Favorite Outdoor Adventure Towns in Northern New England–May through August

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River Kayaking

What are the essential elements for my list of adventure towns? They must include water and/or mountains. What I like to do during the warmer months of the year: hike, bike, swim, sail, kayak, run, and hammock. My favorite adventure towns have all of the above or something of the like very close by, though you may have to BYOH (bring your own hammock).

Who: Heather Atwell
What: Favorite outdoor adventure towns
Why: I promised I would write this top 5 list
Where: Northern New England
How: The complete opposite of an exact science
When: May to August

Burlington, Vermont

Burlington is the hotspot in Vermont. It’s the closest thing Vermont has to a city. It’s also the closest vibe the northeast has to Boulder, Colorado, well-known for its decidedly hip outdoorsy folk. In fact, Burlington’s Church Street has the same pedestrian style walkway that Boulder’s Pearl Street has, and a similar lively scene of shoppers, eaters, and street performers especially in the warmer months. One thing Church Street has that Pearl Street does not have is a jaw-dropping view of Lake Champlain with the Adirondack’s as the backdrop. 125 miles long, it’s no mere puddle. For a bike ride that follows the shoreline, The Burlington Waterfront’s Bike Path travels 7.6 miles. Longer road rides and mountain biking trails are also nearby, but just remember, as the saying goes, Vermont ain’t flat. Rent a kayak or canoe at North Beach, or a sailboat at the Community Sailing Center. You’ll need to travel out of town for truly majestic hikes of Camel’s Hump or Mount Mansfield. Then hurry back for yummy food, shopping and great nightlife. Eat your way up and down Church Street: Leunig’s Bistro, American Flatbread, The Single Pebble, Ben & Jerry’s, Penny Cluse. Shop at the Outdoor Gear Exchange where you can buy new duds or re-sell your used equipment. For bike-o-philes, check out Old Spokes Home , a bike shop that sells and services new, used and vintage bicycles.

Portsmouth, New Hampshire


New Hampshire has 18 miles of seacoast, and Portsmouth is the perfect home base to take it all in. Head to Hampton, about 25 minutes from Portsmouth, for Northeast style surfing. Take a surf lesson or rent a board from Cinnamon Rainbows based at North Beach. Nearby Seabrook Beach and York Beach are also popular surf spots. And speaking of beaches, there are more than 30 nearby, though you may have to cross the border to explore all of them. Check out Portsmouth Kayak Rentals for kayak rentals and group tours. Do a little bit of honkey tonk in Hampton Beach. Head back to Portsmouth by night-fall. Sneak in some culture at The Music Hall, a historic theatre downtown that features movies, performances, and live music. And, be sure to eat and drink. Portsmouth is overflowing with great restaurants.

Jackson, New Hampshire

This small village is nestled in the Mount Washington Valley. There are quite a few towns that would make for a suitable base camp to enjoy all the outdoor activities available in this area, but staying in Jackson will provide some special comforts in the areas of food and lodging after a couple rugged days of hiking Mount Washington while overnighting at AMC lodges and huts. This outdoor adventure will focus on hiking. Oh sure, you could drive your car to the peak of Mount Washington, then buy a bumper sticker that says, “This Car Climbed Mount Washington,” but I am sure just the mere thought of that makes you feel a little sick to your stomach, and not because of the altitude. Your boots were made for hiking. And that is why it is okay to call Jackson, New Hampshire, one of your favorite adventure towns. Cause you’ve adventured and now you need to hammock a little. If you feel like you need to get more activities in, Eastern Mountain Sports, located in North Conway, offers guided kayaking, climbing, hiking and mountain biking programs. Or to get on the Saco River, check out Saco Bound for guided whitewater rafting and canoe trips. But, don’t forget to relax a little.

Bar Harbor, Maine, and Acadia National Park

This might not be the best weekend jaunt for a getaway from Boston or Hartford, but it’s a must-do East Coast natural wonder destination. And, I am not going to say much more than that because starting on page 60 in Yankee Magazine‘s May/June 2011 issue, Wayne Curtis will fill you in on all the details about Acadia National Park‘s hiking trails. Sure, there is also rock climbing, biking adventures, kayaking, whale watching, and windjammer cruises. But, I don’t want to overwhelm you.

Burke, Vermont, and the Northeast Kingdom

Kingdom Trails and Burke Mountain have helped to put the Northeast Kingdom on the map. Though, that statement could spur a chicken versus the egg debate because the Northeast Kingdom’s geography is what put it on the map in the first place. Either way, in 2006 the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations named the Northeast Kingdom as a destination for Geotourism which they define as, “Tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place – its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.” Sounds like a nice place to visit.

Here is one thing about the area that is not debatable: it’s a mountain biking destination. Kingdom Trails Association maintains a trail system that during the warmer months is considered the “best trail network in North America,” according to Bike Magazine. (It doubles as a destination for cross county skiing during the winter.) Not too far off of I-91, depending on where you are traveling from, thanks to the convenience of interstate travel, it’s closer than it may appear.

With Lake Willoughby about 30 minutes away, and Lake Memphremagog under an hour away, despite being in the land-locked state of Vermont, you’ll have opportunities to get wet. In fact, from Lake Memphremagog, you can paddle part of the the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and the Connecticut River Paddlers’ Trail to the Connecticut River.

If you haven’t learned anything new from my list of favorite adventure towns in Northern New England, I will share with you one tidbit of information that I’ve learned from compiling it. Don’t limit your favorite list of places to go this summer to a short list. Because I am pretty certain all across New England whatever adventure you are on and where ever you may be, you’re going have a pretty good time. Especially if you can find a hammock!


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