I don’t normally write campground reviews unless there’s a story to tell or something that stands out. This one, about Salisbury Beach, has a story associated with it. It’s a personal story that goes back over 30 years ago to one of my first camping trips with my family. This trip was notable because it was a camping trip from hell. It was the type of trip you want to forget but can’t because the bad memory is cemented in your brain like an ugly scar.
While returning from a trip up in Maine, I recently stopped overnight at Salisbury Beach State Reservation. This is a large ocean front state park in the northeast corner of Massachusetts. It sits on a spit of land that has a nice 4 mile section of beach that borders the New Hampshire coast. It also has a 400+ site campground right near the ocean. It’s a popular place for people to go who want a beach-side camping experience.
This place was the setting for the camping trip that I mentioned above. In over 30 years, I had never been back to this place. Every time I heard the name of this state park or drove past the highway exit for it, the memory of that trip came back like bad hangover. It was a place that I purposely avoided. Before I write about going back, here’s a quick synopsis of that camping trip from hell.
Camping Trip From Hell
I think the year was 1982. At the time, we were living in central Massachusetts. My wife and I had three young boys. The youngest had just been born earlier that year, the next was 2 1/2 years old, and the oldest boy was 11 years old.
It was around this time that I decided to get into camping as a way to spend vacation time with my young family. I had just bought a new bought a pop-up tent camper early that summer. Although I had taken a few camping trips as a teenager with my Dad, I was a newbie when it came to planning trips and camping with my family.
This trip from hell was one of the first few we took with the new camper. I had planned a beach-side camping weekend at Salisbury Beach State Park.
The first problem with this trip was not making a reservation for a site. We arrived at the park late on Friday afternoon on a busy summer week-end. It took 2 hours waiting in line at the entrance to get a site assigned. By the time we got to a site it was dusk. Everyone was cranky because we had not eaten. Setting up a camper in the dark with hungry kids was no fun.
Then we quickly found out we were camped in party central. All around us were young adults partying like it was New Years eve. Loud music, big bon fires, kids running all over the place, and drunk college students. Really drunk college students. The sites were close together so all this was happening just a few feet from our camper.
My prior camping experiences were mostly in-the-woods type camping. I had never seen anything like this. What made it worse was my young family was in the middle of all this. My wife, who is not a camper and will never be a camper, was beside herself. She had the kids in the camper and was trying to get them to sleep but it was not working. The kids were scared with all the noise. The baby was crying.
I went outside to see if there was something I could do. But it was me against a drunken horde. I walked to the bath house to check it out for a shower. What I encountered there was more of the same – drunken gangs of kids hanging around smoking and vomiting all over the place.
I went back to the camper where I found everyone upset. By now it was about 10 pm – too late to drive home. I told my wife we were leaving in the morning. That helped to shunt her tears. It was a sleepless night for all. We left first thing in the morning vowing never to return to Salisbury Beach. It was a bad experience that we never laughed about in later years. For many years, I harbored feelings of guilt for having taken my young family to such a bad place. And that’s how the memory got cemented in my head.
The Trek Back
Fast forward 34 years. This summer, while at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, a friend mentioned that they had recently camped at Salisbury Beach State Park. My bad memory instantly flashed back when I heard the name.
I hesitantly asked how it was. They said it was great and raved about the campground. I told them that I had a bad experience there with a drunken horde. They told me that the park forbids any alcohol and they didn’t see any such behavior.
Their feedback made me take note. Alcohol was definitely not outlawed back in 1982. But with this rule, perhaps it was worth making a return visit to checked it out.
While driving home from the Fryeburg Fair in western Maine, I decided to split the drive over two days and do an overnight at Salisbury Beach State Park. I was by myself with no young kids or wife. I had my comfortable RV. It was Columbus Day week-end and the weather forecast was for some perfect beach weather. I decided to roll the dice and go back to scene of that bad experience.
Here’s a short vlog about my stay.
I had a much better experience this time. It allowed me to counter balance that bad memory with a more pleasant one. There were no drunken hordes this time. In fact, there were no hordes at all. Just a some couples and retirees in RV’s taking advantage of the nice fall weather. The only sound I heard while I sat out that evening was the pounding surf.
I can now say that Salisbury Beach State Park is a nice to visit for some beach side camping. Fall seems to be a good time since the kids are back to school and the campground is open until the end of October.