When my editor suggested a story based on a “one-day road trip” across northern New England, I just laughed. “One day?” I replied incredulously. “You’re kidding, right?” Fortunately, I have a good relationship with my editor, and he didn’t take offense. But I was serious — I couldn’t imagine why anyone would try to cross the northern tier of the region in the span of 24 hours. My wife, Lauri, and I typically put aside three days to a week to do it right. That means packing the bikes (two gravel bikes, two mountain bikes and an extra set of “road wheels” with 700-by-28 tires for asphalt), hiking boots, a good pair of swim trunks (for paddling and pond jumping), and plenty of extra energy bars.
So the following is a composite trip, where you can pick and choose the activities that interest you most.
Starting in western Vermont, up by Burlington, the Island Line Trail is 14 miles of pure bliss (28 out and back), encompassing the Burlington Pike Path, Colchester Park and the Allen Point Access Park. Pedaling along the shores of Lake Champlain is one of life’s great pleasures. Even less crowded is the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail, a ribbon of gravel that winds through Vermont’s spectacular northern rural farmland from St. Albans to Richford for more than 26 miles.
Taking the short jaunt southeast of Burlington on Interstate 89, I always have a decision to make when we get to Waterbury. If I drop south onto Route 100 along the Mad River Valley, I can get my fill of fat-tire fun on the super-secret singletrack trails in Waitsfield and Warren (yes, you’ve got to invest some time in the local shops, getting some intel). However, the wonderful loops at Blueberry Lake off Plunkton Road in Warren — an International Mountain Bike Association “Gateway Trail — are well-marked and well-maintained, with enough switchbacks to make you dizzy. For a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding foliage, treat yourself to a glider ride with Sugarbush Soaring in Warren. You won’t regret it.
On the other hand, if I head north on Route 100 in Waterbury, I love to stop in Stowe. Here, I can pedal up and over Route 108 (before it closes for the winter), past the ski resort on my way to Smugglers’ Notch, while my wife can go crazy hitting the arts and craft shops in town. If we’re feeling adventurous, we might take a gondola ride to the resort’s Cliff House on Mount Mansfield, followed by a howling ride on Stowe’s ZipTour Adventure, including the 4,462-foot-long Nosedive Zip at 180 feet above the ground.
Farther north, in Morrisville, we can jump aboard one of the two completed sections of the four-season, multi-use Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (LVRT). This ambitious project will eventually run close to 100 miles, from St. Johnsbury to St. Albans. The 17.5-mile Morrisville-to-Cambridge track features undulating terrain, some impressive old railroad bridges, great views and the strategically placed Lost Nation Brewery (the perfect watering hole after a good spin).
Another nearby option off I-89, especially if you love knobby tires, is the one-ofa-kind Millstone Hill trail system nestled amid the granite quarries of Barre. Frisbee fans will love the Quarries Disc Golf layout. If we jump onto Route 2, we can then head northeast to St. Johnsbury, and the LVRT trailhead. This 17-mile section features a steady but manageable climb to Danville, but the reward is a dip in the scenic Joe’s Pond in West Danville. Mercifully, the ride back to the car is all downhill.
The Kingdom Trails that snake through Lyndonville and East Burke are constantly evolving, and expanding, for the better. Take out the guesswork of which trails or gravel roads to ride by checking out Kingdom Cycling & Experiences — part of the Wildflower Inn complex on Darling Hill Road — for a tour guide. It’s money well spent. For enduro rippers, Burke Mountain has a nice flowy downhill system, while the outlying township of Victory is known for its secret singletrack stashes.
Crossing the Connecticut River and into New Hampshire, I always try to make time for breakfast at the Littleton Diner. The homemade corned-beef hash is to die for, providing the energy stores for a robust hike up the face of Cannon Mountain, though you can always take the tram (perfect if you have little ones). At the crossroads of I-93 and Route 3, I have another decision to make.
Occasionally, I’ll head south through Franconia Notch, to Lincoln. At Loon Mountain, the number of activities is ridiculous, ranging from mountain biking (including a Franconia Notch tour), gondola rides, hiking, an Aerial Forest Adventure Park, ziplining, climbing walls, a Sunday summit worship and mountaintop yoga. Even the 34-mile Kancamagus Scenic Byway to Conway can be done by motor vehicle or bicycle (just make sure you’re ready for the effort … it’s a brute of a climb in either direction).
However, most times I’ll head north along Route 3 (with a stop at the rib-sticking Munroe’s Family Restaurant in Twin Mountain. If you missed out on the glider rides in Warrant, consider a helicopter tour with Colleen Chen and Vertical Ventures in Whitefield. There’s also some terrific road cycling in the area.
Motoring east on Route 302, the historic Mount Washington Hotel and Bretton Woods ski area share an Adventure Center that offers ATV tours, lift-service mountain biking, canopy tours with ziplining, archery, rock climbing, and even fly fishing. The hotel also offers guided horseback tours, golf and a spa to work out all the activityinduced knots in your muscles.
For something more rustic, keep going east, to Crawford Notch. There, check out the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center, ground zero for White Mountain hikers. A generous buffet breakfast will help fuel hikes to the southern Presidential peaks, rock climbing at nearby Frankenstein Cliffs, or simply some down time playing with the family at Arethusa and Ripley falls. In Bartlett, Attitash/Bear Peak beckons mountain bikers, and especially downhillers, with a root-and-rock trail network.
For those riders who don’t mind earning their downhill thrills, North Conway is a mountain biking paradise, thanks to the efforts of the White Mountains chapter of the New England Mountain Biking Association. The Red Tail Trail up the backside of Mount Cranmore is an all-time favorite. Local knowledge is key, so plan to stop by the Red Jersey Cyclery for the full 411.
Just outside of Conway, in Fryeburg, Maine, is Saco River Canoe & Kayak, a super spot to launch an easygoing, Huckleberry Finn-style paddle. I’ll usually opt to go north, through Pinkham Notch, with a quick stop at the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center, which also offers kayaking as well as some sweet mountain bike terrain, and maybe even a quick drive up the Mount Washington Auto Road. In Gorham, I turn right, and point my Subaru toward Sunday River ski resort.
Like many four-season resorts, Sunday River has an embarrassment of autumnal riches, from zipline tours and scenic lift rides to disc golf and climbing walls. What sets it apart is the world-class mountain bike park, with more than 20 miles of white-knuckle descents. They even offer Specialized Levo e-mountain bike rentals at Sunday River Sports. (Unfortunately, the L.L. Bean Outdoor Discovery School programs are offered only through the end of August.) The 18 holes of the Sunday River Country Club, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., offer some of the most breathtaking golf in the Northeast.
Near Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley, the Maine Huts and Trails, coupled with the resort’s Outdoor Center trail system, offer enough selection to keep mountain bikers of every stripe happy, and exhausted. Combined with fall’s spectacular foliage, the huts are fat-tire nirvana (and also as popular with hikers). The foliage also can make for a special whitewater-rafting experience with nearby Northern Outdoors on the Kennebec and Penobscot rivers.
Our trek ends at Vacationland’s coastline, in the Rockland/Camden area, but our adventures continue on the land, sea and air. The Maine Windjammer Association has a variety of sailing packages that allow you to channel your inner Ernest Shackleton aboard any one of eight splendid sailing vessels. The mountain biking trails at the Camden Snow Bowl and Camden Hills State Park, maintained by the Midcoast Maine chapter of NEMBA, are rivaled only by the exceptional seaside cycling routes (however, the latter can get crowded on some weekends during peak foliage). The lighthouses that dot the coast are a special treat.
Finally, Lauri and I hop aboard a single-wing, single-engine Penobscot Island Air prop plane with owner and local historian Brud Folger at the controls. As the craft climbs into a cloudless sky, and Folger comments on local points of interest on Maine’s craggy shoreline, I look to the west. On this crystal clear day, I can almost retrace our entire road trip. And I smile.