Best of New England 2006 Destinations
Best Sporty Towns
Litchfield is a town made for outdoor activity. There’s trout fishing in the Housatonic River, while Mount Tom State Park’s lake offers seemingly endless water sports. Mount Tom itself rises to 1,325 feet, and at the top, hikers can take in views of Connecticut and beyond from the stone lookout tower. There are 35 miles of trails, including a wooden boardwalk through wetlands, at White Memorial Conservation Center and Museum, not to mention horseback riding at Lee’s Riding Stable and hot-air ballooning over Litchfield County. And in the winter, Topsmead Park’s 511 acres welcome cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. 860-482-6586; www.litchfieldhills.com.
Once an exclusive resort for America’s super-wealthy, Bar Harbor, on the east side of Mount Desert Island and bordered by Acadia National Park, now welcomes all travelers eager to explore this outdoor paradise. Rent bikes and pedal the Park Loop Road, climb the sea cliffs of Acadia, golf at the Kebo Valley Golf Club, kayak among the islands of Frenchman Bay at sunset (communing with seals and eagles) or charter your own schooner. When the snow falls, the park’s 47 miles of carriage trails lend themselves to superb cross-country skiing. 207-288-5103; www.barharborinfo.com.
Tucked far into the state’s northwestern corner, Williamstown might as well be in Vermont. Country farms, fields of wildflowers and mountainous terrain make this college town a sporty paradise year-round. Try for a hole-in-one at Waubeeka Golf Links; go hiking in Hopkins Memorial Forest, which affords views of the Taconic Range, the Berkshires, and the Green Mountains; climb nearby Mount Greylock; or swim at Margaret Lindley Park. Cross-country ski and snowshoe at Mountain Meadow Preserve or Field Farm, or cruise downhill at Jiminy Peak in nearby Hancock. 413-458-9341; www.williamstownchamber.com.
One of the highest peaks in the northeast—and the site of some of the world’s most severe weather—Mount Washington casts a friendly shadow over the town of Gorham. You can drive to the top to earn the ubiquitous “This car climbed Mt. Washington” bumper sticker, but why not hike it? Begin your journey at Pinkham Notch on the Presidential Range, which is also a good spot for skiing. Or rent a mountain bike at Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center to ride the carriage trails at the base of the mountain. The center also has snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Nearby Wildcat Mountain offers downhill skiing with crazy views from its peak, and Androscoggin Valley Country Club caters to golfers. 800-367-3364; www.mtwashingtonvalley.org.
This 21-square-mile island off the coast of Rhode Island has 17 miles of beaches and a whopping 365 freshwater ponds. This means Block Island is ideal for kayaking or sailing on Great Salt Pond, parasailing, fishing for striped bass, swimming and shell- fishing. Landlubbers like the views of the Southeast Lighthouse and crashing surf from the 200-foot-tall Mohegan Bluffs, hiking along more than 30 miles of woodland trails, bird-watching at Block Island National Wildlife Refuge and playing volleyball at Fred Benson Town Beach. 800-383-2474; www.blockislandinfo.com.
BEST IN NEW ENGLAND
With an average yearly snowfall of nearly 28 feet, Stowe is truly a winter wonderland. The 200-year-old village’s claim to fame remains its 48-trail ski resort, which has the longest average trail length in New England. But off-mountain activities also abound—from cross-country skiing and dogsledding to sleigh rides, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. In the warmer months, you can play tennis, cycle, canoe and swim at Lake Elmore, golf at Stowe Country Club, kayak and fly fish on the Lamoille River, hike Long Trail and go horseback riding. Thrill-seekers may enjoy mountain biking along Cottonbrook trail, bungee-trampoline jumping and hot-air ballooning. 877-467-8693; www.gostowe.com.
Other Destination Awards
In a region known for its traditional approach to just about everything, Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) is shaking up the art world by playing host to site-specific commissions, theater, film, dance and music exhibits and performances. Don’t be surprised to see suspended trees growing upside down, or nine white Ford Tauruses flipping through the air among brilliantly colored lights. Housed in a 19th-century factory building that spans nearly a third of the downtown area of North Adams, Mass MoCA is the largest center for contemporary arts in the United States. 1040 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams, MA, 413-662-2111; www.massmoca.org.
With more than 6,000 miles of coastline, New England has a bounty of beautiful beaches. Wasque, on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, is a standout. The pristine soft sand and remote, tranquil atmosphere are protected by the Trustees of Reservations. The only thing that might distract you from all that is the unobstructed ocean view. Chappaquiddick Island, MA, 508-693-7662; www.thetrustees.org.
With more than seven miles of white sand beaches, rows of precious shops and plenty of alfresco dining, about the only thing this beach town lacks is ample midsummer parking. Take the kids on the Watch Hill Flying Horse Carousel, the nation’s oldest operating flying-horse carousel, then head shoreside to fish for your evening meal (the town ranks tops in fruitful fishing spots). Summer also brings family-friendly outdoor events such as the Summer Pops and Shakespeare in the Park. 401-596-7761; www.westerlychamber.org.
Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods Resort Casino, Rockingham Park, Suffolk Downs
Time to take a gamble. Mohegan Sun (One Mohegan Sun Blvd., Uncasville, CT, 888-226-7711; www.mohegansun.com), has more than 6,000 slot machines and table games, such as blackjack, four-card poker and roulette—not to mention a 20,000-square-foot spa and dozens of dining options, including Todd English’s Tuscany. Also in Connecticut, Foxwoods Resort Casino (39 Norwich Westerly Rd., Mashantucket, CT, 800-FOXWOODS, 800-369-9663; www.foxwoods.com) has thousands of slot machines, as well as 388 table games, more than 1,400 guest rooms and suites, a spa, and the Foxwoods Golf and Country Club. Place your bets on live thoroughbreds or harness horses and greyhound races at Rockingham Park (Rockingham Park Blvd., Salem, NH, 603-898-2311; www.rockinghampark.com), or head to Suffolk Downs (Rte. 1A, East Boston, MA, 617-567-3900; www.suffolkdowns.com) and see where the legendary Seabiscuit once raced.
Awe-inspiring vistas on Boothbay Harbor are enough to make cyclists slow down and take in the lighthouses, rocky outcroppings, tiny coves and weathered fishing boats that characterize the rugged coastline. Along the way, New England villages with inns, seafood shanties and boutiques provide opportunities to rest tired legs. www.boothbayharbor.com.
Rumney, New Hampshire, is considered among the best spots in the East for climbing variety. Rattlesnake Mountain has a range of options for beginners and professionals, cliff climbers and bouldering fiends. At the end of a long summer’s day, cool off in the Baker River, which runs along the base of the cliffs. Buffalo Road, Rumney, NH.
Jackson Ski Touring Foundation
Want varied terrain? It’s hard to beat Jackson Ski Touring Foundation, the largest cross-country skiing network in the Northeast. Some 100 miles of trails lead skiers from the country inns and village green to high atop the snowy hills. Trails include the good-for-beginners Ellis River Trail, which hugs a small brook, as well as the challenging Wildcat Valley Trail, created in the 1930s. 153 Main St., Jackson, NH, 800-927-6697; www.jacksonxc.org.
The Inn at Essex
Home to Butler’s Restaurant, the Tavern, Dacor Culinary Theatre and vast gardens of fresh herbs and vegetables, the Inn at Essex has earned its reputation as New England’s culinary resort. More than 120 students and chef instructors from the New England Culinary Institute prepare food and beverages and offer hands-on cooking classes so you can relive your stay in your home kitchen. 70 Essex Way, Essex, VT, 802-878-1100; www.vtculinaryresort.com.
DOWNHILL SKI AREA
For sheer downhill joy, the prize goes to Sugarbush in Warren, Vermont. It captures the essence of New England skiing with serpentine trails twisting around tight corners, quick dips and plenty of trees. Paradise and Castlerock trails are surrounded by a rolling tapestry of maple, oak, birch, spruce, pine and balsam. 1840 Sugarbush Access Rd., Warren, VT, 800-53-SUGAR, 800-537-8427; www.sugarbush.com.
Knife Edge, Mount Katahdin
A rite of passage for all New England climbers is a walk atop Knife Edge, a three-foot-wide granite sidewalk that drops more than 1,500 feet on either side approaching the summit of the mighty Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park. It may seem like Maine’s version of walking the plank, but just remember that Henry David Thoreau climbed Katahdin long before there was a well-worn trail. Baxter State Park, 64 Balsam Dr., Millinocket, ME, 207-723-5140; www.baxterstateparkauthority.com.
New Bedford Whaling Museum
There’s no better testament to New England and its seafaring beginnings than the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The largest museum dedicated to whaling history, it features a 45-ton whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling, a 33-foot humpback whale skeleton and the largest ship model known to exist. The Melville Society Archive and its extensive research library provide the ultimate glimpse into New England’s nautical past. 18 Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford, MA, 508-997-0046; www.whalingmuseum.org.
When it comes to history, Salem, Massachusetts, is a triple threat. In addition to being the site of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 (for which the city is perhaps best known), the city also nurtures a literary reputation: It was the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne and home to the Turner-Ingersoll House, the author’s real-life inspiration for The House of Seven Gables. Art and photography highlight the region’s maritime history at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and the Peabody Essex Museum, one of the largest museums on the East Coast. www.salem.org.
Anyone who’s traveled along Vermont’s Route 9 via the Molly Stark Trail over Hogback Mountain knows this place. The 100-mile view from the summit is the ultimate autumn reward after a steep mountain ascent. From the Hogback Mountain Scenic Overlook, soak in the famous red, yellow and orange hues of Southern Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Rte. 9, Marlboro, VT.
With shooting cannons, roaring waterfalls, sunken ships and heaping treasure chests, this whimsical Cape Cod landmark has fun down to a tee. Two 18-hole courses—Captain’s Course and Blackbeard’s Challenge Course—keep waiting time to a minimum, while Pirate’s Cove Marketplace doles out snacks for hungry golfers. 728 Main St., South Yarmouth, MA, 508-394-6200; www.piratescove.net.
MOST NEW ENGLAND DESTINATION
Acadia National Park
Many locals would argue it’s the charming, rugged mountains that make New England special. Others would claim it’s the powerful, wildly changing ocean that beats against our famous rocky coast. We say they’re both right, which is why Maine’s Acadia National Park (www.nps.gov/acad) is such a gem. Mountains practically leap up out of the sea. And hikers and mountain bikers, who take advantage of the trails in the 47,000-acre park, are rewarded with some of the most spectacular vistas around. Add to that diverse wildlife, beautiful forest and rich history, and the result is a definite don’t-miss.
MOST-SCENIC GOLF HOLES
Widow’s Walk Golf Course, the Samoset Resort, the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel’s Panorama
Whether you crave salty air or the verdant backside of a mountain, New England offers a wealth of scenery to lessen the agony of the game. The signature hole at Widow’s Walk Golf Course (250 The Driftway, Scituate, MA, 781-544-7777; www.widowswalkgolf.com) is the par-three 17th, an elevated green stretch where you can view both the North River and the Atlantic Ocean. The Samoset Resort, (220 Warrenton St., Rockport, ME, 800-341-1650; www.samosetresort.com), has seven holes bordering Penobscot Bay, where the par-three 7th practically dares you to play over the ocean. The Donald Ross gem in the peaks of northern New Hampshire, the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel’s Panorama (1000 Cold Spring Rd., Dixville Notch, NH, 800-255-0600; www.thebalsams.com) was built in 1912—the same year as Fenway Park. Much of the course overlooks acres of pristine forest, including the par-four 12th hole, which peers down into a lush valley.
MOST-THRILLING SKI TRAILS
White Heat, Outer Limits, Paradise
There are beautiful downhill ski trails to be found all over New England, but certain snow-covered runs make our spines tingle. Among them is White Heat, the legendary bump run at Sunday River Ski Resort (Sunday River Access Road, Bethel, ME, 800-543-2SKI; www.sundayriver.com). Outer Limits, right, at Killington Resort (4763 Killington Road, Killington, VT, 800-734-9435; killington.com) has the buffalo-sized moguls and gut-wrenching pitches every type-A ski freak fantasizes about. And at Mad River Glen (Rte. 117, Waitsfield, VT, 802-496-3551; www.madriverglen.com), Paradise can make the most skilled skier shiver, even on a relatively warm spring day.
MOUNTAIN BIKING TRAIL
Mud Pond Loop
Fat-wheelers like to rave about the latest and greatest. But we’re going retro and pointing to the trails around Randolph, Vermont, home of the first New England Mountain Biking Festival. The 12-mile Mud Pond Loop is one sweet chunk of bucolic riding. Cruise past rows of corn and farmland so fertile you might be tempted to jump off your bike and dig your hands into the rich soil. Randolph, VT, 800-424-5575; www.3stallioninn.com.
OUTDOOR MUSIC VENUE
Folks who head to Tanglewood in the summer know a good thing when they hear it. The Boston Symphony Orchestra plays against the dusky Berkshires while attendees indulge in gourmet picnics. Many bring their own candelabras. We’ll take that over screaming hordes flocking 297 West St., Lenox, MA, 413-637-1600; www.bso.org.
Perhaps it’s the way the blue streaks of water slip off the map of America’s northern fringes, remote and isolated, hundreds of miles from the nearest metropolis, that make Maine’s Allagash River a canoeist’s dream. The best time to paddle here is fall, when the bugs and most tourists are gone and the leaves are aflame with color. Rte. 11, Allagash, ME.
PLACE TO SEE ANIMALS
Cows, goats, sheep, lambs, pigs, hens and donkeys romp around 1,400 acres along Vermont’s Lake Champlain at Shelburne Farms. Young visitors to the Children’s Farmyard can make a connection by milking cows, collecting eggs, walking goats and even brushing rabbits. 1611 Harbor Rd., Shelburne, VT, 802-985-8686; www.shelburnefarms.org.
PUBLIC GOLF COURSE
Sugarloaf Golf Club
Nestled high above Carrabassett Valley, Maine, Sugarloaf Golf Club features a course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. with exceptional views of Bigelow and Crocker Mountains. The clubhouse on the 10th tee adds to the luster, as do the moose you might see hanging out on the practice green. 5092 Access Rd., Carrabassett Valley, ME, 800-THE-LOAF, 800-843-5623; www.sugarloaf.com.
Falmouth Road Race
Along with seafood, Nauset Light and the Kennedy compound, the Falmouth Road Race has become synonymous with summers on Cape Cod. Since 1973, runners from New England and around the world have gathered in August (this year’s event is Aug. 13) to compete in the 7.1-mile race. Fans line every inch of this course to lend their support—making it the running spectacle of the season. Falmouth, MA, 508-540-7000; www.falmouthroadrace.com.
New Castle Loop
The best thing about this six-mile route, beginning and ending at Great Island Common, is the amazing water view as you cross five bridges over Little Harbor, Sagamore Creek and the Piscataqua River. You’ll also pass quaint towns and a historic cemetery along the way. Rte. 1B, Rye, NH.
Robert Frost Trail
While two roads don’t diverge in a yellow wood at the Robert Frost Trail, the one trail that does meander through the Green Mountain National Forest is less traveled than most neighborhood walking routes. The peaceful 1.2-mile loop even features Frost’s nature-inspired poetry, posted trailside. And across a beaver pond boardwalk is the South Branch of the Middlebury River, where blueberry and huckleberry fields are ripe for in-season picking. Rte. 125, Ripton, VT.
The best winery also happens to be the region’s oldest and largest. Founded in 1975, Sakonnet Vineyards sits on 115 acres, chosen in part because the landscape resembles the celebrated growing regions of northern France and Germany. Sakonnet’s hospitality center is open regularly for tours and tastings that might feature the vineyard’s 2002 Gewürztraminer, which won “Best of Show” at the international Monterey Wine Competition. 162 W. Main Rd., Little Compton, RI, 800-91-WINES, 800-919-4637; www.sakonnetwine.com.