Family day-trip inspiration abounds in the pages of Yankee’s travel guide. From beach days to scenic strolls, here are 32 fantasic New England summer adventures to tackle this year.
By Yankee Magazine
Jun 16 2022
Both expert and novice surfers delight in the long, rolling waves of Narragansett Town Beach in Rhode Island.Photo Credit : Alex Gagne
We all have an innate need to explore, to strike out for new destinations or to simply connect more deeply with places we’ve always known and loved.” Those words, from the introduction to Yankee’s New England Adventures: Over 400 Essential Things to See and Do (Globe Pequot, 2018), have never felt truer than this summer. For many, it’s finally time to get out and fully enjoy this storied region, whose six states are home to beaches and mountains, picturesque villages and world-class museums, all within a few hours of one another. With that in mind, we put together the following excerpt from our travel guide, which spans four season but in which the summer adventures shine particularly bright right now.
For sheer scenic beauty, no New England strand tops Crane Beach, another jewel in the treasure chest of properties owned by the nonprofit Trustees of Reservations. This four-mile stretch of soft, white sand is set against a backdrop of undulating dunes, piping plovers, and the grand mansion at Castle Hill. If you walk a bit, you’ll find a private spot, even in high summer. There are also plenty of shallows and tidepools for kids to explore. Locals caution that July’s greenhead flies can be pesky—but the months before and after are heaven.
From 1919 to 1925, the state anted up $185,000 for 565 shorefront acres, and today its premier waterfront park covers more than 900. This two-mile golden crescent is hands down the best public beach in Connecticut, spring, summer, and fall. It’s perfect for swimming, boating, and fishing, while the acreage is ideal for playing ball, picnicking, and camping. The state—and all of us—got one great deal.
There’s nothing manicured about this rare spit of sand sandwiched between rocky shores, home to pieces of driftwood, backed by dwarf pines and uprooted trees. Come at low tide, and the grooved sand leads to a tiny island where seagulls have picked over unlucky crabs, and mussels lie exposed on the kelp. When the water rolls in, kids swim in the surprisingly warm waters of the tidal pool as parents take long beach walks, watching three-masted schooners and lobstermen cruise past pine-studded islands and lighthouses. Let the cool breeze blow through your hair and breathe in the salty air. This is the raw Maine coast you’ve yearned for.
Town Beach in Narragansett is a lovely place for sitting and soaking up sun. But when there are storms over the Atlantic, the swells get gnarly, and the surfers come out in droves. You can surf this section of Narragansett year-round, but from mid-July to mid-September the crescent-shaped beach and shifting sandbars often produce waves in excess of 10 feet. Bring your own board or rent one from any number of local outfitters.
Here you will not only learn history but also experience its living endurance. The Shaker sect believed in simplicity, equality of sexes, communal living, pacifism, celibacy, and respect for nature, and the 300 people who lived and worked here two centuries ago would still feel at home all these years later. Decades after the last Shaker sister at Canterbury passed away, the village remains a tribute to a way of life that influenced generations to appreciate the beauty in simplicity.
With its collection of vintage buildings and a veritable fleet of wooden ships anchored in its harbor, Mystic Seaport looks like an old port town, albeit one with high-end dining and interior plumbing. In this 19-acre historical wonderland you can hop onto a ship and someone will demonstrate how to climb the rigging. Poke your head into a shack and a talkative blacksmith will stress the importance of properly crafted gaff hooks. Some days there’s even a band singing sea chanteys.
Upward of a million visitors flood into Plymouth every year to experience firsthand what life was like in one of America’s first colonies, and for good reason. The living history museum formerly known as Plimoth Plantation provides an immersive, 360-degree view of a bygone era, thanks to its re-creation of a 17th-century English village filled with actors and the Wampanoag Homesite, populated not by actors but by Indigenous interpreters. It also boasts a full-scale reproduction of the Mayflower II, fresh off a three-year, multimillion-dollar restoration.
It wasn’t so long ago that this flat, 25-mile-long dedicated bike trail was seen as almost a hazard by the state. Now it’s practically a natural resource, with millions of dollars poured into it to rehab bridges, tunnels, and culverts, and to widen and repave the route. The trail, which starts mid-Cape at Route 134 in Dennis and extends to Wellfleet, follows the former Old Colony Railroad bed, past lakes and marshland, forests and harbors. At the Salt Pond Visitor Center in Eastham, don’t miss the spur trail that heads to the crashing waves of the Atlantic. Don’t have your own wheels? Outfitters along the route are happy to rent you a ride.
Sights, sounds, and scents of the bay accompany your walk or ride along this former railbed of the Providence/Worcester line. Stretching 14½ miles along the shore from Independence Park in Bristol to India Point Park in Providence, this popular path is the keystone of a huge network of bike lanes and trails throughout Rhode Island. Possible stops include wildlife watching at Audubon’s Environmental Education Center and grabbing a Del’s frozen lemonade at Colt State Park.
Just a 10-minute drive from the hubbub of Hartford, cyclists can bike into some of the prettiest landscapes in Connecticut on this 18-mile recreational trail between Farmington and Simsbury. Built on the former Central New England Railroad bed, the largely paved trail runs along a stretch of the Farmington River and provides plentiful opportunities for stops and side trips, such as the beautiful old industrial village of Collinsville. Cyclists who want to keep going can connect to the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, which when complete will sprawl all the way from the Berkshire foothills to Long Island Sound.
Along this 10-mile hiking loop over rugged ocean cliffs and through forests of spruce and fir, nature hasn’t been groomed or reduced to some pretty painting for visitors to come and gaze at. This is a place to interact with the land, to pause to smell the wildflowers, to get a little muddy, to work up some sweat, to dangle your feet atop a bluff. It’s a bold idea, but if you can slow down enough to do it, you may just discover that there are still spots for true adventure.
From the summit of Monadnock, see what Mark Twain and Henry David Thoreau saw on a clear day: all six New England states. Routes include the meandering Pumpelly Trail near the shores of sparkling Dublin Lake, or the popular White Dot Trail from Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey. This 3,165-foot peak wasn’t born bald, but early settlers denuded it when they burned out the packs of wolves inhabiting the summit. Ever since, its lovely views and 40 miles of trails have fired the imaginations of artists, writers, and more hikers than almost any other mountain in the world.
Part of the cluster of nine scenic, rocky islands that compose the Isles of Shoals, Star Island lies some 10 miles out from Portsmouth Harbor. You’ll arrive aboard the M/V Challenger and then disembark onto a rock-strewn, sea-splashed nugget. On a hot, blue-sky day, spend your time on the island exploring, or give yourself the shivers by reading Anita Shreve’s The Weight of Water, a historical novel about the real-life double murder that took place on nearby Smuttynose Island in 1873.
Founded in 1826, this venerable ferry is just the ticket for a scenic ride across Vermont’s “Great Lake.” There are three crossings to choose from, covering different portions of Champlain and ranging from about 15 minutes to an hour. We recommend opting for the latter, which is a seasonal offering between Burlington and Port Kent, New York, that traverses the broadest and most majestic part of Champlain. Spectacular views of the Green Mountains and Adirondacks, along with lake vistas to the north and south, elevate this ferry ride above the rest.
The magic of spending a few days on an authentic Maine windjammer is that you see the coast everyone hopes to see but few actually do. These independently owned and operated boats come in all shapes and sizes—from a rare three-masted schooner built in 1900 to haul cargo, to a 1922 racing yacht, to a 1950s ship built especially for windjamming cruises—but all offer an unforgettable maritime adventure. You can help raise the sails if you have the inclination, or kick back and relax if you don’t.
From its early days as a “pleasure resort” in 1902, with canoeing and a botanical garden, Canobie Lake has evolved into a classic New England amusement park with actual fear-factor ratings. Its 85 rides, games, and attractions include thrill rides, such as the Corkscrew Coaster and the Starblaster, a shuttle liftoff meets bungee jumping that demands intrepid commitment. Those of us who like a slower pulse rate can stick with family rides like Crazy Cups and Dodgem bumper cars.
In 1966, a worker excavating this location for a new state building saw something unusual—a dinosaur track. Turns out that 200 million years ago this was the stomping ground of Dilophosaurus, an 8-foot-tall, 20-foot-long dinosaur. Today this 63-acre park encompasses the largest dinosaur-track site in North America. Indoors under a giant geodesic dome, you can see a dramatic display of 500 tracks with dioramas and exhibits, while outdoors, kids whose parents call ahead and bring their own materials can make plaster casts of tracks. Afterwards, the whole family can picnic on the grounds, explore two miles of trails, and walk a timeline that brings home just what Johnny-come-latelys we humans are.
In the charming Victorian-era seaside village of Watch Hill, the Flying Horse Carousel claims to be one of the nation’s oldest carousels, built around 1867. (To claim the top spot outright would risk a battle with a carousel on Martha’s Vineyard.) However, this is probably the nation’s last surviving example of the “flying horses” model, which means that its hand-carved wooden steeds are not attached to poles that go up and down. Instead, they hang suspended from a center frame, causing them to fly out when the carousel turns. The ride is for kids only, but the spectacle is free for all to enjoy.
Walking or driving around York Beach, you’re sure to spot the Goldenrod. Look for the kids mesmerized on the sidewalk, staring through windows at the way the taffy machines twist and pull and slice and wrap millions of pieces of saltwater taffy. More than 50 tons of saltwater taffy are produced annually in the front room of this strikingly old-fashioned restaurant, which has roots back to 1896. An argument over the best flavors can occupy a long car ride, while everyone slurps and chews on their favorite piece.
The Mary Baker Eddy Library is home to a one-of-a-kind structure: the world’s only walk-in, stained-glass globe that allows the surface of the earth to be viewed without distortion. Three stories high and measuring 30 feet in diameter, this illuminated exhibit is composed of 206 LED fixtures, which when programmed together produce at least 16 million colors. The Mapparium also features what’s known as a “whispering gallery” because of its unique acoustics. Someone speaking quietly at one end of the Mapparium can be heard with perfect clarity by someone at the opposite end. Inside the Mapparium, every visitor’s voice can be heard—symbolizing, in a way, how we are all truly global citizens.
This jiggling, chattering antique train is a durable testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of one man. Locals derided New Hampshire native Sylvester Marsh’s “crazy” plan to go more than three miles and 3,600 feet up 6,288-foot Mount Washington, but on July 3, 1869, he proved the doubters wrong. Today, from late April through November, a little fleet of coal-fired and biodiesel locomotives still use “cog” (or toothed) gears to push as many as 70 passengers at a time at a slow crawl up the world’s oldest mountain cog railway. On a clear day, the views are stupendous.
In the 1920s, when the first curious road-trippers began poking around, most quarrying operations posted “Keep Out” signs. Rock of Ages took the opposite approach, building a visitor center and launching a tour program. As many as 60,000 guests a year still line up to tour the world’s largest deep-hole dimension granite quarry, where derricks hoist blocks that weigh as much as half a million pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. At the visitor center you can watch a video about the quarrying and manufacturing processes, browse historic photos and exhibits, and shop for natural stone gifts. (Don’t worry about depleting the supply: It’s estimated that there’ll be plenty of stone to quarry for the next 4,500 years.)
In 1975 Newport’s fabled Cliff Walk was the first public path in New England to be designated a National Recreation Trail, but it had already been famous for over a century. It winds its way along Aquidneck’s cliffs past some of Newport’s most impressive and historic mansions above the rocky shore, meaning you can walk the same land that the Vanderbilts, the Astors, and Henry and William James once strolled.
The Flume Gorge is what nature looks like in our dreams. Wooden walkways guide you through an 800-foot-long series of waterfalls that crash through this narrow crack in Mount Liberty, raising clouds of mist that float up to the forest floor 90 feet above. It’s easily the most enchanted spot in the already enchanted Franconia Notch, which features several magical lakes, the Old Man of the Mountain Historic Site, and innumerable waterfalls tumbling down the steep sides of Cannon and Lafayette mountains.
Ogunquit gets its name from the Algonquin word for “beautiful place by the sea,” which is how native people described this flat, sandy 3½-mile stretch along the southern Maine coast. First, walk the beach to your heart’s content, inhaling therapeutic breaths of salty air. But leave some energy for the Marginal Way, a paved 1¼-mile path that leads from the main beach up the rugged cliffs to the shops and seafood restaurants in Perkins Cove. Be sure to take frequent breaks and soak in the views by taking a seat on any of the 30 memorial benches along the way. Out to sea you’ll spot sailboats, yachts, and lobster boats bobbing in the water.
The village of ’Sconset is both a part of Nantucket and not. A mere eight miles from the hustle and bustle of the island’s center, this former fishing community retains most of Nantucket’s older, sleepier charm. One of the prettiest strolls on the eastern seaboard is here, too, a bluff walk that takes visitors behind grand homes and alongside towering beach cliffs. When it concludes, you can retrace your steps back to the village center or follow Baxter Road for a postcard-perfect ending at Sankaty Head Lighthouse.
In Noank’s fishing community, full of backyard gardens and harbor views at every turn, Abbott’s is a bona fide institution. Founded in 1947, it has just about anything a shellfish lover could desire, but it’s best known for a steamed lobster or Connecticut-style hot lobster roll. Abbott’s offers a quarter pound of warm, succulent lobster drizzled with butter and served on a toasted hamburger bun; those with heartier appetites are welcome to upsize to the seven-ounce “OMG” version or the full-pound “LOL.”
The Essex River Basin is known for having the sweetest clams in New England, and if you drive into town after a day at the beach, you’ll no doubt find a line out the door at seafood specialist Woodman’s. Join the queue and you’ll soon smell the fryer; it’s here that the first fried clam is said to have been invented over a century ago. An alternative to Woodman’s is J.T. Farnham’s, a cozy seafood shack with views of the Essex River and sweet and briny clams harvested fresh from the cold Ipswich waters. Here, though, the clams are dipped in an egg wash and cornmeal before getting their hot oil bath, whereas at Woodman’s they’re coated with milk and corn flour. Either choice will make you reevaluate your relationship to bivalves.
Imagine the lobster shack of your dreams, and you’ll have a good picture of the family-run McLoons: a tiny red hut perched over the water with a tented patio and picnic tables. Across a small cove, another red building serves as the drop-off point for day boats. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect setting to enjoy homemade peach pie, coleslaw, burgers, and hot dogs. But the one thing you absolutely must have is the lobster roll, which is the best you’ll find in Maine.
Back in the early 1970s, the looms fell silent in this classic New England mill town. Then a descendant of the Colony family that had operated the mills for generations helped convert the brick structures into shops, offices, and lodgings. As one of the best-preserved textile mill villages in the United States, this site by a peaceful millpond is now a National Historic Landmark. Housed in a former 1850s wool storehouse, Harrisville Designs attracts visitors for its fine, handmade weaving accessories and crafts workshops. While you’re here, don’t miss the gourmet goodies at the Harrisville General Store.
While the world is full of verandas and breezeways and front stoops, there’s hardly a front porch comparable to that of the Red Lion Inn. Dating back to 1773, the sprawling Main Street structure is known for its authentic historic character, with a working birdcage elevator, converted telephone “booths” off the main lobby, period furnishings, and long list of high-profile guests, including five U.S. presidents. But the wicker-strewn front porch is inarguably its most photographed claim to fame. An army of rocking chairs stands sentinel behind columns, guaranteeing that no activity on Main Street goes unnoticed or unremarked. To sit and rock at the Red Lion is to understand precisely how longtime resident Norman Rockwell saw Stockbridge.
Looking for a flannel nightie, a manual typewriter, old-time candies … all in one store? That barely begins to describe the diversity of the inventory at this Vermont institution, founded in Weston in 1946; there’s also a second, newer location in Rockingham. You’ll find both the expected (maple syrup, wheels of cheddar) and the unexpected (pants stretchers, anyone?) in the aisles here. Plus, nostalgia is sold by the scoop at the shop’s sprawling penny-candy counter. From Mary Janes to Bit-O-Honeys to Root Beer Barrels, there are hundreds of options, all self-serve—just open a paper bag and get to work.
To order a copy of Yankee’s New England Adventures (Globe Pequot, 2018)—or to stock up on back issues of Yankee as well as browse our collection of New England calendars, cookbooks, and gifts—go to: store.newengland.com