Fryeburg: 55 miles NW of Portland; 85 miles NE of Concord; 140 miles N of Boston

Although culture is pretty scarce in Maine's western mountains, the natural amenities are impressive indeed. Hikers can walk some of the loveliest stretches of the entire Appalachian Trail here: It crosses into Maine in the Mahoosuc Mountains (near where Rte. 26 enters New Hampshire), and then follows rivers and ridgelines northeast to Bigelow Mountain and beyond. Canoeists and anglers can head for the Rangeley Lakes area, a chain of deepwater ponds and lakes that has attracted sportsmen for more than a century. In winter, skiers can choose from among several downhill ski areas, including big, busy, agreeable Sunday River.

Fryeburg to Gilead -- Travelers typically scurry through Fryeburg on their way from the Maine coast to the White Mountains or vice versa. They might buy a tank of gas or a sandwich, but they don't give much thought to this handsome little colonial town set in a region of rolling hills and placid lakes. Most probably don't realize that some 50,000 acres of White Mountain National Forest spill over from New Hampshire into Maine just north of Fryeburg, or that those mountains' foothills offer some of the best hiking, canoeing, and fall foliage in all of Maine. Evans Notch offers granite peaks and tumbling cascades, and the meandering Saco River is full of sandbars that invite canoeists to pull over and laze away sunny afternoons.

This region is also stocked with history (in Fryeburg) and contains one of the most pristine, appealing lakes in Maine: Kezar Lake, with the White Mountains as its backdrop. The lake is all the more appealing because public access is so difficult; few roads touch it.

Day-trippers from Portland and Boston have finally discovered this region's allure (at about 1 1/2 hr. away, it's virtually in Portland's backyard), but it still lacks the crowds and commercialism of the more developed valleys of New Hampshire's White Mountains, and it probably always will.