New England travel bloggers are a rare breed. We don’t jet of to exotic locations and rhapsodize about far-off places. Instead, we write about a little-known piece of the U.S. that most people don’t really understand.
New England States List
- Rhode Island
- New Hampshire
What state is New England in? It’s one of the most popular Google searches about the region, maybe because it’s such a difficult question to answer.
You see, New England isn’t really a state, but rather a conglomerate of states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Some people even throw Maine in for good measure. Together, these states form the region known as New England.
You’ll find a wide range of geography across New England, from the white sand beaches of Rhode Island and the rocky shores of Maine to stony mountain peaks and cascading hills. There is no better place in the country for a road trip, and that’s coming from someone who has logged a lot of miles behind the wheel.
However, New England, for all its historical significance and beauty, remains the awkward stepchild of the travel industry—beloved by those who know it, ignored by the rest. Beyond a brief spattering of tourists seeking fall splendor, the region is largely an anomaly on the U.S. travel radar.
Well, no more. We believe it’s time for New England to shake off the cobwebs and emerge as the amazing travel destination it should be. Here are the reasons you should spend more time thinking about New England travel by learning about all of the fun things to do in New England.
New England Is a Hikers Paradise
While hikers flock to the southern Utah, Oregon and other mountain states for epic experiences, they’re missing the opportunity to commune with nature on a much more private scale. New England is home to thousands of hiking trails, including over 734 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, this monumental journey begins in Georgia, running a course of 2,200 miles across fourteen states before ending in Maine. Taking on the full through hike is an ambitious undertaking, but in New England, you can set out on a number of mini adventures across the Appalachian trail and still find yourself tucked in beside a roaring fire at a Bed and Breakfast each night.
However, the Appalachian isn’t the only place for an off-the-beaten-path hiking adventure. The New England states are rich in natural areas. In fact, Connecticut and Massachusetts both hit the top-ten for states with the highest number of state parks.
New England is also home to the land trust. New Englanders are passionate about nature and preserving open spaces, and this particular penchant has led to the formation of a number of private organizations known as land trusts. The non-profit entities hold deed to several biologically and ecologically diverse areas across the region. Best of all, most are open to hiking, drastically increasing the number of trails you can explore. Some lead to historical treasures while others peak on high vistas or wander through ecological wonders.
If a week’s long through hike is where it’s at for you, consider throwing your pack down along the New England Trail, also known as the New England National Scenic Trail. You’ll enjoy 215 miles of natural splendor, crossing through 39 communities in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Another great through hike is the Cohos Trail, which covers 170 miles through northern New Hampshire, ending at the border with Canada. However, if you’re like us, you’ll find some of the best hiking trails in Connecticut, where mountains descend to seashore and the hikes are as diverse as the landscape.
New England Has Beaches Too
If sun and surf are more your thing, New England features miles of sandy beaches. You can easily spread your blanket on one of Rhode Island’s public shores, including the popular Misquamicut or Scarborough, for an afternoon in the waves, but more famous pleasures await you up the coast.
Massachusetts is probably best known for the city of Boston, but a close second is a narrow spit of land known fondly by locals as “The Cape”. Cape Cod is home to the Cape Cod National Seashore, one of a handful of national parks in New England. Here, you’ll find the typical sun and shore activities as well as fishing, kayaking and even the chance to drive on the beach.
To see how the other half lives, or if you are the other half and are looking to fit in, take a ferry boat to the nearby island of Martha’s Vineyard. Summer rentals are the rule here, so plan to stay a week or more to truly soak in the New England beach vibe. It’s different than our southern or western neighbors for certain.
The New England Travel Experience Can Be Full of Adventure
While New England as a travel destination often flies under the radar, that doesn’t mean the region lacks for adventure. If you’ve got a wild streak, you’ll find plenty to do in New England’s mountain regions.
Mountain bikers flock to miles of adventurous trails, including Todd Balf, contributor to Yankee magazine. He’s a man who knows mountain biking, having ridden a variety of courses from New Zealand to Venezuela. When asked to rank his favorite New England trails, he listed the following as 3 top favorites, ranked so for a great mix of easy and challenging routes combined with a bit of the unordinary:
- Great Brook Farm State Park (Carlisle, MA): Featuring Native American dig sites and “big-eyed Holsteins”
- Kingdom Trails (East Burke, VT)): Simply described as heaven by Balf, this area features over 100 miles of trails for varying skill levels
- Mount Agamenticus (York, Maine): For terrific views of the Gulf of Main and inland White Mountains, Balf says this trail can’t be beat.
Even though we haven’t hit a trail in ages, we have one on our list if we ever feel so inclined again. Millstone Quarry in Vermont offers over 1,500 acres of trails through an abandoned quarry. With high peak views over fathomless blue depths, surprising granite carvings and an array of experiences waiting to be discovered, Millstone should be at the top of any mountain biking trail list.
However, if you’re brand of adventure lends more toward four wheels than two, you’ll be happy to know that New Hampshire offers the largest interconnected ATV trail network in the northeast. Public use is permitted across all of the state’s mountainous trails, which double as a snowmobile expressway when the warmer days end.
For a gentler ATV experience, Backyard Adventures in Connecticut offers fun in the northwest hills, allowing newbies to get their feet wet on a day trip excursion. Backyard Adventures is located on several hundred private acres of land in the Litchfield hills. Tours begin at a driving range, but things rev up rather quickly once you’re strapped into your Can Am Commander side-by-side.
When you’re done touring the land by wheel, why not see what you can find by water. Whitewater rafting is a treat in the spring when snow melt fuels a powerful blast of rapids down several riverways in Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts. During the summer, the rocking and rolling ride mellows considerably, but offers a pleasant way to spend a sunny day accompanied by the prospect of a few thrills.
New England Travel: The Big Cities Beckon
If backwoods or outdoor excitement isn’t your thing, then you won’t feel out of place in New England. You can catch a train from the Connecticut coast and arrive in Manhattan less than an hour later. Boston also beckons, combining big city delights with an established tourism appeal.
Approximately 600,000 people choose to explore the city with Boston Duck Tours aboard a colorful amphibious vehicle. For more than a quarter of a century, the tour group has been leading Boston tourists on a historical ride through city streets and into the Charles River. It’s one of the most iconic experiences Boston has to offer, not to be outdone by the 2.5-mile-long Freedom Trail.
Covering 16 historic locations, including the Bunker Hill Monument and the Paul Revere house, the Freedom Trail is a walk through American history, accompanied by the sounds and sights of a modern, bustling city.
Beyond history, you’ll find the cultural attractions, restaurants and museums you’d expect in a major metropolitan area. Two top picks include the Museum of Science, where rotating exhibits join static hands-on experiences, and the New Bedford Whaling Museum, covering the Moby Dick era of Boston’s culture.
For another knowledge adventure, check out the Harvard campus in neighboring Cambridge where over 22,000 students seek upper-level learning. As for the rest of us, we’ll have to make do with the ambiance and a quick stroll across hallowed grounds.
We Have National Parks too
No talk about New England travel is complete without discussing the region’s national parks. In addition to the Cape Cod National Seashore, New England is home to one of the nation’s ten most visited parks, so we feel it’s pretty special.
Acadia National Park sits snuggly nestled on an island off the northern Maine Coast. A drive up Cadillac Mountain in the predawn hours rewards you with the first glimpse of the sunrise as it lights up the U.S.
If you aren’t too tired from rising to beat the sun, you can explore 27 miles of winding roads or find a place to park and head out on one of over 120 miles of Acadia’s hiking trails. When combined with the park’s famous carriage roads, visitors have a remarkable number of experiences to choose from.
Once you’ve explored the land of Acadia, head toward the seashore. Over a dozen smaller islands lie off of Mount Desert Island where the park resides, offering a land and sea experience like none other. Kayakers prefer Porcupine Islands, but most visitors will make at least one trip out to Isle of Haut where miles of trails invite hikers and cyclists.
One of the most iconic stops when visiting Acadia is Bar Harbor. This quaint village is a tourist trap, because once you stop, you might never want to leave.
Travel New England History through the Gilded Age
The late 1800s saw the birth of over 4,000 millionaires within the U.S. fueled by the great industrial revolution. As a hotbed of innovation and industrial growth, New England offered respite to many of these inventive minds, as the wealthy elite flocked to the shores of Newport Rhode Island.
It soon became a race to the top as each family tried to outdo the other in opulence and extravagant touches. Unfortunately, many of these great bastions to affluence and prosperity have been lost over the years, but a handful remain, thanks to the concerted efforts of The Preservation Society of Newport County.
Several properties are open for tours, providing guests a glimpse of life behind the gilded curtain. If you want to explore the history of life below stairs, take the Servants Tour at the Elms. It’s the U.S. trip to Downton Abbey.
Servants were the lifeblood of these great estates, but as industry created opportunities in other sectors, serving in the great houses of the world began to lose its prestige and appeal. When workers could join factories or other lines of work for greater pay, the advantages of being a cook, scullery maid, valet or lady’s aide, began to lose appeal. Without an established workforce, it became harder to run the great estates, and many began to fall into disrepair.
During their heyday, however, the Newport “cottages” as the residents called them, were run on the newest in innovative technology. A trip beneath The Breakers offers a peak at the subterranean marvels that kept the cliffside mansion running above ground.
For greater insight into the innovative marvels of the day, you can take a trip north from Newport to Lowell, Massachusetts. Here, the Lowell National Historic Park offers an immersive trip into textile making, one of the largest industries to fuel the industrial revolution. You’ll learn why Lowell was key to the success of the textile movement, how men came together to build a series of the most innovative manufacturing facilities of the time, the role women played in making the U.S. the center for the textile trade, and even see a working power loom, the invention that made the textile boom possible.
If you’re looking to see New England history come to life, there are 2 immersive experiences worth checking out. Sturbridge Village is about an hour’s drive from Boston and an equal journey from Hartford. You’ll find costumed characters expertly playing the role of colonial residents as you tour 40 structures in a recreated colonial village. Characters are more than ready to carry on conversations in the dialect of the day and explain their roles as they carry on with daily tasks such as making cheese, spinning wool or manning the the town store.
Taking a trip further back in time leads you to Plimouth Plantation, to experience daily life during the earliest settlements of the Massachusetts shores. Life was hard in early New England, as you’ll learn by interacting with characters of the day. Included with the price of some admissions is a visit to the recreated Mayflower, providing a glimpse into the gloomy ocean experience our early settlers endured in the name of religious freedom.
Getting here and Where to Stay When Traveling New England
If this New England travel guide has inspired you to visit the region, you’re probably wondering how to get here. Fortunately, you have a lot of options.
Boston and New York both boast 3 major airports between them. In Boston, several flights a day from multiple locations worldwide arrive at Logan International airport (BOS). In New York, you have a choice between either John F. Kennedy (JFK) International airport or LaGuardia (LGA). While flights into one of these three major hubs usually offer the cheapest fare, it might not be your most convenient option for exploring New England beyond the city confines.
The small size of the new England states makes it easy to visit multiple locations in the space of a week or two-week vacation. If this is your intent, a flight into Bradley International Airport (BDL) outside of Hartford, CT is your best starting point. The airport is currently undergoing renovations to make it easier for travelers entering the state to access amenities such as rental cars. You’ll also find a hotel conveniently located on airport property for an overnight stay that doesn’t require a shuttle.
From Hartford, it’s an easy trip north into Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and even Maine. Boston and the Berkshires are little more than a two-hour drive away, while the White Mountains of New Hampshire and many prime locations in Vermont can be reach in three to four hours.
Of course Connecticut offers it’s own delights, including the famed Peabody Museum at Yale. You can also descend into the belly of a submarine, race go karts on the world’s largest indoor track, or spend the day as a high roller at Foxwoods Casino.
Across New England towns, you’ll find accommodations are plentiful. Of course the big cities offer the largest variety of options, but you’ll also find a number of private homes available for rent through sites such as VRBO.
Your best bet here is to look in areas where tourism is common, such as the Berkshires in Massachusetts, Stowe or Woodstock in Vermont, the White Mountain Region of New Hampshire and the Ogunquit or York areas of Maine. If you’re looking for beach accommodations, you can find private homes in the Rhode Island coastal region as well.
You’ll also find popular hotel chains throughout major New England towns as well as a number of private Bed and Breakfast resorts and world-renowned inns.
While still a glimmer on the travel horizon, New England’s fame is growing. With so many things to do in New England, The U.S. Commerce Department indicates that international travel to the region is on the rise. Of course, the current Covid-19 pandemic is likely to lessen those numbers in the short term, but a focus on New England travel is anticipated to rise again once the crisis ends. That means you may have a short window of time to enjoy the beauty and splendor of New England in relative solitude.