Rambling Around Vermont: Fall Camping at Brighton State Park

Please don't travel until it's safe to do so! Our travel posts are great for making future plans or dreaming about your next escape. Learn more about Vermont State Parks and COVID-19.

For many outdoor lovers, the beginning of fall means the end of the camping season, but don’t pack away your gear just yet! Fall camping in New England is one of life’s greatest experiences!

Today we’re taking a virtual journey up to the town of Island Pond in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. This little village was once a thriving railroad and logging hub. Today, Island Pond is home to vast tracts of forest, a huge moose population, and the little slice of paradise that is Brighton State Park.  

A woman stands on the shore of Spectacle Pond looking at the fall foliage in Brighton State Park VT

Checking out the view from my campsite at Brighton State Park.

While plenty of visitors flock to Brighton State Park for its quiet camping and spectacular swimming and paddling in the summer, fall is when the magic really happens at Brighton. The air becomes crisp and the smell of balsam surrounds the campground. The morning mist rises off of Spectacle Pond while the loons call nearby, and campers smile to each other as they pass on the trails or even on the way to the showers.

Fall visitors to Brighton State Park know that there’s no better place to be when temperatures drop and the leaves start to turn. 

Quick Facts: Brighton State Park

Address:102 State Park Road, Island Pond, Vermont 05846
Activities: paddlesports, camping, swimming, hiking
Open: Memorial Day weekend – 2nd Monday in October
Day fees: $4 adults, $2 kids
Overnight fees: tent/RV site base rate: $19, lean-to base rate: $28, cabin base rate: $51
Dogs: Yes, but they are not allowed on the beaches, buildings, or day-use areas
Directions via Google Maps

Brighton State Park is a remote park nestled along the shores of both Spectacle and Island Ponds in the Northeast Kingdom. Here the eastern hardwood forest begins transitioning to the boreal forest, which is made up primarily of cold-hardy evergreens. Wild streams cut through the forests, and clear mountain lakes and boggy wetlands dot the landscape. 

This is the wildest and most remote part of Vermont. The uninterrupted tracts of forest make it the perfect habitat for moose, as well as Canada lynx, snowshoe hare, the endangered spruce grouse, and hundreds of songbird species. You will fall in love with Brighton State Park no matter when you decide to visit, but if you have to choose a season to explore, my vote is for autumn.

A fall foliage view from the Camper's Beach at Brighton State Park in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.
Spectacle Pond from the Camper's Beach.

Not only is fall camping amazing at Brighton State Park, but it’s also a fabulous home base for exploring Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, leaf-peeping on winding back roads, and checking out some of Vermont’s best trails and wild spaces. 

Brighton State Park Camping

Home-sweet-home! The Poplar lean-to in Brighton State Park
Home-sweet-home! The Poplar lean-to in Brighton State Park

With 54 tent/RV sites, 23 lean-tos, and five cabins to choose from, you can find the fall camping that is perfect for you. We try to always reserve a lean-to, so our gear stays dry, we’re out of the wind, and we have a spot to hang out in if the weather doesn’t cooperate. 

The three camping loops in Brighton State Park are all located on Spectacle Pond. Many of the sites are waterfront, so you can bring your human-powered vessel of choice and slip straight from your tent and onto the water within minutes. 

All of the campsites include a picnic table and fire pit, and while you won’t find electric or water hook-ups, there are water faucets for drinking located strategically throughout the campground. Each campground loop has its own bathhouse with toilets and hot showers, which will set you back $.50 for 4 minutes. 

The Willow Lean-To in Brighton State Park Vermont
Another beautiful lean-to right near the water.

During our recent Island Pond camping trip, we stayed in the Poplar lean-to, which was totally private and spacious, with a trail leading down to the water. Some of our other favorite sites include the Sumac lean-to and site #26.

We haven’t tried the cabins yet, but they look amazing and would be perfect for fall camping because those solid walls will keep you cozy when the temperatures drop below freezing. Because of COVID, Vermont State Park cabin rentals won’t be available until 2021. 

The Raven cabin in Brighton State Park Vermont
The Raven cabin in Brighton State Park

Day visitors can use the main beach on Island Pond, which is wide and sandy with a nearby bathhouse. Campers can choose from the main beach or the camper’s beach, which is small but has amazing views of the mountains. I didn’t take advantage of either — the water was too cold for me!

Brighton State Park Hiking

A woodland trail in Brighton State Park, Vermont
A woodland trail in Brighton State Park

There are several miles of lovely hiking trails in Brighton State Park, all of them fairly flat and easy to navigate. On the south and east shores of Spectacle Pond, you can hike along the Shore Trail to a rare red pine forest and to Indian Point, which is a fabulous spot to watch the sunset. The trail continues to loop through the forest of pines, hemlock, and hardwoods. 

During my recent fall trip, I saw one couple on the trail. It was a blissfully quiet walk and the leaves were many shades of green, yellow, orange, and red. Such a peaceful spot to meander!

A kayaker on Spectacle Pond in Brighton State Park Vermont
Watching the kayakers from the trail on Spectacle Pond

The Boreal Forest Trail is a .4-mile interpretive loop with signs explaining the plants, animals, and wild habitats of the boreal forest, which begins in the northern reaches of Vermont and encircles the northern hemisphere across Alaska, Canada, northern Europe, and Russia. This is the southern edge of the largest biome on earth. 

If you are looking for a more challenging hike in Island Pond, definitely check out Bluff Mountain Community Trail, a 2.6-mile loop that brings you to the summit of Bluff Mountain, with outstanding views of Island Pond and the surrounding Green Mountains. The trailhead is located on Mountains Street in Island Pond, just a few miles from Brighton State Park.

Back Roads and Wild Places to Explore in Island Pond, Vermont

A back road with beautiful fall foliage in Island Pond, Vermont
Back road beauty in Island Pond, VT

Now that you’ve settled in at your campsite and explored a bit in Brighton State Park, it’s time to get out and explore Island Pond and the Northeast Kingdom. Here are some of our favorite back roads and wild places to explore near Brighton State Park. 

Vermont Route 105

This state highway runs 99 miles across northern Vermont, from St. Albans in the west to the New Hampshire state line in the east. The 15-mile stretch from Brighton to Bloomfield makes a great fall foliage drive, with lots of hiking, leaf-peeping, and maybe even some moose spotting. 

To get to Route 105, simply turn right out of the Brighton State Park entrance, and then turn right again on Route 105. Here are some of our favorite stops along this beautiful stretch of pavement.

Wenlock Wildlife Management Area – Moose Bog

A wooden boardwalk and viewing platform on Moose Bog in Island Pond, VT
The viewing platform on Moose Bog
Owned by the State of Vermont and managed by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, Wenlock Wildlife Management Area covers 1,993 acres and is used for hiking, photography, hunting, and trapping, and fishing. Wenlock is part of the largest deer wintering area in the state and is a prime habitat for moose, bear, beaver, coyote, red fox, bobcat, and fisher. 

Moose Bog is a lovely hiking trail that meanders through the boreal forest and ends at a boardwalk through Moose Bog with a viewing platform at the end. Yes, moose are common here, especially in the early morning and late evening hours, but even if you visit in the middle of the day, you’ll be treated to expansive views of the boggy wetland.

Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge – Nulhegan River Hike

A fall view from the visitor center at Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont
View from the visitor center – Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge

The Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Wildlife Refuge consists of more than 26,600 acres of wild lands about 10 miles east of Island Pond. The area is adjacent to Wenlock Wildlife Management Area and includes conifer and deciduous forest interspersed with forested wetlands, peatlands, and shrub swamp. Three of the four tributaries of the Nulhegan River are located within the wildlife refuge, as well as a working forest landscape that exceeds 150,000 acres. 

In addition to several woodland hiking trails, the Silvio Conte National Wildlife Refuge includes more than 40 miles of gravel roads that are perfect for back road adventuring, leaf-peeping, and wildlife watching. 

Begin your adventure at the visitor contact station on Route 105, and hop on the Nulhegan River Trail, a 1-mile interpretive loop that descends to the Nulhegan River, travels alongside it for a bit, and then climbs back through a hardwood forest to the visitor center. The fall foliage is stunning here, but if you happen to visit during the summer, there’s a great swimming hole as well.

Nehulegan Hut and Trail System

The Nulhegan River
Located on the south side of Route 105, I stumbled upon this gem of a trail system quite by accident. Look for the wooden sign and small parking area in the middle of a meadow. There is a 1.5-mile loop you can hike past the hut (for rent through Vermont Huts Association), through the woods, along the Nehulegan River, and back to your car through a blueberry meadow. 

On my afternoon hike, I spotted several spruce grouse, some deer, and a fox, but I didn’t see another human being. This would be a great hike for families with small kids, as the trail is flat and the river is wide and perfect for rock hopping. 

Vermont Route 114 and Averill Mountain

Want another little road trip with amazing views, great foliage, and the chance to spot the elusive moose? Head north on Route 114 out of Island Pond. You will pass Norton Pond, which is a lovely spot for a paddle. Continue north, and just before the Canadian border, the road veers east. 

Great Averill Pond is located on the south side of the road, and there is a trailhead on the north side of the road that leads to Averill Mountain. This is an easy trail that climbs up to a rock ledge with an amazing view of Great Averill Pond. Total distance is 1.3 miles, climbing 544 feet in elevation. 

If you’re feeling peckish, continue on Route 114 and stop at April’s Maple for a famous maple cremee, or if it’s too cold for ice cream, a slice of maple pie!

Ready to throw on your thickest wool sweater and make your fall adventure at Brighton State Park a reality? First, head over to Vermont State Parks to find your perfect Brighton State Park campsite. Next, check out these fall camping tips so you’ll be warm and cozy on your trip. 

Guest post by Tara Schatz of Back Road Ramblers


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