New York: Cozying Up to the Catskills
Vast tracts of verdant hills and trout-rich streams put relaxation and recreation—mountain biking, fishing, hiking, skiing—at the top of must-do lists for New York's Catskills. Also popular: two excursion trains, shopping for crafts, wine tastings of small-batch Rieslings, and a stop in Woodstock, which gave its name to the iconic 1969 music festival. "In the Catskills I found something I'd missed after 40 years of living in cities," says visitor Cathy Newman. "Simple courtesy."
•LOGISTICS: The Catskills lie two hours north of Manhattan. Lodging: Beaverkill Valley Inn. Country inn in Catskill State Park, with conservation club, fishing, hiking, from $105; www.beaverkillvalleyinn.com. Dining: Peekamoose Restaurant and Tap Room. Local trout and organic vegetable and meat dishes in cozy farmhouse; www.peekamooserestaurant.com. Best link: www.visitthecatskills.com.
Maine: Lakes and Woods and Trails, Oh My!
Canoeing, swimming, hiking, birding, snowshoeing—these seasonal activities and more have visitors returning yearly to this lake- and forest-filled region of western Maine. "The Rangeley Lakes are a discovery," says fan Ann Saudelli, "with something for everyone—except crowds and urban life." Visit the resort village of Rangeley for a handful of shops, eateries, and galleries. Then stay at one of the many lodgings—small family resorts and cabins to cottage B&Bs—that rim the lakes, which include the memorably named Lake Mooselookmeguntic.
•LOGISTICS: The Rangeley Lakes lie two hours west of the state capital, Augusta. Lodging: Rangeley Inn. Historic country inn (1877) with homey guest rooms, from $84; www.rangeleyinn.com. Dining: Gingerbread House. Popular since the 1950s for breakfasts, ice-cream sodas, and crab cakes; closed Nov. to May; www.gingerbreadhouserestaurant.net. Best link: www.rangeleymaine.com.
Vermont: The Distant Kingdom
Been to Bennington, skied Stowe, loved Lake Champlain? You're ready for the Vermonters' Vermont: the uncrowded hiking- biking-canoeing corner known as the Northeast Kingdom, anchored by the gateway town of St. Johnsbury. "Despite its rural character, or maybe because of it, the Kingdom is home to many artists and writers," says Tom Slayton, former editor of Vermont Life, "and boasts a corresponding wealth of music, theaters, galleries, and museums." Museums like the Fairbanks, with the state's only public planetarium. Innovative theaters like the Bread and Puppet Theater, home of the pioneering Cheap Art movement to bring art to everyone. Local staples like syrup-producing Maple Grove Farms and cheese-churning Cabot Creamery, a farmers' cooperative known for its award-winning cheddars. "The Kingdom's charms are intimate," says Slayton, "to be savored at a gentle pace."
•LOGISTICS: The Northeast Kingdom, a National Geographic Geotourism partner, is tucked into Vermont's northeast corner and encompasses Caledonia, Orleans, and Essex Counties. Lodging: Wildflower Inn. Cozy country-style accommodations in multiple buildings on more than 570 acres, from $129; . Dining: Elements Restaurant, St. Johnsbury. "Creative comfort food" in a converted mill. Best link: www.travelthekingdom.com.
New Hampshire: Hut-to-Hut Trekking Above the Clouds
So you're a hiker—and you prefer the path less traveled. Find out what you're really made of in one of New England's most gloriously rugged terrains, the rock-strewn, wind-whipped White Mountains. Centered around 6,288-foot-high Mount Washington, the White Mountains have long lured challenge-seeking recreationists. The Appalachian Mountain Club's backcountry system of eight huts gets you right into the landscape. "The huts offer advantages," says hiker and writer Tom Dunkel, citing the freedom of traveling light—no need to carry tents and bedding—and hearty meals, including "fresh-baked bread, tomato-rice soup, and homemade cookies rustled up by hut crews." Adds Traveler staffer Scott Stuckey, "The huts function as a sort of high-country living room, where you meet people from all walks of life." And the hiking? Scenic, wild, unpredictable—and so very memorable.
•LOGISTICS: The White Mountains sit in north-central New Hampshire, 70 miles east of Montpelier, Vt. Lodging and dining: Appalachian Mountain Club huts. Rustic cabins with coed bunk rooms (unheated), some meals in season, from $33; . Best link: http://amc-nh.org.
Published in the May/June 2009 issue of National Geographic Traveler.