Bisected by the beautiful West River, and surrounded by some of the greenest, most gorgeous forests in New England, Jamaica State Park offers a quiet sylvan getaway in southern Vermont. Jamaica State Park is perhaps most famous for its whitewater paddling and rafting opportunities. Twice every year, the Army Corps of Engineers releases water held back by the West River Dam, creating idea whitewater conditions along the West River in the process. Experienced paddlers come from all over the country to make the biennial release.
If you're not into extreme river sports, there are still plenty of options. For most of the year, the West River sports plenty of calm stretches. The waters around Salmon Hole, right in the heart of the park, are a popular spot for lazy floating and paddling. Visitors can go swimming here too. The crystal clear waters provide a respite from muggy summer weather.
The park and its surroundings also host many miles of hiking and mountain biking trails. Take the Overlook Trail for an expansive view of the aptly named Green Mountains, or take the multi-use trail along the edge of the West River. The Appalachian Trail cuts through a section of Green Mountain National Forest just a few miles to the west, and nearby Lowell Lake State Park and Townshend State Park offer some great trails too.
Jamaica's campground has over 30 sites suitable for RVs, plus a dozen tent-only and lean-to sites. RV sites are primitive (no hookups), though the campground does offer some modern amenities. Those with larger rigs and trailers may have trouble here - most sites are capped at 20 or 30 feet. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance.
Jamaica State Park is located just off of VT-30, near the small town of Jamaica. The nearest major roads are I-91 and US-7, which are about ten miles to the east and west of the park, respectively. Routes to the park are paved, though they travel through hilly country and may be winding or narrow in places. Larger rigs and those pulling long trailers may have more trouble getting to the park - though they won't find camping accommodations anyway (length limits on RVs and trailers are set at 20 or 30 feet).
Wet leaves can create slick conditions during the fall, and snow and ice are a potential hazard from October through May. Make sure to check the local forecast before heading out.
Sites at Jamaica's campground are all back-in, though as long as you're under the campground's length limits, you should have no trouble maneuvering in. Pads are all gravel, but they're fairly level. Once you are parked, you'll be within walking distance of most of the developed recreation sites the park has to offer, including the swimming area, the picnic area, several trailheads, the amphitheater, the playground, and the nature center.
Jamaica State Park's campground offers the quintessential Green Mountains camping experience. Tucked underneath a thick canopy of maples, oaks, beeches, ashes, pines, and hemlocks, Jamaica's campsites are well-shaded and provide gorgeous sylvan views. The clear, rushing waters of the West River are just a few hundred feet away.
In total, Jamaica's campground boasts 49 primitive sites. Some of these are tent-only, though most can also accommodate small RVs and trailers (big rigs will have a harder time finding a suitable spot here). Most sites can only hold rigs up to 20 feet long, although a few go up to 30 feet in length.
No hookups are available, though the park does have several freshwater spigots and a sanitary dump station. Sites are all outfitted with fire rings and picnic tables. Other campground amenities include modern restrooms, showers, a small playground, a horseshoe pit, and a volleyball court.
Reservations for sites can be made online or over the phone, with some sites only being available through the latter method. The booking window is one full year.
Unreserved sites, both lean-tos, and standard spots can be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. The campground can fill up quickly during summer weekends and during the spring and fall dam releases, so if you're considering arriving during those times, a reservation is highly recommended!
In addition to campground's standard sites, the park also has 13 lean-to sites available for rent. These wooden, Appalachain-Trail-style shelters are slightly raised, roofed, and closed on three sides. Most shelters can sleep up to eight. Seven of the park's lean-tos are located right along the banks of the West River - the constant, tranquil rushing of its waters provides some excellent white noise when you're drifting off to bed.
Lean-tos, like standard campsites, have fire rings and picnic tables. Those staying overnight in lean-tos will also have access to the same campground amenities (restrooms, showers, etc.) as other campers. Reservations for lean-tos can be made online.
Be sure to bring your binoculars in your motorhome. Jamaica State Park boasts both riparian and woodland habitats, both of which attract a wide variety of birds. From late spring through early fall, look for colorful seasonal visitors in the forest, including cerulean warblers, chestnut-sided warblers, golden-winged warblers, Canadian warblers, scarlet tanagers, and American goldfinches. Hardy year-round residents include tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees, golden-crowned kinglets, and barred owls. Sometimes, the park hosts interpretive hikes or talks on the area's avifauna - they're a great way to learn how to identify some of the park's common species.
Though the campground closes from mid-October through the end of April, Jamaica State Park remains open. The park becomes quiet in the absence of summer crowds, but it is no less beautiful. Winters are long here, and snow is plentiful. Multi-colored autumn quickly gives way to a landscape of white.
There are many great ways to explore this winter wonderland, including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. Green Mountain National Forest, which surrounds much of the park, offers endless opportunities for snowy exploration.
Jamaica State Park, and the forests that surround it, are a playground for photographers in every season. In spring and summer, the forests are awash with green, boasting both magnificent canopies and grand, diverse understories covered with ferns, mosses, and lichens. Autumn brings a spectacular show of color - Vermont's Green Mountains are famous for their fall displays, drawing visitors from around the country and around the world.
Winter brings sparser crowds, but the woods, though bare of their leaves are no less beautiful. Pillows of snow gather on the boughs of pines and hemlocks, while the edges of waterways like the West River turn icy. The top of the Overlook Trail offers a particularly great spot for taking sweeping landscape photos.
Jamaica State Park sports a lovely nature center that features exhibits on local history, geology, and ecology. Stopping by the center is a great way to introduce yourself to the area if you haven't been to New England's woodlands before.
During the busy season (May through October), the park also offers ranger-lead hikes and interpretive programs. If you're traveling with kids, they can partake in the Vermont State Parks' Junior Ranger Program, earning an official patch after completing a few natural history activities.
Though it's relatively small, Jamaica State Park boasts several miles of excellent hiking trails. The 2.4-mile Overlook Trail Loop leaves from the campground and climbs to a nearby hilltop, offering a fantastic view of tree-clad mountains stretching in all directions. The West-River Multi-use Trail, meanwhile, skirts the bank of the West River, following its rushing waters for several miles.
You need not limit your hiking to the bounds of the state park, either. Dozens of miles of hiking trails weave their way across the ruggedly beautiful Green Mountains National Forest. The famed Appalachian Trail, in fact, passes through the mountains just a few miles to the west of the park.
The West River flows through the heart of Jamaica State Park, offering paddling opportunities for the novice and the expert alike. The placid waters around the Salmon Hole, the park's designated swimming area, are a great place for an easy float. Visitors can take in views of sparkling waters and verdant forests along the river's shoreline.
Those more experienced with kayaks and rafts can take on the white waters near the Ball Mountain Dam. Every spring and fall, the Army Corps of Engineers releases the Ball Mountain Reservoir's waters, generating outstanding, if supremely challenging, whitewater conditions in the process. During releases, experienced paddlers from across the country flock to the park.