Summer Escapes! The Great(est) Lakes

Testing the waters across New England, we uncover nine beauties worth their salt—or lack thereof.


DAMARISCOTTA LAKE: Maine Without the Pain

Sandy beaches! Thriving galleries! Swimmin’ holes!

Every year, tourists invade midcoast Maine to OD on picturesque charm and jaw-dropping views of the surf—only to discover that the traffic along Route 1 is a buzzkill and that the ocean is freakin’ freezing. Few have any clue that just a short detour inland lies a more accommodating freshwater haven for swimmers who love Maine but hate hypothermia. (The fish have it right: In late spring, thousands of alewives migrate from the Atlantic to the Damariscotta River to spawn.) About 14 miles long, the lake borders several communities, and vacation rentals are plentiful. Day-trippers kick back at Damariscotta Lake State Park, whose sandy beach and proximity to the ocean give saltwater fiends their fix. The surrounding area is dotted with freshwater swimming holes, and the little town of the same name is chock-full of art galleries. Meaning you can spend your vacation relaxing, then pick up a canvas or two of seascapes to enjoy, throng-free, at home. —Carmen Nobel

DIMENSIONS 4,686 acres | DEEPEST POINT 114 feet | WATER QUALITY Due to fairly high phosphorus content, two of the lake’s three basins are pegged as “average” by the University of Maine. | AQUATIC LIFE Bullhead, large- and smallmouth bass, perch, pickerel | CRITTERS Loons, shrews, foxes, weasels, the occasional cougar (and that’s just the King Eider’s Pub bar scene!) | OFF-LAKE ACTION Pub-crawling; lighthouse-peeping

Photograph by Bob O'Connor

Photograph by Bob O’Connor


PLAY: Take a dip in the adorable freshwater swimming hole at Bristol Dam (off Bristol Road/Route 130, Bristol,, then check out the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse, which looks even better full-size than on the back of the 2003 Maine state quarter (1370 Bristol Rd., Bristol, 207-677-2492, Take a gander at the quirky, gorgeous exhibit of artisanal rolling pins on the second floor of the Woodturning School (10 Cappelletti Dr., Damariscotta, 207-563-2345,

EAT: Chef Rick Hirsch at the Damariscotta River Grill cooks with ingredients from local purveyors, such as Pemaquid oysters from the Damariscotta River (155 Main St., Damariscotta, 207-563-2992, King Eider’s Pub serves casual grub to a lively bar crowd (2 Elm St., Damariscotta, 207-563-6008,, while the frozen treats at Round Top Ice Cream are simply superb (526 Main St., Damariscotta, 207-563-5307).

SLEEP: Settle into a rustic cabin on a private stretch of the lake at Sunset Lodge (call for rates; 2 Sunset Ln., Jefferson, 718-789-9149, The ever-so-romantic Newcastle Inn has gas fireplaces and a guests-only tavern (suites start at $135; 60 River Rd., Newcastle, 207-563-5685,

  • sue

    Rented a cabin there last year, and had a wonderful time. Breathtaking lake. Look at craigslist vermont for some great cottage rentals.

  • Stu

    The lake is breath taking and certainly should be at the top of any list to visit. NH, the country's best kept secret.

  • Karen

    A wonderful place to visit! Have stayed at the Newcastle Inn. The environs and view are amazing, and the hospitality is unmatched!

  • Anonymous

    Sad to see clean, cold Newfound Lake in NH not on the list.$129,900.00&t=&fcla=1

  • Enzo

    I don't think that Cow Island is secluded or quiet. The last time I went past that island in my glastron foreflite, we were hit by hot dog fragments from some camp which had an impromptu hot dog cannon aimed out over the lake. When we got closer to the island to try and see what was going on we came across a 20ft high bonfire with black smoke and about 40 men running around swearing and throwing bag of gasoline around wily nily. One skinny guy had NO CLOTHES on. That island is far from secluded and peaceful. Don't look for any R & R there. Just Stay Away!

  • Chris

    Man from Camp is trying to keep our little Island paradise a secret!!! ha ha ha

  • Anonymous

    The Hot Dogs on Cow Island are the best..not to mention the free entertainment! Will have to go back since we missed the skinny guy that had no clothes on….

  • Rob

    Diving around Cow Island is a real treat! Who knew there would be so much candy at the bottom of the Lake.

  • Chris

    It's the neighbors on Cow Island that make it such a horrible place to live. Such immature behavior! Makes me want to put my house on the market! Hot Dog Cannon NOT INCLUDED in the sale price!

  • Walt

    Cow Island is not the only island that is quiet and secluded. All its neighboring islands, Little Bear, Dow, Wortleberry, et al are places with sparse development density and nice people. Very few of the island cottages are rentals so if you find one, its a good place to be.

  • Rick

    there are plenty of places at or near Long Lake to get a great sandwich, not to mention downtown Plymouth

  • Don

    In operation for 14 years. The best portal to New England's best lake.

  • Paul

    A marvelous resource of information

  • Mary

    I hope Heaven is like Winnipesaukee!!!