Where will you be cooling off this summer? How about somewhere just as beautiful and refreshing as the ocean—but way more accessible, way less expensive, and way more peaceful and not full of jostling crowds (or scary riptides and jelly stingers!). With flowers a blooming and leafy trees a blowing, summertime is without a doubt, the best season to visit New England in-- it’s also the most fantastic time of any year to relax in one of the many quintessential American lake towns that are perfect for that easy breezy vacation you crave so badly.
All along the East Coast, just outside of major cities such as Boston and Providence, there are plenty of places to swim, bathe, and suntan to your heart's content, or to fill up on tasty seafood, zesty BBQ, and freshly made slices of pie, all as you stare out at the sun going down in the distant horizon. From Connecticut to Maine, you’re sure to find flocks of locals and tourists alike, relishing endlessly in scenic New England towns that provide not just summer fun, but nature, entertainment, food, history, and culture as well. Needless to say, lake vacations in New England could very well be the most irresistible new experience you and the family will ever have. So steer clear of all that saltwater and, instead, paddle towards some of the best lakes in the country. Here are seven of the best lake vacation towns in New England.
All to many people start their tours of the New Hampshire lakes in Meredith—and with plenty of good reason. Curling around a protected bay on the northwestern edge of Lake Winnipesaukee (a.k.a. “beautiful water in a high place”), the gorgeous town features old white clapboard mill buildings that tell long tales of its historic past. There’s Mill Falls at the Lake, a vintage resort that anchors the entire town by having incorporated a restored 19th century linen mill and a former church into four inns, tons of restaurants, a spa, and lots of waterfront real estate for travelers to revel in. Swimming, sailing, paddling, and fishing are just steps away at this Lakes Region getaway, as well as the infamous ‘Couples Beach’ for those looking to squeeze in a bit of romance.
And since you and the FAM are already there, why not then head on over to another local favorite? On Lake Winnipesaukee’s opposite corner sits Wolfeboro, which claims the title of “America’s Oldest Summer Resort” – and it’s no doubt had its share of famous visitors throughout the years. Like Meredith, the town clusters around a calm bay that promises all kinds of watery adventures to enjoy. Plus, there are ample amounts of sandy private beaches and beautiful lake views at the historic Wolfeboro Inn, which is a good choice for vacationers hoping to experience the romance of an old-fashioned resort town without sacrificing all the luxuries of modern life (i.e. Wi-Fi, comfy beds, and superb guest rooms). If you’re visiting the Lake Winnipesaukee area in June, be sure to catch Laconia’s Annual Motorcycle Week. The spectacle, which has been going on since 1916, is a cannot miss lakeside event.
Simply put, as the largest of New Hampshire’s lakes, the Lakes Region on Lake Winnipesaukee (say “win-ah-puh-sockey”) is the place to go for any lake getaway. This spring-fed lake circled by mountains continues to welcome refugees from sweltering city streets all across the country hoping to explore some (or all!) of its 274 islands.
Compared to most lake towns, Burlington is more of a bustling metropolis, with a population of over 42,000 and a lively downtown area. It may not be as peaceful and quiet here, but it is chock full of artsy shops and galleries, sidewalk cafés, craft vendors, restaurants, and bars to pick and choose from. The city just also happens to be a major hub when it comes to the local food movement. There’s a huge farmers' market that pops up every Saturday, where you can find all the high-quality, locally grown (often organic) produce you could ever want. It’s also home to the Magic Hat brewery, offering tours and tastings, as well as Lake Champlain Chocolates, which manages to whip up delicious chocolates with fresh, local ingredients. And for an excellent meal, head on over to one of Vermont's best restaurants, Hen of the Wood.
What’s more is that you and the kiddies can also board onto a scenic train ride through the ebbs and flows of Champlain Valley or onto the Lake Cruises to tour around the Islands of Vermont. There’s also the world-class aquarium and science center at ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain to check out, as well as diving opportunities for more adventurous travelers who’ll no doubt have a blast wading through the lake’s preserved collection of eight historic shipwrecks—all considered the best North America has to offer.
3. Sutton, NH - Kezar Lake
It’s the ultimate New England escape with a pure New Orleans charm. When it comes to New Hampshire lakes, Winnipesaukee is by no means the be-all and end-all. Venture a little further away from more popular shores and you’ll find the friendly, quiet waters at Kezar Lake, which also happens to be home to one of the oldest lakeside communities in the area.
Lined neatly with plenty of beautiful old homes to gawk at, Sutton’s shores offer the most cozy of lake vacations, all thanks to the infamous Follansbee Inn, which just happens to be one of those former old homes. Guests of all kinds have the opportunity to explore Kezar Lake and Blueberry Island with free use of the Inn’s boats and bicycles. Plus, when sunburn strikes—which is often inevitable on any lake vacation—there are loads of shady hiking trails to check out nearby as well.
It’s the largest lake entirely within New England – well, technically Lake Champlain in Vermont is larger but it shares its body of water with New York State so that doesn’t make it count as much. Really, Moosehead Lake is one of the top lake destinations in New England.
Located in north-central Maine, and at a length of forty miles, the 74,890 surrounding acres of lush land will no doubt bring out the summer outdoor person in anyone: camping, hiking, fishing, rafting, canoeing, kayaking, hunting, you name it. Summer visitors can partake in “Moosemania” the largest moose-watching festival in New England, as well as take one of the guided moose-watching tours offered. In the winter, the area becomes the domain of snowmobiles and skiers.
The closest place to a large town on the lake is Greenville, which just so happens to welcome about 10,000 visitors annually. You’ll find supplies, fine lodging, and restaurants, as well as in-season cruises on the lake to enjoy and the Moosehead Marine Museum to check out. To the west, there are campgrounds and rustic cabins for rent, shuttles to and from the island peninsula where Mount Kineo stands, and hiking trails to a summit offering breathtaking lakeside views. On the east, there’s Lily Bay State Park, which allows for even more camping, swimming, protected bay canoeing, and walking through firs and masses of wildflowers.
5. Newport, NH - Sunapee Lake
At the turn of the century, Gilded Age tycoons flocked to this charming seaside city to build their summer "cottages.” From Isaac Bell's shingled house to the Vanderbilts’ opulent European-style palaces, the area is indeed grand and historic, with its model mansions being the city’s claim to fame. There's also plenty to do though, so don’t you fret.
With a handful of beaches made for swimming and a revolving lineup of outdoor concerts all summer (every July, the Newport Music Festival puts on performances by world-class musicians at the mansions), chilling in and around Sunapee Lake allows for the quintessential pastoral New England experience. Though the focal point of the town often centers around the lively marina scene at Sunapee Harbor, other highlights include the Fells Historic Estate & Gardens, an 84-acre estate with gardens dating back to the early 20th century, as well as the local eatery, One Mile West, which specializes in New England favorites like Atlantic haddock fish and chips or the in-house special, Brook Rd. BLT-- it adds pepper-crusted sirloin to the tried-and-true bacon-lettuce-tomato combo. Yum.
This one has long been a weekend getaway for Chicagoans, as its array of independent shops, trendy restaurants, and LGBT presence has slowly helped it gain national attention amongst a variety of vacationers. Still, shorelines are the town’s tried and true trademark, with long sandy stretches that can often times feel more Miami Beach than the actual Midwest.
Take a ride on the Saugatuck Chain Ferry (it's the only hand-cranked chain ferry on the Great Lakes!) from downtown to Oval Beach— one of the most popular coastal regions in the area offering picnic areas and sheltered dunes, along with miles and miles of sand and clear blue waters. When you’re hungry, grab a whiff and a loaf of freshly baked bread at the famous Pumpernickel's Eatery. Pair up that fresh-out-of-the-oven goodness with some of your favorite lunchmeat, have the servers wrap your sandwich up picnic-style, and then, of course, tote it along with you and the kids to the beach. Now that’s the kind of lake vacation we all are talking about!
7. Madison, NH - Purity Lake
Wanting a more upgraded version of your favorite childhood summer camp vacation? Head on over to this little town on the eastern side of the state, where that classic lake nostalgia is sure to have you coming back for more--- every single summer. For generations, Purity Lake has offered families with a nice year-round retreat with chances for hiking, swimming, canoeing, fishing, and games, as well as more extravagant adventures like waterskiing, guided wild tours of the area, great local massages, and fine island cookout meals. Score.
This article was written by Pamela Chan.