The Scoop on Northeast Kingdom Camping

Beat the crowds this September and head north for wild open spaces, stunning foliage and a brand new trail system.

If you want to get away from it all, head northeast. Just 30 minutes from Burke and Kingdom Trails 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 and reserve one of 19 “prime” campsites that look out on the pond. The five cabins are $51 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 makes 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.

There’s also a brand new 20-mile trail network of singletrack foot trails to explore, as of this summer. Thanks to hard work by the Green Mountain Club, local volunteers and other agencies, the new Kingdom Heritage Trail System opened in late June 2019. The loop is carved through the 132,000-acre former Champion International Paper company timberlands near Island Pond, and connects existing paths on Bluff Island in Island Pond, Gore Mountain in Avery’s Gore and the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Brunswick via a route that passes through some of the most remote and rugged forest land in northern Essex County.

If you’re looking for a true wilderness experience in Vermont, this is it. It’s the perfect spot for a late September backpacking trip that will get you off the beaten path and showcase some pretty incredible foliage (minus the crowds) that the Northeast Kingdom has to offer. Maybe we’ll see you out there.

Ride the Moose Loop

Phil White who hosts Tour de Kingdom, five days of supported rides in the area in early June, 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

Take a Foliage Paddle

From the upper stretches of the Connecticut River to the streams and rivers of the Nulhegan Basin, the Northeast Kingdom offers great river and pond paddling.

The 69-mile stretch of the Connecticut that runs from West Stewartstown near Quebec to Gilman, Vermont features some of the fastest water on the entire river, though the bulk of the paddling is meandering and calm. The passing scenery ranges from vast timberland to old farms. There are also plenty of great ponds and lakes to explore. For more great paddling suggestions, head here.

Rainy Days

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.

Evan Johnson

Evan Johnson is the staff writer for Vermont Sports Magazine. The native Vermonter enjoys steep and deep skiing and wandering all over the state by Subaru. Find him on Twitter at @evanisathome.