Everything You Need to Know about Going Camping in Massachusetts

From where and when to book to what type of accommodations you can get.

campsite next to a lake

Photo by Brooks Payne/Getty Images

This summer, why sleep under a loose sheet when you could saw logs beneath a canopy of maple leaves and stars? Camping season is here and the Massachusetts DCR’s state parks, forests, and reservations offer a rustling smorgasbord of environments and lodgings for anyone seeking a naturalistic reprieve from the city or suburbs. Whether you prefer a minimalist weekend in the heart of the wild, or more spruced up trappings in a cozy abode surrounded by creaking trees and blooming beaches roses, the trick to nailing Commonwealth camping is knowing your venues for camping, and what to expect from each. The good news? If you familiarize yourself with the DCR’s website, you’ll have access to a lot of the information and registration systems you need.

Step 1: Choose Your Housing

If pitching a tent and unfurling a sleeping bag at dusk gets you all tingly with excitement, here’s the good news: you can now book tent sites at 32 DCR sites across Massachusetts, from the sandy paths of the Wellfleet Hollow State Campground to the towering red oaks in the Mohawk State Forest. (A few DCR tenting venues—Beartown State Forest, Federated Women’s Club State Forest, and Mount Greylock State Reservation—will open later this summer.) While the “floor” of tenting amenities will vary by property, most DCR campsites include onsite toilets and showers, drinking water, and picnic tables. Several of them also offer trailer/RV hookups and dumpsites. If you’re game to cook your own food on a camp stove, or if you’ll procure provisions from nearby towns, camping can be the simplest and most economical option at $8-35/night for residents of Massachusetts (for out-of-state residents, nightly rates range from $20 to $100.)

On the other hand, the simplicity of tenting can sometimes be a grungier kind of simplicity (especially if there’s heavy rain in the forecast.) For those torn between roughing it and living large, the DCR’s state park yurts offer the best of both worlds. Available at seven state parks, these circular dome-shaped dwellings are basically a heartier version of a tent, wrapped in canvas and supported by a wooden frame, with a neat skylight at the center of the domed “ceiling.” While the yurts are unheated, they offer electricity, screened windows, a table with chairs or benches, and access to drinking water. And rather than splaying out on the ground and trying to avoid rocks and roots, you can drift off in a cozy bunk bed. The nightly yurt prices range from $45-90 for Mass. residents and $120-230 for out-of-state visitors.

Still, there’s something timelessly inviting about an old school cabin in the forest, and you can nab one at three DCR sites—the Mohawk and Savoy State Forests in the Berkshires, and Camp Nihan Environmental Education Camp near Saugus (a special-use permit is required to rent a cabin here.) Since the cabins vary by size—sleeping anywhere from 3 to 12 people—they can make the most sense for a backwoods gathering of friends, family, or colleagues. Each contains either a pellet or wood-burning stove, ideal for those crisp evenings in late spring or fall, and an outdoor fire pit and picnic table cranks up the rustic ambience a couple extra notches. Like the yurts, each cabin offers bunk beds and furniture for eating, reading, swapping ghost stories, and more. Nightly cabin rates are $50-90 for Mass. residents and $130-230 for out-of-state travelers.

Step 2: Reserve the Dates You Want

Remember last year, when DCR tent sites, yurts, and cabins were largely snatched up weeks before summer kicked off? This time around, the DCR has adopted a staggered reservation model in which camping accommodations can be booked up to four months before the time of your stay (ex: if you’re angling for a tent site in Nickerson State Park on Labor Day Weekend, you can make a reservation as early as May 3.) Reservations are required for cabins, yurts, and tent sites, so choose your travel dates and book your camping venue(s) as early as your schedule allows. Cabins and yurts will get snagged faster, due to the supply size, but don’t underestimate the demand for tent sites during summer and fall weekends—especially within coastal state parks, which tend to be more popular venues. Camping midweek could allow you a far wider range of lodging choices and if you’re tenting, you can make a same day booking any time up to 2 p.m. EST. All DCR camping accommodations are booked with ReserveAmerica, but it’s easiest to select your preferred camping venue(s) through the DCR directory. Follow the reservation link embedded in each of the DCR’s camping venue pages to make your booking.

Step 3: Pack Wisely

Once you’ve locked in your camping accommodations, the real legwork begins: packing! For a night or two of tent camping at a DCR site, you’ll want a tent with a rain fly (watch out for those July thunder showers), a sleeping bag that ranges on the cooler side (aim for a rating of 30-50 degrees,) and your preferred sleeping pad of choice. A couple of trash bags will make it easier to consolidate your waste and deposit it in the proper receptacle onsite or nearby. Cooking on camp stoves is allowed, but many DCR camping venues also offer charcoal grills for camper use. And of course, you can always drive into town for more illustrious grub. If you’re planning to shack up in a DCR cabin or yurt, plan to bring your own bed linens, cooking ware, and utensils. Onsite electricity will make it easy to charge your phone and other electronics at either of these accommodations (tent campers: consider bringing a portable charger along for your adventure.) Potable drinking water is available at all DCR camping venues, so there’s no need to lug a jug.

Before stuffing it all in the trunk and hitting the local roads, take a gander at the DCR webpage for your camping venue and check for any ordinances involving campfires. You wouldn’t want to plump for a bundle of seasoned wood only to show up and find that fires are prohibited due to the parched landscape. And if you’re planning to link up with friends during your trip, bear in mind that the DCR’s camping policy does not allow overnight visitors to jump onto your campsite, yurt, or reservation. But you can rendezvous in each campsite’s day use area.