When I started working at NEMO a year ago, the GO FAR program was one of the things I was most impressed by and excited about. (And most likely to brag about to my friends — sorry, guys.) I can get paid to spend up to 5 days a year in nature using NEMO gear? And it doesn’t even count as PTO? Yes, please!
But, as I often do, I inadvertently turned something exciting into something stressful… I wanted to plan the perfect trip, which felt like a lot of work, so instead I accidentally planned nothing. Then September rolled around and I realized it was about to get very chilly here in New England and, as a Florida native, I am NOT a winter camper. So panic set in and I decided to make a GO FAR trip happen in about 2 weeks’ time. (I know the Marketing Team really loved that. Again, sorry.) (Apologizing to two different groups in the first two paragraphs — I’m off to a great start.)
Anyway, that’s how I ended up taking a very impromptu fall foliage road trip through New England! Spoiler: it was delightful and I regret nothing.
I set out with 3 main goals:
Use as many different NEMO products as possible
There were quite a few items I still hadn’t used myself, including tents! As the tent developer, I want to have personal, real-life camping experience with each piece in the line, and this was the perfect opportunity to rectify that.
I have been a hobbyist film photographer since I was a kid, but I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to it in the last few years. I bring a camera everywhere, but when I’m with other people I don’t often feel comfortable taking the time to get “the shot.” A (somewhat) solo trip was a great opportunity to really let my camera lead the way.
Embrace, rather than stress out about, the unplanned nature of the trip
When telling the Marketing Team, my coworkers, my partner, my mom, my friends, etc. about my last-minute trip, everyone had a similar reaction: stress and concern. (Ed. Note: We weren’t concerned! Just curious 😊.) Where are you going? Where are you staying? What will you do while you’re gone? When will you be back? Have you planned anything at all??
This, of course, made me feel even more stressed. But I realized that I was the one responsible for setting the tone of my trip and I could frame it however I wanted, so I decided this would be a fun, the-world-is-my-oyster sort of adventure, and that’s exactly what it turned out to be!
I had very few parameters. I knew when I wanted to leave, give or take a day; when I wanted to return, give or take a day (or two); that I wanted to see as much fall foliage as I could, and that I wanted to go rock climbing. After I locked down the rock climbing date, I very loosely planned the rest of the trip. And by “planned” I mean I decided to drive in a counterclockwise loop around New England.
I was supposed to leave on Saturday, but it was rainy, I hadn’t finished packing, and I didn’t know where I was going, so I decided to take the evening to finish prepping and start out the next morning. Yay, winging it!
Day One (For Real)
I took the scenic route up the coast of New Hampshire and Maine to Camden, Maine, where I camped in Camden Hills State Park for the night. I got a bit of a late start, so by the time I arrived it was dark. I made a quick dinner, relaxed by the fire in a Stargaze, savored a few s’mores, decided I would definitely be savoring a few s’mores every evening of this trip, and then turned in early with hopes of snapping some sunrise photos the next day.
Location: Camden Hills State Park, Maine
Gear: Dagger OSMO ™ 2P tent, Roamer™ sleeping pad, Disco™ Women's sleeping bag, Fillo™ camping pillow, Stargaze™ reclining camp chair
Fall Foliage Report: Not great. The summer was very wet and all of New England had a less vibrant fall than usual. Coastal Maine was a mix of already brown and still perfectly green.
S’mores Eaten: 3
Unsurprisingly, I missed the sunrise. I was up before dawn, but by the time I got out to the shore, I had missed the actual breaking of dawn and rising of the sun by a bit. Determined not to let my late start get in the way of my fun, I made use of the golden hour by exploring the various shoreline inlets and outcroppings; along with the local marina, town park, and adorable downtown Camden. I also had the seaside cliffs of the state park entirely to myself, which was a great reminder to myself to enjoy the ride, follow my whims, and enjoy the solitude.
I spent a good portion of the day taking scenic detours on the way to White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, where I promptly learned that the website was wrong and all of their campsites were already closed for the season. Thankfully, Franconia Notch State Park is right next door and still had a few walk-in spots available. My partner Sameer lives in Vermont and works an insane schedule, but he was able to meet me for the night which was a lovely surprise. And to add to the fun, by pure coincidence we ended up at the campsite next to two of his very good friends! We had a great night celebrating their recent engagement and raiding each other’s beer coolers.
Location: Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire
Gear: Aurora Highrise™ 4P tent, Roamer™ sleeping pad, Disco™ Women's down sleeping bag, Fillo™ camping pillow, Flyer™ bluesign® insulated sleeping pad, Kayu™ Men’s 15 down mummy sleeping bag
Fall Foliage Report: Better. There were more yellows and oranges as I moved West, but everything we still quite dull.
S’mores Eaten: 1
Rock climbing day!!! A few weeks prior, I had met Rusty Talbot, of North Country Climbing Center, at Granite Outdoor Alliance’s Graniteer event and we got to talking during a climbing session he was hosting. He was kind enough to offer his guiding services when I told him I was going on this trip and wanted to get in some more outdoor climbing — which is how we ended up braving the New Hampshire chill this October morning.
After a short practice route to refresh my skills and get me familiarized with climbing a multi-pitch route, we hiked the mile or so up to the beginning of the pitch… just in time for it to start hailing. We decided to wait it out, but after hiking the surrounding area to stay warm – and, ironically, ending up colder and wetter – Rusty made the decision to call it and we headed back down.
As disappointed as I was, I knew it was the right move and thankfully, we covered a lot of climbing theory and history while hiking together, so it was still a great day for my climbing knowledge if not my actual skills.
To end the day on a higher note, Sameer and I enjoyed dinner in Littleton, NH before heading back to the campsite for the night.
Location: Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire
Gear: 2024 Aurora ™ 3P tent, Roamer™ sleeping pad, Disco™ Women's down sleeping bag, Fillo™ camping pillow, Tensor™ All-Season sleeping pad stacked on top of a Flyer™, Kayu™ Men’s 15 down mummy sleeping bag, a (discontinued, sorry) Puffin™ blanket, Vantage™ 30L (coming soon!)
Fall Foliage Report: Best day yet. The humidity made everything look more vibrant, and watching the fog roll through the valley as we waited out the hail really added to the autumnal ambiance.
S’mores Eaten: 3
After an extensive photo shoot of Sameer making his morning coffee on a Moonlander, while sitting in a Moonlite, (with the 2024 Aurora looking fabulous in the foliage), we were off. The drive out of Franconia Notch State Park was amazing and finally gave me the views I had been dreaming of! From the park, we drove to the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont where we sat on the shore of Lake Willoughby and enjoyed the view despite the rain.
We whipped up a hot lunch before driving up Mt. Pisgah and then trudged, shin-deep, through the fallen leaves to explore some smaller ponds. It was a misty, foggy, fall delight.
Next, we drove through Stowe, Vermont (which is painfully quaint and has the tourist traffic to prove it) on our way to an equally busy cider mill in Waterbury, Vermont. After refueling with some hot apple cider donuts, I was ready to get back to the serenity of nature.
Sameer and I split ways at this point; he headed to work, and I took myself on a leaf-peeping drive, making it as far down the Route 100 Byway as I could before sunset. With a bag full of apple cider donuts and a backpack full of film waiting to be shot, the last few hours of this afternoon had all I needed to end a wonderful day.
That night I decided to stay at Sameer’s, which felt like a nice way to mark the halfway point of my trip, spend a little more time with my favorite person, and give me the Wi-Fi needed to plan out the following day’s journey. (It’s a bit odd to break up a camping trip with a night indoors, but it was worth it for the hot shower alone.)
Location: Burlington, Vermont
Gear: A wonderfully cozy bed
Fall Foliage Report: A mixed bag, but since I covered so much ground I and took multiple scenic drives, it netted out to be one of the best leaf peeping days.
S’mores Eaten: Heartbreakingly, 0
This was a big driving day, and probably one of my favorite of the trip. I set my destination to “somewhere in the Catskills or Albany, or maybe the Hudson Valley.” (As you can tell, the spontaneity continues!)
With that vague North Star in mind, I found a series of scenic roads and headed south, with Ticonderoga, New York as my first stop of the day. I had chosen it somewhat arbitrarily — mostly because it was the best spot to pick up Route 9N and head south — but little did I know I would stumble upon the weirdest stop of the trip: The Star Trek: The Original Series Set Tour!
I had no idea this even existed, but as a lifelong Trekkie, as soon as I saw the sign, I knew I had to find out more! I popped in and was greeted by a man who was absolutely an Elvis impersonator, although I never got the nerve to try to confirm this. He explained that he had worked on a Star Trek set in the 1980s and when he discovered the original set had been trashed, he moved home and spent years recreating it, and then opened the museum.
My head was spinning with the weirdness and absurdity of it all, but I was delighted. After a much longer than expected detour, I hopped back in the car and continued south.
The surprising sights continued as I accidentally found myself driving through vintage neon sign-and-honeymoon hotel heaven. As a lover of all things old and analog, I have been a longtime admirer of the once-thriving tourism of Upstate New York, but I didn’t realize how much of these old relics I’d be able to see from the road as I passed through! These were easily the most stops I made on the trip, but every old sign, funky motel, and boarded-up ice cream stand was just too charming not to stop and admire!
I arrived at my campsite way past dark, but even with the inconvenience of setting up camp in the dark and cold, it was a practically perfect day.
Location: Catskill Forest Preserve, New York
Gear: Mayfly OSMO ™ 2P, Roamer™ sleeping pad, Forte™ Women's synthetic sleeping bag, Fillo™ camping pillow
Fall Foliage Report: Not spectacular.
S’mores Eaten: 2
Today, I awoke with the intent to wander — not necessarily far, but deeper into the area I was already in. I hiked and drove around the preserve I’d camped in, then wound my way to Minnewaska State Park for some lakeside photography and waterfall viewing.
The rest of the day, I let my heart (and Google Maps) lead the way, checking out small towns, rushing rivers, and an insane sunset. I even made time to stop at one of my favorite breweries, Hudson Valley Brewing, and dropped my life savings on a few 4-packs. The day was aimless in the best way and felt so rewarding and rejuvenating.
Location: Hipcamp spot in Tillson, New York
Gear: Hornet™ Elite OSMO™ 2P, Tensor ™ sleeping pad, Forte™ Women's synthetic sleeping bag, Fillo™ camping pillow
Fall Foliage Report: There was still a surprising amount of green on the trees, but the ground had a lovely, crunchy covering of leaves
S’mores Eaten: 4
Sadly, the final day! I swung through New Paltz and Poughkeepsie to appreciate the small-town charm before zigzagging through western Massachusetts in hopes of soaking up the last of the (somewhat mediocre) foliage of the trip.
If you’re ever looking for a nearly foolproof spot for leaf-peeping, The Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway is the place to go. It’s got all the twists, overhangs, riverside picnic tables, scenic pull-offs, and small towns you could possibly ask of a road — and is not nearly as congested as many of the other popular New England routes. Knowing I’d be homeward bound soon enough, I let myself make a few laps on the scenic highway, pulling off at every interesting spot; precariously hopping along ricks in the river to get the right shot; and even mounting my phone to my car hood to get some halfway-decent time-lapses.
The trip was exactly what I needed, and most of what I wanted, which is a lot more than I should probably dare to ask for. It allowed me to reconnect with one of my oldest, dearest hobbies and it reminded me of the joys that come with being alone: making my own decisions, changing my mind, trusting my gut, and doing exactly as I please.
The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it.
Sarah is an industrial designer who designs and develops tents and shelters at NEMO. She is a passionate environmentalist and outdoorswoman, and a hobbyist film photographer.