Northern New England is a superb destination for those who don't consider it a vacation unless it takes place far, far away from buildings and cars. Hiking, canoeing, and skiing are among the most popular outdoor activities here, but you can also try rock climbing, sea kayaking, mountain and road biking, sailing, winter mountaineering, and snowmobiling. The farther north you go in this region, the more remote and wild the terrain becomes.
General Advice -- The best way to enjoy the outdoors here is to head for public lands where the natural landscape has been best preserved. The wildest areas in northern New England include Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire's White Mountain National Forest, and Maine's Baxter State Park and Acadia National Park. Use this book to help pick the best area for what you want to experience. You can often find adventure-travel outfitters and suppliers in towns around the fringes of these parks.
Once you've zeroed in the area you will visit, a bit of advice: Stay put. I've run across too many gung-ho travelers who try to bite off too much -- some biking in Vermont, a little hiking in the White Mountains, and then maybe some kayaking off Acadia in Maine. All in a week! That's a good formula for developing a close relationship with the highway, not relaxation. I advise you to pick one area, settle in for a few days or a week, and spend the long summer days exploring locally by foot, canoe, or kayak. This will give you time to enjoy an extra hour lounging at a remote backcountry lake or camping in the backcountry. You'll also learn a lot more about the area. In my experience few travelers regret planning to do too little on their vacations to northern New England, but plenty of visitors regret having tried to do too much.
Travelers used to hire guides just to ensure that they would later be able to find their way out of the woods. With development encroaching on so many once-pristine areas of northern New England, it's now sometimes useful to have guides help you find your way into the woods and away from civilization's long reach. Clear-cuts, second-home developments, and trails teeming with weekend hikers are obstacles to be avoided -- and a good dose of local knowledge is the cure, the best way I know to find the most alluring (and least congested) spots.
Basically, you've got three options: Hire a guide, sign up for a guided trip, or dig up the essential information yourself.
Hiring a Guide
Guides of all kinds can be hired throughout the region, from grizzled fishing hands who know local rivers like their own living rooms to young canoe guides attracted to the jobs because of their enthusiasm for the environment.
Alexandra and Garrett Conover of Maine's North Woods Ways, 2293 Elliotsville Rd., Willimantic, ME 04443 (tel. 207/997-3723), are among the most experienced in the region. The couple offers canoe trips on northern Maine rivers (including a "Thoreau's Maine Woods" trip), and are well versed in North Woods lore.
Maine also has a centuries-old tradition of guides leading "sports" into the backwoods for hunting and fishing, although many now have branched out to include recreational canoeing and more specialized interests, such as bird-watching. Professional guides are certified by the state; you can learn more about hiring Maine guides by contacting the Maine Professional Guides Association, P.O. Box 336, Augusta, ME 04332. The association's website (www.maineguides.org) features links to many of its members.
In Vermont, contact the Vermont Outdoor Guide Association, P.O. Box 10, N. Ferrisburgh, VT 05473 (tel. 800/425-8747 or 802/425-6211; www.voga.org), whose members can help arrange adventure-travel tours, instruction, and lodging. The VOGA website is a good place to get ideas for an outdoor vacation, with links to outfitters and outdoor-oriented inns.
Elsewhere, contact chambers of commerce for suggestions about guides.
The phenomenon of guided tours in northern New England has exploded in recent years, both in number and variety. These range from 2-night guided inn-to-inn hiking trips to weeklong canoe and kayak expeditions, camping each night along the way. A few reputable outfitters to start with include the following:
- Allagash Canoe Trips, P.O. Box 932, Greenville, ME 04441 (tel. 207/237-3077; www.allagashcanoetrips.com), leads 5- to 7-day canoe trips down Maine's noted and wild Allagash River and other local rivers. You provide a sleeping bag and clothing; everything else is taken care of.
- BattenKill Canoe Ltd., 6328 Historic Rte. 7A, Arlington, VT 05250 (tel. 800/421-5268 or 802/362-2800; www.battenkill.com), runs guided canoeing and walking excursions in Vermont (as well as abroad). Nights are spent at quiet inns.
- Bike the Whites, P.O. Box 1785, North Conway, NH 03865 (tel. 800/421-1785; www.bikethewhites.com), offers self-guided biking tours between three inns in the White Mountains, with each day requiring about 20 miles (32km) of biking. Luggage is shuttled from inn to inn.
- Country Walkers, P.O. Box 180, Waterbury, VT 05676 (tel. 800/464-9255 or 802/244-1387; www.countrywalkers.com), has a glorious color catalog (more like a wish book) outlining supported walking trips around the world. Among the offerings: walking tours in coastal Maine and north-central Vermont. Trips generally run 4 to 5 nights and include all meals and lodging at appealing inns.
- Maine Island Kayak Co., 70 Luther St., Peaks Island, ME 04108 (tel. 207/766-2373; www.maineislandkayak.com), has a fleet of seaworthy kayaks for camping trips up and down the Maine coast, as well as to places like Canada and Belize. The firm has a number of 2- and 3-night expeditions each summer and has plenty of experience in training novices.
- New England Hiking Holidays, P.O. Box 1648, North Conway, NH 03860 (tel. 800/869-0949 or 603/356-9696; www.nehikingholidays.com), has an extensive inventory of trips, including weekend trips in the White Mountains, as well as more extended excursions to the Maine coast, Vermont, and overseas. Trips typically involve moderate day hiking coupled with nights at comfortable lodges.
- Vermont Bicycle Touring, P.O. 614 Monkton Rd., Bristol, VT 05443 (tel. 800/245-3868; www.vbt.com), is one of the more established and well-organized touring operations, with an extensive bike tour schedule in North America, Europe, and New Zealand. VBT offers several trips apiece in both Vermont and Maine, including a 6-day Acadia trip with some overnights at the grand Claremont Hotel.
For More Information
Guidebooks to the region's backcountry are plentiful and diverse. L.L.Bean's headquarters in Freeport, Maine (plus a half-dozen outlet stores scattered in the 3 states), as well the Green Mountain Club's head office in Waterbury, Vermont , each stock excellent selections of local guidebooks, as do bookshops throughout the region. An exhaustive collection of New England outdoor guidebooks for sale may be found online at www.mountainwanderer.com, a company based right in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The Appalachian Mountain Club, 5 Joy St., Boston, MA 02108 (tel. 800/262-4455 or 617/523-0636; www.outdoors.org), publishes a number of definitive guides to hiking and boating in the region.
Map Adventures, P.O. Box 15214, Portland, ME 04112 (tel. 207/879-4777), is a small firm that publishes a growing line of good recreational maps covering popular northern New England areas, including the Stowe and Mad River Valley areas, the Camden Hills of Maine, Acadia National Park, and the White Mountains. See what they offer online at www.mapadventures.com.
Local outing clubs are also a good source of information, and most offer trips to nonmembers. The largest of the bunch is the Appalachian Mountain Club (see address above), whose chapters run group trips almost every weekend throughout the region, with northern New Hampshire especially well represented. Another active group is the Green Mountain Club, 4711 Waterbury-Stowe Rd., Waterbury Center, VT 05677 (tel. 802/244-7037; www.greenmountainclub.org).
You can enjoy superb road biking throughout the state. Southwest New Hampshire near Mount Monadnock has many back roads, especially around Hancock and Greenfield; this area fairly glows with foliage in October. Over on the east side of the state, a great way to take in sea breezes is to pedal along New Hampshire's diminutive coastline, following Route 1A from the beach town of Hampton up to the mini-metropolis of Portsmouth. This road can get a bit crowded with RVs at times, but there's a bike path that sometimes veers along the surf to make up for this annoyance.
The Granite State Wheelmen (www.granitestatewheelmen.org) is the state's recreational cycling club; they don't publish route maps, but they do operate lots of weekly rides in pretty areas. You don't need to be a club member to join these rides. Check the group's website for a complete, updated listing of rides. Another useful resource is Backroad Bicycling in New Hampshire by Andi Marie Cantele (Countryman Press, 2004). So is Bicycling Southern New Hampshire by Linda Chestney (University Press of New England, 2000), though it's not easy to find a copy.
Nineteen of New Hampshire's state parks allow camping (one accepts only RVs, no tents). About half the parks are in or around the White Mountains. To make advance reservations, call New Hampshire's parks and recreation division (tel. 603/271-3628); phone lines are open daily 9am to 4pm. Or call the campground directly, in season. You can also book online at the parks division's website, www.nhparks.state.nh.us. A list of the parks and their phone numbers is published online and in the New Hampshire Visitor's Guide, distributed widely through information centers or by contacting the Division of Travel and Tourism Development, P.O. Box 1856, Concord, NH 03302 (tel. 800/386-4664; www.visitnh.gov).
New Hampshire also has more than 100 private campgrounds. For one free directory, check the New Hampshire Campground Owners Association's online listings at www.ucampnh.com.
New Hampshire has a profusion of rivers and lakes suitable for paddling, and canoe rentals are widely available. Good flat-water paddling may be found along the Merrimack and Connecticut rivers in the southern parts of the state. Virtually every lake is also good for dabbling about with canoe and paddle, though be wary of stiff northerly winds when crossing bigger lakes such as Winnipesaukee.
A vigorous stocking program keeps New Hampshire's lakes and rivers full of fish. Brook trout (about half of all the trout stocked), lake trout, and rainbow trout are some of the species abundant in the state's waters. Other sport fish here include smallmouth and largemouth bass, landlocked salmon, and walleye.
Fishing licenses are required for freshwater fishing, but not for saltwater fishing. For detailed information on regulations, request the free Freshwater Fishing Digest from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, 11 Hazen Dr., Concord, NH 03301 (tel. 603/271-3421). Fishing licenses for nonresidents range from $15 for 1 day to $35 for a consecutive week. (Salmon fishing requires a special separate permit.) One helpful booklet, available free from the department, is Fishing Waters of New Hampshire. For online information, go to the department website, www.wildlife.state.nh.us.
In southwest New Hampshire, the premier hike is Mount Monadnock, which local-tourism types say is one of the world's two most popular hikes -- second to Mount Fuji in Japan. That's pretty hard to believe, though on autumn weekends it does get mighty crowded. No matter. The lone peak, rising regally and high above all of the surrounding hills, is a straightforward day hike accessible via several trails.
For other hiking opportunities, see 50 Hikes in the White Mountains and 50 More Hikes in New Hampshire, both written by Daniel Doan and Ruth Doan MacDougall (Backcountry Publications). These can be found at libraries and small New England bookstores, or through online retailers.
New Hampshire offers a good selection of slopes in its 20 or so downhill ski areas, though in my opinion the state comes up a bit short in comparison with the winter resorts of Vermont or Maine. New Hampshire's niche is the small-skiing area catering to families, places like Sunapee, Gunstock, Temple Mountain, King Pine, and Pats Peak, all with vertical drops of 1,500 feet or less.
Ski NH (tel. 800/887-5464 or 603/745-9396), based in the heart of the White Mountains, distributes a ski map and other information helpful in ski-trip planning. The organization also provide recorded ski condition reports during the season. Visit their website, www.skinh.com, for information and up-to-date ski reports.
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.