We've gathered the most white-knuckled adventures New England has to offer, one for every weekend of our short, sun-soaked summer. So jump out of an airplane. Brave some hard-core rapids. Test your limits screaming down a mountain's toughest bike trail. Trout are waiting to be caught, waves begging to be ridden. How far you push yourself past your comfort zone is up to you. But no matter which challenge you choose, it's time to go to extremes.
Slipping through the tranquil waters of the Sudbury River Valley as the sun comes up in the morning is about as magical and tranquil as it gets. So is gliding along as the sun sets on the Charles. But urban dwellers can do that on any old Tuesday. For a real adventure, why not take yourself hundreds of miles away from, well, everything. Maine plays host to the most extensive and undeveloped canoe escapes on the East Coast, and Mahoosuc Guide Service holds the keys to all of its undiscovered treasures.
The trips explore the famously remote and beautiful Allagash, as well as other northern rivers such as the Penobscot, St. John, and Moose. The best part is that canoers aren't packed away on a huge group trip with screaming kids, splashing water, and inner tubes with beer holders. These guides are the real deal, using traditional equipment (such as cedar canvas canoes and white ash paddles) and old-school techniques (such as the setting pole, standing paddling, and reflector ovens for baking sourdough bread). Make no mistake, you will be paddling and camping in the far reaches of the northern woods of Maine, about as far away from a bed-and-breakfast as you're likely to get in New England. But these guides Â— who are equally comfortable driving a dog team across sea ice in Hudson Bay Â— have traveled with the Cree and Inuit up north and know what they're doing; you may even learn a thing or two. They also offer cultural trips with native Cree subsistence hunters and white-water canoe adventures.
A hot summer day and fishing go together like lobster and butter. But dangling a worm in the water and waiting for a fish to happen upon it is not an adventure sport. Fly-fishing is. Maybe it's the Zen quality of angling, or maybe it's the artistry and tradition of this brand of fishing (some might even say it's the snobbery that goes along with it), but the sport is growing as quickly as the budget for the Big Dig. The bad news is that it's a very technical pastime. Unless you know what you're doing, you'll come up empty-netted and be relegated to telling fish stories for the rest of your life.
The good news is that we New Englanders are lucky enough to have the Orvis fly-fishing school Â— the oldest in the country Â— right in our backyard. There's a lot to learn Â— from casting techniques to tying knots, stream entomology to fly selection, selecting gear and tackle to “reading” the water Â— but Orvis has a two-day (and a two-and-a-half-day) program that will certainly get you started. Or, as the Orvis people put it, help you learn the basics so you can spend the rest of your life refining the craft, which is not a bad way to pass a perfect summer day.
Orvis, Manchester, Vermont. 800-548-9548; www.orvis.com. Rates: $370 for two days; $430 for two and a half days. Lunch included. Lodging is not included, but the Inn at Willow Pond offers discounts for Orvis students. Call 800-533-3533.
If you grew up on a steady diet of Louis L'Amour novels and John Wayne westerns, you've probably dreamed of jumping on your trusty steed, drinking loads of whiskey, and hitting the open range. The reality is that New England couldn't be farther away from the prairies of Texas Â— not to mention those Wild West shenanigans in Dodge. But what we do have is even better: Vermont's rolling farmlands, pristine ponds, hillside trails, dirt country roads, stone fences, and pre-Colonial ruins.
Unless you live in Dover, you probably don't own your own horse, so the best way to get a taste of City Slickers is to take an organized horseback-riding vacation. Hitch your wagon to Kedron Valley Stables, and you'll be assured of not only a fairly hard-core adventure, but also some cushy post-ride pampering Â— think high-end cuisine and quaint country inns. In the past, Kedron has offered six-day, five-night inn-to-inn riding; starting this year, it's offering the same experience for the weekend adventurer. You'll start out with a gourmet meal at the 1828 Kedron Valley Inn on Friday night; ride about 25 miles through the countryside on Saturday, stopping for a picnic lunch; have another delicious dinner and get much-needed sleep at one of three fantastic local inns; and then ride about 15 miles home on Sunday. Make no mistake: These rides are for the high-intermediate to advanced rider only. But, really, did the Duke have fois gras and a massage therapist?
Kedron Valley Stables, South Woodstock, Vermont. 800-225-6301; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.kedron.com. Rates: weekend riding vacations from $350 to $520; six-day, five-night inn-to-inn riding vacations from $1,475 to $1,965. Includes all meals and lodging.
Unless you're an ice climber Â— or a masochist who enjoys having your fingers frozen on cold and wet granite Â— rock climbing is best enjoyed in the summer. And you don't have to head out to the Tetons for excellent rock-climbing terrain; New Hampshire's crags offer some of the most challenging and fun lines in the country. Better yet, the Granite State's best climbing cliffs Â— Cathedral and Whitehorse Ledges Â— are both located in the same area, the winter ski resort town of North Conway.
If you're not a rock jock, you're going to need some help. Not to worry: North Conway's status as a mecca for climbing means it's also a mecca for climbing instructors. There are loads of schools in the town, but the best is the EMS Climbing School. You won't have to worry about some prepubescent cragrat doling out stony advice like, “Just be one with the rock, man.” Here you'll have highly experienced instructors who will try to convince you that climbing rocks is an intellectual pursuit, a mental chess game played out in three dimensions. Sure, you have to use your body, splayed across a towering cliff, as a pawn. But somehow, the instructors at EMS make that seem like a reasonable concept.
EMS Climbing School, North Conway, New Hampshire. 800-310-4504; email@example.com; www.emsclimb.com. EMS offers many classes and clinics, including women's-only and family clinics; visit its Web site for the lowdown and rates. Food and lodging is not included, but there are plenty of hotels and restaurants in North Conway.
New England takes its bicycling seriously. Maybe too seriously. Between the time trials and road races, mechanical clinics, and organized club outings Â— where's the fun? Adventure sports don't have to be all work and no play, which is why taking a road biking tour is the perfect skinny-tire getaway. No poring over maps, no reserving hotel rooms and scouting restaurants, no jumping through the logistical hoops of getting luggage from here to there.
There are countless bike-touring operators in New England, but the one that cruises to the head of the pack is VBT Bicycle Tours. It's a boutique company that shuns the “group tour” mentality, limiting every trip to only 20 people. VBT offers a variety of trips, from island hopping on Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard to riding the coastal roads of Maine. It doesn't hurt that you'll be staying in historic inns and noshing on gourmet food.
VBT Bicycle Tours, Bristol, Vermont. 800-245-3868; www.vbt.com. Rates for New England tours: depending on the tour and its length, from $1,095 to $1,575.
Skydiving may be the ultimate adrenaline rush. It's insanity, really. First you watch videos explaining release-of-liability forms. Then you brave the takeoff and ascent in a tiny Cessna. Then, as you kneel on the floor, the door opens, and there's . . . nothing. Nothing but 11,000 feet of air between you and the trees. So you jump into that air, which rips your jowls back to your ears and pulls your eyelids up to your forehead. For the next 55 seconds, the ground roars up to meet you as you drop 120 miles per hour, reaching a velocity of 1,000 feet every five seconds. Then you pull the cord and float. The view is beautiful. Time stands still, and you have a second to think about what just happened. You start crying. Then you start laughing, and you want to do it again. And again.
If you go, make sure to hook up with a certified instructor: This is not the time to save a buck or two. The Pepperell Skydiving Center is the only full-time skydiving center in Massachusetts or New Hampshire. It offers tandem jumping (in which you are attached to an instructor) as well as a seven-level free-fall skydiving course.
Pepperell Skydiving Center, Pepperell Airport, Pepperell, Massachusetts. 800-SKY-JUMP; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.skyjump.com. Rates: Tandem jumps are $215; the first free-fall skydive in the Accelerated Freefall Program is $300; after that, classes II to VII are between $150 and $180.
Believe it or not, New England boasts some excellent surfing. Of course, you have to know where and when to find the waves, which is no small feat. Many of the best surf's-up weather conditions occur in the dead of winter, which is unappealing if you're a warm-blooded creature. Not to worry: There are waves to be had in the summer, and, frankly, this is the best time of year to learn to ride them.
Long the provenance of towheaded grommets and tanned gods on the West Coast, surfing has been booming in New England as of late. Sure, surfers have long lived along these unpredictable shores Â— but now they're getting more attention. The upshot of all this interest is a boom in surf shops and surf clinics. Which is great news because if you've never waxed up for a set, you'll need some help. There are many places in Massachusetts to take a lesson, but why not head to swish Nantucket while you're at it? The island does tend to pick up more southwest Atlantic swells on its south-facing beaches than other spots along the coast, and the Nantucket Island Surf School Â— which caters to more than Republicans Â— offers private and group lessons.
Nantucket Island Surf School, Nantucket, Massachusetts. 508-560-1020; email@example.com; www.surfack.com. Rates: one-hour private lessons, $60; two-hour group lessons, $80. Prices include all equipment.
Who needs 21st-century technology when all it really takes to have a good time is a cataclysmic geological event? The last icecap thundered down the seaboard of Maine thousands of years ago, leaving in its wake 3,500 miles of newly formed shoreline Â— saltwater inlets, large bays, jagged cliffs, and thousands of small islands. Geologists call this kind of shoreline a drowned coast. Sea kayakers call it paradise.
There's no better way to explore Maine's coast than in a kayak; you can even sidle right up to a sunbathing seal. If you've got all the equipment, head to any put-in along Maine's coast and start paddling Â— you can't go wrong. But if you don't know a hull from a skeg, hook up with H2Outfitters on Orr's Island. The folks who run H2O (motto: “We take fun seriously”) are fun-loving, and the scenery is breathtaking. The outfitter runs various multiday trips to the Harpswells, Muscungus Bay, Penobscot Bay, and Downeast Maine, where you paddle by day and camp out in tents on a wilderness island by night (and you don't have to do the cooking). For high-maintenance types, the company also runs B & B sea-kayaking trips to Sheepscot Bay and Martha's Vineyard.
H2Outfitters, Orr's Island, Maine. 800-205-2925; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.h2outfitters.com. Rates: B & B trips, $495 to $695; multiday wilderness camping trips, $395 to $695. Meals and lodging included.
Cruising the rugged countryside on two fat tires is probably the greatest invention since, well, the wheel. The sport of mountain biking has exploded in New England over the last few years, and while we don't have epic rides like those out West, we do have some pretty hairy terrain Â— steep rock ledges and major root systems Â— right in our own backyard.
While the sun worshippers lube up their backs and hit Crane Beach, summer is the perfect time to lube up your chains and head for the hills. You could take your fat tires to any number of Massachusetts forests and parks (such as Myles Standish), but if you like your mountain biking remote and basic Â— as it should be Â— or you need a lesson and some company, hook up with Back Country Excursions, the first and longest-running mountain biking touring company in the eastern United States. Located in the far-flung White Mountain foothills of Maine, Back Country has access to more trails than Boston has parking meters. Plus, it offers clinics, some wacky weekend events, and a rustic mountain lodge (with its own wood-fired hot tub), as well as a skylit yurt, or Mongolian-style tent.
Back Country Excursions, Parsonfield, Maine. 207-625-8189, email@example.com; www.bikebackcountry.com. Rates: Weekend package includes two days of guided riding, meals, and lodging, $120 to $160.
Hiking and Camping
They call them the thru-ers. You know, the hiking zealots who tramp the entire Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. They look a little crazy Â— like they haven't seen civilization or a comfy bed in many months. They smell. But you don't have to quit your job and hike 2,168 miles to experience the most thrilling section of the trail, the Presidential Range in New Hampshire's White Mountains.
The Presidential Range is breathtakingly beautiful and it's a mecca for peak-baggers. There are numerous summits, including the granddaddy of them all, Mt. Washington, home of the worst weather in America. The best way to experience this stretch of the White Mountains (if you're not David Breashears) is to hook up with the Appalachian Mountain Club, the country's oldest recreation and conservation organization. The club offers many multiday hiking adventures here, with evenings spent at backcountry huts it operates along the Appalachian Trail. Warm beds, hearty meals, and a guide Â— now that's the way to do it.
Appalachian Mountain Club, Pinkham Notch Visitors Center, Gorham, New Hampshire. 603-466-2727. Visit the Appalachian Mountain Club at www.outdoors.org for more information.
Windsurfing is the classier stepbrother of wave surfing. Boarding school prepsters have been windsurfing almost as long as blue-blooded swells have been sailing. And with the hundreds of miles of coastline on the northeastern Atlantic seacoast, New England is a center for the sport.
There are excellent windsurfing spots all along the coast Â— including Plum Island in Newburyport Â— but the truth of it is that you can't really plan a windsurfing trip. Breezes are just too fickle. The best havens for wind junkies happen to be clustered on Cape Cod's defiant arm Â— in particular, West Dennis Beach in Dennis, Chapaquoit Beach in Falmouth, and, the best of them all, Kalmus Beach in Hyannis Â— which picks up thermals and southwesterlies. If you don't know a jig from a tack, you're going to need a hand, or you'll end up in Bermuda. There are loads of shops offering lessons, but if you want to stick close to Kalmus Beach, check out Blown Away Water Sports. They'll get you flying over the water; hitting bump-and-jumps; and kite surfing, the newest fad in windsurfing.
So you did one of the Dead River's high-water releases this spring, the longest stretch of adrenaline-pumping, continuous white water in the East. Now it's summer. You figured that the big water playground is closed, so it's time to lie on the beach.
Real river rats know that the Dryway on the Deerfield River in Western Massachusetts offers New England's most technical white water Â— and you don't need to hit it in the spring. (It's released most weekends in the summer.) If you don't want to run it alone Â— this is Class IV rafting, after all, and certainly not for the uninitiated Â— hook up with Zoar Outdoor for a guided trip through the froth. You'll start right at the Factory Rapid and then move straight on to the Split Hair, a section of the river cleaved by humongous boulders and shooting Class III water. Then there's the infamous Labyrinth Â— an insane drop through a jumble of rocks and roiling water. It's a total blast. If you take the trip with Zoar, you can round out your adventurous day by camping. (The company's Web site offers lodging suggestions as well.)