Pawtuckaway Camping, Kayaking, and Hiking

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Bike trail along a Pawtuckaway inlet

Pawtuckaway State Park in Nottingham NH was a wonderful spot for our first family camping trip of the season.

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Trails line this inlet
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Barred owl

As we are a family of seven, with four teenagers, my oldest son decided to set up a campsite on his own, close enough for visits, but far enough for independence.  He hadn’t counted on multiple visits from a pair of barred owls directly overhead.  They took turns arguing over whose site it was.  Ben eventually won.

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Barred owl

Once our sites were set up, and the campfire started, the rest of the kids took off exploring the woods around the campsite.  There were huge glacial boulders all around, and their explorations turned up this Blanding’s turtle, one of NH’s seven native turtles, and identified as a species in greatest need of protection by the New Hampshire Wildlife Action Plan.

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Blanding’s turtle

This guy was moving pretty steadily toward its goal, most likely a nearby stream.  We watched it awhile,  then left to explore Pawtuckaway’s waterfront.

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We walked the long beachfront before the kids waded in.  The water was clean and fairly shallow.  There was plenty of parking available nearby, a large playground, and easy access to hiking/bike trails and a well-stocked camp store.

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Joe and Carolyn get wet

Boat rentals are available, and according to Mac Thibault and his dad, Peter, the fishing is pretty good, too!

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Mac and Peter Thibault with sunfish, both worm and fish were released…
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Kayakers coming in after a long paddle on Pawtuckaway Lake

In the morning, realizing the breadth of this 5,500 acre park, we split into two groups.  One group, led by myself, took kids on the water in our kayak.  The other group went to explore the summit of South Mountain via the extensive trail system.

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The boat launch was easy to access from a well marked parking lot. It led to a private inlet which opened to the greater 803-acre Pawtuckaway Lake. We decided to stay and explore the inlet, which was filled with birds, turtles, wild irises, and more glacial boulders.

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Amanda in our kayak
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Joe’s turn riding the current
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Eastern Painted Turtle

This Eastern Painted Turtle is much more common than its cousin we met earlier.

Ben and dad took the high road toward the summit of South Mountain.  Mountain Trail, accessed from the park entrance, skirted remarkable boulder formations and provided stunning views.

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Glacial boulders deposited in the Ice Age
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Mountain Trail Fire Tower
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View from summit toward Middle Mountain
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Summit of South Mountain
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South Mountain face the coast
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Pawtuckaway Lake from South Mountain summit

There were a few ponds along the trail which were of course inhabited by…..turtles!

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Eastern Painted Turtles

Our weekend was filled with activities to please everyone, with a nice combination of well-prepared, relaxing spaces as well as wild, challenging explorations.

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water bottle lantern

Our aunt shared a link with some fun camping tricks, and I adopted one which made our night much more illuminated! This is simply a candle surrounded by water bottles with their labels removed.  We tried it with gallon jugs of water next, which worked great as well! Another ingenious tool we used was an empty #10 coffee can, drilled with a few holes, and filled with charcoal and twigs.  This made a wonderful campfire mini-stove to heat our water kettle on.  Morning coffee and tea are VERY important on camping trips…  My husband suggested that next time, he would freeze water in the can, then puncture the ventilation holes.

Do you have any treasured camping tricks to share?


Lisa Wiley

My name is Lisa Wiley and I am native to mid-New England, but a NH transplant once my husband and I started a family. We have five children and multiple pets, including a bassett named Rue who will be featured in many of my posts! I work in two academic libraries and recently completed a Bachelors in Education and Training through Granite State College. My husband and I are both educators and love outdoor adventures on a shoestring budget! On the side, we garden and raise chickens and angora rabbits. I enjoy spinning the angora fiber from these gentle animals into beautiful yarns. I can't wait to share the adventures of the 'Wiley Rangers' as we explore NH!

2 thoughts to “Pawtuckaway Camping, Kayaking, and Hiking”

  1. Lisa, you may be just the person I need! My husband and I are retired and live in southeast Louisiana. We would love to take a fall trip to New England and use a state park cabin as a base for interesting day trips throughout the area, including VT, MA. But being completely unfamiliar with the area, we are at a loss on how to choose a lodging site that is both convenient and beautiful. Is such a plan feasible?

    1. Hi Joanne, sorry to take so long to respond. Your adventure sounds perfect for State Park hopping! Many parks, such as Sunapee in NH, offer lean-to’s or even cabins to stay in. I would speak with the people at Reserve America, they organize the reservations for many State and National Parks. They can be contacted at Hope it helps and have a wonderful trip!

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