Summer Escapes! 2009: The Great(est) Lakes

| Boston Magazine |

The coast is fine, if you’re into jellyfish, lugging around your own shade, and paying peak-season superpremiums for overnights. But we’re thinking that this is the summer to bag the ocean in favor of New England’s other liquid attractions—namely, its lakes. Well, certain ones of them, anyway: For every shimmering pool, there’s a dozen mucky swamps with pesky phosphorous “issues.” (You’ll want the former.) So to very literally test the waters, we dispatched our reporters to search out the best inland destinations within driving distance of Boston. They came back with these nine freshwater gems, and, for each, an itinerary for the perfect stay. Lake neophytes, rest assured: You’ll never miss the salt.

CONNECTICUT
Lake Waramaug: The Classic

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Squam Lake: The Anti-Winnipesaukee
Lake Winnipesaukee: The All-in-one

MAINE
Rangeley Lake: The Wild One
Damariscotta Lake: Maine Without the Pain

MASSACHUSETTS
Long Pond: The Best of Both

VERMONT
Lake Willoughby: The Looker
Lake Champlain: The Big One
Silver Lake: Mayberry Redux

Also, read The Case for the Lakes.

Sun-dappled hills! Urbane boutiques! Riveting beauty!

CONNECTICUT: LAKE WARAMAUG

THE CLASSIC

Waramaug at sunset.

PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING YOU could want from a lake, in one neat, S-shaped package: Crystal-clear water. Sandy beaches. And it’s named for an Indian chief. It’s practically overkill that Waramaug sits smack-dab in the middle of Connecticut’s Litchfield Hills, one of the most achingly New England areas of New England, with white church steeples and “Washington slept here” signs on every country corner. The topographic layout of the lake showcases the scenery to full advantage, with a shoreline road tracing its circumference and forested hills nudging every vista. Waramaug also has an avid following in the local community, which is dedicated to keeping the place as unspoiled as possible. For nonresidents, a maximum of 20 powerboats are allowed on the water on any given day, which helps keep down the noise and sight pollution and makes the lake itself as undisturbed as the surrounding woods. When a lone scull from a nearby prep school skates across the water at sunset, it’s damn near magical. —Michael Blanding

DIMENSIONS
680 acres
DEEPEST POINT
40 feet
WATER QUALITY
Excellent
AQUATIC LIFE
Large- and smallmouth bass, lake and rainbow trout, pickerel, perch, alewife, bullhead, sunfish
CRITTERS
Deer, raccoons, squirrels, coyotes
OFF-LAKE ACTION
Window-shopping in Litchfield

ITINERARY

Canoes awaiting paddlers.

PLAY: Head to Lake Waramaug State Park to swim or rent a kayak or canoe (rentals $10/hour, $50/day; 30 Lake Waramaug Rd., New Preston, 860-672-6365). When you tire of water sports, just 30 minutes down Route 202 lies tony Litchfield, dotted with boutiques that cater to visiting Manhattanites.

EAT: The upscale Mayflower Inn sexes up New England fare with newfangled flourishes like cocoa foam (118 Woodbury Rd., Washington, 860-868-9466, mayflowerinn.com). The more casual G. W. Tavern has raised French onion soup to an art form (20 Bee Brook Rd., Washington Depot, 860-868-6633, gwtavern.com).

Icons of relaxation at New Preston’s Hopkins Inn.

SLEEP: At Hopkins Inn, weary guests can kick back in Adirondack chairs overlooking the private beach or refuel with some excellent wiener schnitzel from the kitchen (doubles start at $115; 22 Hopkins Rd., New Preston, 860-868-7295, thehopkinsinn.com). To bunk down closer to shore, choose from among 77 campsites at the aforementioned state park ($18 per night; 860-868-0220).

Breathtaking fjords! Bait-taking trout! Nature-loving nudists!

VERMONT: LAKE WILLOUGHBY

THE LOOKER

THEY CAN HAVE THEIR GENEVAS and Lucernes. For sheer mountain beauty, few locales can touch this glacier-carved gem on Vermont’s wild and woolly outer fringes. On Lake Willoughby’s eastern and western shores, the majestic (if unfortunately named) twin peaks of Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor barrel up like battleships on a collision course; between them, dramatic cliffs plummet to the fjords below, doubling as a launching pad for the lake’s peregrine falcons. The water is pristine enough for snorkelers to steal glimpses of the legendary, trophy-caliber trout, and for squeamish waders to keep tabs on creepy-crawlies.

As remote as Willoughby is, the three-hour-plus drive makes it close enough to Boston for a weekend trip. That said, the best time to visit is midweek, when the area is virtually deserted, save for the occasional angler taking in the quietude from sandy North Beach and South Beach. Note: Nudists let it all hang out at the latter’s clothing-optional cove, as do college kids, who take turns on the beach’s rope swing. Those who prefer dives of the G-rated variety are advised to instead head to Devil’s Rock, halfway down the east bank. —Michael Blanding

DIMENSIONS
1,653 acres
DEEPEST POINT
308 feet
WATER QUALITY
Pristine
AQUATIC LIFE
Rainbow trout, lake trout, salmon, yellow perch, rainbow smelt
CRITTERS
Black bears, deer, coyotes, bobcats, falcons, foxes, moose
OFF-LAKE ACTION
Moderate mountaineering; pizza-partying in nearby Newport

ITINERARY

PLAY: Hike the four-mile trail up Mount Pisgah for bird’s-eye views (trailhead off Route 5A, Westmore), or take to the water in a canoe or kayak from East Burke Sports($20/half day, $30/day; Route 114, East Burke, 802-626-3215, eastburkesports.com).

Newport’s Lago Trattoria, offering thin-crust pizza and other Italian faves.

EAT: Dining options around Westmore, the main drag, are decent but limited. We recommend making the 25-minute drive to Lago Trattoria for top-notch lakeside Italian (95 Main St., Newport, 802-334-8222, lagotrattoria.com), or the half-hour jaunt to creative casual eats at the high-energy River Garden Café (427 Main St., East Burke, 802-626-3514, rivergardencafe.com).

SLEEP: WilloughVale Inn is a laid-back B&B with gas fireplaces, Jacuzzis, and lake vistas (doubles start at $155; cottages start at $1,710 per week; 793 Rte. 5A, Westmore, 800-594-9102, willoughvale.com).

Low-impact boating! Old-money vibe! Great cinematography!

NEW HAMPSHIRE: SQUAM LAKE

THE ANTI-WINNIPESAUKEE


BETTER KNOWN AS ITS FILM alter ego, Golden Pond, the real Squam is just as WASPy and nostalgically naturalist as the Fonda-Hepburn classic. In summer, New Hampshire’s second-largest lake is a blue-green ripple of forested islands and old-money estates discreetly tucked away from stretches of untrampled shoreline. Geographically, Squam sits 10 miles northwest of Winnipesaukee; culturally, it’s closer to a million. Noisy jet skis and oily-fumed cigarette speedboats are banned here, and the booze-’n’-fireworks riffraff prefers the ecumenical trashiness of that other lake’s Weirs Beach. Boating is generally low-impact, with the rare mahogany Chris-Craft zipping along. Not for beach lovers, Squam’s shoreline is rocky and shallow, so most swimming is done off boats or docks. Nearby Holderness and Center Harbor are home to farm stands and a few small shops, but the lake’s main attractions are noncommercial: sunning, berry picking, trailing a hand through the water as someone else paddles. Evenings wind down to the call of a loon, the clink of ice cubes in a gin and tonic, and conversation against a radio turned low. Pack nothing fashionable. —Katherine Bowers

DIMENSIONS
6,765 acres
DEEPEST POINT
98 feet
WATER QUALITY
Excellent. Unlike smaller lakes that turn warm and murky by July, Squam stays in the refreshing mid-70s through summer.
AQUATIC LIFE
Chain pickerel, bass, lake trout, rainbow trout, salmon, yellow perch, white crappie
CRITTERS
Blue herons, deer, moose, hawks, loons, several duck species, ospreys
OFF-LAKE ACTION
Al fresco science lessons; On Golden Pond rubbernecking

ITINERARY

Live-animal tours at the Natural Science Center.

PLAY: Eagle Cliff, a short but steep climb with a glorious vista payoff, is our pick of Squam’s 50 miles of hiking trails (trailhead off Bean Road, Sandwich). The Squam Lakes Natural Science Center has animal exhibits, botanical gardens, and lake cruises ($9–$13; 23 Science Center Rd., Holderness, 603-968-7194, nhnature.org).

Rental canoes at the ready.

Instead of sweating the buoy lanes and treacherous reefs, charter a captained craft from Experience Squam for swimming, hitting fishing spots, or ogling On Golden Pond locations (starting at $115/hour; Walter’s Basin dock, Holderness, 603-968-3990, experiencesquam.com).

Abondante in Meredith.

EAT: Go gourmet at Abondante, a Tuscan-style trattoria near Winnipesaukee. The Mug, a family-friendly pub, serves superb thin-sliced roast beef (62 Daniel Webster Hwy., Center Harbor, 603-279-8596, themugrestaurant.com).

SLEEP: Rockywold-Deephaven Camps offers clay tennis courts, group activities, and communal meals; some families have been summering here for five generations (doubles start at $245; cottages start at $2,825 per week; 18 Bacon Rd., Holderness, 603-968-3313, rdcsquam.com). For a charm-laden B&B, try Squam Lake Inn (doubles start at $160; Route 3 at Shepherd Hill Road, Holderness, 800-839-6205, squamlakeinn.com).

Peace and quiet! Sludge-free swimming! Camera-ready quaintness!

VERMONT: SILVER LAKE

MAYBERRY REDUX

A summer idyll on Silver Lake.

NESTLED IN THE VILLAGE OF Barnard, Vermont, Silver Lake feels as if it’s auditioning for The Andy Griffith Show at every turn. Location scouts should start at the general store, with its retro ice cream counter; just outside, old-timers cast their lines. The sandy strip of beachfront provides opportunities for castle-building (and for B-roll footage of same), and day-trippers can rent rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and paddleboats in photogenic colors. Meanwhile, Opie understudies catch bullfrogs, wade around the cattails, trap tiny fish, and chase butterflies. Truly a family-vacation hub, Silver Lake tends to attract the same cast of characters year after year. To add to the Mayberry-esque perfection, the water is among the cleanest in the country, making it a premium swimming spot. All that’s missing (as of press time) is the whistled theme song. —Kara Miller

DIMENSIONS
84 acres
DEEPEST POINT
32 feet
WATER QUALITY
Brisk and clear
AQUATIC LIFE
Bass, perch, trout
CRITTERS
Loons, ducks, turtles, beavers
OFF-LAKE ACTION
Live glass-blowing and pot-throwing

ITINERARY

The Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.

PLAY: In nearby Woodstock, be sure to check out the spectacular Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, which features a working farm, a former Rockefeller mansion, and 20 miles of bucolic trails and carriage roads that crisscross the slopes ofMount Tom. (54 Elm St., Woodstock, 802-457-3368, nps.gov/mabi). At the Simon Pearce showroom in Quechee, glass blowers and potters demonstrate their artistry for visitors (1760 Quechee Main St., Quechee, 802-295-2711, simonpearce.com).

Picnic morsels at Barnard General Store.

EAT: We’re crazy about the hearty Turkey-in-the-Orchard sandwich (roast turkey, cranberry chutney, and Vermont cheddar, plus the crunch of sliced apple) on offer at the Barnard General Store (6231 Rte. 12, Barnard, 802-234-9688, barnardgeneralstore.com). Overlooking a massive waterfall, the award-winning restaurant at Simon Pearce serves gourmet fare such as lobster spring rolls and free-range duck.

The Applebutter Inn.

SLEEP: The adorable Applebutter Inn, housed in a historic 1850s Federal-style home, dishes up a heavenly breakfast: lemon pancakes, cheese soufflés, and bowls of local blueberries. (doubles start at $100; 7511 Happy Valley Rd., Woodstock, 802-457-4158, applebutterinn.com).

DIMENSIONS
84 acres
DEEPEST POINT
32 feet
WATER QUALITY
Brisk and clear
AQUATIC LIFE
Bass, perch, trout
CRITTERS
Loons, ducks, turtles, beavers
OFF-LAKE ACTION
Live glass-blowing and pot-throwing

Ritzy retreats! Honky-tonk thrills! Everything in between!

NEW HAMPSHIRE: LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE

THE ALL-IN-ONE

SUMMER-GETAWAY SNOBS TEND to roll their eyes at Winnipesaukee. (For an example, click here.) “So touristy!” they sniff, as though the 44,586-acre mammoth began and ended with Weirs Beach and its constant thrum of aggressively unpretentious activity. In fact, there’s a lot more to this sapphire-blue giant of New Hampshire’s famed Lakes Region. Its 240-mile shoreline cuts back into myriad inlets and coves, creating mini destinations that offer a variety of scenes and amenities. Feel like rubbing shoulders with world leaders? Head to Wolfeboro, on the eastern shore. Or rub shoulders with absolutely nobody on secluded Cow Island. Booming boardwalks and nature walks, campsite cooking and white-linen cuisine, tents and cottages and gracious resorts—Winnipesaukee’s big enough for it all. —Danielle Jacoby

MEREDITH
for epicurean delights
Meredith’s comely Main Street features traditional white clapboard buildings brightened by a bouquet of colorful boutiques and galleries. The real draw, though, is the town’s profusion of restaurants, as exemplified by swank Italian trattoria Abondante and summer-fare specialist Town Docks.

COW ISLAND
for no-frills r&r

Tucked into an eastern pocket of Winnipesaukee, Cow Island has zero cars and a limited number of rentals. The warble of a shore bird at dusk, the rustle of deer along the shoreline—for urban dwellers in need of respite, they’re the sounds of a great escape.

WEIRS BEACH
for nonstop action

Buzzing with penny arcades, miniature golf, go-carts, bowling, and bumper cars, Weirs Beach is the kind of place kids (and certain adults) go wild for. The honky-tonk atmosphere ratchets up during Laconia Motorcycle Week, which this year starts 6/13.

MELVIN VILLAGE
for unmatched scenery

A photographer’s dream, Melvin Village in Tuftonboro comprises winding back roads, historic homesteads, and views of the water and mountains that go from attractive to awe-inspiring as you climb the 80-foot-high Abenaki Tower.

WOLFEBORO
for old-school hobnobbing

We’re not saying the French are finicky, exactly, but having Nicolas Sarkozy opt to spend his summer in Wolfeboro two years ago certainly attests to the savoir-faire of this waterfront village, the oldest summer resort in America. Winsome B&Bs, gourmet eateries, and the long-running Great Waters Music Festival (beginning 7/10) lend the local scene ample verve.

ALTON BAY
for water-sports adventures

Amid Winnipesaukee’s 72 square miles of water, the placid surface of Alton Bay offers the best staging ground for sports: Sheltered from the lake’s broader, windier expanse, it’s practically custom-made for boating, tubing, water-skiing, and the like. Visiting families rest up for the next day’s activities in lakeside inns and rental cottages.

When in Winnipesaukee…

STAY

1. WOLFEBORO INN: 1812 gem boasting sweeping water views and a short stroll to town. Doubles start at $200; 90 N. Main St., Wolfeboro, 603-569-3016, wolfeboroinn.com.

2. TUC’ ME INN: Seven-room B&B outfitted with four-posters. Doubles start at $165; 118 N. Main St., Wolfeboro, 603-569-5702, tucmeinn.com.

3. BAY SIDE INN: Smack-dab on Alton Bay, with watercraft rentals to boot. Doubles start at $150; 86 Rte. 11D, Alton Bay, 603-875-5005, bayside-inn.com.

4. LAKE OPECHEE INN & SPA: Historic mill building transformed into a pamper-yourself getaway. Rooms starting at $199; 62 Doris Ray Ct., Lakeport, 603-524-0111, opecheeinn.com.

5. CHURCH LANDING AT MILL FALLS: 57-room lodge that blends rustic with refined. Doubles start at $259; 312 Daniel Webster Hwy., Meredith, 800-622-6455, millfalls.com.

6. PINE VIEW LODGE: Retro motel, recently renovated. Rooms start at $79; 427 Rte. 109, 603-544-3800, Melvin Village, newhampshirelodging.com.

EAT

7. GARWOODS: Reliably yummy pasta and seafood, with seating on the dock. 6 N. Main St., Wolfeboro, 603-569-7788, garwoodsrestaurant.com.

8. LYDIA’S CAFÉ: High-octane espresso and coffee alongside breakfast and lunch fare. 33 N. Main St., Wolfeboro, 603-569-3991.

9. WILLIAM TELL INN: Wiener schnitzel and sauerbraten from family recipes. 1602 Mount Major Hwy. (Rte. 11), Alton Bay, 603-293-8803, thewilliamtellinn.com.

10. SHIBLEY’S AT THE PIER: Amped-up lakeside dining (think seared ahi tuna with wasabi coleslaw). 42 Mount Major Hwy. (Rte. 11), Alton Bay, 603-875-3636, shibleysatthepier.com.

11. DONNA JEAN’S DINER: Friendly purveyor of hearty breakfasts. 1208 Weirs Blvd., Laconia, 603-366-5996.

12. ABONDANTE: Elegant Tuscan-style trattoria with its own bakery. 30 Main St., Meredith, 603-279-7177, abondantenh.com.

13. GIUSEPPE’S: Tasty pizza served amid old-school dĂ©cor. Mill Falls Marketplace, Routes 3 and 25, Meredith, 603-279-3313, giuseppesnh.com.

14. TOWN DOCKS: Lobster, fried clams, and other summer faves. 289 Daniel Webster Hwy., Meredith, 603-279-3445, thecman.com.

PLAY

15. ANGLING ADVENTURES: Fishing excursions with all the gear plus a seasoned guide. 79 Middleton Rd., Wolfeboro, 603-569-6426, gadaboutgolder.com.

16. M/S MOUNT WASHINGTON: Scenic tours by day, dinner dances by night, aboard an iconic charter. 211 Lakeside Ave., Weirs Beach, Laconia, 603-366-5531, cruisenh.com.

17. COBBLE MOUNTAIN STABLES: Bucolic trail rides 15 minutes from the Weirs Beach bustle. 719 Cherry Valley Rd. (Rte. 11A), Gilford, 603-293-4341, cobblemountainstables.com.

18. KNIGHT’S POND CONSERVATION AREA: Hiker’s and picnicker’s paradise set on 300-plus woodland acres. Rines Road (off Rte. 28), Alton.

19. MOUNT MAJOR: Spectacular views that reward the steep climb to the summit. Trailhead off Route 11, Alton.

20. MEREDITH MARINA: Generous stock of boat rentals, including jet skis and bow-riders. 2 Bayshore Dr., Meredith, 603-279-7921, meredithmarina.com.

21. OAK HILL GOLF COURSE: Semiprivate nine-hole, par-34 course with unlimited-play deals. 159 Pease Rd., Meredith, 603-279-4438, oakhillgc.com.

22. CASTLE IN THE CLOUDS: 5,500-acre historic estate offering tours and live jazz performances at sunset. 455 Old Mountain Rd. (Rte. 171), Moultonborough, 603-476-5900, castleintheclouds.org.

Sherbety sunsets! Moose on the loose! Little miss wood chip!

MAINE: RANGELEY LAKE

THE WILD ONE

DAZZLING SUNSETS ARE REASON enough to visit Rangeley, one of a cluster of lakes and rivers found in the hilly northwest corner of Maine. The fishing’s not bad, either: For trout, it doesn’t get much better than this, and the illustrious Gray Ghost fishing tie was even invented by a local. But it’s the chance to commune with four-legged fauna that’s the main draw for city folk who travel to the Rangeley Lakes Region. “Most who come here are anticipating seeing a moose, and if they don’t, they’ll come in asking where they can find one,” says Wess Connally, proprietor of Books, Lines & Thinkers, a bookstore in the town of Rangeley, which borders the lake to the north and east. They’re rarely disappointed. Moose occasionally wander through this hamlet, even in July and August, when its population balloons with seasonal visitors, including Weimaraner-obsessed photographer William Wegman and Toscanini’s owner Gus Rancatore. The town fills its summers with events that reflect its woodsy heritage. The Logging Museum Festival in July, for example, features an event called “the burying of the bean-hole beans” and the crowning of Little Miss Wood Chip. —Carmen Nobel

DIMENSIONS
6,000 acres
DEEPEST POINT
149 feet
WATER QUALITY
Cool, crystalline, and well oxygenated (meaning it’s full of, but doesn’t smell like, fish)
AQUATIC LIFE
Brown trout, salmon
CRITTERS
Bald eagles, black bears, foxes, herons, loons, moose, ospreys
OFF-LAKE ACTION
Wilderness movie night; logging-lore immersion

ITINERARY

Books, Lines & Thinkers, the go-to in Rangeley for summer reads and moose-sighting updates.

PLAY: Explore (carefully) the stretch of Route 16 that runs between the towns of Stratton and Rangeley, called Moose Alley for good reason. Take the hourlong hike up Bald Mountain for panoramic views of Rangeley Lake; way-more-fun-to-say Mooselookmeguntic Lake is also visible from the summit (trailhead off Bald Mountain Road, Oquossoc). On a clear night, soak up the sunset from any overlook on Rangeley’s Dallas Hill Road. The single-screen Lakeside Theater shows independent films—although it has a metal roof, so things can get interesting during a rainstorm (2493 Main St., Rangeley, 207-864-5000, rangeleymovies.com).

EAT: The restaurant at Loon Lodge serves simple gourmet American cuisine (16 Pickford Rd., Rangeley, 207-864-5666, loonlodgeme.com), while the kid-friendly Red Onion makes a Reuben pizza that sounds weird, tastes great (2515 Main St., Rangeley, 207-864-5022, rangeleyredonion.com).

Gourmet restaurant and genteel hotel Loon Lodge.

SLEEP: The campground at the 869-acre Rangeley Lake State Park has waterfront sites and actual bathrooms with hot showers ($28.75 per night; South Shore Drive, Rangeley, 207-864-3858, campwithme.com). Those who prefer beds to sleeping bags should reserve a lake-view room at the aforementioned Loon Lodge (call for rates).

Saltwater proximity! Shady pines! Cape cod cachet!

MASSACHUSETTS: LONG POND

THE BEST OF BOTH

IMAGINE, FOR THE SAKE OF argument, that you’ve long fancied giving lake country a try, but your ocean-addicted family—boat-loving Cape bunnies who insist on using “summer” as a verb—always nix the idea. This year (purely hypothetically), suggest Long Pond, and you’ll be able to pick off every counterargument like an expert marksman. A mere four miles from the nearest saltwater beach, it’s an excellent choice for weaning the brood off sodium without going cold-turkey in some landlocked Vermont forest. The 6.4 miles of pine-shaded shoreline spans the towns of Brewster and Harwich, for anyone requiring a quick social fix. Not that they will; frankly, the pond action will draw them in. There are two main beaches—one off Crowells Bog Road, the other off Long Pond Road—both of which have lifeguards and clearly delineated swimming areas during peak season, so let the kiddies have at it. Three ramps make this lake pleasure-boating central, and the beautifully laid-out Cape Cod Bike Trail provides picturesque workout opportunities, plenty of bike racks, and—if you really must—an escape route to the coast. —Laurie Wilson

DIMENSIONS
716 acres
DEEPEST POINT
66 feet
WATER QUALITY
Clear, cold, well oxygenated
AQUATIC LIFE
Bass, perch, pickerel, salmon, smelt
CRITTERS
Black ducks, blue herons, hawks
OFF-LAKE ACTION
Seaside biking; lobster-roll scarfing

ITINERARY

PLAY: Rent bicycles at the Bike Depot (starting at $15/half day, $25/day; 11 Pleasant Lake Ave., Harwich, 508-776-5805) or Brewster Bike (starting at $10 for two hours; 442 Underpass Rd., Brewster, 508-896-8149, brewsterbike.com). The stretch of 6A that snakes through Brewster is flanked by great antiques stores, providing a rainy-day respite.

Picnic provisioner Pleasant Lake General Store.

EAT: Pick up sandwiches and other sustenance at Pleasant Lake General Store (403 Pleasant Lake Ave., Harwich, 508-432-5305), or sit outside on the patio at Brax Landing and munch on meaty lobster rolls while admiring the parade of boats in Saquatucket Harbor (705 Rte. 28, Harwich Port, 508-432-5515, braxlanding.com).The Brewster FishHouse is a solid option for chowder, fish sandwiches, and burgers (2208 Main St., Brewster, 508-896-7867).

The Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club in Brewster.

SLEEP: For elegance sans snootiness, check into the Ocean Edge Resort & Golf Club (doubles start at $200; 2907 Main St., Brewster, 508-896-9000, oceanedge.com). A cheaper option: Seadar Inn, in a prime location (doubles start at $135; One Braddock Ln., Harwich Port, 508-432-0264, seadarinn.com).

Sandy beaches! Thriving galleries! Swimmin’ holes!

MAINE: DAMARISCOTTA LAKE

MAINE WITHOUT THE PAIN

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

ITINERARY

PLAY: Take a dip in the adorable freshwater swimming hole at Bristol Dam (off Bristol Road/Route 130, Bristol, bristolparks.org), 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, lighthouse.cc). 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, woodturningschool.org).

Group dining at Sunset Lodge.

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, damariscottarivergrill.com). King Eider’s Pub serves casual grub to a lively bar crowd (2 Elm St., Damariscotta, 207-563-6008, kingeiderspub.com), while the frozen treats at Round Top Ice Cream are simply superb (526 Main St., Damariscotta, 207-563-5307).

The romance-ready Newcastle Inn.

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, sunsetlodge.org). 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, newcastleinn.com).

Bass fishing! Museum-hopping! Legendary sea monsters!

VERMONT: LAKE CHAMPLAIN

THE BIG ONE

FOR A FEW HEADY WEEKS IN 1998 this Vermont sparkler—New England’s largest—enjoyed the status of “Great Lake,” as conferred by the U.S. Senate. Then the other Great Lakes kicked up a fuss, and it was disinvited from the club. Whatever. Gallon for gallon, Lake Champlain has more going on, above and below the surface, than do its cliquish cousins to the west. There’s plenty of swimming and sunning spots, led by the popular Sand Bar State Park in Milton, but those who are burned out on the beach scene can boost their lakes IQ with some culture-dipping: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and the Shelburne Museum are history-geek heaven, while an underwater historic preserve gives Cousteau acolytes nine shipwrecks to scuba-dive (keep an eye out for Champ, the local sea monster). Vermont’s biggest city, Burlington, and smallest, Vergennes, both merit a visit. The former boasts a recently renovated waterfront park with a bike path, aquarium, boat rentals, and restaurants; the latter, about half an hour south, has a funky main street, renovated opera house, and artisan chocolatier. These and other lakeside burgs are in hospitality overdrive this year, the 400th anniversary of Lake Champlain’s discovery, with the party beginning in earnest this summer. (Guess who won’t be invited.) —Marialisa Calta

DIMENSIONS
271,000 acres
DEEPEST POINT
400 feet
WATER QUALITY
Generally good; beaches occasionally closed due to high bacterial counts
AQUATIC LIFE
Bass, trout, pickerel, bullhead, channel catfish, yellow perch, salmon
CRITTERS
Cormorants, turtles, bald eagles, shrikes, terns, upland sandpipers, moose
OFF-LAKE ACTION
Burlington nightlife; sleeping like a Vanderbilt

ITINERARY

The Inn at Shelburne Farms, a one-time Vanderbilt summer home.

PLAY: Ferries make for a boating excursion on the cheap, or you can rent a sailboat, canoe, or kayak from the Community Sailing Center (rates vary; One Lake St., Burlington, 802-864-2499, communitysailingcenter.org). Lake Champlain is renowned for its bass fishing tourneys, a.k.a. “NASCAR on water”; amateurs can cast a line offBurlington’s fishing pier.

Ship-worthy pleasures at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

EAT: Options are manifold, but two reliable bets are the Black Sheep Bistro (253 Main St., Vergennes, 802-877-9991), which welcomes diners with a paper cone of fries and appetizing bistro fare, and A Single Pebble (133-35 Bank St., Burlington, 802-865-5200, asinglepebble.com), which deals in classic, not staid, Chinese cuisine.

SLEEP: We recommend the Inn at Shelburne Farms, a former Vanderbilt summer cottage turned luxury lodging (doubles start at $150; 1611 Harbor Rd., Shelburne, 802-985-8498, shelburnefarms.org).

THE CASE FOR LAKES

#1. THE TRAFFIC

You, the jamoke driving to Cape Cod on an average day: Enjoy your crawl along Route 6 with some 52,000 other vehicles. You, the genius driving to Rangeley Lake in Maine: Wave amicably to Route 4′s 10,000 other enlightened motorists (and odd wayward moose).

#2. THE RELAXATION FACTOR

Those foaming, crashing waves—the ocean is dressed to titillate in the most obvious way. There’s just something tacky in all that storming and carrying-on. Lakes, by contrast, play the coquette, gazing shyly from the woods, the birches around their fringes fluttering like eyelashes.

Okay, I stole that last bit from Thoreau. But there’s a guy who knew his bodies of water, having spent the better part of two years beside one. “A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature,” he wrote in Walden. “It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”

Isn’t that the point? No one goes to the ocean to navel-gaze. The ocean inspires grand imaginings of sailing forth like Ulysses to explore the world and…blah, blah, blah. All well and good if it weren’t for the three kids and two bosses riding us hard in this one.

Oceans jazz us up, agitate. Lakes relax us. Lakes are crossable. Lakes are about diving into ourselves. Looking out onto a surface as shiny and flat as mica, a can of Bud in one hand, we smooth our internal ripples. At least until the Bud kicks in.

#3. THE WATER TEMPS

The sun is out of its depth when it comes to the Atlantic, ensuring that ocean temps barely nudge out of the 60s. (Goose bumps and bikinis: not a good look.) Our relatively shallow lakes soak up the rays like wanton sunbathers, heating into the upper 70s, even into the 80s.

#4. THE SWIMMING PARTNERS

Oceans have flesh-eating sharks and jellyfish whose yicky, gelatinous bodies are churning with stinging venom. Lakes have turtles.

Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2009/05/summer-escapes-2009/