As most of you know, Jake and I like to go on adventures and this year was no exception. After purchasing our Colorado and rooftop tent we wanted to do something that not many people have done before. We decided to head to The North Maine Woods and do a bit of off-roading to get away from people and relax in the quiet, yet beautiful landscape that is the North Maine Woods.
The Set Up
Jake purchased a 2017 Chevy Colorado Duramax Z71 CCSB in early 2017 and decided he wanted to put some work into it to make it more of an off-roading vehicle.
First, he wanted a mild lift yet reliable suspension, so he purchased a Bajakits Chase Kit from Bajakits. Next he installed tires/wheels that would be tough enough to handle the terrain that we would be traveling, which is when he purchased a set of Relations Race Wheels wrapped in BFG A/T KO2 275/70/17s. As for the protection, he installed 589 Fabrication front and oil pan skids.
After a pretty miserable weekend beach trip to Cape Lookout, North Carolina (we camped on the beach in a ground tent), we decided that a rooftop tent would be much more beneficial (especially since the wind was so brutal on our tent) for off-road camping. We saved our pennies to have a custom modular bed rack built, by Alexander Fabrication, where the rooftop tent would be mounted to.
Once the rack was complete, we were able to mount our tent on top. We purchased our tent from Tuff Stuff 4×4, the Delta RTT two person. We have plenty of room for both Jake and myself, and Reagan when she comes with us. Even with the three of us it is pretty spacious. We also purchased the Tuff Stuff 4×4 4.5 x 6 ft awning to give us a little shade and shelter in the case of some wet weather or the brutal sun.
On top of the rooftop tent, Jake positioned two Bogue RV 100w flexible solar panels which charges a 100Ah bed mounted deep cycle battery for us to have power while on the road. He is able to remotely control and monitor the solar panel using a Victron 75/15 SmartSolar charge controller. Because we were going to be pretty secluded, we purchased a Snomaster Expedition 75qt refrigerator that runs off the solar panel and the battery to keep food cold when having a cooler is not sufficient.
Getting gear from the bed of the truck was a chore with the rooftop tent sitting over it, so Jake installed a Bed Slide. The bed slide allows us to pack and unpack with ease every time we moved locations.
Our set up time of 30 minutes includes setting up the tent and the awning, hanging lights, making the tent bed, and setting up the camp kitchen, which Jake built out of a Pelican case to make cooking while traveling more efficient. Break down time also takes about 30 minutes.
Day 1 – The Drive to New Hampshire
We started out on a Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend, leaving the house around 6 AM, heading north. Not much to tell when your first day consists of sitting in the truck for 11 hours. But as always, the beginning of a road trip can be very exciting! We traveled through Northern Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire in one day.
Vermont was beautiful. We didn’t spend much time in the state, and we never saw one building that wasn’t a house. Once we crossed the state line and river into New Hampshire, we saw the first town in at least two hours.
We also drove through my very first covered bridge.
Since we left the house early, we arrived at our first campground around 5 PM, Branch Brook Campground in the Town of Campton, New Hampshire. We had only called when we were a few hours away and they only had one site open (it was Labor Day weekend so everything was booked, and I do mean everything).
We checked in at the front gate, bought some firewood at the camp store, and headed back to our campsite. Our campsite was about a half mile from the front of the campground in a field with three foot high weeds and each campsite had been mowed out. The only bathroom was at the camp store, so if we needed to use the bathroom it was a “pop and squat” situation.
We situated the truck close to the fire pit and began to unpack. But not before we somehow (and by we I mean Jake) locked the keys in the truck. A great start to our vacation. Luckily, we had the back sliding window open to allow for the refrigerator to plug in to the truck while we were driving. We pulled out some tools we had brought in the case of an emergency and loosened the rooftop tent to slide back so Jake could fit between the tent and the cab. He was able to reach his arm into the cab of the truck, but he could not reach the door handle. I went back to the tools and found a 3/8 inch extended breaker bar which Jake was able to use to reach the rest of the way and pull open the door handle. Crisis averted.
Now that we were back on track, I started to set up the tent/awning while Jake unpacked the kitchen and started making dinner, Paella, which was delicious! Jake took the leftovers to our neighbors, who on one side were so drunk I’m not sure they had enough room for food. He went to the other neighbors and offered as well, and was engulfed by a cloud of pot. Not sure how they turned down food, but they did.
Trying to sleep that night was difficult as there was a party going on pretty much the entire night, but the mattress was comfortable and it didn’t get all that hot or cold.
Pros of Branch Brook Campground:
– Family friendly with playground, pool, baseball/softball fields
– Pet friendly
– Store with standard camp conveniences
– Close entry gate from 9 PM to 8 AM
– Bath house is nice and seems to be able to accommodate a full campground
Cons of Branch Brook Campground:
– Back sites are in open fields with weeds three feet high
– Bathrooms/bath house (only 1) is at the front of the campground, 1/2 mile away from back sites
– Wet fire wood
– Only two cars per site, so others parked their car in our campsite
Day 2 – Journey to the North Main Woods
We got up at 7 AM, ate breakfast, and were packed up by 8:30 AM. Before leaving, we stopped at the bathhouse to take showers and were on the road by 9 AM. The day was beautiful! Clear skies and open roads were a nice start as we headed to Sandwich, New Hampshire. Sandwich is a small community of about 1,330 people, located in Carroll County. The Historic Sandwich Notch Road is also found here; established in 1801 as an interstate highway that allowed farmers and craftsmen to travel from Vermont and northwestern New Hampshire to the coastal area of New Hampshire.
In the New England area, passes or gaps (like the Cumberland Gap in Virginia) are known as a Notch. We traveled through the small town of Sandwich, which had some of the most beautiful houses and views I have ever seen. Jake and I noticed that most of the houses were also connected to their barns. After doing some research (when we had cell service), we learned that in the New England area it is common for the houses to be connected to their barns, or as they call it “continuous architecture.” This style of building helped to avoid the harsh winters of New England. Instead on constantly shoveling snow to create a path to the outlying structures, farmers/homeowners are able to reach the buildings through interior connections.
As we traveled down Sandwich Notch Road and entered White Mountain National Forest, we crossed over two notches and three watersheds. The views were beautiful!
Our next stop of the day was in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, population 247 (2010 census). The Waterville Valley Resort resides here and is a yearly getaway destination spot for many people in the New England area. We stopped to take some pictures and a snack break on the tailgate of the truck.
Leaving Waterville Valley, we drove down Tripoli Road (closed in the winter). It was very busy since it was Labor Day weekend, and the road was completely full with people parked on the side who were camping for the weekend. There were portable bathrooms and a trash service available, but we didn’t see any rangers patrolling this area; it was definitely a local party spot.
When we reached the end of Tripoli Road, we hopped on I-93 north where we drove through the Franconia Notch which was eight miles long between the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges. Although we didn’t stop, we were able to get some breathtaking photos of the Notch. The Franconia Notch is located in Franconia Notch State Park in the White Mountain National Forest. If you are ever so inclined, you can stop at the Flume Gorge Visitor Center and take the Cannon Mountain Areal Tramway on a spectacular eight minute ride to the summit of Cannon Mountain. While at the summit, it is said on clear days that you can see views as of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Canada, and New York. There is a plethora of activities you can enjoy with the State Park as well, including a visit the to Sky Museum, swim at Echo Lake, hike a part of the Appalachian Trail, etc.
We continued a few miles further where we took Route 3 (Daniel Webster Highway) through Carroll to Whitefield, New Hampshire. We weren’t actually planning on stopping here, but we noticed a vinyl shop as we drove by, so we stopped to look around at Chris’s Nostalgia Shop. We ended up buying about five or six vinyls, and the guy who owns the place (Chris, obviously) was super knowledgeable.
By the time we left we were getting a bit hungry, so we stopped in Lancaster, New Hampshire for a bite and a drink at Copper Big Brewery. The brewery is located in an old brick bank, right on the banks of the Isreal River. We ordered some food and a few beers, which was all amazing! And we sat at a table right next to the bank’s old vault. It was a neat old building, the perfect place to have a brewery. There was also a patio where you could eat/drink outside as well, right next to the river.
Nash Stream Forest was our next destination, so we left Lancaster (driving by their County Fair on the way) continuing on Route 3 to Route 110, where we traveled through Stark, NH and another covered bridge.
From 110 we hit Route 16. We turned off Route 16 onto Drummer Pond Road to do a little off-roading through Colebrook, NH. There were several windmill parks as we drove through the forest, including around Mount Kelsey.
Fun Fact: The nations first real wind farm was located in New Hampshire, on Crotched Mountain in Francestown.
We headed north to Route 26 to Dixville State Park where the Dixville Notch is located. We pulled off on a little pull off to take some pictures of the notch. We the continued up the road about a half mile to another pull off where we took pictures of the notch from the opposite side.
At this pull off, we also took pictures of the famous Balsams Grand Resort, which was sadly under construction, so we could not get any closer. But the resort was beautiful and sits right on Lake Gloriette. I’m sure in the winter months it is absolutely breathtaking with fresh snow and views. Right now, the Balsams is working on adding on one of the largest ski expansions in New Hampshire and the North East, with “2,200 ski able acres of alpine terrain.”
Turning south back down Route 26, Jake and I headed towards Errol, where we stopped and got some ice cream (Moose Tracks of course) before heading to South Arm Campground on the eastern shore of Umbagog Lake, finally entering Maine. We unpacked and set up, which many other campers complimented on how fast we did. One thing I did notice by our second night, is we got a lot of looks and compliments on the roof top tent setup.
The campground was very accommodating and everyone was so nice! So nice, in fact, that some of our neighbors asked if we wanted to smoke “the devils lettuce” with them. We declined.
We grabbed a few bundles of wood, which we paid for the next morning since they were technically closed, and started dinner. Jake always plans our meals out pretty meticulously, so we always eat very well, sometimes better than at home. This night was no exception as we had lasagna in the dutch oven. It was damn good.
As we ate our dinner, we planned out the next day, since we would be entering the North Maine woods and leaving civilization behind.
Pros of South Arm Campground:
– Lots are nicely maintained; each site has concrete fireplace
– Almost all lots are either on the lake or have a view of the lake
– Bathhouses are a little older but nicely maintained
– Site are large enough for at least two tents, and pretty flat
– Pet friendly
– Very quiet, quiet hours aside
– Lots of trees and natural feel
– Boat launch/dock/beach
– Very friendly staff/owners
– Dry firewood
Cons of South Arm Campground:
– Office/store closes at 5 PM
– No cell reception
– Store is sparse, but we were there at the end of the season