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.
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).