Where in New England can I take my dad camping to see the Perseids?
July 29, 2014 8:35 AM   Subscribe

When I was very young, my dad took me camping to see the Perseid meteors; it was one of the defining experiences of my life. Now I am grown and he is nearly old, and I would like to turn it around. Help me find a suitable mountaintop in New England to go camping with my dad; somewhere where we won't have to see anyone else. Details within.

Long ago when I was but a wee lad, knee-high to a grasshopper, my father took me on my very first camping trip to watch the Perseid meteor shower at a stargazing party out in a big field. I consider that night to have been one of the most important foundational experiences of my life—the one that initiated a profound and abiding connection to science and to the natural world which has been one of the dominant themes in the narrative of my life.

Now I'm halfway through a PhD in conservation biology, and I am going to turn 30 this August—making me more or less officially a Grown-Up. My dad, who in his own youth was quite the mountaineer, is now 60 and while very active and healthy will probably not have too many more years before his mountain-climbing days are officially behind him. As a way of marking this transition and of thanking him for introducing me to one of the most personally-defining and most consistently nourishing and beneficial modes of experience for my life, I would like to turn the tables on him and take him on a more adult version of the same trip that he took me on when I was just a bairn.

What I would like to do, ideally, is to set out from Duxbury, Massachusetts very early one morning in mid-August, arrive at the foot of a mountain somewhere in New England around 6AM, backpack all day at a gentle pace (we're both in good shape all things considered, but he's 60 after all and his knees aren't the best—a consequence of his mountaineering days of yore) and arrive at our campsite by 6PM at the latest. We would then spend probably three nights and two full days up on top of the mountain doing day hikes and general Camping Stuff by day and stargazing and general Father-Son Bonding Stuff by night. After that, we would hike back down the mountain and drive home.

What I need, then, is a mountain. We are both very experienced at this sort of thing, but I haven't lived in New England as an adult and I don't want to have to ask my dad where we should go; a big part of the idea behind this is to symbolically show that I Am Grown Now and that I can do these sorts of things on my own. (You know, like the first time you went out to dinner with your parents and picked up the check?) It should be possible, going nice and slow and taking plenty of breaks to let Dad rest his knees, to climb it in a day and get to a good campsite in twelve hours or less. It must be a hike on a trail up a mountain, not a walk on a path through the woods or a drive in a car to a campground.

The campsite itself must offer good stargazing opportunities, or be within a short walk of a spot that offers same. It must be somewhere where we can be alone for a couple of days without having to see another soul, despite it being one of the most popular times of the year for stargazing. Super extra bonus points if we can do a little fishing, too. The site can be as remote and primitive as you like, in fact the moreso the better. I want someplace quiet, someplace secret, someplace where other people don't go. (If it's really actually secret, memail me. I can keep a confidence, I promise.)

We are both very experienced at the whole hiking/camping/backpacking/mountaineering thing; for reference, I am writing this within hours of finishing a three month season of fieldwork in the Congo, and when Dad was in his prime he did several major mountaineering and bicycle touring trips lasting weeks or months at a stretch. I really, really want to be able to spend a few days alone with him, and I'd enjoy the opportunity to demonstrate my wilderness skills to him as well. We're perfectly comfortable navigating with a map, compass, and GPS.

Basically, I am looking for the most remote mountainside stargazing spot in New England that can be accessed in a day by a fit middle-aged man. It's important to me. Help me out, hive mind!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what mountains in VT it's near, but I've always wanted to visit Stellafane, in Springfield, VT.
posted by scolbath at 8:47 AM on July 29, 2014

Not a great year for moon brightness - - here's some tips for optimizing 2014 Perseid viewing.
posted by fairmettle at 8:50 AM on July 29, 2014

Best answer: It must be somewhere where we can be alone for a couple of days without having to see another soul, despite it being one of the most popular times of the year for stargazing.

This is going to be very difficult to do in New England at this time of year, unless you go off to some remote parts of Maine, in which case you may have difficulty finding a campsite near a mountaintop.

Even in the most remote areas of New Hampshire most campsites will be filled. Any areas where you would be camped alone probably would not be close enough to a mountaintop or any sort of clearing where you could see the shower.

Also, there will be a big bright waxing gibbous moon during this year's shower, which will make it harder to see.

If you can accept the fact that you can't have your wish of being alone, then I would recommend Mt. Garfield via the Garfield Trail, staying at the Garfield Ridge shelter/tent site. The trail in is five miles of mostly easy grade, though it gets steeper as you approach the shelter. The Trailhead is accessed via the Garfield Rd. (see a trend here?) North of Franconia Notch. Any trail map of the area will show you.

If you start early enough you should be able to get a tent platform or space in the shelter, though it will tend to fill up this time of year. They ALL fill up this time of year, most of them even overflowing. The caretakers are usually pretty good about finding space for everybody.

It's been a while since I've been there, but there is a small clearing with some benches that is great for stargazing. The summit itself is only 1/4 mile from the shelter, though it is a bit steep getting there. It would be a relatively quick and easy night hike from the shelter, especially if you stayed up until sunrise so you'd have some light coming down. The summit has a 360 degree view that is one of the best in the Whites and there is an old fire tower foundation that makes a great wind block.

Hike options from that shelter are towards Lafayette or Galehead, though Garfield Ridge is some of the roughest hiking in the Whites.

Another option would be to take the Lincoln Woods trail (from the Kank, out of Lincoln, NH) to the Bondcliff (!) Trail and find a backcountry site along the lower part of the Bondcliff trail. From there the summit is a couple miles of easy hiking, with the exception of a short rock scramble just below the summit of Bondcliff. Bondcliff is one of the most remote mountains in NH and you would most likely be alone up there if you did a night hike, though don't be surprised if you run into a couple of people.

I'll be watching this thread carefully for suggestions. Myself, I'll be camped at Speck Pond in Maine on the 9th, though I'm sure it will be full of AT thru hikers.

Whatever you do, have fun and stay safe!
posted by bondcliff at 8:55 AM on July 29, 2014

(I can't help, but your request makes me very happy inside and maybe let a little dust in my office somehow.)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:11 AM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

What about Beartown State Forest in Monterey MA? It's always struck me as quite remote-feeling, and in my experience the Berkshires are much less busy during the week than the Whites. It's on the AT so you can hike as far as you want in either direction, but it's not a difficult part of the AT so probably OK for your dad. There are roads nearby, so that's a drawback maybe. If you hike all day, you will cross a road or two. There are a couple of lean-tos for camping.

Maybe you could start at Beartown and hike to Goose Pond on the AT. Not a lot of elevation gain, a little boring really, but the pond is lovely and there is space to camp there. I really love the Northern Berkshires (Greylock Reservation especially) but there are a lot of roads and most places are full of trees. You can go a long time without seeing another hiker during the week (especially if you're not on the AT) but it's hard to avoid hearing the motorcycles (though this is probably less of an issue during the week).

Maybe near Stratton Mountain in Vermont? I don't know where you park, but there are a lot of shelters in that area and the ski mountains of Stratton and Bromley are deforested - generally kind of depressing in summer, but good for stargazing.

Anyway if lack of other hikers/closeness to Duxbury is your main goal, I'd say Berkshires. If wilderness-iness is more important than distance to Duxbury probably somewhere in Vermont is better. I would avoid the Whites - they're busy and mostly difficult to hike if you want to get any altitude/to a clearing. Berkshires and Vermont are both very tree-y though. Not a lot of clearings/bare mountaintops.
posted by mskyle at 9:59 AM on July 29, 2014

outdoors.org is a good place to start.
posted by Gungho at 12:48 PM on July 29, 2014

Lonesome Lake or the Zealand Falls huts aren't difficult hikes. See if you can reserve a spot.
posted by Consult The Oracle at 4:37 PM on July 29, 2014

Response by poster: Bondcliff trail seems like it will work a treat; not too far away or too difficult, but nice and remote and not too heavily traveled. (I realize that complete isolation is probably too much to ask for given the rest of the requirements.) It sounds like more of a primitive, backcountry-style camping experience than most of the others available in the area, which is just what I'm looking for.

I checked out some maps and trail reports to try to gauge how strenuous it is likely to be, and then asked Dad if he thought he'd be up for it. He says he's good for it, so I guess it's settled! Thanks for all your suggestions everyone, next time I'm looking to do some camping up in New England I'll come straight back to this thread to investigate some of the other possibilities that were mentioned.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:13 AM on July 30, 2014

You won't find a legal campsite too high up that has access to water, so don't camp any higher than the last stream crossing. Keep in mind you'll be in a federally designated Wilderness area, so there are rules about where you can camp, usually 200 feet from a stream or trail.

The trail in from the Kank is totally flat for the first five miles, then moderate once you turn onto the Bondcliff trail. The only hard part is, as I said, just before the summit where you'll have to scramble up a ten foot rock cliff. It's not very difficult, but may be if you're hiking to the summit at night.

Anywhere you'll camp will not have much openness to view the stars, though you may see something if you wander down to a stream, where it's a bit more clear.

There are bears in the area, but they won't bother you if you resepct them. Hang your food at least ten feet from the ground and ten feet out from any branch. No food in your tent, etc. NH black bears are like big raccoons. Mostly harmless.

Send me a Metafilter mail if you want some more specific details.

Have fun!
posted by bondcliff at 11:29 AM on July 30, 2014

Response by poster: The trip was a great success! We actually went all the way to the Mt. Guyot Shelter, on the saddle between Mt. Bond and Mt. Guyot, a couple of miles past Bondcliff. We did the trip in three days -- two up and one down -- and it was everything I'd hoped for. We did backcountry camping both nights, saw lots of stars, some meteors, and got some great conversation and spectacular views.

Dad did great; he borrowed some trekking poles from a friend which he says helped his knees immensely, and while his knees did slow him down just a little at the end of the last day (all that downhill jolting) he had an awesome time overall. Mt. Bond is his new favorite hike in the Whites (replacing Arethusa Falls) and he particularly praised MetaFilter for finding us a trip that starts and ends with a nice flat section, which made it easier for him. I have the feeling that we'll be doing more of this sort of thing in the future; he's been asking me for recommendations for packs and such.

So thanks very much to everyone, and bondcliff in particular. And since it doesn't count if you don't get a picture at the summit, here's one of Dad and me on top of Mt. Bond!
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:08 AM on August 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

This makes me so happy, and now you know why I've named myself after that mountain. It really is an amazing place. I love introducing people to all the areas I love in the Whites.

You were very ambitious to go all the way to Guyot shelter!

There's a lot of history in those trails. Assuming you started on the trailhead for the Lincoln Woods trail your first five miles or so were on what was once the main branch of a logging railroad into the area. You may have even noticed a single piece of rail as well as an old broken down bridge along the Bondcliff trail. Lots of old logging camps with old rusted stoves and pots and pans if you know where to look. Neat places.
posted by bondcliff at 9:46 AM on August 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

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