Milan Hill State Park
August 30th – September 1, 2011
Mia and I have made it a pretty regular tradition to go camping during our annual vacation. We have tended to stick with Lafayette Campground in Franconia Notch because of it’s proximity to so much hiking. This year we tried something a little different though and headed further north to Milan Hill State Park in Milan (My-lan), NH. The reason was because of some recently installed yurts.
We did not get our typical state employee discount, apparently that is only applicable when “the state does not supply the structure”, but these things are still a pretty good deal at $45 a night.
Other than camping on an island at Lake Umbagog, this state park has been the most “primitive” and remotest feel to any of the parks I have stayed in. There are only 6 tent sites and 4 yurts. Only one of the yurts is close to the park loop road for handicap access, all the others are short walks from your car to the actual campsite. It makes for a really quiet and isolated feel. This was probably accentuated by the fact that only one other couple was camping there at the same time as us. We had the park virtually to ourselves.
There are no hot showers or flushable toilets at this campground. We had to make do with a solar shower. This was made easier since our campsite is set back from the road and we could shower without anyone seeing us. The pit toilets were in good condition and stocked with cheap toilet paper (bring your own if you want nice stuff) and hand sanitizer.
It was maybe 150 feet from where we could park to the yurt. It gave a nice feeling of seclusion. Out of the 4 yurts, # 2 (the one we stayed in) is the 2nd closest to the road, # 3 is slightly longer and # 4 is probably 300-400 feet away. # 4 has hands down the best views though, looking south and west back towards the presidential range.
The website for the park says that the yurts sleep 6. I’d say that is pushing it. You have bunk beds, a full size couch futon and then a single chair size futon. That is at best 5 people. I’d suggest at most 3 adults. Whoever has to sleep on the chair size futon had better be small. I could probably do it and I’m only 5’4″. Anyone much taller had better not toss and turn much.
The yurt itself has 3 screened “windows” that zip closed from the outside and also have a thick vinyl cover that attaches by velcro. We only opened 1 of the windows as you can see in the first inside picture above, and then left the other 2 zippered closed. There is also a rather large plexiglass dome in the center that opens about an inch or two to allow more air flow.
In the winter Milan Hill is a XC ski center. The rest of the year it is the campground. There is not much to do at the park itself. There is the above mentioned fire tower that offers stunning views of Maine, NH, Vermont and Canada. Then there is a swingset. No lake, no hiking, etc. This is definitely a place to go and relax. There is however dozens of other options for things to do. You have access to the presidential range, carter range, Mahoosucs, Kilkenny, 13 mile woods, etc. There is a ton to do all in a short drive.
I don’t make it north of Gorham, NH often. Even though Berlin is the next town north of Gorham, it really is like entering a different world. You can see how hard the town has been affected by the loss of the paper mill jobs. There isn’t much else up there to do that isn’t related to logging or recreation. I really think the area needs to reinvent itself as a vacation destination. If NH ever gets a casino, this would be the place to put it. It is a snowmobiler’s paradise up here in the winter, and with the creation of Jericho OHRV State Park, it is becoming a place for the motorsport inclined people to visit. There is of course hunting, hiking, camping, and many other outdoor related activities to keep you occupied too. Unfortunately it is currently not a place for young people to put down roots because of the lack of jobs……enough of the economic lesson though.
Mia and I had in the back of our minds to hike Mt Cabot. This would have been another 4,000 footer to check of Mia’s list. However, Mia had been feeling slightly under the weather recently. We decided on a much more laid back excursion.
We originally went looking for a trail off route 2 that would have brought us to this place called “giant falls”, however none of the directions we found were very accurate and we never found the trailhead. This unsuccessful quest led us into Bethel, Maine on route 2. In Bethel we followed route 26 back towards NH. This led us into a new area for both of us. Maine’s Grafton Notch State Park. It is much more rustic than Franconia Notch that I am used to. It had several wayside areas and self guided paths. It’s also got a few areas for people looking to hike the Mahoosuc range.
Two of the more interesting wayside areas we stopped at were Screw Auger Falls and Moose Cave. Screw Auger Falls was way cooler than Franconia Notch’s The Basin. This area was setup with picnic benches and would be an awesome place to hang out on a hot day. Moose Cave was just more of an interesting curiosity and provided a cool 1/4 mile trail to follow.
From Maine, we drop back into NH right near Lake Umbagog. This led us down route 16 and what is known as 13 mile woods. Our hope had been to see a moose, but with it being early afternoon, we knew the chances were slim. The Androscoggin was also running very high and fast for this time of year since the remnants of Hurricane Irene had dumped upwards of 10″ of rain on parts of Vermont and northern NH on Sunday afternoon.
Mia and I got back to Milan Hill around 1:30 or so and settled in for an afternoon of relaxing and chilling out. I worked on collecting more fire wood and we opted for an afternoon snack of tortilla chips and salsa. At one point I was down at the car and saw a small black bear dart across the road. My first thought was “cool”. I didn’t think much of it beyond that, but not 10 minutes later our little bear friends pops his head around the path that led to the toilets and on to yurt # 3. I’m guessing he wanted some chips and salsa. We made some noise, told him to go away, etc. Which in all honestly feels really weird. This bear was a baby, maybe 1-2 years old, but if he had really wanted some chips and salsa there was nothing stopping him except Mia and I acting tough.
The above shot was from about 50-60 feet away. He had been about 15 feet closer at first. The little fuzzball was sneaky too. We made noise, told him to “shoo” and we figured it had left. We were still on high alert though. Not 5 minutes later Mia looks up and his is coming down the path again sniffing at the air (again, he must have really wanted chips and salsa). We made more noise and he finally sauntered off into the woods. I use the word saunter, because again, he really could have done whatever he pleased. I’m just happy he was agreeable to us asking him to move on.
So after our afternoon of excitement, things turned back to a more mellow pace. We started the fire, cooked chicken sausage over the flames and had s’mores for desert. It was an excellent way to spend the evening.
Alas, all things must come to an end. We packed up Thursday late morning and made our way back to Franconia, NH for what is also becoming an annual tradition. You see, every time we go camping up north the final day is a pack up and clear out day. We’re not usually in the mood to make breakfast at camp and then have to pack away a stove and gear. So we have the perfect alternative. Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, NH. It’s our 5th or 6th time going now, and it really is a nice way to end a camping vacation. I highly recommend visiting it if you are up in the Franconia area. It’s only about 15 minutes from Cannon Mountain Ski area.
Thanks for reading!