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10 great New England vacation ideas (away from the beach)

You don’t need sand between your toes to have an awesome getaway this summer.

(Illustration by Peter Hoey)

LEND A HAND

Randolph, New Hampshire

Members of the venerable Randolph Mountain Club (randolphmountainclub.org), founded in 1910 in northern New Hampshire, care for more than 100 miles of trails on three majestic Presidential peaks — Adams, Madison, and Jefferson — as well as Randolph's town trails located in the Crescent Range. Volunteer Trail Days on Saturdays in July and the beginning of August invite the public to give a little back with their backs.

This isn't a full-day labor camp. Volunteers and club members use RMC-provided tools like clippers to trim branches and nuisance blow-downs from paths and fire rakes to clear ditches, most for a few hours. Afterward, an eager, young-kneed professional trail crew moves in to finish the job. Trailblazers go across scenic ledges, past waterfalls, and along brooks, and, if they like, can stay overnight at one of four rustic backcountry shelters ($7 to $13, depending on the shelter) on Mount Adams. Remember to wear sturdy boots and bring work gloves, food, water, and other hiking necessities for this soul-satisfying outing.

THE BASICS

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Need indoor plumbing? Gorham's Route 2 contains plenty of reasonable inns like the Mount Madison Inn & Suites (603-466-3622, mtmadisonmotel.com; from $89). Good works deserve a reward, and upscale Libby's Bistro (603-466-5330, libbysbistro.net) doesn't disappoint. Renovations are set to finish in June, and Saalt Pub, served by the same kitchen, is wonderful, too.

NEARBY

Mountain-bike along the Northern Presidential Rail Trail to the splendid viewing platform beside Cherry Pond in Whitefield's Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge (fws.gov/r5soc/come_visit/pondicherry_division.html), or set aside three hours for an evening excursion with Gorham Moose Tours (877-986-6673, gorhamnh.org).

— Marty Basch

The Down East Sunrise Trail is a 10-foot-wide former railway running more than 85 miles through Maine.
The Down East Sunrise Trail is a 10-foot-wide former railway running more than 85 miles through Maine.(Martin Lyons)

GO TAKE A HIKE — OR A RIDE

Ellsworth, Maine

The 85-plus-mile Down East Sunrise Trail (sunrisetrail.org) in northeastern Maine is ready for biking, walking, and — unlike many trails of its type — ATVs. The trail, open since September 2010 and part of the East Coast Greenway, runs from Hancock to Pembroke (near the Canadian border), veering along the coast for about 60 miles before turning inland. Plans call for the city of Ellsworth, not far from Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, to become the southern terminus. This is a good place to embark, and also enjoy for its own sake, as long as you avoid the congested mile-long strip on High Street and stick to the charming town center.

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This rail trail is one of the five longest on the East Coast and is one of just a few that allows motorized vehicles. The flat, 10-foot wide, mostly hard-pack gravel path traverses forests, fields, bogs, streams, and tidal rivers, linking villages and burgs such as Cherryfield (28 miles into the trail), Columbia Falls (41 miles), and Machias (54 miles).

THE BASICS

Visitors to Ellsworth will find good deals at the Eagle's Lodge Motel (207-667-3311, eagleslodge.com; from $79 in June, from $90 in July-August) and Twilite Motel (207-667-8165, twilitemotel.com; from $79 in June, $86 in July). The Comfort Inn (207-667-1345, ellsworthcomfortinn.com; from $149) is close to the trail head. The burritos at new 86 This! (207-610-1777) will stick to your ribs for hours. Cadillac Mountain Sports (207-667-7819, cadillacsports.com) is the spot for bike rentals and service. If you plan to make a multi-day trip, Sunrise Canoe and Kayak in Machias (207-255-3375, sunrisecanoeandkayak.com) will shuttle you back to your car at the Washington Junction parking area. Check out suggestions on the trail website for places to eat and stay en route, as services are few.

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NEARBY

Birdsacre (207-667-8460, birdsacre.com), the 200-acre Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary in Ellsworth, has established walking trails and a bird-care facility and shelter, and the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce offers a historic walking tour map of downtown (207-667-5584, ellsworthchamber.org). Acadia National Park is only 19 miles away, if you'd like join day-trip bikers on its well-established carriage trails.

— Nancy Heiser

Take a two-day sailing course at J World in Newport, then stick around town for the sightseeing.,
Take a two-day sailing course at J World in Newport, then stick around town for the sightseeing.(handout)

LEARN TO SAIL

Newport, Rhode Island

Talk to any sailor about the Narragansett Bay, and he or she is bound to get a little dreamy-eyed. Maybe it's the acclaimed history of the sport in Newport, which will host an America's Cup event June 26-July 1 . Or perhaps it's this protected bay, a deterrent to ocean-size waves. But more than likely it's the prevailing wind, the "smoky sou'wester," that can average 10 to 20 knots a day during the summer months.

This reliable wind was one of the many factors behind the decision by J World (jworldschool.com) to start its sailing school in Newport in 1981. From May through September, novice to experienced sailors can take weekend to weeklong courses titled Learn to Sail, Learn to Cruise, Learn to Race, and Advanced Racing. Packages start at $555 per person ($500 each for couples) for a two-day course, though if you're new to the sport, a minimum of four days is advisable.

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All courses are taught aboard J Boats, known for their stability and ease of steering. A typical day might start with instruction on land the first hour, from 9 to 10 a.m. Then you climb aboard the sailing vessel with an instructor (and a maximum of four students) and implement some of those newfound skills. The beauty of learning to sail on a vast bay like Narragansett is that you can head in a straight line for a long time and not have to worry about too many obstacles. When the day on the water ends at around 4:30 p.m., it's not uncommon for coaches and students to visit a nearby watering hole.

THE BASICS

Stay at one of the Inns of Newport (800-524-1386, innsofnewport.com; rates from $129 to $429), five historic B & Bs within easy walking distance of the waterfront. For dinner, Brick Alley Pub (401-849-6334, brickalley.com) is a Newport institution, serving casual fare like steaks, salads, and burgers. Seafood lovers will want to check out the Barking Crab (401-846-2722, barkingcrab.com) and its menu of lobster rolls, steamers, and fish and chips.

NEARBY

Try to give yourself at least one day on terra firma to stroll the 3½-mile Cliff Walk atop the rugged Newport shoreline, visit one of the Bellevue Avenue mansions like The Breakers or the Marble House (newportmansions.org), and see the Tennis Hall of Fame (tennisfame.com) and Touro Synagogue (tourosynagogue.org), the oldest synagogue in America.

— Stephen Jermanok

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(Peter Hoey)

COOK LIKE A CHEF

Waterbury Center, Vermont

Chef Michael Kloeti of Michael's on the Hill in Waterbury Center is known for using the freshest Vermont ingredients to create his restaurant's European cuisine. He's also beloved for his classes. The 1½-hour hors d'oeuvres session teaches clients to make smoked salmon roulades with daikon radish, Maine crab cakes with remoulade, and smoked cheddar fritters with harissa aioli. Cooking From the Garden is suited for vegetarians; think squash soup with wild rice, roasted mushroom and arugula salad with hazlenuts, Moroccan-spiced summer vegetable stew. In Extravagant Lunch, a 3½-hour session, make truffled mushroom gnocchi and herb-crusted rack of lamb. Classes, for up to six people per session, run Sunday through Thursday mornings and cost from $150 to $350 per person, plus a small food fee (802-244-7476, michaelsonthehill.com).

Cooking lessons led by chef Michael Kloeti are held in the restaurant kitchen at Michael’s on the Hill in Waterbury Center, Vermont.
Cooking lessons led by chef Michael Kloeti are held in the restaurant kitchen at Michael’s on the Hill in Waterbury Center, Vermont.(-)

THE BASICS

Stay at Moose Meadow Lodge in Waterbury (802-244-5378, moosemeadowlodge.com; from $189 in June, $219 in July and August), which could double as a movie set with its prototypical rustic Adirondack architecture. The property is on 86 acres, allowing guests to hike, bike, and fish.

NEARBY

Don't miss the apple cider doughnuts and fascinating observation beehive at the Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury Center (800-327-7537, coldhollow.com). Stop in to watch Waterbury artist Glenn Ziemke in his glass-blowing studio (802-244-6126, zglassblowing.com). And Waterbury Center State Park is a 90-acre peninsula in Mount Mansfield State Forest. The park is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day; enjoy the swimming, hiking trails, fishing platforms, and boat rentals (802-244-1226, vtstateparks.com/htm/waterbury.htm).

— Michelle Bermas

Students cut fruit for jam-making at the Cape’s Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen.,
Students cut fruit for jam-making at the Cape’s Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen.(handout)

MAKE JAM

East Sandwich, Massachusetts

Call it the ultimate jam session — all-natural ingredients, thickened slowly on an early-1900s stove, with sweet and savory results ranging from blueberry jam to peach mint salsa. At a Green Briar Nature Center and Jam Kitchen workshop (508-888-6870, thorntonburgess.org/JamKitchenWorkshops.htm; $40), participants whip up jams, preserves, and relishes following recipes Ida Putnam developed when she decided to sell jams from her Cape Cod kitchen in 1903.

Perched on a stool at a long, copper-topped counter, you'll pare and chop fresh fruit, then add sugar and spices and stir the mix over low heat until it thickens. While you cook, share recipes or tips on what to do in the area. Workshops run about two hours, and you'll go home with several samples of whatever you make. Packed into sterilized jars with an official Green Briar Jam Kitchen label and your name, your creations can sit on your pantry shelf for up to a year. But if you're lucky, you'll have one jar that's only half-full; that's the one you'll share as soon as you get home. Adult workshops are held on select Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings. Family workshops, open to adults and children older than 6, meet on Saturday afternoons.

THE BASICS

One word from innkeeper Jan Preus of the 1750 Inn at Sandwich Center (508-888-6958, innatsandwich.com; from $159), and you'll know why the inn claims to offer "a touch of Southern hospitality." Have lunch or afternoon tea at the Dunbar Tea Room (508-833-2485, dunbartea.com).

NEARBY  

You can watch a glass blower turn liquid glass into everyday objects at the Sandwich Glass Museum (sandwichglassmuseum.org), which traces 100 years of the town's dominance in glass manufacturing. Sandwich is also home to several modern-day glass artists and studios, including Michael Magyar, known for his Cape Cod Seabubble Glass, blue-swirled pieces inspired by the sea (glassstudiooncapecod.com).

— Ellen Albanese

Improve your tennis game at the Sugarbush Resort, nestled in Vermont’s Mad River Valley.
Improve your tennis game at the Sugarbush Resort, nestled in Vermont’s Mad River Valley.(handout)

PERFECT YOUR BACKHAND

Warren, Vermont

For the fourth consecutive year, New England Tennis Holidays (800-869-0949, netennisholidays.com) is reopening for the May-through-October season at the Sugarbush Resort in Vermont. There, nestled in the Mad River Valley, you'll have the opportunity to play on six outdoor green clay courts while peering up at the backbone of the Green Mountains. If it rains, no worries, there are three indoor courts, too. At night, you'll stay in resort residences, where accommodations range from studios to five-bedroom suites. All rooms are equipped with a full kitchen, fireplace — it can get chilly at night — and balcony with views of the peaks.

Once class is over at 3 p.m., you're free to enjoy the rest of what Sugarbush (sugarbush.com) offers, much of it free or at rates discounted for tennis camp participants. Play 18 holes of golf at the Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed course, soar through the air on an 800-foot zip line, or simply soak your weary body in an outdoor hot tub. The group reconvenes for dinner at the resort's Timbers Restaurant or heads to a local favorite, The Common Man (commonmanrestaurant.com) in Warren, where Vermont delicacies are served under the rafters of a 19th-century barn.

THE BASICS

Five hours of tennis daily are included in the two- to five-day packages (from $549, including room and board at the resort). A typical day will start at 9 a.m. with instruction, drills, and watching your strokes on videotape, then lunch at the golf course. You'll return to the courts for two hours to compete in a round-robin tournament. The ratio for students to each pro is 4 to 1, and a typical day averages 12 to 24 guests.

NEARBY

Take the resort's Super Bravo lift to the top of Gadd Peak, where you'll be rewarded with spectacular vistas. To get a closer look at the surrounding dairy farms, hop on a bike (you can rent one from the resort) and ride between Warren and Waitsfield on Brook Road. — S.J.

KNIT ON IT

Rockland, Maine

Aboard a historic schooner sailing the Penobscot Bay islands of Maine's mid-coast, life slows to a languid pace. Cruising amid the anonymous pine-topped islands and stopping at the occasional seaside village, you can't help but relax. Help hoist the sails, read a good thick book, or partake in an increasingly popular activity aboard a windjammer: knitting.

Ever since captains Jon Finger and Anne Mahle purchased the circa 1927 J. & E. Riggin (800-869-0604, mainewindjammer.com), they have kept a basket of yarn and needles in the galley for those who wanted a small project to work on. Eight years ago they hosted their first knitting trip, and this summer will offer three knitting cruises. For four days in June and again in July, instructor Bill Huntington, owner of Hope Spinnery in Hope, Maine, will concentrate on hats and other small projects ($696 and $788 respectively, all-inclusive). A six-day cruise in September ($977) will feature knitting author Margaret Radcliffe and focus on cast-ons, bind-offs, borders, and finishing techniques.

Whether you've been knitting sweaters for decades or you're a newbie hoping to do a couple of rows a day, all are welcome aboard. Depending on the teacher, knitting instruction can be arranged in a class-like setting or a more casual approach that offers individual attention related to a specific project. More experienced knitters are known to help out the novices on the schooner.

And you'll have more than enough time to knit, learn, chat, sail, and dine. Mahle, who is also the author of the cookbook At Home, at Sea, is known for her innovative and tasty fare. So expect your lobster to be served atop a bed of sun-dried tomato fettuccine, and save room for desserts like butterscotch-topped gingerbread with sauteed apples. After all, you need to be energized for that next day of knitting.

THE BASICS

The J. & E. Riggin departs from Rockland, Maine, a 3½-hour drive from Boston. Spend a night at The LimeRock Inn (800-546-3762, limerockinn.com; from $159), a B & B

an easy walk from town. The owner of Primo (207-596-0770, primorestaurant.com), Melissa Kelly, is a James Beard-award winner for best chef in the Northeast.

NEARBY

At the Farnsworth Art Museum (farnsworthmuseum.org) in Rockland, a 19th-century Methodist church has been transformed into the Wyeth Center, where an impressive collection of works by three generations of Wyeths are on display. The exhibition "Jamie Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, and Monhegan" will be shown from May 12 to December 30.

— S. J.

GET CRAFTY

Deer Isle, Maine

Whether you are a serious beginner or a professional, at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (207-348-2306, haystack-mtn.org) you can join about 80 other students spending one or two intensive weeks in ceramics, metalsmithing, bookmaking, drawing, fiber art, blacksmithing, and the like under the tutelage of expert artisans, for $435 or $820 tuition, depending on the session. Board and dine at this secluded spot and work whenever the muse strikes, even if it's the middle of the night — the school offers weekday classes and round-the-clock studio access.

Located in a dramatic Maine coast setting 250 miles north of Boston, Haystack is one of the country's renowned crafts schools. The Modernist campus built in 1960 is striking: Angular, shingled buildings are set on a cliff among evergreen trees and connected by boardwalks. The campus and studios with workshops in progress are open for tours Wednesdays at 1 p.m. The public can also attend the school's various slide programs and lectures by visiting faculty as well as end-of-session auctions and studio tours.

THE BASICS

On-site rooms range from $345 to $1,785 for the two-week sessions, depending on room type. Off-site options include campgrounds, motel, inns, B & Bs, and cottage rentals, many of which are listed on the Chamber of Commerce website (deerisle.com). Among the best are the unpretentious waterfront accommodations at the Inn on the Harbor in Stonington (207-367-2420, innontheharbor.com; from $147) and the Colonial Pilgrim's Inn, on the National Register of Historic Places, which has rooms and cottages (207-348-6615, pilgrimsinn.com; from $109 in June and $139 in July and August).

NEARBY

On Deer Isle, you're surrounded by the wild, stunning natural world. Walk among spruce trees, through quiet coves, and along granite outcroppings at several preserves maintained by the Island Heritage Trust (islandheritagetrust.org). Open in July and August, the one-room Deer Isle Granite Museum (207-367-6331, deerislegranitemuseum.wordpress.com) in Stonington features an impressive working model of quarrying operations. Pink granite from nearby Crotch Island was used for Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and there's still an operating quarry on the island.

The surrounding region is also an enclave for many artists and artisans and a great place to explore galleries and studios along the back roads (watch for roadside signs) and in villages. The Turtle Gallery in Deer Isle (207-348-9977, turtlegallery.com) and Isalos Fine Art in Stonington (207-367-2700; isalosfineart.com) are but two worthy stops. The first Friday of the month, July through October, is open gallery night in the area.

— N.H.

The Racing School (pictured) and Drive to Victory Lane offer lessons on the oval in Thompson, Connecticut.
The Racing School (pictured) and Drive to Victory Lane offer lessons on the oval in Thompson, Connecticut.(handout)

DRIVE A RACE CAR

Thompson, Connecticut

Unleash your inner Jimmie Johnson at Thompson International Speedway, satisfying that need for speed on the high-banked five-eighths-of-a-mile oval. Tucked in Connecticut's northeast corner about 65 miles from Boston, the asphalt track was the first of its kind in the country and built on a farm destroyed in the Hurricane of 1938. Two race-driving schools use the track on select dates — The Racing School (877-226-7223, theracingschool.com) and Drive to Victory Lane (877-722-3438, drivetovictorylane.com) — putting race fans in the fast lane. Sessions at both schools start with basics, including steering and braking, but quickly accelerate to roaring from the starter's stand and end with a serious adrenaline rush. (Most beginners get up to about 100 miles per hour.) Costs vary depending on the length of the class and number of laps driven, but Victory's 15-lap Rookie Test costs $375, and the Racing School's 15- to 20-lap Start Your Engines class is $429.

THE BASICS

After the checkered flag is raised, head to the Raceway Restaurant (860-923-9591, racewayrestaurant.com) for a Raceway burger, a 2-inch-thick 8-ounce slab. The restaurant, located by Thompson's 18-hole 72-par golf course (860-923-9591, racewaygolf.com), has been operating since 1947. Still hungry? Hit Bogey's (860-923-9591) for homemade ice cream. Make an overnight pit stop at the endearing Inn at Woodstock Hill (860-928-0528, woodstockhill.com; from $175, less 10 percent if you book online) — just ease off the gas on those country roads.

NEARBY

Unwind with a walk through the vineyards followed by a flight of wine at Pomfret's Sharpe Hill Vineyard (860-974-3549, sharpehill.com), or slow down and explore the town of Putnam's antique shops (putnamantiques.com) on foot.

— Marty Basch

(Peter Hoey)

JUST HANG

Charlestown, New Hampshire

There's no need to hike to the summit of Mount Washington to get a bird's-eye view of the Whites. Just head to this sleepy hamlet 2½ hours northwest of Boston for a hang-gliding lesson. Morningside Flight Park (603-542-4416, flymorningside.kittyhawk.com) manager Heath Woods says the gently elevating slope of this former dairy farm makes it one of the premier places to learn how to fly. "It's so accessible for both beginners and experts," he says. "We have a mini mountain with launching points from 50 to 450 feet." Introductory hang-gliding and para-gliding lessons, which cost $149 and last four to five hours, include classroom instruction and a chance to catch some air — at least a few inches off the ground — on the training hill. For those who are hooked, there are $269 weekend packages and $799 six-lesson courses.

More comfortable as a passenger than a pilot? Take a flight with a professional instructor in a tandem hang glider that is towed by an ultra-light aircraft upward of 3,500 feet before being released for a 20-minute descent to earth. The views of the miniature farms, forests, and towns of the Connecticut River Valley put Google Earth to shame.

New owner Kitty Hawk Kites has begun to breathe life into Morningside Flight Park by adding ameni ties and remodeling the campground that hosts those on weekend getaways. There's even something for the gravity-challenged: a new spectator observation deck for watching gliders soar and swoop like birds of prey in the wild blue yonder.

THE BASICS

The Common Man Inn & Restaurant (603-542-0647, thecmaninn.com; from $109), housed in a renovated mill complex in nearby Claremont, has 30 stylish rooms and suites with exposed-brick walls and large, shuttered windows as well as alfresco dining overlooking the churning falls of the Sugar River. The Sumner House (603-826-4588, thesumnerhouse.com) in Charlestown's historic district serves up everything from breakfast to homemade desserts inside a restored 1823 mansion.

NEARBY

Travel back in time at The Fort at No. 4 (603-826-5700, fortat4.org), a living-history museum where costumed interpreters demonstrate hearth cooking, musketry, weaving, and other aspects of Colonial life inside a replica of Charlestown's original log garrison.

— Christopher Klein ­


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