New England has four distinct seasons and endless possibilities for fun (and history lessons) throughout the region and throughout the year.
The six comparatively small states that comprise New England have much in common but differ from one to the other. All have rich histories that began in the early 1600s, but the landscape varies from state to state—which is why visitors love to come to the region and locals like to stay. Small but densely populated Connecticut has busy cities, pretty coastal towns, bucolic hills, tiny riverside villages, and rural farmland. Tiny and even more densely populated Rhode Island has amazing ocean beaches and a full-of-fun capital city. In Massachusetts, you can’t escape history—unless you’re at the beach on Cape Cod or hiking in the Berkshires. New Hampshire has a short strip of seacoast, but the White Mountains are the main attraction both winter and summer. Vermont’s slopes are ski magnets in winter, while boaters head for Lake Champlain in warmer months. And Maine, which is as big as the other five New England states combined but has less than 10% of the region’s total population, welcomes people from “away” to its long craggy coast.
Top Picks for You
Climb Aboard a Whaler in Mystic Seaport
WHERE: Mystic, Connecticut
There’s plenty to see and do at Mystic Seaport, so plan to spend the whole day here. Climb aboard the Charles W. Morgan, the last of the wooden whaling ships, or wander in and out of the schoolhouse, counting house (an old way of saying “bank”), and more than 60 other buildings in the re-created 19th-century village. Other museum buildings are filled with maps, scrimshaw, figureheads, and other nautical treasures and devices. There are a number of other historic vessels to see too, from sloops and draggers to schooners and a full-rigged sailing ship still used as a training ship.
INSIDER TIPIf you have another day, head for the Mystic Aquarium just down the road.
Swim and Play at Ocean Beach Park
WHERE: New London, Connecticut
Grab your towel and sunscreen and head for New London’s Ocean Beach Park, where a half-mile long boardwalk frames a broad white-sand beach with calm water for family-friendly swimming. There’s also an Olympic-size swimming pool, water slides, kid-friendly rides, a mini-golf course, an arcade, and food concessions. Watch for the boats on the horizon going to and fro—sailboats, power yachts, fishing boats, ferries…maybe even a submarine going upriver to the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton or out to sea.
See Dinosaur Bones and Tracks
WHERE: New Haven and Rocky Hill, Connecticut
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven will fascinate young and old alike. The museum’s halls are filled with exhibits on Native Americans, local birds and mammals, the Earth and its solar system, and gems and minerals. The centerpiece, however, is the “Great Hall of Dinosaurs,” which houses a room-filling skeleton of a brontosaurus and several other reconstructed dinos. To get to the source, however, head north to Rocky Hill’s Dinosaur State Park—one of North America’s largest dinosaur track sites. Estimated to be 200 million years old, the tracks are protected under a geodesic dome, where they can be viewed.
INSIDER TIPVisitors can cast a dinosaur footprint to take home May through October, but the park doesn’t provide all the supplies. Call ahead to find out what you’ll need to bring.
Ride Along the Connecticut River in a Vintage Steam Train
WHERE: Essex, Connecticut
A train ride along the picturesque Connecticut River is a delight for all—particularly because the Essex Steam Train’s 1920s-era coaches are pulled along the tracks by a vintage steam locomotive. The 12-mile roundtrip journey from the 1892 Essex Station to Deep River Landing takes two and a half hours. Throughout the year, special excursions are offered including the Essex Clipper Dinner Train, a four-course meal served in beautifully restored 1920s Pullman diner car and events for kids like the North Pole Express and the Santa Special. On a few special weekends, you can even ride in the caboose.
INSIDER TIPIf you wish, you can board a riverboat in Deep River for a 90-minute cruise, passing by Gillette Castle, Goodspeed Opera House, tiny waterfront communities, and deep-water coves and inlets.
Try Your Luck at a Mega-Casino
WHERE: Ledyard and Uncasville, Connecticut
The second- and third-largest casinos in the United States (according to gaming square footage) are 15 minutes apart in a rural part of southeastern Connecticut. Foxwoods Resort Casino, owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, draws 40,000-plus visitors daily to its huge compound in Ledyard. Mohegan Sun, owned and operated by the Mohegan Tribe, draws only slightly fewer people to its themed compound in nearby Uncasville—a village named for Chief Uncas, the 17th-century sachem of the Mohegans. Both casinos have thousands of slot machines, hundreds of gaming tables, dozens of restaurants and shops, a choice of hotels, and a full schedule of entertainment, sports, and events.
Explore Rhode Island’s “Creative Capital"
WHERE: Providence, Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island’s capital city, is a very walkable, condensed city with a river running through it. On the river’s west side, Downtown’s tall hotel towers—the Omni Providence and Providence Biltmore, for example—punctuate the maze of narrow streets lined with more restaurants than you can count. The hilly East Side of the river is the historic part of the city, where Roger Williams and his followers began the settlement of “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” (the state’s official name) in 1636. Stroll along Benefit Street, past beautifully restored Colonial homes; note the iconic white spire of the First Baptist Church in America, founded by Williams himself. Continue uphill to the picturesque campus of Brown University; Thayer St. leads to another bevy of restaurants and boutiques. Back at river level, be sure to spend time at the magnificent Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which focuses on art, design, and textile projects created by RISD’s students and faculty.
INSIDER TIPIf your timing is right (Saturdays, late-May to early-November), check out WaterFire, an evening “sculpture installation,” where wood-fired braziers positioned in the river are set alight and, of course, attract a crowd.
Relive the Industrial Revolution
WHERE: Pawtucket, Rhode Island
Manufacturing was always big business in New England, and the person credited with starting it all was English-born Samuel Slater (1768-1835), who’s known as the father of the American Industrial Revolution. Slater built the country’s first successful cotton mill in 1793 along the Blackstone River, about 5 miles north of downtown Providence. His secret was dividing factory work into simple steps that even very young children could do—and they did, even though it was often very dangerous. Now the Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark, the site includes the Mill; the Wilkinson Mill (1890) with its full machine and tool shop; a reconstructed water wheel; and a typical 18th-century worker’s home.
See How “the Other Half” Lived
WHERE: Newport, Rhode Island
The 19th century was Newport’s Gilded Age. America’s wealthiest families—Astors, Vanderbilts, Morgans—cooled off by the sea for about six weeks each summer living in “cottages.” Today, we’d call these residences along Newport’s Bellevue Avenue “mansions.” Many of the mansions have been beautifully preserved and are open to the public for tours. The Breakers is, perhaps, the most splendid. The Elms, also quite impressive, adds a Behind the Scenes Tour, where you can explore the servants’ quarters and kitchens.
Ferry Over to Block Island
WHERE: New Shoreham, Rhode Island
Tranquil Block Island comes to life in the summertime, when day-trippers, weekenders, and those who can stay longer descend on what some call “The Bermuda of the North.” Two ferries depart year-round from Point Judith Terminal in the fishing port of Galilee at the mouth of Narragansett Bay. The traditional ferry (55 minutes) takes both passengers and vehicles, although you don’t necessarily need to bring your car; the hi-speed ferry (30 minutes) takes passengers only. The laid-back, pork chop-shaped island, which lies 12 miles off Rhode Island’s south coast, offers a plethora of outdoor activities: swimming at any of “Block’s” 17 miles of sandy beaches (all open to the public), biking to and through nature preserves, gazing at the breathtaking ocean views from 200-foot-high Mohegan Bluffs, climbing to the top of a lighthouse, and fishing or paddle boarding in Great Salt Pond. Visitors can also poke around the shops in New Shoreham, stay in a Victorian-style inn or quaint B&B, eat the freshest seafood you’ll find almost anywhere, or simply kick back and relax.
Swim in the Ocean
WHERE: Rhode Island
It may be tiny, but “The Ocean State” has 400 miles of coastline. All along the state’s southern coast, long strips of powdery white sand face great swells of the Atlantic Ocean. Ocean swimming is always fun at Misquamicut, in Westerly. The barrier island extends three miles from Watch Hill to Weekapaug, but people gravitate to the busy State Beach portion—it has a pavilion, concessions, lifeguards, bathhouse, and restrooms. Farther east in Matunuck, a village in South Kingstown, you can hit the Town Beach or East Matunuck State Park. Bring a picnic to either beach or choose from the plentiful lunch or happy hour options. Then, there’s Narragansett. The Town Beach attracts thousands each day who don’t blink at paying the parking and admission fees, while nearby Scarborough State Beach attracts those who prefer to pay a comparatively small parking fee.
Walk the Freedom Trail
WHERE: Boston, Massachusetts
History comes to life along Boston’s Freedom Trail, where you make your way to, through, and among the sites where the American Revolution began. The two-and-a-half-mile-long marked path links 16 historical landmarks, starting at Boston Common and ending at the Bunker Hill Monument and USS Constitution—nicknamed “Old Ironsides” in the War of 1812 despite being a wooden ship. In between, you can visit two state houses—the current one overlooking the Common and the Old State House, the seat of the British colonial government from 1713-1776; two meeting houses—Old South and Faneuil Hall; two churches—Park Street and Old North (“one if by land, two if by sea)”; and three burial grounds—Gov. John Winthrop is buried at King’s Chapel, Cotton Mather is buried at Copp’s Hill, and Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock are all buried at Granary. The Paul Revere House, Ben Franklin’s statue, the site of the Boston Massacre, and the Old Corner Bookstore are other stops along the trail. Start at the beginning, middle, or end, or simply visit your favorites. It’s your choice, and the walk is free.
Drive Down to “P-Town”
WHERE: Provincetown, Massachusetts
Driving all the way to Provincetown, or “P-town,” is a pleasant venture whether for the day or a longer stay. The trip (one way) takes about 90 minutes, but plan to stop for a bite to eat in one of the delightful residential communities (Orleans and Eastham) or sparsely populated towns (Wellfleet and Truro) you’ll pass along Route 6. If you’d like to take a swim or gaze at the sea, head to the dunes and beaches of the Cape Cod National Seashore before you arrive at your final destination. The lively, historical, colorful, busy, sometimes silly, “P-town” is full of inns, restaurants, shops, galleries, and nightspots. And there’s something going on just about any time of the year.
Learn About Whaling (And Lizzie Borden)
WHERE: New Bedford, Massachusetts
With a deep harbor and convenient mainland location, New Bedford was the most important whaling port in the world during the 1800s. That historical significance is on display at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where exhibits detail the whaling industry, its history, and its impact locally, regionally, and around the world. Step aboard the Lagoda, an 89-foot, half-scale model of a whaling ship and the largest ship model in existence. Another permanent exhibit honors the Portuguese people, particularly those from the Azores where New Bedford whalers regularly stopped to take on provisions and crew; the city still has a significant Portuguese-American community. There are hands-on activities and experiences in The Discovery Center. At nearby 92 Second Street, you can tour infamous Lizzie Borden’s house. The house is now the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast, and the “creep factor” is part of the appeal. Ghosts sightings abound. Some folks love to come for reenactments and special holidays—like Halloween!
Go Back in Time
WHERE: Plymouth and Sturbridge, Massachusetts
Sure the settlements at St. Augustine and Jamestown might be older, but people in New England think of the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, and The Pilgrims when they think of America’s earliest settlements. Plimoth Plantation, on the waterfront in Plymouth, is a living-history museum that replicates this original settlement with a 17th-Century English Village, a Wampanoag Homesite, and the Plimoth Grist Mill. The onsite Craft Center has skilled craftspeople making candles, pottery, and Native American accessories. In the town of Plymouth, there’s also Mayflower II, a half-size floating replica of the original that you can board—it should return to its berth after complete renovations in late 2019—and Plymouth Rock, which marks the spot where The Pilgrims stepped ashore.
Fast-forward to the early 1800s and travel across half the state to Old Sturbridge Village, another living-history museum that re-creates rural New England life. In the village, explore homes, meeting houses, shops, offices, a tavern, a cider mill, a stagecoach; in the countryside, a farmhouse, cooperage, blacksmith shop, school. Then there are mills—grist, saw, and carding. At both Plimoth Plantation and Sturbridge, interpreters in period dress personally interact with visitors and encourage them to join in typical daily tasks like cooking, planting, making crafts, blacksmithing, and caring for animals. Both places are wonderful family attractions and great learning experiences.
Discover the Beautiful Berkshires
WHERE: Berkshires, Massachusetts
The “far west” of Massachusetts is green, mountainous, and scattered with interesting towns and villages tucked into pretty valleys. Stretching from the Connecticut state line to Williamstown on the Vermont border, the Berkshires attract folks who love the outdoors—hiking, rafting, camping, mountain biking, canoeing, fishing, or just strolling through beautiful gardens The region also attracts artists, dancers, and musicians, along with their audiences, to renowned venues: Jacob’s Pillow in Becket for its summer dance performances, Tanglewood in Lenox for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer concerts, and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge to see the artist’s original work on display. And in the fall, the entire area becomes leaf-peeping heaven—particularly along the Mohawk Trail, a 69-mile scenic drive between Williamstown and Deerfield that winds through deep forest, across rivers, and around a legendary hairpin turn. In winter, ski bunnies head to the slopes at mountains like Ski Butternut and Jiminy Peak.
Pass Through the White Mountains
WHERE: New Hampshire
A drive along the Kancamagus Highway (“The Kanc”), a 34.5-mile scenic byway that crosses the state from Lincoln near the Vermont border to Conway near Maine, passes through the White Mountains National Forest—a beautiful ride any time of year but truly magnificent when autumn leaves change color. You can stop along the way to admire the White Mountains Presidential Range or take a hike into the forest. A half-hour north of Conway via NH 16 brings you to the Mount Washington Auto Road in Pinkham Notch; from early May through late October, weather permitting, you can drive to the mountaintop or join a tour. Alternatively, take NH 302 toward Bretton Woods and ride the cog railway to the summit. Once at the top, besides the panoramic views, you can explore the weather observatory. Bring a warm coat and hat. It’s bitter cold and windy up there—even in mid-summer!
Visit New Hampshire’s Small (But Busy) Seacoast
WHERE: New Hampshire
New Hampshire has 18-miles of seacoast that gets really busy in summer. Families flock to Hampton Beach near the Massachusetts border and Portsmouth—the last town before crossing into Maine. Hampton Beach has a broad ocean beach and a long boardwalk with shops, restaurants, entertainment, and attractions. Portsmouth, on the other hand, is a port city that’s also a trendy hub of craft brewing, farm-to-table dining, and fine art galleries. The city is also home to Strawbery Banke, an open-air history museum with a collection that tops a million objects that represent the history of Portsmouth and its busy port for more than 300 years.
Count Covered Bridges
WHERE: New Hampshire
There are covered bridges all over the country—including one built in Ohio as recently as 2008—but New Hampshire has 54 of these iconic American symbols still in use. In fact, the Cornish-Windsor Bridge (1866), which spans the Connecticut River between Cornish, New Hampshire, and Windsor, Vermont, is the only New England covered bridge that connects two states. It’s also the longest wooden bridge in America and the longest two-span covered bridge in the world. The Bath-Haverhill Bridge is the state’s oldest covered bridge (1829), but now it’s only safe for pedestrian crossing. The Sentinel Pine Bridge (1939), perhaps the most dramatic covered bridge, was actually built for pedestrians; it spans a chasm along the walking trail at Flume Gorge in Lincoln. And the picturesque Albany Covered Bridge (1858) in the White Mountain National Forest, just off the scenic Kancamagus Highway, has a granite fishing pier on its north side. See how many you can find–they’re all different, they’re all beautifully preserved, and they’re located throughout the state.
Hike to the Top of Mt. Monadnock
WHERE: Jaffrey, New Hampshire
Surrounded by Monadnock State Park in the southwest New Hampshire town of Jaffrey, Mt. Monadnock (3,165 feet) sticks out like a sore thumb as it’s the highest peak within a 30-mile radius. The mountaintop views are quite extraordinary—particularly when fall foliage is at peak color. On a really clear day, you can see 85 miles southeast to Boston, and 150 miles north to the White Mountains. The only way to reach the summit is by foot, and the miles of trails that crisscross it attract more than 100,000 hikers each year. The short-but-steep White Dot Trail (2.2 miles) to the summit is moderately challenging and takes about four hours round-trip; the White Arrow Trail (2.3 miles) is the easiest ascent. Oddly enough, Monadnock’s top 300 feet, well below Mother Nature’s usual “tree line,” are nearly bare due to a series of uncontrolled fires in the early 19th century. That means the final part of the trek is over bare rock. Tread carefully and carry a big walking stick!
Dock Hop on Lake Winnipesaukee
WHERE: New Hampshire
For generations, families have sought respite from the hot, steamy days of summer at Lake Winnipesaukee in central New Hampshire. The state’s largest lake is 72 square miles, so you won’t run out of space or adventures. Boating is the main attraction, and the easiest, and most pleasant, way to get around. Lakeside boatyards and marinas rent boats—Power, sail, canoe, kayak, or paddle are all options, but easy-to-operate pontoon boats are the latest rage. The lake has more than 250 islands, some mere pinpricks on the map, with “secret” coves, pretty beaches, and mini-hiking trails. Hungry? There are waterfront restaurants in Wolfeboro, Meredith, Alton Bay, Center Harbor, and Gilford.
Ski Sugarbush, Snow, Stratton, and Stowe
Those four ski areas are just the tip of the iceberg…uh, mountain…in Vermont. The Green Mountains, which form the state’s spine, have nearly two-dozen major ski resorts—and even more areas with cross-country trails— snuggled in and around all of the peaks. Ski season here starts in November or December and can last until late March Experts, novices, and whole families flock to these popular ski areas, as well as Killington, Okemo, Mad River Glen, Smugglers Notch, Pico, and Jay Peak. If there’s no snow but temps are below freezing, the snowmaking machines will be pumping out fresh powder. If you visit in summer, most resorts have mountain coasters, zip lines, alpine slides, tubing lanes, and mountain bike trails—or you can ride the lift and enjoy the view.
Working Farm Stays
Have you ever dreamed about spending time on an old working farm? Maybe milk a cow, ride a horse, or sheer a sheep? Several Vermont farmers welcome visitors for a day, overnight, or a few days. In Marshfield, the 205-acre Hollister Hill Farm has a few dairy cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, a herd of Beefalo—and an 1865 homestead. Shelburne Farms, in Shelburne, starts each day with a chicken parade; kids love to collect eggs, help milk the cows, and play with the piglets, rabbits, and baby goats. Liberty Hill Farm in Rochester has about 270 cows, and guests can milk them, bottle-feed the newborn calves, play with the kittens, and pick fresh vegetables. And at Cold Moon Farm, a small working farm in Jamaica, there are sheep to feed, goats to milk, chicken and duck eggs to collect, veggies to pick, and bread to bake. Each of these farms welcomes overnight guests. You can help with the chores or just watch.
Treat Yourself to a Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour
WHERE: Waterbury, Vermont
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield first opened their eponymous ice cream shop in a renovated gas station in Burlington back in 1978—after taking a $5 correspondence course in ice-cream making. They added packed pints a few years later, distributing them to restaurants in an old VW wagon. Today, the Waterbury factory is pretty slick, and Unilever owns the company. Even so, Ben & Jerry’s social conscience remains an integral part of the business—and the ice cream is as good as ever, as you probably know. Head to Ben & Jerry’s Factory in Waterbury, about 25 miles southeast of Burlington, to take the half-hour guided factory tour ($4), where you’ll get to watch the ice cream being made, and sample a big cone of creamy, chunky deliciousness—Chunky Monkey, Triple Caramel Chunk, or whatever your favorite flavor may be—at the Scoop Shop. Don’t forget to pay your respects at the Flavor Graveyard—that’s where failed flavors are memorialized like Rainforest Crunch, Chocolate Macadamia, and Crème Brulée.
Go Boating on Lake Champlain
Lake Champlain—107 miles long and 14 miles across at its widest point—was a main transportation route in colonial times and became historically significant during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Today, the lake is hugely popular for recreation—especially boating. In Burlington, you can rent a sailboat, dinghy, paddleboard, kayak, or canoe—and take lessons—at Community Sailing Center. A little farther north in South Hero on Grand Isle and accessible by causeway, Apple Island Marina rents pontoon boats, kayaks, pedal boats, paddle boards, canoes, and rowboats for a fun outing, fascinating bird watching, or serious fishing. If you’re more of a party type than a boater (or paddler or kayaker), consider a scenic, sunset, or dinner cruise aboard Spirit of Ethan Allen, the lake’s only “floating restaurant.” Cruises and boating activities on Lake Champlain are available only from mid-May through mid-October, however, as much of the lake freezes over in winter.
Sweeten Sugarhouse Satisfaction
Did you know that it takes 40 gallons of maple-tree sap to make one gallon of maple syrup? Vermont produced about 2 million gallons of the sticky liquid in 2017—nearly half of all maple syrup consumed in the United States. You’ll find some 1,500 sugarhouses throughout Vermont—big ones, small ones, and many Mom ‘n’ Pop ones—and most welcome visitors. The best time to visit is during sugaring season in early spring when the days warm up but the nights are still cold. The Vermont Maple Festival in St. Albans, a 3-day annual event at the end of April, marks the end of the sugaring season with contests, cooking demonstrations, crafts, antiques, rides, music, and entertainment. Many sugarhouses remain open year-round, though, to show visitors the process—from tapping trees and boiling down the sap until it becomes syrup to bottling and grading it. And you can always buy some to take home! To find a Vermont sugarmaker, visit the web site of the Vermont Maple Sugarmakers’ Association.
Have a Maine Lobster
WHERE: Ogunquit, Maine
You can’t (or shouldn’t) come to Maine without having a classic lobster dinner, a bowl of lobster stew, or at least a lobster roll. Ogunquit, on Maine’s southern coast, is a picturesque town with its share of good restaurants specializing in the king of crustaceans. At the family-run Ogunquit Lobster Pound, locals and visitors pick out live lobsters from the holding tanks and watch it cook in fresh seawater (the traditional Maine way) since 1931. Over at Barnacle Billy’s overlooking Perkins Cove, you can eat your “wicked fresh” lobster inside or on the deck. And at The Lobster Shack—a real lobstermen’s storage shack dating back to the early 1900s—start with a quart of local steamers or homemade chowder, then get crackin’ on a lobster…or a gigantic lobster roll filled with a full pound of lobster meat. Wherever you choose to enjoy the official state crustacean, come hungry. A pleasant seaside stroll along Ogunquit’s Marginal Way will help you work up an appetite for your dinner—or work it off afterward.
Visit Historic and Hip Portland
WHERE: Portland, Maine
Portland’s historic Old Port is still a busy waterfront with active fishing piers, a processing plant, and commercial fishing boats, but it’s also home to cobblestone streets, eclectic restaurants— Bon Appétit named the city it’s 2018 Restaurant City of the Year—boutiques, and high-end apartments. In the adjacent Arts District, the I.M. Pei-designed Portland Museum of Art (free) has an extensive collection that includes works by Winslow Homer and all three Wyeths, along with European masterpieces by Degas, Monet, Picasso, and others. Nearby, the elegant Victoria Mansion is a 19th-century Italianate mansion (among the first to have central heating and flush toilets). And in the Wadsworth Longfellow House (1785-86)—where the poet then known as “Harry” grew up—nearly all the household items and artifacts are original, and the gardens create a green in-town oasis. If you have kids in tow, including toddlers, they’ll be captivated by the Children’s Museum and Theatre. Or take stroll along the Eastern Promenade, a two-mile paved trail at the water’s edge with picnic tables, a public beach, and panoramic views.
Cruise the Coast on a Windjammer
Pretty Camden and nearby Rockland are home ports for a fleet of owner-operated schooners that take guests on voyages around mid-coast Maine’s rugged coast, peninsulas, and islands. The schooners, built as cargo ships, have been refitted to accommodate passengers; quarters are small, beds are bunks, and the “heads” and showers are usually shared. The route follows the wind and tide, as sailing ships have always done, and the days and nights are unstructured. You can take the helm, help raise and lower the sails, or just sit back and watch for seals and porpoises—maybe whales and adorable puffins—as you sail past gorgeous scenery. These are casual trips, so leave your finery at home—and pack lightly. But it can be chilly on the sea, even in summer, so you’ll need clothes that layer well, socks and rubber-soled shoes, a jacket—and rain gear. The food is good, and each cruise includes a traditional lobster feast. It’s a great adventure for people of all ages.
Explore Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park, New England’s only national park, takes up a good portion of Mount Desert Island—off Maine’s craggy coast south of Bangor and about 150 miles “down east” from Portland. Once at Acadia, drive or bike around the 27-mile Park Loop Road, which passes by Jordan Pond, Sand Beach, Thunder Hole, giant granite boulders, deep green woods, coastal tidal pools, and amazing ocean views. A turnoff takes you to the 1,530-foot summit of Cadillac Mountain (come early to catch the sunrise). Plan to stop at Jordan Pond House for afternoon tea—popovers, strawberry jam, homemade ice cream—on the lawn overlooking the lake. Some 45 miles of carriage roads, crossed by a series of elegant stone bridges, also weave through the park. Designed for horse-drawn carriages, motorized vehicles are still prohibited, but you can bike or hike the carriageway. Other hiking trails abound, too—short, level trails through the woods and to the shore, moderate lakeside trails, and the extreme (and appropriately named) “Perpendicular” and “Precipice” trails. Bar Harbor, 2 miles outside the park, is a wonderful town with restaurants, shops, and lovely inns. Camping is also available.
Really Get Away From It All
WHERE: Rangeley Lakes, Maine
Part of the fun of a Rangeley Lakes vacation is getting there. You drive from Portland into rural western Maine, north through the paper mill town of Rumford, and perhaps passing through Byron where you can pan for gold. As you approach Rangeley, Route 17 passes along the Height of Land, an overlook with a stunning view of the surrounding mountains and hills and pristine Oquassic and Rangeley lakes. Look carefully—if it’s early morning or late afternoon, you may spot a moose. This is outdoors country—hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking in summer; snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing in winter. Two large alpine ski areas, Saddleback and Sugarbush, are nearby, too. Accommodations are in fairly rustic inns, lodges, and motels or at campgrounds. You won’t find high-rises, brand names, or neon lights here, but you will find peace and quiet, panoramic vistas, beautiful sunsets, and a brilliant night sky filled with countless stars.