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16 Favorite Water Days

16 Favorite Water Days
4 votes, 4.25 avg. rating (83% score)

Fairest of Them All

For sheer scenic beauty, no New England strand tops Crane Beach’s 4 miles of soft, white sand, against a backdrop of undulating dunes, piping plovers, and the mansion at Castle Hill for company. If you walk a bit, you’ll find a private spot, even in high summer. Locals caution that July’s greenhead flies can be pesky–but before and after are heaven. Kids love the shallows and tidepools. 290 Argilla Road, Ipswich, MA. 978-356-4354; thetrustees.org

Island Bound

Just 45 minutes from the rush of downtown, the Boston Harbor Islands keep you close to the city without making you actually feel, you know, close to the city. Isolated beaches and camping spots and the remains of an old Civil War fort dominate this 34-island state park, all within a Tom Brady throw of an urban center chock full of great restaurants, museums, and shopping. Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area. 617-223-8666; bostonharborislands.org, nps.gov/boha

Enchanted Gorge

The Flume Gorge is what nature looks like in our dreams. Wooden walkways guide you through an 800-foot-long series of waterfalls that crash through this narrow crack in Mount Liberty, raising clouds of mist that float up to the forest floor 90 feet above. It’s easily the most enchanted spot in Franconia Notch, which is saying a lot. Franconia Notch State Park, Lincoln, NH. 603-745-8391; nhstateparks.org

Capture a Puffin

They don’t know they’re adorable and exotic-looking, but the restoration of these “sea parrots” on secluded islands off the Maine coast has created one of New England’s most anticipated eco-tourism trips. These aren’t beach-lined, bring-a-picnic islands, but open Atlantic shelters for nesting puffins, which are once again, after many generations, thriving. Several boat operators take camera-toting birdwatchers to a range of puffin habitats; your choice depends on your departure point, how much time you have, and cost. Hardy Boat Cruises, 800-278-3346, hardyboat.com; Monhegan Boat Line, 207-372-8848, monheganboat.com; Norton of Jonesport, 207-497-2560, machiassealisland.com

Body-Surfing Mansion Beach

We’ve walked, biked, or driven to the northern stretch of Corn Neck Road on Block Island, then trekked a bit through the dunes, to reach the best body-surfing spot on the island. On the sandy bluff above is the foundation of Edward Searles’s mansion–hence the name Mansion Beach. Like gamblers, we hedge a bet on the wave. Timing is everything, and we swim with all our might to catch the crest of the tall, steady waves. If we’re lucky, we end up scraping the sand in the shallows, choking on saltwater, and chinning a stranger’s beach towel. We grin, turn around, and catch another. 800-383-2474; blockislandinfo.com

Along the Edge

To your back, some of Newport’s most impressive and historic mansions stand tall; below you, surf pounds against the rock-strewn shore; in front, three and a half miles of one of the country’s most famous and memorable paths–Newport’s Cliff Walk–unfurl. In 1975 this public-access way was the first in New England to be designated a National Recreation Trail. Much of it is easy, but make no mistake, here and there are tricky spots with steep drop-offs. Beware–and look out for poison ivy hugging the borders. Detailed maps at: cliffwalk.com

A Night to Remember

Yes, it’s hyped, and yes, more than 10 million people have seen WaterFire Providence–Barnaby Evans’s installation of 100 bonfires, with mysterious boats gliding through the darkness and haunting music spilling across the three rivers that converge in the heart of the city. But here’s the thing–the whole scene always works. There may be no better free event this summer. 401-273-1155; waterfire.org

Your Own Golden Pond

Thirty years ago, when Hollywood came to New England to find a hauntingly beautiful location to become On Golden Pond, they chose Big Squam Lake, with its islands, coves, and miles of shoreline, seemingly unchanged by time. In Holderness you can rent a canoe, kayak, or sailboat and even get instruction from the people who for a century have kept Squam golden. Squam Lakes Association, Holderness, NH. 603-968-7336; squamlakes.org

Follow the Light

Stay for a night (in the first floor museum bedrooms) or a week’s working vacation (in the keeper’s quarters upstairs) at Rose Island Light, situated in Narragansett Bay’s East Passage. The 1871 house and light tower, on the National Register of Historic Places, was abandoned in 1970, and later restored to become one of the state’s most authentic and charming destinations. Arrive by ferry, sleep surrounded by the sea, awaken to gulls chattering, watch the seals, and teach the kids about washbowls and pitcher pumps. 401-847-4242; roseislandlighthouse.org

At Day’s End

A Nantucket sunset cruise aboard the Endeavor with Captain James Genthner is a lesson in beauty and local history. Captain Genthner built this wooden Friendship sloop himself, and his respect for his vessel runs as deep as his respect for the island waters he sails. As the summer sun heads toward the horizon, a golden glow bathes Brant Point Light as you head out into Nantucket Sound. The Endeavor glides over secret fishing spots, while Genthner narrates stories about the long-gone whaling industry and points out seals and other marine life. For family outings, he lets the kids help raise the sails; for more romantic pursuits, he knows when to stay quiet–he’ll even let you bring some food and wine along. Slip #1015, Straight Wharf, Nantucket, MA. 508-228-5585; endeavorsailing.com

Picnic On the Rocks

Star Island, one of the nine Isles of Shoals, lies some 10 miles out from Portsmouth Harbor. Arrive aboard the Thomas Laighton, a three-decker ferry; then disembark and for the next few hours explore this rock-strewn, sea-splashed nugget. On a hot, blue-sky day, give yourself the shivers: Read Anita Shreve’s The Weight of Water, her historical novel about the real-life double murder that took place on nearby Smuttynose Island in 1873. Isles of Shoals Steamship Company, 315 Market St., Portsmouth, NH. 800-441-4620, 603-431-5500; islesofshoals.com

Inside the Roaring Water

When Wayne Hockmeyer guided the first raftload of thrill-seekers down the roiling Kennebec River in 1976, he started a new way of life in the Forks region of central Maine, which quickly became New England’s epicenter of whitewater rafting. Whether it’s down the Kennebec, the Dead River, or the Penobscot, no two trips are ever alike. It’s no Disney set: People sometimes topple from the rafts and have to swim the turbulent waters. The adrenaline rush is for real–and the adventure all the more memorable because of it. raftmaine.com; 800-765-7238, 207-663-4466, northernoutdoors.com

Maine Flavor

You’ve got two basic options at Maine’s Old Orchard Beach: Plant yourself smack-dab in the middle of the honky-tonk heaven around the iconic 500-foot pier, or keep some of the Atlantic to yourself with a seaside stroll that ventures off some three and a half miles in either direction. Your choice. 207-934-2500; oldorchardbeachmaine.com

A Huck Finn Day

Only 20 miles from Hartford, where Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) penned his classic Huckleberry Finn, is the chance to float down the Farmington on bright-yellow inner tubes. Your stretch of the 81-mile-long river is two and a half miles, beginning at Satan’s Kingdom Gorge. You’ll encounter a few ripples, but mostly you’ll float as languorously as a leaf. Farmington River Tubing, 92 Main St. (Route 44), New Hartford, CT. 860-693-6465; farmingtonrivertubing.com

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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