Activities for getting the most out of fall in New England
Soar on a zipline, tour a Chinese garden, watch a car get flattened by a gigantic pumpkin and more. The beautiful season is here!
> FOR FAMILIES
Ideas for fall weekends away
NEW HAMPSHIRE'S White Mountains not only have lots to do for kids but also offer many New England parents memories of their own childhood. At the Hobo Railroad in Lincoln, children can ride a cool train, check out the playground and special events, have lunch, and, on certain weekends in November and December, even see Santa ($13-$25; 603-745-2135, hoborr.com). A little farther afield, Santa's Village in Jefferson ($31, through Columbus Day, for Halloween, and five weekends in November and December; 603-586-4445, santasvillage.com) and Story Land in Glen ($32.99, weekends through Columbus Day; 603-383-4186, storylandnh.com) will fill the littlest members of your crew with wonder.
Gorge-ous Lost River in North Woodstock ($15-$19 through October 16; 603-745-8031, lostrivergorge.com) and the glacier-formed Polar Caves in Rumney ($13.50-$17.50 through October 16; 603-536-1888, polarcaves.com) are fun for everyone: Adults and older kids will enjoy the views while younger kids can climb around exploring caverns. Those who can't get enough of rocky mountainsides can also visit Flume Gorge and, for a totally different viewpoint, ride the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway ($23-$29 for the combo; 603-823-8800, cannonmt.com). Stay at Lincoln's Indian Head Resort ($99-$169; 800-343-8000, indianheadresort.com), where even on rainy days kids can have fun at the indoor pool, game room, and, on Saturdays, a Kids' Club from 6 to 10 p.m., with junior karaoke, an ice cream social, candy bingo, and a clown or magician — giving moms and dads a chance to slip out to dinner a deux. — Elizabeth Gehrman
> FOR ANYONE
Zip it! Before the snow falls, the mountains of New England serve up a different sort of adventure.
Physical overexertion generally isn't exactly my idea of vacation fun — how about a nice Corona on the beach? — and, yet, there I was, spending one of my last free days of summer walking a tightrope some 70 feet above Vermont pines, a stern ex-Army guy barking at me to "keep going, Giacobbe!" Both my 11-year-old stepson and I had protested when his dad suggested spending the morning doing a ropes course on our last day in Stowe. "Like a jungle gym?" I asked — and in a way, it is. Obstacles include swinging logs, treetop bridges, and rope ladders and get more challenging, and more adrenaline-pumping, as you move through the wooded trail. Guests build confidence and skill; obstacles that seemed impossible aren't. Of course, the heavy-duty harness and double-carabiner safety system help put the nerves at ease. You can't fall far. Everyone loved it.
Launched late last summer, Stowe's Treetop Adventure Course (888-253-4849, stowe.com) is one example of how New England's pre-ski season has become the new apres ski, as resorts aim to cater to guests before the first flurry hits the ground. Besides Stowe, Okemo (also in Vermont), Loon, Cranmore, and Sunapee mountains in New Hampshire, and Sunday River in Maine have in recent years introduced aerial and zipline courses, open for business when the ski slopes are not. At Gunstock in Gilford, New Hampshire (603-293-4341, gunstock.com), we soared on ziplines at nearly 70 miles per hour down the 4,000-foot descent, views of the neon honky-tonk of Weirs Beach in the distance. At Stowe's ZipTour Adventure, the second-longest zipline in the United States, the track starts near the summit of Mount Mansfield and consists of three spans totaling nearly 2 miles.
All courses offer modified adventures for smaller kids and are, in general, designed to be family-friendly, though a kid in tow isn't necessary. We saw plenty of couples and groups of friends at both Stowe and Gunstock. It helps that, in addition to making use of the mountains offseason, resort towns have worked hard to create sophisticated offerings that attract visitors throughout the year. About 90 minutes from Boston, Gunstock is an easy day trip, but it's even more fun to spend the night. Follow a day of zipping with dinner at Camp (603-279-3003, thecman.com), which serves up gourmet comfort food like crispy chicken, "Mom's meatloaf," and deconstructed s'mores in a stylized rustic setting. Afterward, enjoy Winnipesaukee views at the Adirondack-style inn Church Landing (603-279-7006, millfalls.com), where the spa staff is notably trained in undoing "zip grip." They've seen it before.
For all of these pre-ski activities, a love of the outdoors is recommended but certainly not required. Stowe is a beer lover's paradise, especially since the summer opening of the Alchemist Stowe brewery. The whole family enjoyed the brewery's self-guided tour — although the promised follow-up visit to the Ben & Jerry's factory might have swayed the youngest opinion (802-882-2034, benjerry.com). At night, sleep at Field Guide (802-253-8088, fieldguidestowe.com), the former Ye Olde England Inn recently refurbished with details like salvaged-wood headboards and papier-mache animal busts. In-house restaurant Picnic Social (802-221-4947, picnicsocialstowe.com) infuses mealtime with camaraderie, thanks to communal dining and games like corn hole. Depending on the weather, the outdoor pool can stay open as late as mid-October — certainly something you'll be missing once January rolls around. — Alyssa Giacobbe
> FOR SOLO TRAVELERS
De-stress on your own
Friendly, funky Rockland, Maine, is a perfect choice if you're interested in road-tripping solo. The city's biggest draws — the Farnsworth Art Museum (16 Museum Street, 207-596-6457, farnsworthmuseum.org), with several galleries dedicated to the Wyeth artistic dynasty (N.C., Andrew, and Jamie), and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (21 Winter Street, 207-701-5005, cmcanow.org), which opened in June less than a block away — invite both connection with the natives and solitary contemplation, as do First Friday Artwalks, through November (artwalkmaine.org). If the weather's good, take a tour of Breakwater Light, less than a mile out into the harbor, weekends through Columbus Day (rocklandharborlights.org), and stroll the town center for locally made finds in the dozens of small boutiques and gift shops. Newly opened 250 Main is a centrally located contemporary boutique hotel with a wine social for guests daily from 4 to 6 p.m. and incredible harbor views ($180 to $529; 207-594-5994, 250mainhotel.com). Splurge on dinner at farm-to-table Primo (2 Main Street, 207-596-0770, primorestaurant.com). Put your name on the list, grab a cocktail, and stroll the grounds to see flower and vegetable gardens, beehives, and livestock while you wait for a seat at the bar or antipasti counter, where conversation is easy. Afterward, check out the open mic on Fridays or karaoke on Saturdays at the Time Out Pub (207-593-9336) for a casual, very local experience. — Elizabeth Gehrman
> FOR COUPLES
Recharge the romance
No matter what your idea of the perfect couple's weekend, the Essex Resort & Spa in Essex, Vermont, (877-684-1123, essexresortspa.com) has you covered, with a pool, a year-round outdoor hot tub, an understatedly chichi firelit restaurant, cooking classes, and a spa with steam and sauna rooms. The inn's Romantic Getaway package includes a room for two nights, a couple's massage, daily breakfast, and sparkling wine and chocolates for $662. For an extra $75, the Essex can also book you with Vermont Guided Tours (802-249-1825, vermontguidedtours.com) for leaf-peeping and cider tasting, maple syrup or chocolate making, and pretty much anything else you might want to do in the state. If you're more independent types, the Essex is situated about equidistant from all the area's attractions. Catch a two-hour Lake Champlain sunset cruise on the Spirit of Ethan Allen ($27.50 each; 802-862-8300, soea.com); hike the 1,860-foot Camel's Hump's trails (888-409-7579, vtstateparks.com); pick some apples at Chapin Orchard (through mid-October; 802-879-6210, chapinorchard.com), or sample a few wines at Shelburne Vineyard (802-985-8222, shelburnevineyard.com). Later, dine on home-style American cuisine at the rustic Harrison's Restaurant (802-253-7773, harrisonsstowe.com). No matter what you choose, you're guaranteed to leave feeling refreshed and reconnected. — Elizabeth Gehrman
> FOR SEINFELD FANS
The 20th century brought us two famous women who shared a name: Mabel Choate. The first Mabel, a New York-born heiress, is remembered for creating the fantastical gardens surrounding Naumkeag, her family's palatial Berkshires mansion. The second, a fictional character on Seinfeld, was immortalized as the purchaser of the last remaining loaf of Schnitzer's marble rye (then stolen from her by Jerry) in a classic episode of the '90s sitcom.
For some families (mine included), this quirky commingling of Mabels might just provide irresistible inspiration for a day trip. We head first to Stockbridge to tour Naumkeag (413-298-8138, thetrustees.org), a prime exemplar of the sprawling summer "cottages" built by turn-of-the-century one-percenters. Now managed by the Trustees of Reservations, the 44-room manse boasts many original furnishings, but the real treasure is its well-preserved gardens, a decades-long collaboration between Choate, who inherited the place in 1929, and master landscape designer Fletcher Steele.
An autumn stroll around the property — taking in stellar foliage, mountain views, and unique features such as the Zen-influenced Chinese Garden (just restored and reopened this summer) — is a fitting tribute to the first Mabel. We follow up that visit by lunching at Great Barrington Bagel Company (413-528-9055, gbbagel.com), the closest thing in the Berkshires to a Jewish deli. There's no marble rye on offer, but in homage to the other Choate, we order a rye and a pumpernickel bagel (with a schmear), then mix and match to create an approximation of Mabel's purloined loaf. — By Debra Jo Immergut
> FOR PUMPKIN FANS
Watching a squash go splat is childishly satisfying stuff. Just ask Gronk, who'll spike any fruit or vegetable he can get his mitts on. But nothing beats seeing a massive pumpkin hit the ground from on high. Here are four spots where pumpkin demolitions cap fall festival hijinks:
Gore Place Fall Festival | September 24, Waltham
Huge pumpkins totaling "half a ton of fun" plummet from a 100-foot crane to smash all over a field at historic Gore Place at 2:30 p.m. The big splat is part of an afternoon of local craft beer, grub, and music. Gore Place's sheep feast on the mess. Admission: $10 adults, 12 and under free. goreplace.org/fall-festival/
Vermont Pumpkin Chuckin' Festival | September 25, Stoweflake Mountain Resort, Stowe, Vermont
In the season's geekiest pumpkin destruction, teams design and build trebuchets to fling jack-o'-lantern-sized (lightweight, middleweight, and heavyweight class) pumpkins. Last year's overall winner vaulted a 5-pound pumpkin more than 500 feet! Admission: $5, ages 5 and up. vtpumpkinchuckin.blogspot.com
Damariscotta Pumpkinfest & Regatta | October 1-10, Damariscotta, Maine
Pumpkin weigh-ins kick things off, and a pumpkin parade, a pie-eating contest, and a regatta of hollowed-out giant pumpkins follow. All that and more lead up to the grand finale, as 600-plus-pound pumpkins are slowly hoisted 200 feet in the air. The crowd holds its collective breath, and then down they crash, smashing junk autos to slimy smithereens. Most events are free. mainepumpkinfest.com
Pumpkin Drop Festival | October 8, R & C Farms, Scituate
When his kids missed a commercial pumpkin drop two decades ago, Ron Simons launched one at his farm stand. Today, this one-day festival on Country Way includes pony rides, live music, a corn maze, and hayrides. At 3 p.m., a passel of big pumpkins filled with candy drop from two cranes. One batch is for children ages 6 and under, the other for 7 and up. Admission: $15 per person (no credit cards). randcfarms-simons.com/events.html
— Patricia Harris and David Lyon