Outdoor adventures in New England’s thrill-seeking states

Mount Washington
All-season destination: the incredible Mount Washington in New Hampshire Credit: Getty

Beyond the historic villages and scenic splendour, this heritage-rich region is a paradise for visiting adventurers, says Gordon Scott

Mention New England to most travellers and it will conjure up a host of associations. There’s a deep and storied history, of course, as befits the home of the Plymouth Colony and the powder keg of the American War of Independence.

Add to that abundant natural splendour, not least the world-renowned “fall”, when the changing season sees its many forests awash with thrilling autumnal colour. And of course there’s food. The region is the home of chowder and is blessed with some of the world’s best seafood. Many, though, may not readily associate the six states in America’s north-east corner with some of the country’s most rewarding adventure travel. But this is changing fast as thrill seekers wake up to the fact that New England has it all.

Between them, the states of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts can put together a world-beating roll call of adventures from white-water rafting to paragliding over verdant valleys, as well as skiing and yachting to make you swoon. And, as well as getting your pulse racing, these adventure holidays are a fantastic way to appreciate the stunning scenery of this lush and fantastically varied region.

New Hampshire

From the peak of Mount Washington to the depths of the Flume Gorge chasm, New Hampshire’s White Mountains are an all-season destination that attracts visitors from all over the American Northeast, drawn to the breathtaking beauty of its lakes, waterfalls and dense woodland.

Part of the northern Appalachians, the park is brilliant for sports of all kinds. In winter there is downhill and cross-country skiing on evocatively named mountains: Wildcat, Cannon, Loon. And in summer there are abundant choices – caving, hiking and, thrillingly, white-water rafting. Head to Gorham at the northern edge of the forest for a family-friendly experience, or Errol, near Umbagog Lake, for a Rapid River Class IV run.

Breathtaking beauty: the stunning Lake Winnipesaukee Credit: Getty

Those who want to get away from it all should head up to the wilderness of the Great North Woods to hike or bike through “Moose Alley ”, near the Canadian border, where the great beasts amble about in huge numbers and the ponds teem with trout.

Or, if you’re after serenity and wide-open skies, head to the Lakes Region where the stunning Lake Winnipesaukee is just one of many beautiful expanses of water ideal for kayaking and canoeing. Brilliantly, it often freezes in winter, offering ample opportunity for borehole ice fishing.

Massachusetts

From the glory of the Berkshires in the west to the wilds of Cape Cod in the east, Massachusetts has a wealth of natural beauty to complement the big-city bustle of Boston and the bookish charm of its college towns. And, for such a high-minded state, there’s a wide range of activities to get the pulse racing. For the best inland experiences, head to the mountainous highlands of the Berkshires. Here, “leafpeeping”, as the locals call watching the autumn foliage, is a way of life.

Natural beauty: the mountainous highlands of the Berkshires

But there’s plenty of action to offset the peace – try Jiminy Peak for snowboarding and Charlemont for rock climbing. On the coast, there’s a similar range of action, from the high-octane to the meditative. White Crest Beach on the Cape Cod National Seashore delivers the former with a swell that attracts serious surfers. Head further north to Race Point Beach for great saltwater fishing. Try kayaking among the wildlife on the Nauset Marsh, or take a whale-watching tour Provincetown.

Vermont

All of the New England region blazes gloriously in the fall, and Vermont is no exception. Head to the state’s Northeast Kingdom with its big skies and open spaces for vivid autumnal hiking far from the madding crowd. Or take to the water on the Winooski River, where you can paddle canoes or kayaks against a backdrop of bright reds and glowing golds, keeping an eye out for deer, otters and moose.

Rugged state: take to the water on the Winooski River Credit: Getty

A couple of months later and the uplands of this rugged state will be blanketed with snow. With 7,300 acres of alpine terrain there is something for everyone, from downhill racing adrenalin junkies to families. Even young kids will love super-accessible snowshoeing along wonderfully named trails such as the Nebraska Notch and the Big Bear Loop.

And summer is stunning, too, for this inland state is blessed with abundant lakes. Try Elmore State Park for paddleboarding – rent kayaks and canoes too – or Lake Champlain for fishing. And this being the Green Mountain State there is abundant off-road biking: Serious riders head to Sugarbush Bike Park, where Lincoln Peak makes a great backdrop to the challenging trails.

Connecticut

Famous for its preppy New England fashion and country-club social scene, old-school, sophisticated Connecticut could fall off the radar of the adventure seeker. But with its beautiful upcountry – think rolling hills and handsome forests – and a gorgeous coastline studded with beautiful beaches, this is a state with a little bit of everything, from hair-raising paragliding to gentle hiking and even a little bit of skiing.

The first of these is best experienced over the Connecticut River Valley, where, strapped to an instructor, you can take control of the glider as you fly over the meandering river. Visit in autumn as the trees that line the water’s edge turn gold and red and the whole thing is just glorious. All over the state the hiking and biking are first rate.

Must-see: Chapman Falls in Devil’s Hopyard State Park Credit: Getty

Walk alongside the rushing water at the glorious Chapman Falls in Devil’s Hopyard State Park, or for something a little crunchier head to the rugged Powder Ridge Mountain Park where a ski-style lift transports you and your bike up the hill allowing you to spend more time heroically hurtling down.

Water lovers are also well served and not just along the coast. The lovely Farmington River, just north of Hartford, is the perfect place to experience once-tried, never-forgotten moonlight kayaking.

Maine

If you were given free rein to design the dream adventure sports playground, you would probably come up with something like Maine, with its vast tracts of wilderness, dense forest, snow-capped mountains and hundreds of miles of coast. There are delights all over the state, from Moosehead Lake in the Highlands (go there to fish its landlocked salmon) to Higgins Beach, just south of Portland, where seasoned surfers take on its impressive swells.

Teeming with life: the spectacular Acadia National Park Credit: Getty

The whole thing comes thrillingly together in Acadia National Park, which straddles half of Mount Desert Island and the Schoodic Peninsula. The park is a paradise of bays and tree-lined mountains and teems with life, including the spotted salamander and black bears. As well as 120 miles of hiking trails, there is climbing on pink granite rocks, skiing and ice fishing in winter, swimming at Echo Lake beach in summer, and biking all year round.

Rhode Island

If anywhere across the globe can claim to be one of the world capitals for sailing, it is Newport, Rhode Island, venue for 12 consecutive America’s Cups from 1930 to 1983.

This old-money, super-sophisticated city, with its historic mansions and Gilded Age sensibility, remains a brilliant place to charter a boat and set sail round Rhode Island’s waters dotted with beautiful islands, majestic bridges and hidden coves. There are abundant opportunities for all skill levels, with all types of craft available from nippy little J/22s to gorgeous great antique yachts.

Sailing capital: Newport in Rhode Island Credit: Getty

The fishing is predictably brilliant too. Charter a boat and head off into waters teeming with bluefin tuna and sea bass. For the Ocean State’s best surfing, head to the beautiful Mohegan Bluffs on Block Island, with its gorgeous secluded beach and consistent swell.

Away from the coast there are hidden gems aplenty, not least historic Blackstone Valley, home to Lincoln Woods State Park where the trees line the water’s edge (gorgeous in autumn). The park pulls in climbers drawn to its bouldering, and is a haven for cyclists zipping along the 11-mile Blackstone River trail.

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