Camping on Winter Island in Salem

I wrote in my last blog post that one of the reasons we planned our New England road trip was because we wanted to visit Salem. But there was another reason we added Salem to our itinerary: we had managed to book a camping spot on Winter Island.

I still feel like we’re newbies into the RV and camping world, but Winter Island was a place I had put on my camping bucket list because I thought it might be an interesting place to spend the night. Camping on a historic island in Salem, by the sea, it’s hard not to be tempted by this opportunity!

Bench and flag at Winter Island
Welcome to Winter Island!

Winter Island is a small island located near the historic centre of Salem and connected to the mainland by a causeway. The island has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1994. It has a beach, a boat ramp, a lighthouse and the ruins of Fort Pickering.

Waikiki Beach on Winter Island
Waikiki Beach on Winter Island. Not quite Hawaii, but not bad either

Winter Island is closely tied to the history of Salem. It is the location of Salem’s first tavern and first shipyard. In the middle of the 17th century, the island began to be considered an important strategic location and Fort William was built there, in order to protect the port of Salem.


The fort changed names and was rebuilt a few times in the century that followed, until the city of Salem ceded the location to the federal government in 1794. The fort was again rebuilt so that it would part of the first system of U.S. fortifications. The fort was named in honour of Colonel Timothy Pickering, a native of Salem, who served in George Washington’s cabinet as U.S. Secretary of War.

Old door at the ruins of Fort Pickering
You can still find the ruins of Fort Pickering on the island

In the 1930s, Winter Island became a base for the United States Coast Guard, which remained in operation until the early 1970s. In 1972, the federal government turned the island over to the city of Salem, and the latter developed it into a public park and urban campground.


The campground offers 22 tent sites and 28 RV sites. We chose a site near the old seaplane hangar because we wanted to be able to have a view of the sea. As the place also serves as a large public parking lot, there was a lot of traffic all day, which somewhat took away from the charm of the place. But in the evening, most of the cars left the parking lot and the day trippers went back home, and we opened wide the doors of our van to be able to take advantage of the sea breeze.

Van parked by an old hangar at Winter Island
Our camping spot by the old seaplane hangar

What I really liked about our camping experience on Winter Island was the proximity to all the attractions. Waikiki Beach, the ruins of Fort Pickering and the island lighthouse were all located very close to our site. A 15-minute walk from Winter Island brought us to Salem Willow Park, where there are many restaurants and a few arcades. The Salem Trolley passes by the island, thus offering the possibility of boarding it in order to easily get to downtown Salem and its attraction.

It was definitely a quirky camping spot, and the best way to end our New England road trip!

Lighthouse at Winter Island
Last view on the sea before heading back home

For full details on costs, availability and reservations, visit Reserve America.


  1. Looks like an interesting spot to camp, but it’s nice to hear that the island quiets down once all the day trippers leave. I love the picture of the moody skies at the end. On days like that, I’m sure it’s nice to be sleeping in a van instead of a tent!

    1. I agree! It was quite windy on that morning, but it didn’t rain until after we left. It was a convenient location, just by downtown Salem (and not far from Boston too), so we really enjoyed staying there. Thanks for reading! 🙂

    1. Yes, it was a bit odd! But such an interesting place at the same time! I think it’s a good use of a public space, making it available for campers at night, thus boosting local tourism!

  2. I love the names Waikiki Beach and Winter Island juxtaposed. Looks like an interesting place, but the campground seems a bit odd. Thanks for sharing Vanessa. Allan

    1. There is a more typical grassy area for tents and RV, but the site where we were was closer to the water, which is why we picked it. It’s definitely a bit odd (I’m more used to camping in the forest), but it was interesting! Thanks for reading, and enjoy your weekend, Allan!

  3. What a great camping spot, Vanessa. Sometimes the quirky ones are the best ones, and they’re usually cheaper. We would love to follow in your footsteps someday, as you seem to find some great places to visit and camp. Happy travels.

    1. I was definitely an interesting place, and I am happy we went. I love doing a lot of research before heading somewhere, which helps finding these interesting spots! Thanks for reading! 🙂

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