If you want to get away from it all, head northeast. Just 30 minutes from Burke (see Weekend Away: Burke in this issue) and 40 minutes from Newport, Brighton State Park’s campsites on Spectacle Pond and surrounding woods have the peace and quiet you crave.
The area around Island Pond enjoyed a period of prosperity in the 1800s as the first international railroad junction in the United States. The Great Depression brought an end to the stream of loggers and railmen that visited the town and all but two of the 13 original tracks that rode into the town are gone. Today, the deep woods and pristine ponds of the region draw anglers, hunters and nature lovers looking to get away from the buzz of bigger towns in the state. This state park is also home to the largest red pine in the state (103 feet tall with a circumference of 96 inches). Get up early to spot loons or, if you’re lucky, a moose and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Cabins and lean-tos
Brighton is home to 54 campsites, 24 lean-tos and five cabins spread out alongside the southern shore of Spectacle Pond. Many of the campsites are located on a series of loops, so go online to www.vtstateparks.com and reserve one of 19 “prime” campsites that look out on the pond. The five cabins are $48 per night for Vermont residents and come with electricity and fire rings. Water and bathroom facilities are a short walk away. Brighton State Park is RV-friendly, but has no hook-ups for electricity and limits generator use. Many of the campsites are best suited for tenting instead of larger motorhomes.
The diverse forests, swamps and fields of the Northeast Kingdom are home to a variety of wildlife including wild turkey, white tailed deer, moose, beavers, otters, eagles, bears, coyotes, and foxes. Great wildlife viewing can be found, ten miles away at the Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge and the Victory Forest. Nearby Nulhegan Basin is Vermont’s largest Important Bird Area and home to Spruce Grouse, Gray Jay, Cape May, Tennessee, Wilson’s, Bay-breasted and Palm Warblers and other priority species rarely found in Vermont. Bring a pair of binoculars, an identification guide and keep your eyes peeled. In the evening, enjoy the loons’ serenades.
The campsites’ proximity to Spectacle Pond make the park a great place for younger anglers to cast for brown trout, yellow perch, large-mouth bass, small-mouth bass, bullhead, panfish, and burbot. On neighboring Island Pond, look for brook trout, rainbow trout, walleye, and northern pike. Visitors over the age of 15 are required to have a fishing license, which can be obtained at the park.
Exploring the area
For exploring the Northeast Kingdom, Brighton State Park is an ideal base camp. Drive south to Burke for a day pushing the pedals on Kingdom Trails or hike the seven-mile Red Trail to the summit of Burke Mountain (or take the toll road). If you’ve already wandered around the undeveloped Spectacle Pond, explore nearby Island Pond or set off for Lake Willoughby.
Ride the Moose Loop
Phil White who hosts Tour de Kingdom, five days of supported rides in the area September 23-27, recommends riding (or driving) the Moose Loop: 67-miles of freshly-paved road that loops from Island Pond north to the border and Averill before winding back along the Connecticut River. As White says, you are likely to see “more moose on it than cars.” Other loops, like the Glacial Lakes loop, which takes you to Lake Willoughby, have been mapped by the Northeastern Development Association, which has a handy PDF guide and maps at www.nvda.net/files/cyclingthekingdom070413.pdf
On rainy days, take a daytrip to Saint Johnsbury for the Maple Grove Museum, Fairbanks Museum, Saint Johnsbury Museum or catch a movie at the Catamount Film & Arts Center. Park rangers organize spontaneous movie nights at the camp pavilion and the park naturalist leads nature programs.