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Burton Island State Park on Vermont's Inland Sea features a marina that can accommodate large boats.

10 Great New England Boat/Paddle-Camping Spots

Text & Photography by Tom Richardson

Burton Island, North Hero, Vermont

Located in the northern section of Lake Champlain known as the Inshore Sea, Burton Island State Park is home to a seasonal ranger-staffed campground with a swimming beach, hiking trails, a snack bar, canoe/rowboat rentals, and a large marina (with electric and water) that’s popular among powerboaters and sailors alike, many of them hailing from Canada. The island features 14 tent sites, 26 lean-to’s, 3 cabins, and 4 remote tent-only sites. Boaters can launch at several ramps in North and South Hero, as well as in nearby Saint Albans. Pet friendly. Open Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Swan Island is located on the lower Connecticut, where it flows into Merrymeeting Bay.

Swan Island, Richmond, Maine

Located on the lower Kennebec River, some 10 miles north of Bath at the head of tidal Merrymeeting Bay, Swan Island is part of the Steve Powell Wildlife Management Area. It features forested areas interspersed by open fields and wetlands, as well as seven miles of easy hiking trails. Several historic homesteads, as well as an old cemetery, serve as points of interest. The best way to reach the island and its state-run campground is by kayak or canoe. Camping is allowed from May 1 to October 31 on a first-come, first-served basis. Each site features a fire pit and picnic table. Restrooms are also available. The landing dock on the northwest tip of the island can be used by powerboaters to pick up or drop off passengers and gear.

Most islands in the MITA system feature clearings for tents.

Steves Island, Stonington, Maine

There are over 200 islands on the Maine Island Trail where the public can camp overnight, but we’ll focus on Steves Island, off Stonington. Why? Because we’ve been there! This 2-acre chunk of granite in the Merchants Row archipelago features several protected coves, a sandy beach, and at least 5 clearings where you can pitch a tent. Fires are allowed on the beach or rocks below the high-tide line, but you’ll need to bring your own wood—and everything else! The nearest launch site is the stone ramp next to the Isle Au Haut ferry terminal. In general, there are few better examples of public-private cooperation that the spectacular 375-mile Maine Island Trail, which extends from the New Hampshire border to Nova Scotia. It comprises 220 sites where boaters and paddlers can stay overnight—for free! Some are tiny, remote chunks of rock and sand, while others feature large, managed campgrounds with plenty of amenities. The best way to plan a trip is to become a member of the Maine Island Trail Association, which manages the trail. The organization’s guidebook is an invaluable resource for trip-planning, and includes descriptions of each island, landing areas, maps, details on where to get supplies, and much more.

Watch a short video on Steves Island.



The Lyman Falls site on the Connecticut River Paddlers Trail features three distinct camping "cells."

Lyman Falls State Park, Bloomfield, Vermont

Lyman Falls State Park hosts one of the more than 60 public campsites along the Connecticut River Paddlers Trail, which runs the length of the 375-mile river all the way to Long Island Sound. Lyman Falls is located just below a set of small rapids where a dam once stood. It features 3 distinct campsites, all of which share a single, large moldering toilet. Suitable for large groups. No fee, although a donation of $10 per tent is suggested. All the information you need for planning a trip is available on the CRPT site, including an interactive map showing the location of every site, access points, portage trails, and more.

Watch a short video featuring the Lyman Falls site on the Connecticut River Paddlers Trail.

Peddocks Island offers yurts that can sleep up to six people, as well as tent sites.

Peddocks Island, Boston, Massachusetts

Imagine camping on a coastal island while jetliners roar a few hundred feet overhead. That’s what you can expect on an overnight trip to the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, in the heart of one of the busiest harbors on the East Coast. Currently (2023), camping is only allowed on Peddocks Island, which features open sites and yurts for up to six adults, as well as composting toilets and picnic tables. In the past, camping has been allowed on Grape, Bumpkin, and Lovells Islands, but limited resources have caused the park to close these sites. Check the Boston Harbor Islands website for current information and to make a reservation.

Washburn Island is located on protected Waquoit Bay on Cape Cod.

Washburn Island, Falmouth, Massachusetts

For a unique Cape Cod camping experience, chart a course for Washburn Island, in the town of Falmouth. The low-lying island is part of the 2,700-acre Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and is surrounded by warm, protected waters perfect for swimming and paddling. Fishing for striped bass is also popular. Washburn features 10 primitive sites accessible only by boat or kayak from mid-May to mid-October. There is no freshwater source or flush toilets (two composting toilets are available). Boaters arriving from Vineyard Sound can reach Washburn either through the Eel Pond inlet or the Waquoit Bay inlet. Public launch areas are located on the Childs River at White’s Landing, next to East Falmouth Marine, and the Mashpee Town Landing on the eastern side of the bay. Paddlers can also access the bay via the South Cape Beach State Park kayak launch, on Waquoit’s southeast shore. Washburn Island is open to camping from mid-May to mid-October. Pets allowed. Reservations and details via Reserve America.

Farm Island on Moosehead Lake in home to three primitive campsites.

Farm Island, Rockwood, Maine

Maine’s largest lake is peppered with primitive wilderness campsites that are available to the public free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Farm Island, about 2 miles north of Rockwood, on the western side of Moosehead Lake, features 3 sites, all equipped with fire rings and picnic tables. A composting toilet is located near each site. Like all the primitive sites on Moosehead, stays are limited by courtesy to less than two weeks. Boaters and paddlers can launch from the large public launch facility in Rockwood, near the mouth of the Moose River. Click here for more information on the series of primitive campsites around Moosehead. Before launching a trip, be aware that Moosehead is a big lake with a lot of open water, which means that dangerous sea conditions can form in high winds. Always check the forecast and lake conditions before launching.


Kids love visiting Cockenoe Island, part of the Norwalk Islands.

Cockenoe Island, Westport, Connecticut

The Norwalk Islands are a valuable resource for boaters and paddlers in southern Connecticut, and camping is allowed on Cockenoe (pronounced “Kah-kee-nee”) Island, which is managed by the town of Westport (contact Westport Conservation Department for more info). A permit and reservations are required. It’s a popular place, especially in summer. Seasonal boat-camping is also allowed on nearby Shea and Grassy Islands;  camping permits for these islands can be obtained via the Norwalk Recreation & Parks Department. The shorelines of both Shea and Grassy Islands are strewn with boulders, making them a somewhat difficult place to make a landing. Click here for detailed information on the Norwalk Islands and camping on Shea and Grassy Islands. A large launch facility with overnight parking can be found at Veteran’s Park & Marina in Norwalk.

Beautiful Selden Creek flows behind Selden Island.

Selden Island, Lyme, Connecticut

Boaters and paddlers on the lower Connecticut River will find several campsites on 607-acre Selden Neck State Park in Lyme, just opposite the town of Chester. While there is no official landing site on the island, campers can anchor just offshore or beach their craft on the bank. Submerged rocks along some parts of the shore demand a cautious approach, especially given the fluctuating river level and poor visibility. Trails wind through the wooded island, some leading to the 230-foot summit and past an old farmstead and quarry. Some parts of the island are still privately held, so respect the boundary markers.

Watch a short video featuring Selden Creek and camping on Chapman Pond.

The Penobscot River Paddling Trail runs from Medway to Bucksport, Maine.

Ketawamkihtek Campsite, Old Town, Maine

The Penobscot River Paddling Trail is a series of free, public campsites situated along a 100-mile length of this large Maine river. The route currently stretches from Medway to Bucksport, and is designed to provide a link between the East Branch of the Penobscot and the Maine Island Trail. We’ve camped at the Ketawankihtek site, on the Stillwater River, a few miles below the Costigan Boat Launch. The shady, open site features a large picnic table and plenty of room for tents. A small latrine is located nearby, but you will definitely be roughing it! The PRPT website contains detailed information on each site, plus downloadable maps of the trail. Be aware that some sections of the river contain portages and Class II -III rapids which may require a certain degree of whitewater paddling expertise.


Warren Island State Park features a long pier where boaters can offload passengers and gear.

Warren Island State Park, Islesboro, Maine

Warren Island State Park, on Warren Island in Penobscot Bay, is located three miles east of Lincolnville and within paddling distance of Islesboro’s Grindel Point, making it accessible by boat or kayak. The park features a long pier for dropping off gear and passengers, as well as several courtesy moorings, along the island’s protected eastern shore. Once on the island, you’ll find 12 campsites and 3 lean-to’s, all with ocean views. Additionally, there are three group sites in the center of the island. Camping is allowed from Memorial Day through September 15. Upon arrival, visitors are asked to register at the Visitors Information Center, which is basically a kiosk near the pier. Courtesy carts are available for transporting gear to and from the sites. There is a small fee ($4/day resident; $6/day non-resident) for camping on Warren Island. You can pay on the island in cash only. All camping must take place only on designated and marked campsites provided by the park. Visitors must carry out any trash. Drinking water is available from a hand pump on the middle of the island. Mainland launching facilities and overnight parking can be found in Belfast and Rockland.

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