Where to Camp in Massachusetts When Every State Park Cabin Is Booked

There are plenty of options left.

ponkapoag cabin

Image of Ponkapoag cabin via Appalachian Mountain Club

If you’ve been thinking of spiriting away to a nice rustic cabin in the Massachusetts countryside this summer—sipping coffee on a porch, savoring a pond or mountain vista, and listening to the murmur of the wind—we’ve got some bad news. Thousands of other people had the same idea.

Summer has barely begun, and already, most of the cabins and yurts within the Massachusetts State Parks network have been booked (except for few scattered Tuesdays and Wednesdays). This isn’t exactly a shock—2020 was a record-busting year for hiking and outdoor recreation. Cabins and similar rural dwellings were difficult to come by, as legions of Americans fled to the verdant open spaces of the backcountry. Now, with pandemic restrictions loosened and the open road beckoning to the recently-vaccinated, this summer’s competition could be even more intense.

But don’t throw your sleeping bag and headlamp back into the closet just yet! Rental cabins come in many denominations, and if you’re willing to do a little extra sleuthing, act fast, and potentially visit a less trodden stretch of the Massachusetts countryside, your cabin dreams may still be realized. For the near term, these are your best bets for nabbing a cozy nook outdoors.

Discover a family or nonprofit camp

Some of the most spruced up cabins nestled throughout Massachusetts are under-the-radar Mom and Pop operations, with decades’ worth of repeat visitors returning for a few days of woodland immersion each summer. Why not join the tradition?

If you’re bound for the Berkshires, consider making basecamp at Bonnie Brae Campground. Tucked in the forest just north of Pittsfield—a stone’s throw away from Pontoosuc Lake—the rustic cabins at Bonnie Brae (from $80/night) are equipped with beds, small refrigerators, picnic tables, and fire rings. (You’ll need to bring your own utensils, and towels for the free onsite showers.) You can wake up to the sound of black-capped chickadees and enjoy easy access to Berkshire gems like Mount Greylock, Bash Bish Falls, and the palatial gardens at Naumkeag.

Or, if you’re fancying an extended stay at a cushier cabin in the underrated deciduous woods of Central Mass, the cabins at Pine Acres Family Camping Resort in Oakham might just be the ticket. The alluring full service cabins (from $1,190 for a week-long rental) feature full-burner stoves, carpeted sleeping lofts for kids, fireplaces, AC, decks with Adirondack chairs, and gas grills. Paired with onsite access to the beaches at Lake Dean, and proximity to Wachusett Mountain State Reservation, you’re ready for a week of wandering and savoring the country.

Want a more localized, hardcore cabin adventure, closer to Greater Boston? The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Ponkapoag Camp cabins (from $88/night) are an unlikely oasis in the shadow of the city—steps away from the floating bridge walk that traverses the pond’s mossy boglands. The cabins here are spartan. There’s no electricity or running water onsite, and you’ll need to bring cooking supplies and bed linens. But the cabin reservation process may be the strangest part of the experience. Ponkapoag cabins can only be booked by snail mail. Simply print and fill out an AMC cabin reservation form, stick it an envelope with a check, and cross your fingers.

Enter the new world of Hipcamp

As millions of Airbnb and VRBO users compete for the handful of rental cabins that are still available, you’re likely to have better luck searching an emergent rental platform for picturesque cabins: Hipcamp. Founded by a prolific camper named Alyssa Ravasio, who had grown frustrated with the cumbersome booking systems for state park campsites in her native California, Hipcamp is essentially Airbnb for tent sites and homespun cabins run by private landowners. The offerings are colorful and diversified, from a sprawling, amenity-rich cabin deep in the Berkshires’ Whitman Woods (from $100/night), to a library sleeping loft with a woodstove and an adjacent tipi (from $119/night), located near Dummer State Park and Mount Monadnock.

Just as you would with any online lodging marketplace, read the visitor reviews for each cabin carefully, and be sure to note the amenities that aren’t included with the rentals you’re looking at. Nothing kills the serenity of summer travel faster than showing up at a cabin after an enterprising day of hiking or kayaking, and suddenly realizing, wait…we needed to bring our own water? Also, be sure to abide by any regional fire bans that might be in effect—especially during the chronic heat of July and August. Hipcamp listings will note this restriction, as needed.

Snag a state park cabin cancellation

The bulk of state park cabin and yurt availability might appear to be gone, but inevitably, some plans will be axed in the weeks ahead, and the Mass. Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) offers crestfallen cabin seekers the option to sign up for email alerts about cabin and yurt cancellations. You’ll need to pounce on these cancellations as soon as they hit your inbox, as the newly-open slots are given away on a first-come, first-serve basis. (Being flexible with your travel dates and being open to a shorter trip will boost your odds of getting lucky.) To get on the cancellation notification list, go to the DCR booking website, select a state park at which you’d like to rent a cabin, and then click on Create Availability Notification in the availability section. You can customize the notification to apply to certain dates on which you’d like to book a cabin.