The region's premier monument to the former arts colony is the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site (tel. 603/675-2175; www.nps.gov/saga), off Route 12A. The sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens first arrived in this valley in 1885, shortly after receiving an important commission to create a statue of Abraham Lincoln. His friend Charles Beaman, a Manhattan lawyer who owned several homes and much land in the Cornish area, assured him that he could find a plenty of "Lincoln-shaped men" in the area. Saint-Gaudens came, found them, and stayed here more or less for the rest of his life.
His hillside home and studio, which he called Aspet, after the village in Ireland where he was raised, are superb places to learn more about this extraordinary artist. A brief tour of the house, which is kept mostly as it was when Saint-Gaudens lived here, provides a brief introduction to the man. Visitors then learn about Saint-Gaudens the artist at several outbuildings and on the grounds, where many replicas of his most famous statues are on display.
The 150-acre grounds are laced by short nature trails where you can explore the hilly woodlands, passing along streams and a millpond. The grounds are open year-round; the historic site's buildings are open for touring daily from late May through the end of October, 9am to 4:30pm. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children 16 and under. There's no charge to visit the grounds in the off season.
Covered-bridge aficionados should seek out the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge, which is the nation's longest covered bridge. Spanning the Connecticut River between Vermont and New Hampshire, this bridge has a long, interesting lineage. A toll bridge was first built in 1796 to replace a ferry; the current bridge was built in 1866, then restored in 1989. When the late afternoon light hits it just right, it makes for a great photograph.
For another view of the bridge and the scenic shores of the river, rent a canoe at North Star Canoe Rentals (tel. 603/542-6929; www.kayak-canoe.com), a few miles downstream from the bridge on Route 12A. For about $20 per adult (less for kids), Northstar will shuttle you 12 miles upstream from its base at a riverside farm to a put-in spot, allowing you a leisurely paddle back to your car over the next couple of hours. You can also pay for a full day of shuttles, or rent a vessel for a half- or full-day and dabble in the currents, without the shuttle.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.