For most of the northeast, camping season ended weeks ago. The foliage is past its peak and as the end of the year creeps closer by the day, temperatures will continue to drop. Many seasonal adventure seekers have probably already put their hiking and camping gear into winter storage. What these people will be missing out on though, is the chance to experience a number of parks and wilderness areas across New York and New England in the off-season – no shivering required.
How is this possible? By staying at a rustic cabin or lodge maintained by the state or a non-profit. In the Pine Tree State, Maine Huts & Trails operates a 45-mile recreation corridor that includes three small, comfy "boutique hostels" (a fourth is due to open in late December) with hot showers, heated bunkhouses, kitchens, and dining rooms. Hike, ski, or snowshoe from hut to hut or choose Poplar, the hut closest to the town of Kingfield, for a shorter, easy-access trip. Sweeping views of Flagstaff Lake and the Bigelow Range are included at no additional charge.
To the west in New York, just south of Lake Placid, the Adirondack Mountain Club runs the Adirondack Loj at Heart Lake. It's a costlier but cushier overnight option with shared and private guestrooms, recently redone bathrooms, hearty communal meals, and the choice of local wine and beer, as well as a spacious great room, complete with hickory furniture, a stone fireplace, and a bull moose head over the mantelpiece. For some exercise and a panorama of the High Peaks, walk out the front door and climb to the top of 2,876-foot Mt. Jo. Or take the one-mile path around the lake for an easier hike. Members receive a ten percent discount on reservations.
Closer to Manhattan, the historic Bear Mountain Inn reopened to the public earlier this year after extensive renovations. The 15 rooms in the main building are a far cry from a night in a tent and will leave a bigger dent in your wallet, but you'll wake up refreshed and just as close to a trailhead. A stone's throw from the Hudson River and not much farther from West Point, the inn is literally steps from the Appalachian Trail. Four other trails, several of which lead into neighboring Harriman State Park, also begin near the parking area. Plus, Bear Mountain guests don't have to worry about packing food – the inn's 1915 Cafe serves casual fare on weekends while the Overlook Lodge prepares a buffet-style champagne brunch on Sundays.
But if that all sounds like too much luxury, the Green Mountain Club rents its two cabins on Wheeler Pond in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom while in Western Massachusetts, Mohawk Trail State Forest and Savoy Mountain State Forest both have a handful of cabins that are available for off-season camping. And back across the New York border in Taconic State Park, the Copake Falls Area also includes a number of cabins and cottages with electricity, hot water, a full kitchen, and beds for four to six people. In other words, if you think you're going to miss the great outdoors over the next few months, don't wait for spring to arrive. Pick a state, set aside a long weekend, and drag that sleeping bag back out of the closet.
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