New England Travel: New England's Best Small Towns


Because… you can go a little wild.


By Amy Sutherland

Traditional New England towns, with their trim black shutters and tidy village greens, can make me a little claustrophobic, what with all that historic perfection closing in. My antidote to the overdose of quaintness is Rangeley, a place that looks like what it is: an afterthought. Just a dozen or so wood-frame buildings strung along a lake, Rangeley was born to cater to 19th-century fishermen. Rusticators of all stripes have followed since, which is no easy task—there’s no rushing the 80 miles on two-lane Route 4.

Seasoned visitors know no one really goes to Rangeley for domestic niceties. They go for the endless lakes, the muscular mountains, the odd moose, and a wilderness so vast you get an itty-bitty feeling you thought only possible out west. Everything here is an outdoors binge, from hiking the Appalachian Trail up Saddleback Mountain’s 4,116 feet to panning gold in Coos Canyon. My preferred pastime, however, is to sit on my duff in a car barreling down Route 17. The scenic byway threads two monster lakes, Rangeley and Mooselookmeguntic, and has views grand enough to quiet two chatterboxes like my husband and me.

Eventually, we get hungry or tired or simply need to quit feeling so small, and we return to the town’s, er, finer points. Its restaurants, like the Red Onion, are no-nonsense: a simple deck and a bowl of hearty chili. The rooms at the old clapboard Rangeley Inn are equally spare, though comfortable and cheap. Only a few gift shops dot Main Street, nothing like the bonanza of gewgaws you find in Vermont. I love poking around River’s Edge Sports in Oquossoc, perusing the fishing flies and listening to locals regale clerks with their one-that-got-away stories. For this New Englander, that’s about as un-quaint as it gets.

Charlestown resident Amy Sutherland is the author of What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage.


New England’s Best Small Towns 


  • Dan

    Don’t miss Great Barrington Bra & Girl (GBBG) at the top of Railroad Street, the area’s only full-service bra shop, and one of the best intimate apparel and accessories shops that you’ll find anywhere!

  • lo

    also- see Brad at Allium-the best bartender in the Berkshires

  • Dan Shaw

    One of the best places to eat in GB is not on Restaurant Row–it’s Cafe Adam

  • Claudia

    If you are serious about food, this is the place. It’s a couple of miles north of town.

  • fred

    no one in Shelburne Falls drinks Bud… they (we) prefer locally made micro-brews

  • Marti

    Don’t miss Millerton NY, one of Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel “10 Coolest Towns in America”. We are just 10 minutes or less to Sharon, CT and about 30 minutes to Great Barrington We’re a little bit Hip and a little bit Homey! To come on over.

  • Chris

    I have lived in Sharon all my life and it’s nice to see Sharon getting such recognition . The article got it right when it added Sharon.

  • Jonathan

    In Harvard, between orchards, you also have to go to the General Store (a gourmet/locavore paradise), get a cappuccino, sit on the Common, and look at the beautiful old houses. Then go to Fruitlands Museum.

  • Eve

    You forgot to mention the magnificent hillsides and valleys (ablaze with color right now) and the ancient pot holes and waterfalls, and my favorite – the very beautiful bridge of flowers.

  • Eve

    I forgot to mention above, I am talking about Shelburne Falls, MA.

  • J

    Couple comments:
    The bad: Putnam might be quaint because of the antiques, but other than that – it’s pretty much a dump. I grew up near there.
    The good: Hancock IS a beautiful town, not to mention the incredibly nice people. It’s also next door to another beautiful town, my other hometown of Harrisville.