Six Quintessentially New England Boat Tours to Take This Fall

Sample oysters, spot moose, and gaze upon some foliage.

sailboat next to fall foliage

Photo by Tabor Chichakly / EyeEm/Getty Images

Travelers have long snapped pictures that showcase the best New England experiences. No trip to the area is complete without a few pictures of the whole family slurping up oysters, or posing in front of picturesque lighthouses, or seeking out that reclusive moose. While we’ve gone from living-room slideshows to Instagram posts, that only means people are that much more invested in snagging that perfect vacation shot. One thing that adds a certain special something to those vacation pictures? Visitors to the area can now have those same iconic experiences by boat. Nothing’s tastier than eating oysters that have never left the river, and it adds a certain something to peering up at a lighthouse when you’re approaching from the water.

Certainly, the region has too-many-to-name pleasure boat rides, hundreds of historical voyages, and myriad fishing excursions departing from Connecticut to the Canadian border. New England’s inland lakes are filled with boats puttering around guests for boozy sunsets. But there are only a few voyages that uniquely highlight quintessential New England. And there’s still a chance to catch the boat in late summer and early autumn. Give these six voyages a try.


Damariscotta River Cruise

Maine is famous for its oysters. While diverse flavors attributed to each kind of oyster ostensibly means they’ve been plucked from different waters across the state, the truth is that 80% of Maine’s most delicious oysters come from the same river: the Damariscotta. The two-hour Damariscotta River Boat Cruise on the 50-foot RiverTripper begins in Damariscotta and takes travelers and gourmets down the river of the same name, passing harbor seals, endless birds, and nine different farms that harvest world-class oysters. Halfway through the trip, the captain’s mate slips on her chain glove and shucks oysters that are so fresh, they’ve never actually left the river. Meanwhile, black cormorants perched on rock outcroppings eye the boat enviously, while ospreys and eagles soar jealously above. Clothespins attached to the plate label each oyster, which might include sweet and briny Pemaquids or giant and delectable Norumbegas.

Details: Cruise down the Damariscotta River on a traditional oyster cruise, while enjoying the added perks of leaf-peeping the fall foliage at 1 p.m. most days ($35 adults, $21 children). Oysters are available on the tours for purchase. If it’s Wednesday or Saturday, a 5 p.m. cruise departs for adults only, where oysters are paired with wine, beer, and sake ($75). The boat leaves from the Schooner Landing Marina in Damariscotta by the Newcastle – Damariscotta bridge. Free parking is available in the municipal parking lot near the marina. 47 Main St., Damariscotta, ME,

Moose and Wildlife Tour

Driving through central Maine, where silhouettes of giant mammals appear on yellow road signs, the promise of a moose sighting seems to grow greater. After all, most of the 60,000 moose in Maine stick to a band of forest that runs right through the state’s middle. While seeing a moose on the road could be incredible—and scary—sighting one from a boat as it devours white water lilies and football-shaped leaves called watershields is even better. While September and October might see less moose on the lake than May and June, the ride across glassy Lake Millinocket any time of year is spectacular, revealing Mount Katahdin in the near distance, endless birds, and a land of many islands, which is what the Abenaki word Millinocket means. Moose are solitary creatures, so spotting one is never guaranteed. During the rut, which takes place in September and October, our guide from the New England Outdoor Center says that his moose call, which mimics an irritated cow, might actually coax one to the edge of the lake.

Details: Pontoon boats leave from the New England Outdoor Center on Lake Millinocket in the morning and afternoon, as moose are most active at dusk and dawn, ($59 for adults, $49 for ages 12 and under). 30 Twin Pines Road, Millinocket, ME,

Lighthouse Cruises

After walking through Maine’s Maritime Museum, which showcases the state’s maritime heritage, history, and culture—and after passing through the country’s only surviving shipyard—board the Merrymeeting to cruise the Kennebec River. On its banks are four centuries of shipbuilding history. The river itself teems with wildlife. Most spectacular, and the reason for the tour, are the lighthouses. From the rook-shaped beacons on Pond Island and Seguin Island—both of which were erected in the middle of the 19th Century—to the more modern octagonal towers at Doubling Point, Perkins Island, and Squirrel Point, all three built in 1898—every lighthouse has its own charm, character, and story.

Details: While the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath offers daily boat tours, the best are the ones that take in the six or seven lighthouses. During the month of September, guests can board the ship Monday through Thursday at 3:30 p.m. for the Midcoast Lights and Rivers trip, a three-hour lighthouse cruise ($48 adults, $30 6-12 years, $6 for under six). Additionally, a two-hour Autumn Lights tour departs at 3:30pm daily, offering lighthouse views with autumn’s backdrop ($43 adults, $27 6-12 years, $6 for under six). 243 Washington St., Bath, ME,

New Hampshire

Discover Squam

For movie buffs, touring the set of a favorite film is a treat. One of the most celebrated New England-set films is On Golden Pond, which saw both Henry Fonda (best actor) and Katharine Hepburn (best actress) take home Oscars for their performances. Not only will Discover Squam Lake guests learn movie-set secrets, but because the tours are run by the Natural Science Center, the boat captain is also quite knowledgeable about Squam’s bald eagle population and common loons, a bird that factors considerably into the movie’s plot. The tour offers views of majestic mountains backdropping the lake and curious tales of residents and properties along the rocky shorelines. Of the lake’s thirty major islands, the most interesting one is Church Island. With a dozen or so docks, boaters and kayakers (and perhaps even swimmers) can show up a few Sunday mornings each year for non-denominational services.

Details: The Discover Squam Lakes tour departs twice daily, at 11 a.m and 1 p.m. The boat leaves across from the Natural Science Center at 23 Science Center Road, Holderness, NH. (Ninety-minute voyages are $27 adults, $25 seniors, $23 for 15 and under),

Rhode Island

America’s Cup Charters

Founded in 1851, the America’s Cup is the oldest international competition across all sports, almost a half century older than the modern Olympic Games, even. The Cup pits sailing yachts against each other, leaving only one to win the coveted trophy. Some of those winners have been retired to Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island, where visitors to Newport can zip through the bay and out into the Atlantic on boats that made sailing history. It’s the equivalent to a horse enthusiast getting to take a few laps around the track on Seattle Slew or American Pharoah. The America’s Cup Charters fleet includes the Intrepid, winner of the Cup in 1967 and 1970, the Weatherly, which won in 1962, and three other sailing yachts that competed in the Cup and won other prestigious sailing prizes.

Details: America’s Cup Charters offers two-hour harbor and Narragansett Bay sails daily until mid-October ($90 adults, $50 for 10 and under). They also have a three-hour Sunday racing experience ($195). These boats all depart from the Newport Harbor Hotel and Marina. 49 Americas Cup Avenue, Newport, RI,