You’ll see Mother Nature at her very best in New England in the USA’s north-eastern corner.
Founded when the Pilgrim Fathers stepped ashore at Plymouth Rock in November 1620, New England comprises the states of Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut. It’s one of the most beautiful and bountiful outdoor regions in the world. Wild rivers and mountainous regions lure outdoor enthusiasts for hiking, kayaking and white-water rafting. Historic lighthouses punctuate the wild Atlantic coastline, and quaint coastal villages filled with lobster shacks lure seafood lovers.
Meanwhile, a trail of covered bridges, photo-friendly barns and traditional general stores stocked with local maple syrup fill the region’s bucolic hinterland. Seriously, what more could a holidaymaker ask for?
Here are ten top things to do in New England.
1. Go moose spotting
Maine has the highest population of moose outside of Canada and the best time to spot them is early morning or dusk. The mountains and lakes regions around Moosehead Lake are a popular breeding ground for this shy, elusive and very large beast. Maximise your chances of spotting one by joining a tour out of Millinocket — an old logging town that is also an epicentre for outdoor pursuits such as rafting, kayaking, camping and fishing. Alternatively, drive the section of Route 3 from Pittsburgh to the Canadian border — aptly named ‘Moose Alley’ because of the likelihood of crossing paths with this cartoonish-looking animal.
2. Scale Mount Washington
Mount Washington in New Hampshire is the highest peak in the north-east and boasts the record for the highest wind speed ever recorded on the planet. On a clear day, the 360-degree views from the peak reach as far as the Atlantic Ocean. The 13 kilometres of hairpin bends and switchback corners make for an exhilarating drive to the top. Alternatively, ride the world’s first mountain-climbing cog train (established in 1869), which departs from Bretton Woods.
Mount Katahdin is the highest peak in Maine, the northern end of the Appalachian Trail and the centre of Baxter State Park. This pristine wilderness area offers rock-climbing, hiking and mountaineering — all a mile above sea-level. Arcadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine is a must-do, with looping trails, secret beaches, spectacular scenery and wildlife. The park’s Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the North Atlantic coast.
3. Eat lots of lobster
New England’s crinkly eastern seaboard is awash with crab shacks offering lobster rolls, lobster bisque or plain lobster with corn cobs and a bread roll for around $20 USD. Once considered animal fodder or only fit for prisoners to eat, it’s said that the abundant crustacean would wash ashore in waves a metre deep! While general consumption has increased over the decades, conservation efforts and careful aquatic monitoring ensure the ongoing health of the lobster industry.
4. Visit the home of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
Lick your way through tubs of mint-choc-chip, rocky-road and chocolate-fudge-brownie, and marvel at how two young men paid $5 for a course in how to make ice cream and became a global success story. Ben & Jerry’s first store-front was in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vermont. Today, the company’s home is the green hills of Waterbury, amongst lush paddocks full of contented cows. Do a factory tour to get the insider scoop, traipse up the hill to visit the ‘flavour graveyard’, then perch on the front veranda under shady umbrellas with other devotees and sample chocolate and nut swirls and triple caramel delight.
5. Take a country drive
Famous for its ‘leaf-peeping’ drives during Fall (autumn), a road-trip through New England is fantastic at any time of year. The Kancamagus Highway meanders through White Mountain National Forest. Hop on Route 112 between Conway and Lincoln, and enjoy 30 miles of forested wilderness. The coastal route from Boothbay to Bar Harbour, often shrouded in mist, is littered with lobster shacks and lighthouses. The Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway in Maine traverses the wild northern section of New England. The glassy lakes and majestic mountain ranges are home to moose, bear and bobcats. Beach lovers should take the US1 from the surf town of Narragansett to historic Westerly, while history buffs can go antiquing on the Old King’s Highway from Sandwich to Orleans.
6. Sample delicious local delights
No-one does ‘quaint’ quite like New England. Stop at Littleton and visit the quintessential American diner on the main street. There are two benchs out the front — for Democrats on one side and Republicans on the other. Visit Bethel, Woodstock, Rockport or Portland to find old-fashioned malt shops and general stores. Sample fresh-pressed apple cider, local wines, fruit and cheese. Vermont produces the finest berries in the country and supplies fruit for most of the USA. A drive through the countryside will give you the chance to pull over and pick your own organic blueberries and raspberries.
7. Hoof it to the Morgan Horse Farm
The magnificent Morgan breed of horse is steeped in history; it’s Vermont’s state animal and was widely used by the US Calvary. Today, the purity of the breed is protected in the lush hills of Middlebury, Vermont at The University of Vermont’s Morgan Horse Farm. Elegant weeping willows and majestic cedars line the stately driveway to the main ‘barn’, built in 1878. Sit in the shade of willow trees and watch the foals frolic or tour the stables and observe the dressage training techniques. Today’s herd of 60 – 80 Morgans maintains a genetic link to General Gates — the foundation sire of the Battell bloodline.
8. Join the micro-brewed revolution
The rise of the microbrewery throughout New England over the past two decades means you’re never far from a good boutique brew. Respecting traditional brewing techniques but adding modern twists, the industry offers IPAs, stouts, ales, and lagers infused with flavours such as cranberry, maple syrup, pumpkin and wild blueberry. There’s a beer trail in every state, and you can tour Samuel Adams in Boston, and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Merrimack to see how Budweiser is crafted. The annual Martha’s Vineyard Craft Beer Festival is held in September.
9. Explore historic Boston
Founded in 1630, Boston is the oldest major city in the USA and home to many of America’s finest universities. Renowned for the infamous ‘tea party’ in 1773, Boston has a history all its own. Visit the floating Tea Party Ships & Museum and walk the Freedom Trail to find out who did what when, and why the American Revolution was fought. Visit grand mansions, historic homes and gardens that showcase Boston’s glory days of shipping, unique architecture, and prosperous farmland.
10. Learn about Native American history
Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Centre in Connecticut reflects 18,000 years of Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation culture and history. It’s the largest museum of its kind in the world. You can learn the century-old boat-building techniques of the Wampanoag people at Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Homesite in Massachusetts, while further north in Bar Harbour, the Abbe Museum shares Maine’s Wabanaki cultural heritage.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten top things to do in New England? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Susan Hinchey is a freelance travel writer who, even as a teenager growing up in country New South Wales, knew she wanted to see the world. A couple of years out of high school Susan embarked on an eight-week European Contiki tour. Since then she has visited Alaska, Canada, Thailand, Vanuatu, Fiji, Greece, parts of North America, and Britain several times. Susan’s go-to getaway is a camping trip anywhere along the Australian coast. Her favourite travel moments have included sailing the Mediterranean and visiting Denali National Park in Alaska.