There’s no denying New England’s dazzling fall beauty. But here’s the problem: The scenic highways and byways — even our lovely backcountry roads — get clogged, and tourists with selfies stand three-deep in front of the best views. Here’s a solution: Avoid the roads and get on the water at these welcoming New England destinations. You’ll get a different view of Mother Nature’s autumn beauty show, and leave the landlubbing crowds behind.
Boothbay Harbor, Maine
This calm, deep water refuge, ringed with quiet coves and rocky ledges, is one of the finest in Maine. For centuries, it’s been safe harbor for boaters, and a popular summer playground for vacationers. Come fall, the air turns crisp, the water glistens, and the crowds thin.
Whale watching, nature cruises, and harbor boat tours are generally available through October. For a historical sail, join the Schooner Eastwind for a two-hour tour around the outer islands, with great views of the Maine coastline (207-633-6598, www.schoonereastwind.com). Balmy Day Cruises (207-633-2284, www.balmydaycruises.com) offers several cruises, including a sailing trip around the islands on a 31-foot Friendship sloop, and a 15-minute boat ride out to Burnt Island, where you’ll have 2½ hours to explore the 5-acre island and tour its historic lighthouse. Or, hop the Squirrel Island mailboat for a one-hour tour of the harbor. Nature lovers enjoy Cap’n Fish’s puffin cruises to Eastern Egg, seal watch cruises, or whale watch cruises (207-633-6605, www.boothbayboattrips.com).
By land: Walk the scenic Boothbay Harbor Region Sculpture Trail, featuring 17 sculptures from New England artists. Pick up maps at the Boothbay Chamber of Commerce (92 Townsend Ave., 207-633-2353 or online at www.boothbayharbor.com). The Maine State Aquarium (207-633-9559, www.maine.gov/dmr/education/aquarium), on the water in West Boothbay Harbor, has a 20-foot-long touch tank, a Downeast tank with regional sea animals, and a lobster den with crustaceans of different colors and sizes. Red Cloak Haunted History Tours (207-380-3806, www.redcloakhauntedhistorytours.com) offers 90-minute, lantern-lit excursions through the back streets of town, including a stop at the “most haunted building in Maine.’’
Settle in: You’ll have a wide choice of accommodations at Spruce Point Inn Resort & Spa, including rooms in the main inn, suites, cottages, and townhouses (800-553-0289, www.sprucepointinn.com). The full-service resort sits on 57 acres at the water’s edge, and has a slew of amenities, including two pools, full-service spa, three on-site restaurants, and children’s activities.
Refuel: If the weather cooperates, grab a seat on the waterfront deck at the Blue Moon Café, a local fave serving standard breakfast and lunch fare (207-633-2220, www.bluemoonboothbayharbor.com). We time our visits so we can eat at Bet’s Fish Fry, a fish shack located on Route 27 with outdoor picnic tables; it’s only open for lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday and dinner on Fridays, 5-7 p.m., or until they sell out. Portions are huge, the lightly-battered fish is super fresh, the homemade dill sauce is brilliant, the hand-cut fries perfect.
Sleepy and low-key, this northern Vermont town straddling the Canadian border is paradise for water-lovers and leaf peepers. There are nearby rivers, streams, and ponds, surrounded by fall-tinged forests that sport their autumn colors long before the rest of New England. But the show stopper is pristine Lake Memphremagog, stretching some 30 miles long into the Province of Quebec.
Rent a pontoon boat from Newport Marina (802-334-5911) to enjoy views from the water. Keep your eyes peeled for “Gog,’’ the legendary sea monster said by some to inhabit the lake. Lake Memphremagog, part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, is also a popular place for paddling. Rent kayaks from the Great Outdoors (802-334-2831, www.greatoutdoorsvermont.com).
By land: Pedal the Newport Bike Path, a paved, easy trail skirting the lake, running from downtown Newport to the Canadian border and beyond (Great Outdoors also rents bikes). Sample a variety of local products at the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center (802-334-1790, www.facebook.com/NEKTastingCenter). The MAC Center for the Arts (802-334-1966, www.maccenterforthearts.com) has exhibits, special events, and workshops. Jay Peak Resort (802-988-2611, www.jaypeakresort.com) is about a 30-minute drive away, with hiking trails, indoor water park, climbing gym, movie theater, and arcade.
Settle in: The Little Gnesta B&B (802-334-3438, www.littlegnesta.com), located a couple blocks from the lakeshore, has four clean, simple Scandinavian-style rooms. Guests rave about the spotless cleanliness of the inn, the comfy bed, and owner Ruth, “a charming and accommodating hostess.’’
Refuel: Grab breakfast with the locals at the Brown Cow (802-334-7887, www.facebook.com/The-Brown-Cow-121718141218027). Le Belvedere is the fanciest place in town, with lake views and well-prepared, thoughtfully-sourced dishes like avocado egg rolls, lobster poutine, duck breast with five-spices, rack of lamb with a whiskey barbecue rub.