$25 AND UNDER
For bridge geeks who want to get away from - and above - it all, Maine's new Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory offers a bird's-eye view for a song. Located off tourist-trafficked Route 1, the cable-stayed bridge spanning Prospect and Verona Island, about 22 miles south of Bangor, is believed to be the tallest public bridge-observatory on the planet (42 stories). On a clear day, you can see at least 30 miles in all directions. The observatory is located on the Fort Knox State Historic Site in Prospect, a park with a Pentagon-like military fort garrisoned to protect the river valley during the Civil War and Spanish-American War, although it never saw combat. History buffs will admire the military architecture, while kids explore the authentic Rodman cannons and labyrinth of underground alleys. Admission to the observatory includes entry to the park ($5, ages 12 and older; $3, ages 5 to 11). 207-469-6553, maine.gov/observatory - Stacey Chase
At 16,500 acres, October Mountain State Forest in the Berkshires is one of the largest green spaces in Massachusetts. Escape the crowds (and maybe take a break from nearby Tanglewood) with a canoe trip on the Buckley Dunton Reservoir, a small body of water hidden amid the hardwoods and stocked with bass and pickerel. For a longer paddle, follow the blue herons down the Housatonic River, which snakes along October's rim all the way into Connecticut. Hikers can savor a 9-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail, ideal for families. Admission is free; there are also 46 campsites ($12-$14 a night). 413-243-1778, mass.gov/dcr/parks/ western/octm.htm - Stephen Jermanok
Happily Ever After
When Story Land opened in 1954 in Glen, New Hampshire, owners Bob and Ruth Morrell wanted a theme park where storybook characters could come to life. The cost to open their new venture: $5,000. One year later, a man named Walt Disney would spend some $17 million to open his amusement park in California. Like Disneyland, the Morrells have added new rides through the years (for a total of 21), but they also maintain a sense of history inherent in structures like Cinderella's castle, which has been on the premises since 1957. This sense of familiarity woos parents back to the same nurturing environment they visited as children, to ride once again in antique cars, pirate ships, and pumpkin coaches ($24; ages 2 and younger free). 603-383-4186, storylandnh.com - S.J.
Hearty and Homey
Want to start your day like a Mainer? Then join the bearded men in plaid jackets who crowd the counter at Becky's Diner before the clock strikes 5. On the Portland waterfront, next to the fishing boats docked at Hobson's Wharf, Becky's early-morning fare is beloved by lobstermen and scallopers. Whatever time you get up, eat like a salty dog and order the Hobson's Wharf Special, with bacon or sausage, two eggs, two pancakes or French toast, home fries, and toast for $8.50. 390 Commercial Street, Portland, Maine, 207-773-7070, beckysdiner.com - S.J.
Fill 'Er Up
With its old-timey feel and a selection of candy that will wow any kid (and the kid in all of us), the Green Harbor General Store in Marshfield just might be the sweetest little shop on the South Shore. Stop for a sub and eat outside on the bistro tables. Or just rediscover Bit-O-Honey and other old favorites. If, on your way to the beach, you realize you've forgotten a pail and shovel or T-shirt to cover yesterday's burn, you can grab those here as well. 40 Marginal Street, Marshfield, 781-837-3995 - Janice O'Leary
A BEACH TO LOVE
Locals in Marshfield adore Rexhame Beach not just for its pounding Atlantic surf, but also for its hidden shoreline along the calm South River. Head to the far end of the parking lot and follow the paths through the dunes to gentle wading pools and invitingly soft sand. If you're lucky, you can snag a spot nestled between the dunes, tucked away from wind and beachgoers' chatter. Rexhame is one of the few town beaches that welcomes nonresidents (for a fee, of course), although Marshfield does limit the number of cars on weekends to 25. townofmarshfield.org - J.O.
In the shadow of Mount Monadnock, where Emerson and Thoreau each found deeper meaning in a walk in the woods, crowds assemble every August to find transcendence in a more spectacular manner: pyrotechnics. The half-hour extravaganza by the Jaffrey Festival of Fireworks draws as many as 30,000 viewers. In addition to an aerial display that can make the Fourth of July on the Esplanade look like bottle rockets, there are "ground effect" fireworks - detonated on the ground, not in the air - that will leave many awestruck. August 16 at 9 p.m. (best to arrive by 8:30) at Jaffrey Airpark, Jaffrey, New Hampshire; $8 per walk-in; $40 per carload. 603-532-4549 - Tom Long
PICTURE OF BEAUTY
For a serene view of nature, you don't have to go outdoors. Step back into the 19th century at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum in Vermont and view one of the most striking paintings of that era, Albert Bierstadt's immense Domes of the Yosemite (left). The art gallery, the oldest in the United States still in its original form, also features paintings by noted Hudson River School painters Asher B. Durand, Worthington Whittredge, and Jasper Cropsey. Bierstadt is said to have returned often until his death in 1902 to occasionally touch up his masterpiece. It shows. The library is free; gallery admission is $5. 802-748-8291, stjathenaeum.org - S.J.
$100 AND UNDER
You won't come across an unhappy camper at Recompence Shore Campground in Freeport, Maine. It's hard to wipe the smile off your face when your front door looks out over Casco Bay. Only 6 miles from Interstate 295, it's a world away from the outlet stores, though close enough that when a forgetful camper (ahem...) leaves the gas stove at home, she can zip out to L.L. Bean at any hour to replace it. As if the majestic setting for the 118 campsites weren't enough, the campground is adjacent to visitor-friendly Wolfe's Neck Farm, the nonprofit that owns it. Selected campsites are $21 to $42 a night (depending on location). 207-865-9307, freeportcamping.com - Diane Daniel
Get in touch with your inner Tarzan by swinging from tree to tree down Barron Mountain (more than 1,600 feet) on the Zip-Line Treetop Tour. Thrill seekers don a parachutelike harness, clip onto a cable system, and whiz down the mountain to platforms as high as 60 feet above the forest floor. The course is 10 minutes from Lincoln, New Hampshire, and descends a half mile on seven lines connected by platforms, walkways, and a rope bridge. Reservations are suggested; participants must weigh at least 70 pounds and no more than 240 pounds ($85). Alpine Adventures, 888-745-1919, alpinezipline.com - T.L.
Fix That Slice
Whether you're a duffer or a links addict, a lesson rarely hurts. Well, not until the next day, when those golf-only muscles make themselves known. Perfect your stance and swing with private instruction from one of the pros (request Jesse Hodge Jr., if he's available) at Boston's William J. Devine Golf Course, in Franklin Park, the second-oldest public course in the country. Legend Bobby Jones used to practice on the 12th hole, the course's toughest. On a weekend morning, you might even see Mayor Menino chipping and driving on this Emerald Necklace jewel. A one-hour lesson is $30 to $80. 617-265-4084, cityofboston.gov - J.O.
Forget canoeing. This is the way to paddle. At the annual Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill auction, bid on paintings, sculpture, trips, or the chance to have an established author critique your stab at the great American novel. Preview the offerings (like this 1976 Joel Meyerowitz photograph, signed by the artist) as you stroll, martini in hand, along stone-and-shard paths connecting the art school's studios, then take a seat under the tent. Large paintings can go for $5,000 or more, but low rollers can support the center at the silent auction, featuring smaller works, including one-of-a-kind ceramic plates. The date is August 9; admission is $40, which includes hors d'oeuvres. 10 Meetinghouse Road, Truro, 508-349-7511, castlehill.org - Ellen Albanese
A BEACH TO LOVE
DEGREES OF SEPARATION
In late afternoon, the sun shoots a laser beam across Cape Cod Bay, accentuating the silky sand moguls of Corn Hill Beach. Hunched against dunes topped with willowy grass, it feels far removed from its spacious paved parking lot and the weatheredshingle cottages across the street. The water is hardly tropical, but it's a good deal warmer than the ocean just across this sliver of the Cape. A gradual drop-off and typically calm waters make this a good choice for families. Corn Hill Road, Truro - E.A.
Next Stop: Dessert
Sampling all the eateries in Burlington, Vermont, would be difficult, so the locals do the next best thing: hold a culinary grazing festival, the Green Mountain Chew Chew. More than 30 local restaurants offer their specialties out at the waterfront against a backdrop of live music, children's entertainment, and a pair of hooting trains. You might choose crepes filled with hot apple crisp, chocolate-dipped strawberries from a nearby farm, or chicken pita with sweet potato fries. It's all tented, so a downpour won't dash the picnic. June 27, 28, and 29. Tickets are $2; children 12 and under are $1. Food is traded for tokens, which cost $9 for five (most food items cost three tokens). 802-864-6674, greenmountainchewchew.com - Diane Foulds
Voices of Tomorrow
The humble, rustic Highfield Theatre in Falmouth looks like what you might envision for summer stock productions, with views of Vineyard Sound and the islands, but you'll see some of the best up-and-coming talent from universities around the country. Every year the College Light Opera Company puts on nine musicals and operettas to standing-room-only crowds, so score your tickets when the box office opens on June 9. This season's kickoff production: West Side Story. Admission is $30. 508-548-0668, collegelightopera.com - J.O.
$500 AND UNDER
Hard to Top
Vermont's biggest mood-lifter might be sitting down for a meal just under Mount Mansfield's 4,395-foot summit. A gondola lifts you gently up the mountainside from the Stowe Mountain Resort and deposits you steps away from The Cliff House, a chalet with floor-to-ceiling windows. From there, the views are heart-stopping - and perfect for a romantic evening. On most summer Saturdays (and one Thursday), the restaurant offers themed gourmet dinners. During or after the meal, you can watch the sun set over the mountain. Dinner is $80 per person (including the gondola ride, but not drinks). Lunch is served daily and ranges from $8 to $18 (and the views can be even better this time of day). Reservations required. 802-253-3665. summer.stowe.com/ activities/dining - D.F.
For families and novice hikers, the Zealand Trail is the perfect introduction to the pristine wilderness of the White Mountains. The easy 2.7-mile climb (one way) starts at an elevation of 2,000 feet plus and rises gently over another 700 vertical feet, ending at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Zealand Falls hut. The trail weaves along a brook, where you can stop to picnic and swim, then opens up to a view of the expansive Zealand Valley and Notch. The vistas are even better after a short climb up to the hut, built in 1932. If you're fortunate, you've booked a bunk in these idyllic surroundings. Cost of a bed, plus a hearty dinner and breakfast cooked by the AMC staff, starts at $89 per adult and $55 per child (nonmembers). 603-466-2727, outdoors.org/lodging/huts/huts-zealand.cfm - S.J.
One Vine Day
You don't have to be an oenophile to get tipsy contemplating a winery tour of New York's gorgeous Finger Lakes region. For honeymoons, anniversaries, and when you're about to pop the question, there are six-hour chauffeured packages for two ($439). But a less expensive - and arguably more fun - option is to take a trolley bus, which picks up about a dozen couples from hotels in Ithaca or Geneva around 11 a.m. and travels to a handful of bucolic wineries near Seneca or Cayuga lakes, returning in time for dinner. After a few stops, everybody's singing songs and exchanging phone numbers ($45 to $70 per person, with $1 to $2 tasting fees per winery). 315-828-6289, fingerlakeswinerytours.com - Elizabeth Gehrman
Southeast of Branford, Connecticut, the small, picturesque fishing harbor of Stony Creek is the gateway to the Thimble Islands - an apt name, because some of these islands, which number in the hundreds, are just large enough to hold a single house. Others have long stretches of untrampled beach. Connecticut Coastal Kayaking features a 4-mile, three-hour paddle around the Thimbles. Expect lore about Captain Kidd's hidden treasure on Money Island (no one's ever found it) and General Tom Thumb's courtship of a diminutive gal on Cut-in-Two Island ($100 per person). 860-391-3837, ctcoastalkayaking.com - S.J.
Turning Back the Clock
For old-fashioned luxury, splurge on a room with a private ocean-view deck at Rhode Island's Ocean Rose Inn. Gazing at the Atlantic, you half expect to see men in top hats and women in hoop skirts walking the sea wall, fending off the sun with parasols. The 1897 Victorian boasts ornate woodwork, and its decorative molding contains 18-karat gold. The long, flower-filled veranda looks across Ocean Road to Narragansett Town Beach. The inn is close to sailing, antiquing, and golf. For a touch of the modern, try the eclectic cuisine of the ground-floor restaurant, Turtle Soup. Main-house doubles are $249 to $379 a night. 113 Ocean Road, Narragansett, 401-783-4704, oceanroseinn.com - E.A.
A BEACH TO LOVE
The only thing at Narragansett Town Beach that's more striking than the shimmering expanse of fine sand is the hulking stone backdrop of the Narragansett Towers, the last vestige of a time when the town rivaled Newport as a summer escape for the well-heeled. Today, a boardwalk, pavilions, cabanas, changing rooms, and blanket-to-blanket sunbathers in midsummer give the mile-long beach a Jersey Shore feel. It remains one of the finest in New England and is considered one of the best spots in North America for beginner surfers. Boston Neck Road, Narragansett, 401-7820658, narragansettri.com/parks/beach.htm - E.A.
Up You Go
The easiest way to become a rock star in New England is to take a weekend and learn from one of the region's premier instructors, Alain Comeau of New England Mountain Guides. You'll start with the basics, then progress to a simple friction climb up the face of Whitehorse, a smooth slab of granite in North Conway, New Hampshire. By the end, you'll have the lingo down (top-roping, figure eights) and have graduated to scaling a crack up Cathedral Ledge, one of the area's most popular and dramatic crags. You may even top out through the Comeau Finish, a notch first charted by your guide himself ($220 per day for a private lesson). 207-935-2008, newenglandguides.com - J.O.
Shoot the rapids, then each other with a day of river rafting followed by an evening of paintball in the Maine woods. With this outfitter, you can paddle Class III, IV, and V water on either the Kennebec or Dead rivers for an all-day adventure (lunch included) and then test your trigger finger in a game of nightfall paintball on four "scenario" fields: an actual crashed airplane where two teams vie for the codebook aboard; a "speedball" field - players hide behind bunkers between shots; the Bunker Hill field, with one team rushing up a hill while the other defends it; and Maine Street USA, where shootouts take place among a dozen buildings ($115 to $157 per person, depending on the day). The Forks, Maine, 800-553-7238, crabapplewhitewater.com - J.O.
$1,000 AND UNDER
OVER THE BORDER
Leave it to Quebecers to build a luxury resort out of peeled logs. An hour's drive north of Montreal, Hotel La Sapiniere was a country getaway decades before weekend athletes started flocking to the village of Val-David to scale the rock faces and pedal the easy-rolling rail trail. Beyond the rustic exterior lies an opulent retreat of plush lounges and bedrooms where windows open to let in the pine-scented air. Chef Josee Morasse's locally based cuisine and an impressive wine cellar make the hotel a dining destination. Work up an appetite by taking a few laps on Lake Sapiniere in a pedal boat or canoe, shoot a few rounds of golf, or chill with a therapeutic massage. Rooms start at about $278 in US dollars per night (two-night minimum). 800-567-6635, sapiniere.com - Patricia Harris and David Lyon
There are many options for leisurely bike rides in Vermont. You won't find any of them on Kingdom Trails. If you crave rugged pedaling, tackle the 100 miles of gnarly mountainbike trails that honeycomb the Northeast Kingdom. The network is roughly divided into two parts: beginner and intermediate routes along Darling Hill Ridge, and whiteknuckle downhills near Burke Mountain. A nearby bed-and-breakfast, the Village Inn of East Burke, offers mountainbiking packages ($100 per night, midweek only) that include trail passes, bike storage, and access to a shower after checkout. Or pamper yourself between rides with a stay at the luxe Stepping Stone Spa and Wellness Center in Lyndonville ($180 to $250 per night), where you can bike onto the trails straight off the property - then return for a detoxifying salt glow. Keep an eye on the weather, because the trails can close due to rain. A day pass on Kingdom Trails is $10. Kingdom Trails, 802-626-0737, kingdomtrails.org; Village Inn of East Burke, 802-626-3161, villageinnofeastburke.com; Stepping Stone Spa and Wellness Center, 866-626-3104, steppingstonespa.com - Michael Blanding
A World All Its Own
This is about as wild as it gets without tents. A century-old north woods summer camp, Quimby Country in Averill, Vermont, is a colony in the wilderness, a three-story lodge amid homey cottages on an untouched lake. Cellphones don't work here, and there are no radios and TVs. But every porch has rocking chairs, the trails wind over 1,000 acres, and the fishing is great. Plan to stay awhile, and bring friends and family. There are lobster cookouts, tennis tournaments, and square dances. $164 to $199 per adult per day includes meals, boats, even beach towels. 802-822-5533, quimbycountry.com - D.F.
A mile-high view of Connecticut might just be the pinnacle of your summer. Adventure Balloon is the rare outfitter equipped to take you up 5,280 feet. Once in the air, you'll hover above the Connecticut River Valley and see all the way to the Long Island Sound and the borders of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Toast your experience (and keep your giddiness buoyant) with a post-flight glass of bubbly, included in the price. Ground transportation back to your car is also part of the three-hour adventure (Plymouth, Connecticut, $1,000 for two people). For a shorter ride - both in height and time - opt for a sunset flight. 860-584-1300, adventureballoon.com - J.O.
Run a tennis camp for 21 summers and you'll understand why New England Tennis Holidays is one of the best in the country. Sessions are devoted to covering strokes and strategy, and students go over video of their game with the pros, which can include guest appearances by former stars Mats Wilander and Mikael Pernfors. Later in the day, participants head out for round-robin play. The school has two locations: Essex, Vermont, and North Conway, New Hampshire. The Vermont locale is near the shores of Lake Champlain, if you need a refreshing dip after shvitzing all day. A threeday package in Essex, including lodging, meals, and instruction, starts at $859 ($669 in North Conway). 800-869-0949, netennisholidays.com - S.J.
A BEACH TO LOVE
WORTH THE WALK
North Beach in Burlington, Vermont, teems with bikinis, and on most days, it's mobbed. Leddy Beach, a far more secluded strand, lies just north at municipally owned Leddy Park - you reach it by a long wooden stairway. Dogs are prohibited and lifeguards nonexistent, but ducks swim close to shore, and you can watch ferries gliding past distant islands. The water is shallow, all the better to see minnows darting over the sand bars. Though the area lacks facilities, you can use the restrooms and snack bar at the Paquette Arena, an adjacent public skating rink. In the summer heat, it's like walking into a cooler. Free parking and admission. 802-864-0123, enjoyburlington.com/parks/leddypark1.cfm - D.F.
$5,000 AND UNDER
Be the Captain
Most people associate Lake George in upstate New York with the honky-tonk T-shirt and fudge shops of Lake George Village. That's unfortunate, because the middle section of this 32-mile-long lake has far more of an Adirondack appeal. This is a popular area for sailors who tack around Dome Island, an uninhabited forest that looks almost tropical. Or head farther north into a passageway, known as the Narrows, that's dotted with is- lands. Try your hand at the tiller on a leisurely two-hour cruise or take sailing lessons at the upscale resort The Sagamore. It uses Colgate 26s, sturdy rigs with a cockpit so spacious an instructor has room to maneuver around his students. Cost is $100 per hour (minimum two hours), including an instructor. A complete three-day course is $995. Rooms at The Sagamore range from $239 to $589 per night. 518-743-6104, thesagamore.com/golf/ waterfront.php - S.J.
AT YOUR SERVICE
Whoever coined the phrase "Life's a Beach" never considered all the schlepping it takes to have fun in the sun. If you ever wished for someone else to tote the bag, get a load of the over-the-top service offered guests at tony Newport resort The Chanler at Cliff Walk. A "beach butler" will drive you in a Range Rover to the beach of your choosing - whether the surf of Second Beach or the quiet of Gooseberry Beach - set up chairs and an umbrella, unpack fluffy towels, and serve snacks. You'll return refreshed to The Chanler's rooms, whether the nautically inspired Nantucket room or the regally luxurious English Tudor suite. The beach butler is $85 per couple; accommodations are $595 to $1,295 a night. 401-847-1300, thechanler.com - M.B.
NOW THAT'S RICH
Nestled among the onetime homes of Astors and Vanderbilts on opulent Ocean Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island, Gooseberry Beach is proof that you don't need riches to buy happiness. A private beach club bought by blue-collar townies in the 1950s, it's open to the general public for a parking fee. The cove of soft white sand, some 300 yards long, is ringed by mansions and fronted by picturesque granite boulders in the surf. Beach chairs are available for rent, and the snack bar is a cut above average. Best of all is the lack of crowds, which lends an air of quiet exclusivity that'll have you feeling like a modern-day robber baron. Parking is $15 on weekdays, $20 on weekends and holidays. Ocean Avenue between Carroll Avenue and Hazard Road, Newport, Rhode Island, gooseberrybeach.com - M.B.
Water, Water Everywhere
Although crowds flock to Nantucket for the beaches, staying in a hotel right on one is surprisingly difficult. The swank Cliffside Beach Club remedies that. Walk off the deck connected to your room and your toes touch sand. Built in 1904, the resort is steeped in island tradition, and recent renovations have gilded any former rough edges. Sumptuous rooms all have flat-screen televisions, Wi-Fi access, and granite counters. If the calm Nantucket Sound - a good 5 to 7 degrees warmer than other Atlantic beaches - is too salty for you, you can lounge in a 60-foot lap pool, a heated leisure pool, or a 17-foot hydrotherapy hot tub. The poshest gym and yoga room on the island also attract regulars. Daytime here is summer at its finest, but don't miss the shore at night, when the water often glows with phosphorescent plankton, and going for a dip is like immersing yourself in the midnight sky ($3,150-$4,970 per week; $450-$710 per night). 508-228-0618, cliffsidebeach.com - J.O.
One of the best vantage points of the Boston skyline is from the water, in a boat heading toward the Boston Harbor Islands. When you can rent said boat at sunset and offer a three-hour cruise serving a lobster clambake, well, then you have yourself a serious party. Few folks realize that Boston Harbor Cruises offers 10 of their boats for private functions. Have a clambake at $65 per person, throw in beer and wine for an additional $20 a head, and you can have 40 of your closest friends celebrate your birthday for a sum of $4,900. That includes a captain and crew, but not service charge or tax. 617-720-9211, functionsafloat.com - S.J.
Become a volunteer castaway or enact your own version of Survivor by renting an entire island for a week. Anchored in Maine's Damariscotta River, the 12-acre Chanterelle Island comes with eight cottages. By day, kayak, relax at the beach, or play croquet and badminton. At night, toast marshmallows or watch the stars (no TVs here). Solar power and propane fuel the necessities: showers, stoves, stereos. (Cellphones will work.) Renting a boat will give you access to Maine's many port towns, although you may not want to leave. Cost is $5,000 per week in June and September (price is higher in other months); boat rental is extra. 203-750-0109, or e-mail email@example.com - J.O.