There’s nothing wrong with plopping down on your favorite beach. But change is good for the soul (and, if you’re smart, not bad for the skin). In New England, a world of water is calling. The ocean, yes, but also lakes, rivers, ponds, even water parks. Enjoy them all this summer, whether you’re looking to splash it up, hide out, paddle away, or just drink in a view.
1. Take a magical dip at Diana’s Bath in N.H.
If the famed illustrator Maxfield Parrish ever needed a watery locale to inspire one of his neoclassical fantasies, he didn’t have to drive far from his home in Cornish, N.H. Shaded by a stand of lofty cedars and white pines, the boulder-strewn pools of Diana’s Bath in North Conway would make a suitable backdrop for Parrish’s sprites and fairies. But you don’t have to be an artist to enjoy this natural spa, which was once known as Oonahgemessuk Weegeet, or “home of the water fairies,’’ by Native Americans. It’s particularly popular with families who make the half-mile trek up a wide gravel path from West Side Road. As you approach the site, you’ll hear it before you see it: The murmur of water tumbling over moss-draped granite slabs and eddying in shallows creates a sylvan sonata. A picnic table and bench overlook a choice view of the Bath, which is an appropriate description of the succession of scenic shallow pools, a soothing antidote for a hot day. “I wouldn’t call it swimming,’’ said a beefy bather who was frolicking in the waters at the end of last season. “I’d call it splashing.’’ – Tom Long
Route 16 north to North Conway, left onto River Street, right onto West Side Road; well-marked parking lot is on the left.
2. Raft, kayak, camp, and … be pampered?
Get ready to experience camping in a whole new way. Professional River Runner’s two-day, all-inclusive overnight trip on the Kennebec River in Maine is a getaway that is both adventurous and relaxing. On this camping and rafting excursion, all the hard work is done for you — from the tent pitching to the meal making — leaving you free to just enjoy the great outdoors. You arrive to the camp site by funyak (an inflatable kayak) and can spend the afternoon exploring wooded trails, swimming at the pebble beach, or just chatting around the campfire. Dinner consists of a lobster cookout with hand-cranked ice cream and fresh baked strawberry shortcake. In the morning you’ll feast on blueberry pancakes, scrambled eggs, and orange juice before embarking on a 12-mile descent of the Kennebec River Gorge (Class II-IV rapids) in large rafts.
No previous rafting experience is required. A trip can be secured with six people – for groups less than six, you will be added to another group. $260 for adults; $230 for youth. Professional River Runners, 85 Route 201, West Forks, 800-395-3911, proriverrunners.com.
3. Visit Another Millennium at Machias Bay
When kayaking coastlines, too often you’ll notice that someone has arrived before you. Well, up at the end of Maine in Machias Bay, at least it’s been by a thousand years. Native American petroglyphs remain on waterline rock walls onshore and on islands a short paddle off. Do they depict people, animals, spirits? You be the judge, as there is little known about the ancient images believed to have been dinted, or tapped into the rock, by residents of land near the modern-day Passamaquoddy. If you’re an experienced paddler, guide yourself through the bay, which is also home to an 18th-century shipwreck, harbor seals, bald eagles, terns, and black-backed gulls. If you’re looking for some local knowledge, sign on for a half-day paddle with Sunrise Canoe and Kayak, which offers a range of northern Maine trips. Some visitors connect with the ancient art, while others give it only a passing glance. No matter. Those seeking solitude in Machias Bay are among kindred spirits: You’ll be far from the lobster-loving crowds that don’t make it past Acadia. – Tom Haines
Sunrise Canoe and Kayak, 68 Hoyttown Road, Machias, Maine; check the website for prices and details; 207-255-3375, 877-980-2300; sunrisecanoeandkayak.com
4. Go all out at Twin Farms
Want a pond to yourself with waterside service? Travel to the tucked-away, ultra-posh Twin Farms resort in Barnard, Vt., which raises lounging to an idyllic art. Two cottages on this property overlook the pond, and Adirondack chairs dot the shore. Because only two dozen guests can stay at this inn at a time – spread out over 300 acres and trails – you’ll likely have complete privacy while you sip your gin and tonic and contemplate the sun-dappled water. Take some one-on-one fly-fishing lessons – owners stock the pond with trout – or row a boat to the middle and have a romantic picnic lunch delivered to you. You can also play golf at a nearby course, play tennis on a court overlooking the pond, go horseback riding, or try croquet on the lawn. The service is incredible here: Spoil yourself silly by ordering a bottle of wine from the resort’s impressive cellar to enjoy by the water, or order up a fire, complete with the makings for s’mores, after dark. All you have to do is roast the marshmallows. – Janice O’Leary
$1,300-$3,100 per night, double occupancy, includes meals and drinks (except from the wine cellar’s reserve list); 1-800-894-6327; twinfarms.com
5. Go rustic at Blue Hills
Think you have to drive three hours to find a rustic retreat in New England’s hinterlands? Think again. Nestled on the eastern shore of Ponkapoag Pond in the 7,000-acre Blue Hills Reservation, not far from the busy intersection of Interstate 93 and Route 24, is a little slice of life in the slow lane. Here, just 15 minutes from downtown Boston, the Appalachian Mountain Club maintains 20 cabins that are available for rent and draw loyal, repeat visitors with their simple, quiet charms. The cabins, which date from the 1920s and 1950s, sleep two to six people (mattresses provided, bring your own sleeping bag) and are without electricity or running water. Several winterized cabins have wood stoves (bring your own wood or buy it there). Everyone uses the outhouses. In the summer, the communal main lodge is a hub for socializing – a Saturday night potluck dinner and children’s activities. There are two rowboats available to ply the still waters of the 230-acre pond, or you can bring your own canoe or kayak. Beyond that? “It’s a peaceful atmosphere. It feels like the woods are yours, and you’re not depending on a lot to make you happy,’’ says Trisha Minton, who shares with her husband, Paul, the duties of year-round caretaker. – Doug Warren
The Appalachian Mountain Club; cabins cost $160-$225 per week during the summer, $50-$70 per weekend after Labor Day and before the third week in June; 781-961-7007; outdoors.org/lodging/cabins/camps-ponkapoag.cfm
6. Go deep on the North Shore
The waters may not be Caribbean blue, but experienced divers know that Cape Ann’s rocky coastline contains New England-style rewards. So strap on a scuba tank and wade in. While others paddle and power overhead, making their way above the whipping waves, linger and explore in the cool waters. (Wearing, of course, a 7-millimeter-thick wet suit.) On summer weekends, experts from Cape Ann Divers lead free guided dives from the shore for certified divers at any of more than a dozen points. Dive to 70 feet off Cathedral Rocks, or see the stripers swim during summer off Cape Hedge. Good lobstering for those with quick hands, and a permit, is to be had off Salt Island and Bass Rocks. Or see the deteriorating state of the Chester Poling, an oil tanker sunk off Gloucester Harbor in the 1970s, or the Nina T, a trawler that followed less than a decade ago. Not certified? Cape Ann Divers offers a multiday course in pool and ocean “classrooms.’’ And for those looking for more adventure, two boats are ready to take divers farther offshore. – Tom Haines
Cape Ann Divers, 127 Eastern Avenue, Gloucester; group certification course, $250; half-day offshore trip, $80 per diver; 978-281-8082; capeanndivers.com
7. Pedal to sunset at Madaket
Bike trails on Nantucket spread out in every direction, like spokes on a tire. Relatively flat, the island is ideally suited for getting around on two wheels, especially when there seems to be a destination for every desire. Feel like sightseeing? Head east from old Nantucket town (where the ferries arrive) on a straight ride through the moors and cranberry bogs. You’ll soon arrive in the quaint town of Siasconset, where rose-trellised cottages with names like “The Snuggery’’ and “Very Snug’’ line the small streets. If a thriving college and family scene is more your pleasure, an easy 3-mile bike trail leads to crowded Surfside Beach. For sheer romance, it’s hard to top a late-afternoon pedal to Madaket Beach. On the westernmost tip of Nantucket, the beach has a narrow, wild feel to it as the white sand quickly drops to the waters of the Atlantic. Bring a backpack full of provisions – say, fresh sushi from Yoshii (2 East Chestnut Street) and sinfully good truffles from the Nantucket Chocolatier (One Cambridge Street) – plop yourself on the beach (preferably after 6 p.m., when most families have vanished) and get ready to savor the sunset. Wine might help bring on that blissful From Here to Eternity moment of rolling in the waves, but remember that you still have a 5-mile jaunt back to town. – Stephen Jermanok
Bike rentals available just off the ferry on Steamboat Wharf at Young’s Bicycle Shop, 6 Broad Street, Nantucket; 508-228-1151; youngsbicycleshop.com
8. Life the simple life in Provincetown
Who needs luxury when you’ve got a view like this? Actually, make that views. At the Keeper’s House and the Whistle House at Race Point Lighthouse, you get a spectacular look at the ocean from every window. And on a clear day from the top of the tower, you can see Boston to the east and whales to the west. Those sights and a sense of peace are the appeal to staying here. Guests reserve one of three rooms – starting at $145 per night for two – in the Keeper’s House. Or rent the two-bedroom Whistle House for a week for $2,500. The compound of buildings is off the grid, powered only by sun and wind. There are no phones, TVs, or Internet access. (Cellphone reception is stellar, until you dip down between the dunes.) The lighthouse, built in 1876, has been restored with historical accuracy, and the Keeper’s House has been renovated to reflect its 1950s origins. Bring your own sheets, towels, groceries, and drinking water. Kitchens and grills in each house allow guests to make their own meals. Four-wheel-drive transport is available from Provincetown over the 2-mile sand road and through the dunes. Although the beach is a mere 50 yards away, it’s not ideal for sunbathing – fishermen’s trucks line the shore daily (and into the evening) – but there’s a little more privacy in nearby Hatches Harbor, where you can take a dip. – Janice O’Leary
Open May 1 through the end of November (Whistle House available May 12 through mid-October); 855-722-3959; racepointlighthouse.net
9. Feel the rush at Bash Bish
In most of the far-flung villages of the Berkshires, rivers and falls were domesticated, put to work powering the now-departed mills. But Bash Bish Falls, tucked into an isolated crag on the Massachusetts-New York border, remains a magnificent anomaly: an accessible spot that still has a touch of drama and the feeling of untamed wildness. With its 60-foot drop into a small pool, Bash Bish is no Niagara, but it is the tallest set of free-falling waterfalls in Massachusetts, a series of cascades spliced into two falls by a giant boulder that, from below, seems to hang in midair. Even the most jaded of children – and grown-ups – tend to let out a holler when they spot the falls for the first time, after a steep, but not arduous, 20-minute hike through the woods from the parking lot. It’s a scene Disney Imagineers might try to re-create for a hotel or theme park, but they could never match the exhilaration and sense of wonder you feel standing by the real thing, gazing up at the sheltering tree line above and the mossy emerald shoreline below. Climbing and swimming is prohibited nowadays; most visitors spend an afternoon wading in the shallow pool, zoning out to the sound of rushing water, and soaking in the negative ions atop the Mini-Cooper-sized boulders scattered around like dice at the pool’s edge. – B.J. Roche
Bash Bish Falls State Park is located within Mount Washington State Forest, in the town of Mount Washington; mass.gov
10. Take an Icy Plunge
Rainbows swirl in a mist created by the white water thundering through a 30-foot-high gorge at Sculptured Rocks Natural Area in Groton, N. H. Fearless youths dive into the frigid water while teens in bathing suits steal glances from blankets on the rocks. The granite gorge, sculpted into sensuous shapes by melting ice-age glaciers, embraces the Cockermouth River on its way to Newfound Lake. Pack a picnic lunch and spend an afternoon swimming or exploring. Daredevils can plunge into the pools from the top of the gorge, and more timid rusticators can take a cold shower in the waterfalls, numb their toes in the shallows, or bask in the cool spray that envelops the canyon. Those of a more aesthetic bent can clamber over the rocks to examine the otherworldly formations that gave the gorge its name. – Tom Long
I-93 north to exit 23; Route 104 west to Route 3A north; follow signs to Sculptured Rocks Natural Area; nhstateparks.org
11. Soak in Solitude
It’s estimated there are 365 freshwater ponds on Cape Cod, but all you need is one to wash away all your stresses and pressures and daily annoyances. For us that place is Great Pond, in Truro, easy to reach by car or bike, depending on where you’re staying, and sure to lower your blood pressure by at least a notch or two. What makes it special is the two-minute walk down a wooded dirt path that dumps you out at the top of a small staircase, where you look out at the definition of seclusion and say, “Ahhhh.’’ The sandy stretch for your towels or chairs – it’s much too small to be called a beach – is just wide enough to hold maybe 10 or 15 people, and the water is so calm, clear, and warm, you’ll never want to get out because the Cape air will give you chills. So don’t. Just swim, float, listen to the birds and the silence and the splash of the water, and forget about your beeper, the war, and what’s for dinner tonight. (But as you do eventually make your way back to shore, keep your eyes out for the occasional snapping turtle that likes to peek its head up and see who’s around.) – Doug Most
Route 6 to Collins Road, Truro
12. Try a different dive
Strap on the goggles and leather headgear and get ready for the wind in your face. That’s about the only preparation pilot Michael Creato gives prospective fliers as they board the WACO, one of two World War II vintage biplanes he flies out of the Vineyard’s Katama Airfield. “When you live on an island, you don’t know you’re surrounded by water until you’re high up in the air,’’ he says. Even native Vineyarders are surprised at all the hidden inlets and ponds on the island once they’re soaring with the hawks at a “slow’’ 90 miles per hour. (Small commercial prop planes typically fly at about 200 miles per hour.) The open cockpit can accommodate two passengers in front, and flights range from 15 minutes around South Beach and Chappaquiddick to a full hour circling the whole island. Passengers often see large schools of fish or even the occasional shark when cruising 500 feet above the shoreline. And few visual thrills can match the sunset from high above the water. Even taking off and landing is a kick on the grass airstrip, reminiscent of the Indiana Jones films. And for real daredevils who will strap on a safety parachute and trust their tummies, Creato does acrobatic rolls, loops, spins, and dives. “Don’t worry,’’ he says, “we haven’t dropped anyone out yet.’’ – John Budris
Classic Aviators, Katama Airfield, Edgartown. Rides for two start at $199; call for reservations, 508-627-7677; biplanemv.com
13. Float away on Battenkill River
Sometimes summer’s finest moments are the quietest ones, when time stretches like a cat in the sun. While other people battle traffic and weed gardens, the siren call of indolence draws sages of laziness to Vermont’s Battenkill. Long renowned as one of the top trout fisheries in the East, this meandering river offers a diversion even more mellow than casting a dry fly: floating in an inner tube. It takes a little planning – leaving a second car (and lunch) in the lot near the covered bridge on Route 313 near West Arlington for a ride back to the start, and embarking in late morning so the entire trip westward is an extended bask in overhead sun. But the float itself requires no more energy than dragging a tube down the hill from Arlington Recreational Park on Vermont 7A in Arlington, flopping into position, and trailing your fingers in the water. Late June is best, with warmer water and fewer skeeters. Views range from the village where Norman Rockwell painted Americana to tidy backyard gardens to the hills and fields where Vermont and New York rub elbows. Does the trip take three hours or four? That depends on how recently it’s rained. And who’s bothering to keep track, anyway? The only thing you really need to count is bridges, because the covered one that’s your finish line comes third. Otherwise, it’s a day to commune with your inner trout. – Stephen P. Kiernan
The covered bridge near West Arlington is on Route 313 at Covered Bridge Road; rent tubes, canoes, and kayaks or coordinate transportation from Battenkill Riversports and Campground, 937 State Route 313, Cambridge, New York; floats from 90 minutes to four hours, $16 and up; 800-676-8768; brsac.com
14. Paddle back through time in the Northern Forest Canoe Trail
Want to retrace history in a canoe or kayak? Then grab your paddles and hit the newly mapped Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a 740-mile-long water trail that follows historic Native American travel routes as it threads its way across the Adirondacks, upper Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, with a brief foray into Quebec. The 78 waterways, detailed in a series of 13 maps and dubbed by some “a water version of the Appalachian Trail,’’ range from streams and ponds to rapids and large lakes. Though a few hard-core adventurers can paddle the length of the Old Forge, New York, to Fort Kent, Maine, trail in one continuous trip, most people opt for daylong excursions or short overnight expeditions on sections of the route. There are campsites at 10- to 15-mile intervals, and some access points aren’t far from towns and inns. But whether you cover 10 miles or 100 miles depends largely on your paddling skills – and how much time you spend just floating, swimming, and exploring marshy channels like those of Vermont’s upper Nulhegan River. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled for great blue herons, river otters, and spiny soft-shell turtles that do the breaststroke beside your craft. – Stacey Chase
The maps, sold by the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, range from $9 to $59.70, $120 for the set, and contain route descriptions, campsites, and history; 802-496-2285, northernforestcanoetrail.org
15. Go the extra mile on Block Island
The Nature Conservancy has called Block Island, 12 miles off the Rhode Island coast, “one of the last 12 great places in the Western Hemisphere.’’ Unfortunately, most day-trippers see only the crescent of sand by the ferry dock and miss the island’s varied and dramatic land- and seascapes. One of the most spectacular is Mohegan Bluffs, a 150-foot cliff of clay and sand at the island’s southern tip, from which you can see Montauk Point, New York, and beyond. It’s more than worth the cab ride or bike rental (there are several options at the ferry dock) it takes to get out there. After experiencing the view, descend the 250 wooden steps to the beach. Here, the only sounds are of breaking waves and squawking gulls, and the clay-rich sand is fine for crafting castles and sea creatures. Currents can be rough, though, so strong swimmers only. – Ellen Albanese
For a list of moped and bike rental sites, call 800-383-2474 or go to blockislandchamber.com
16. Go fish in Plymouth
Plymouth Rock garners the acclaim from out-of-towners, but it’s the Plymouth rocks, or better yet, the jetty, that attracts the locals. From May through late October, you’ll find a slew of hardy anglers on the rugged shores around the harbor, trying to hook the black-and-silver beauties they call stripers. Striped bass make their way north in May, following the herring runs. And while fishing-boat captains beckon you to go offshore, many of the larger trophy fish can be nabbed close to land as they wedge up against the rocks, searching for sand eels and cinder worms. “I weighed them up last year all the way to 59 pounds,’’ says Bruce Miller, owner of Canal Bait & Tackle in Bourne’s Sagamore village. Miller suggests using chunk bait like mackerel, squid, and menhaden, or a 6-inch Storm lure. Charlie Lemieux, a fishing guide in the Plymouth area for more than a decade, likes live eels and clams but says not to get hung up on bait. “All you have to do is ask the other guys what’s biting out there,’’ says Lemieux, noting that the early morning and twilight hours are the best times to cast. “Be careful of being on the breakwater at low tide,’’ when you may be left high and dry. – Stephen Jermanok
Canal Bait & Tackle, 101 Cranberry Highway, Sagamore, 508-833-2996, canalbaitandtackle.com
17. Build your own boat
There’s something special about forgoing the thrills of speedboats for the calmer call of skiffs, dories, and canoes so long a part of coastal New England. But imagine how it feels to climb aboard one and say, “I made this.’’ In one- and two-week classes at the WoodenBoat School, set on a country campus at water’s edge in Brooklin, Maine, learn about the fundamentals of design or about finishing a boat for launch. Experienced builders can study the nuances of making the Westport Skiff or the Caledonia Yawl. But in some of the tidiest courses, you can build a canoe or kayak from a kit, and your boat will be just about ready for water after a week. (A coat or two of stain is all that’s needed.) In Augusts, during the school’s Family Week, kids and their parents can complete a 12-or-14-foot lapstrake canoe. The school also teaches much more than just construction, from island sailing to seamanship. No matter the class, at day’s end, relaxation comes easy. There are no movie theaters or shopping centers nearby. So sit on the porch, talk with new friends, and survey the waiting sea. – Tom Haines
41 WoodenBoat Lane, Brooklin, Maine; two-week “fundamentals’’ course, $1,200; week’s lodging, $450; week’s camping, $100; 207-359-4651; thewoodenboatschool.com
18. Make a short getaway on Plum Island
If you’re looking for a quick escape that’s on the water and on the North Shore, what you’ll find is more likely antique motel than boutique hotel. But the new Blue, on Plum Island, fits the latter niche. Opened last year, the plush inn perches on a wide strip of sand, and most suites have ocean views and private decks facing the Atlantic. Grab one of the comfy lounge chairs in the sand or a cabana for shade and ask a staffer to fetch you a cool drink – nonalcoholic, that is; the inn doesn’t sell any alcohol, but you can bring your own. Surf- and boogie boards are available, and for bird-watchers, a wetland sanctuary is a short walk away. Breakfast is served in the penthouse, surfside, or in a picnic basket at your door. At night, stargaze while soaking in the hot tub on the inn’s deck. – Janice O’Leary
20 Fordham Way, Plum Island, Newbury; in season rates, $435-$1,135 per night, minimum two nights; 978-465-7171; blueinn.com
19. Find sanctuary in Falmouth
Few, if any, signs in Woods Hole direct you to the Knob, the neck of land that encloses Quissett Harbor, one of the Cape’s snuggest, on the northern outskirts of the village. You can’t blame locals for wanting to keep it secret. The Knob is one of those unusual landscapes – a public space where the harbor meets the woods meets the open sea. The 13-acre preserve, also known as the Cornelia Carey Sanctuary, is treasured for its walking trails and bird life, its sunset views, and, in summer, its somewhat secluded Crescent Beach. Getting to that beach, a slightly rocky spot that faces Buzzards Bay, is half the adventure. (In high season, it starts by finding a parking space in the small public lot that fills up fast.) Follow the Harbor Cliff Trail, which hugs the harbor’s shoreline and offers views of the old-money mansions across the way. The less intrepid, or families with little ones, sometimes set up camp right there on a lush sandy beach on the inner harbor. But you’re wise to push on, as the path cuts inland, winding through bayberry bushes and a grove of cedars and oaks. Stone steps lead up to the Knob Lookout, where, on a clear day, you can see New Bedford. On this outermost point, you’re nearly surrounded by water. Here, you might be forgiven for imagining, for just a moment, that you are Kate or Leonardo on the bow of the Titanic. Go ahead and do your best imitation. No one’s watching. – B.J. Roche
From Falmouth, follow the Woods Hole Road toward Woods Hole for about 3 miles; at the four-way stoplight, turn right onto Quissett Harbor Road and follow it until its end; the public parking lot is on the right, and to the left, you’ll see a large sign directing you to the trail.
20. Take wing in New Hampshire
Yes, “Fly Like an Eagle’’ is the name of a trippy 1976 pop tune that you probably wish you could forget. But it’s also something you can do, literally, by signing up for a tandem hang-gliding “aero tow’’ at Morningside Flight Park in Charlestown, New Hampshire. Like the birds of prey you’re sure to see the next thermal over, you’ll circle silently over the earth, soaring, swooping, and diving high above the Connecticut River Valley. Time disappears, and the next thing you know, you’re tracing the curve of the river with your body and feeling the snap of a cool breeze and the caress of a warm one that hit your face almost simultaneously as you pass through a misty cloud. The glider is hooked to an ultra-light aircraft by a towline until it reaches a height of about 2,500 feet, at which point it’s released. The pilot takes over, and all you have to do is be amazed. It’s an experience you’ll remember even longer than the song. – Elizabeth Gehrman
I-89 north to exit 12; west on Route 11 to Claremont; continue on 11 to North Charlestown and the park; $155 for 10-15 minutes, depending on conditions; 603-542-4416; flymorningside.kittyhawk.com
21. Get a taste of Europe
If you love the sight of an alpine lake set between peaks, you could travel to Norway or Switzerland. Or you can just drive north to Vermont’s Mount Pisgah, whose 600-foot cliff frowns like a stony curmudgeon over pristine Lake Willoughby, the cliffs of Mount Hor, and the 7,300-acre Willoughby State Forest. A trail heads north from the parking lot, rising moderately in a pleasant forest. The path isn’t too rooty, so instead of staring down, hikers can enjoy the variety of wildflowers and the array of boulders that glaciers left behind. As the ascent sharpens, it nears the cliff’s edge, not a delight for those with vertigo. But the summit is only 1.9 miles in, about 90 minutes at an easy pace. For more ambitious folks, the alternative route back is to proceed north 2 miles, over brooks and through lovely woods, to Route 5A – and a 3-mile roadside jaunt. No matter the route, the hike’s payoffs are three overlooks a few hundred yards past the summit. Each affords vistas of the state forest, peaks in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Quebec, and, of course, the jewel of the lake at your feet. Suddenly it’s clear why Mount Pisgah is so called. That’s where Moses saw the Promised Land. – Stephen P. Kiernan
I-91 to Lyndonville; north on Route 5 to West Burke; north on Route 5A, travel 5.7 miles to the parking area and trailhead.
22. Take a two-wheel tour
For casual road bikers, Connecticut contains one of the finest loops in southern New England. A 22-mile ride along the lower Connecticut River takes you past estates that were once owned by ship captains, over a drawbridge to one of the legendary homes of American musical theater, up a hill to a bizarre fieldstone castle, and back across the river on a dollar ferry ride. Start your tour in the historic hub of Essex. In the mid-1800s, this section of the river was lined with more than 50 shipyards. Boats would return from international waters with spices from the West Indies and ivory tusks from Zanzibar. The result of that newly acquired wealth, large Colonial and Federal-style homes that border the water’s edge, can be seen as you make your way north on Route 154. In Tylerville, veer right on Route 82 across a drawbridge into East Haddam, site of the four-story gingerbread Goodspeed Opera House, which opened in 1877 and still delivers three productions a year. Then, make your way up to Gillette Castle. William Gillette amassed a fortune playing Sherlock Holmes at the turn of the last century, but judging from the medieval-style fortress he designed and built between 1914 and 1919, he would have been better suited to playing King Arthur. You can tour the 24-room behemoth overlooking the river and walk the grounds over trestles and through tunnels before biking downhill to the Hadlyme docks. A short ferry ride will bring you to the western shores, where you pedal back to Essex. – Stephen Jermanok
From Essex Square, take North Main Street and continue on River Road; turn right on Essex Street, then right on Route 154, and right again on Route 82 to cross the river. Turn right at the sign for Gillette Castle. After visiting the castle, take a right turn on Route 148 to reach Hadlyme; cross the river via ferry and turn left on Route 154 to backtrack to Essex. Rent bikes at Action Sports in Old Saybrook, 860-388-1291.
23. Shut out the world
The head of the reception committee at Harvey’s Lake Cabins is Abby, a golden retriever with three tennis balls in her mouth at once. A quick game of fetch is just the mood-setter, too, for this quiet spot on a dead-end road snuggled against a 350-acre lake in the Northeast Kingdom. The 10 cabins, some built from trees cut and milled on-site, are furnished with antiques, but pets are allowed. The cabins, as well as 40 tent and pop-up-camper sites, lie along the campground’s 2,300 feet of frontage on the lake and Stevens River. The water is clean, gratifying for anglers, and good for swimming or paddling (canoes and kayaks are available for rent). West Barnet lies equidistant from Vermont’s Green Mountains and New Hampshire’s Whites. The 4,500-acre Groton State Forest offers hiking a few minutes away, and tourist spots like Stowe are an easy drive. But between the lake on sunny days and the rec center’s Ping-Pong and pool tables on rainy ones, this is a place to leave the world behind: no TV, no Internet access, and cellphone service is unreliable. Says co-proprietor Michael Vereline: “You find this place, you stay, you chill out.’’ – Stephen P. Kiernan
Prices range from $125 a night to $895 per week, depending on the type of cabin. I-91 to exit 18; head west on West Barnet Road; at the village center (roughly 5 miles), turn left onto Garland Road; after a few hundred feet, turn right and follow signs to campground; 802-633-2213; harveyslakecabins.com
24. Relax. Then really relax.
You gotta love a three-bedroom B & B that offers spa treatments. Especially when it’s nestled in a secluded Vermont hamlet overlooking a covered bridge, small dam, white steeple, and not much else. Grab your bikes (preferably with hybrid tires, since you’ll be riding on dirt roads) and take the two-hour drive from Boston to the Green River Bridge House, just south of Brattleboro in Guilford. Soon you’ll be pedaling alongside the rushing waters of the Green River, past dilapidated barns and rolling pastures with cows and horses. Make your way west to Halifax, ringed by mountains of maple, birch, and pine trees. After that, it’s back to your home for the night. Take a quick swim under the covered bridge, then get a massage or a facial. Joan Seymour is more than mere owner of a circa-1830 home. She’s a licensed aesthetician who spent years down under, helping locals save their skin from the hot Australian sun. But she’s all New Englander when it comes to making stuffed blueberry French toast in the morning. Work off the hearty breakfast with one final country walk, and the woes of modernity will be long forgotten, replaced with good old Vermont sweat. – Stephen Jermanok
Take Route 2 west to I-91 north to exit 1; go south on Route 5 for 1.4 miles, then turn right onto Guilford Center Road; go 4.7 miles and veer right again onto Stage Road; after another 2.5 miles, it’s on the left. Rooms are $175-$235 a night (the Sunrise Room has a veranda and indoor whirlpool); 800-528-1868; greenriverbridgehouse.com
25. Scream a Little (or a lot)
Full disclosure right upfront: I like Water Country in Portsmouth as much as my teenage son does. But we differ in the details. Nick adores the Black Hole and Warp 8 site for its thrill factor (“You can’t even see where you’re going’’). Give me the Thunder Falls and Wild Canyon, where up to five can hop on a huge inner tube and white-water raft (and, yes, you will get wet). Water Country lives up to its name, with more than a dozen wet-and-wild slides involving tubes, tunnels, gravity – and courage. My son and I have been down the twin slides at Double Geronimo together – plummeting nearly 60 feet. “Wicked fun and basically straight down,’’ he says. After this, I suggest you stagger over to a kinder, gentler site such as the giant wave pool, or climb on a tube and drift down Adventure River. For the younger set, there’s tamer stuff, such as a kiddie cove with shallow water, small slides, and a beach area. For the rest of us, the Double Dive Boggan, Dragon’s Den, Racing Rapids, and The Plunge await. Bring your bathing suit, towel, sunscreen – and lungs. And if you can’t make it to New Hampshire – or want a little more climate control – an alternative is the CoCo Key Water Resort, the recently opened, $20 million, 65,000-square-foot indoor water park in Danvers. – Bella English
Water Country open now through September 2; tickets are $37.99 and $22.99 (under 48 inches and seniors); 603-427-1111; for directions, go to watercountry.com. CoCo Key Water Resort is at the Sheraton Ferncroft in Danvers. Use of the water park is free for hotel guests. Day passes are $45 and $30 (under 48 inches); 978-646-1062; for directions, go to cocokeyboston.com