When I travel to an area, there are bound to be popular tourist sites that I would not want to miss. However enjoyable, some of these destinations end up feeling like bucket list checks or bragging rights, to say that I have been there. While there is nothing wrong with this, I often find that my favorite memories are created off the beaten path. These 5 unique New England attractions are less known places to visit, but sure to create lasting memories.
The Flume Gorge
One of Five Unique New England Attractions to Visit
The Flume Gorge is located in Lincoln, New Hampshire, and is part of Franconia State Park. It offers a unique nature trail that meanders through an ancient gorge. The path consists of well maintained trails combined with metal and wooden walkways. There are many stairs. In addition to a breathtaking walk, the gorge has an interesting story, both geologically and historically, dating back to 1808, when it was discovered by a local 93 year old woman, who came upon it while fishing. At that time, her family did not believe her, but eventually went and saw it for themselves.
Even now, this is understandable. It is hard to fathom the great expanse and height of the 800 foot Conway granite walls. While it is a paid attraction, (currently $16 for adults and $14 for children), I found it to be breathtaking and a really fun way to spend a morning. I would recommend arriving on the early side and possibly on a weekday. This may alleviate some of the tourist traffic and have the ability to take better photographs.
In addition to the gorge itself, there are various interesting trees and plant life. There is also a water fall, glacier boulders, a covered bridge, and many other goodies to explore. While more crowded than a backwoods hiking trail, the scenery was stunning and the plaques that provided insight to the formation and history were extremely informative.
The entire loop is approximately 2 miles. It took us about two hours to complete. We stopped often to really appreciate the attraction and read all the signs. I took many photos, but you could finish in less time if you just keep moving.
Two of Five Unique New England Attractions to Visit
Marginal way is a beautiful strip of land that was donated to the city of Ogunquit, Maine in 1925. It is now a mile and a quarter path that hugs the coast. The paved shoreline footpath connects Perkins Cove to Ogunquit Beach.
During this gentle walk, you will pass beautifully maintained gardens, containing wild bushes of roses and honeysuckles. The East side of the trail offers expansive views to the Atlantic at nearly every turn. To the land side, you can gaze at beautifully kept, New England seaside homes. There are 39 dedicated benches along the trail to rest, or simply enjoy the views. About halfway, there’s even a little model lighthouse. It is one of those kitschy things that make you want to take a photo.
On the South end near the beach, there is a lobster restaurant and a classic New England style casual resort. The North end has a concentrated town area with shops, motels, and restaurants. There are also a few commercial properties along the path.
Marginal Way used to receive federal funding, but now is run by a not for profit. Marginal way is free, and open to the public year round, but is not maintained in the Winter.
Willard House and Clock Museum
Three of Five Unique New England Attractions to Visit
I stumbled upon The Willard House and Clock Museum in Grafton, Massachusetts, while I was on a business trip in a nearby town. There was a free day and I took a drive through the beautiful farmland near Tuft University’s Veterinary School. I pulled over to look at a map to see what points of interest were nearby, and found this obscure and interesting museum.
The Willard House is one of the oldest buildings in the area, dating from the early 1700s. Even without the eerie ticking of almost 100 antique clocks, chiming in unison, the structure itself was something to see. The Willard Family was one of America’s first 19th century clock maker’s, creating their first in 1766.
The manageable museum takes about an hour to visit and includes a docent led tour through both the house and workshop. The guide was interesting and demonstrated some unique qualities of the clocks. In addition to the variety of time pieces, there were also antique dolls, paintings, photographs, and other household artifacts throughout the museum.
Four of Five Unique New England Attractions to Visit
Castine, Maine, was founded in 1613. It is likely the oldest permanent settlement in New England, and was once the capital of Acadia. Throughout its war torn history, it was controlled by the French, the Brits, the Dutch, and Americans. The town’s position at the mouth of the Penobscot River, made it an attractive trading point for fur and timber, as well as a transportation route beyond the coast. Castine self proclaims the motto, “The battle line of four nations.”
Present day Castine was surprisingly full of things to see and do. I visited for a full day and could have easily spent a few more. I really enjoyed the diversity of the activities available. The historical lighthouse was picturesque and had a steep, overgrown path, leading to a rocky lookout over the Bay.
There was an adjacent area of beautiful and uncrowded hiking trails that weaved through pine forests. A detour on the Indian trail took us on a steep climb with awesome coastal views. There was a lookout point in the loop with a bench and spectacular scenery. I saw no other people while hiking there. It was quiet and unassuming, but well kept. There were large rewards for relatively minimal effort.
All throughout town the architecture from the late 1700s to early 1800s is interspersed with Greek Revival. Many of the buildings and homes are labeled with plaques and dates. Most everywhere we walked, there were historical signs, explaining the history that took place nearby. There are several forts and parks in Castine that mark the sites of important battles or historical events. The Maine Maritime Academy was established in Castine in 1941 and has expanded into a key economic element of the town and its preservation ability.
There were free paper maps available for the town of Castine that pointed out the numerous historical sites and architecture. It gave a brief description of what you would find. Most all of the activity was through walking and observation and could be enjoyed outdoors. A small museum was in gardens on the water. I did not enter because of the current Covid situation, but it looked very nice.
There is a small harbor with boat tours and a few restaurants and bars. It affords views across the bay and an area to watch the active local fishing community. Restaurants, gift shops, and ice cream parlors dotted the quaint commercial downtown. Although I did not spend the night, I saw many beautiful historic bed and breakfast and boutique hotel options scattered around town.
You can also try renting an E-Bike from the spectacular nearby Acadia National Park. While cruising beautiful coastal cliffs and mountainous roads, you can use comfortable e-bikes with battery assist, to help get through the tough and hilly sections with ease.
Littleton, New Hampshire
Five Unique New England Attractions to Visit
Littleton, New Hampshire is a small, yet vibrant town near the Vermont border. It was settled in 1770. Littleton is situated at the Northern edge of the White Mountains and on the bank of the Ammonoosuc River.
This was a very pleasant town to spend a day. The streets are quaint and interesting. There is a modern urban industrial feel, combined with the ambiance of nature. You can take a leisurely stroll over the covered bridge in town, that crosses the river.
Small shops and a few restaurants lined the picturesque main street, as well as a movie theatre. There are a few local breweries that also serve fantastic food. I noticed many public art projects around town, such as murals, and a life size interactive music station, where you can play tunes along the river bank.
On the edge of Littleton, I discovered a locally used hiking trail that starts behind a private home and crosses a field, prior to climbing steeply through the woods. While the hike is uphill, it is moderate and relatively short. On top, there is a picnic table just before the ledge that looks out on Littleton, from high above. It is quite the bird’s eye perspective.
Time the hike early or mid morning, or late afternoon so that you can grab a bite to eat back down in town afterwards.
Bonus Self Driving Tour
If you still have some time, there are some beautiful mountain drives that you can take. If you are without a car, it is easy to rent one for a day or more, so don’t let that hinder you. These are especially spectacular during Autumn when the leaves are changing color, but special during any season. For me, the advantage during Summer is the longer hours of daylight, to make more stops along the way. The Kancamagus Scenic Highway Self-Driving Audio Tour is a great way to explore one of the most famous and beautiful roads in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
If you do find yourself with extra time in the White Mountains, the hiking is really amazing. If you are unfamiliar with the area, try a full day hiking trip with a professional and knowledgeable guide that includes all permits. For even more of an adventure, you can take a self guided 3 day 2 night hiking and camping trip that includes all equipment, the itinerary, detailed area maps, and permits.
There is so much to do in New England, you will not want to leave. If you are not a US resident, then we recommend that you think about insurance for yourself, especially when participating in adventure travel.
Also see Jenny In Wanderland post, 10 Travel Activities to do from Home