Old Lyme: 112 miles NE of New York City; Essex: 114 miles NE of New York City; East Haddam: 124 miles NE of New York City and 132 miles SW of Boston

The Connecticut River, New England's longest, originates in the far north near the Canadian border, 407 miles from where it ends at the Long Island Sound. It separates Vermont from New Hampshire, splits Massachusetts in half, then takes a 45-degree turn just south of Hartford to make its final run to the sea.

Native Americans of the region called the river Quinnetukut, which, to the tin ears of the English settlers, sounded like "Connecticut." Because the river was navigable by relatively large ships as far as Hartford, the sheltered lower Connecticut became important for boat-building and industries associated with the international clipper trade. The valley retains that nautical flavor and has miraculously avoided the industrialization, development, and decay that afflict most of the state's other rivers.

River cruises are obvious attractions, supplemented by rides on a steam-powered train, a selection of worthy inns, antiques shops, a venerable musical theater, and even a bizarre castle on a hilltop.