dinner at VOLT
While in Gettsyburg, we celebrated our 6th anniversary. To celebrate, we splurged on a fabulous dinner at VOLT in Frederick, MD. The executive chef, Bryan Voltaggio, competed on Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, which we enjoy watching together. We decided to go all out on this dinner, opting to dine at the chef’s counter, which they call Table 21.
This was easily the best meal we’ve ever had and worth every penny that we spent, which was A LOT of them. Let’s just say that we had to dig into savings to pay for this meal. Thankfully, everything about our experience was perfect and we highly recommend VOLT for a nice dinner. And, yes, they do offer traditional dining at reasonable prices.
Note: After leaving Gettsyburg, we spent one night in Max Meadows, VA before reaching our home in Woodstock, GA. We did not see any additional sites after leaving Gettysburg.
Final Thoughts on our New England Itinerary
For our first RV road trip, this was a good one. We camped in 10 different states, many of which were first visits for both of us. In 38 days we traveled 6,691 miles and visited 28 national park sites. This truly was a learning experience for us – both US history and the adventure of RV travel!
We quickly learned that towing an RV does change a road trip, with both advantages and disadvantages. Most of all, we enjoyed always having air conditioning and being able to escape the rain!
The only downside to touring the northeast United States with a camper is that we missed some of the big cities. Driving into Boston just wasn’t something we were interested in doing with the camper, especially on our first visit. In fact, we still hate driving through big cities towing the camper. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do it, though, especially when you live right outside of Atlanta.
If you’re looking to tour the New England national parks, this itinerary will get to you all of them. The biggest change I’d make if doing it over again is to add more time in a few places. Of course, being able to visit more of the small towns would be nice too. Alas, we still are fitting our long road trips into a relatively short summer. Yes, we look forward to being retired one day and taking as much time as we feel like to explore the world around us!