New England has only one national park, Acadia National Park. While beautiful and well worth a visit, Acadia is certainly not the only option if you want to get away for an afternoon or a weekend. Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont are each filled with diverse and beautiful state parks where you can hike along northern stretches of the Appalachian Trail, savor lake-filled landscapes carved by glaciers, fish in plentiful streams, or stroll through leafy, autumn-hued forests. Many of them are also blissfully quiet for much of the year.
Baxter State Park
Although Baxter State Park is Maine’s most popular state park, it’s far less visited than Acadia National Park. In fact, this nearly 210,000-acre state park is more than four times bigger than Acadia but gets a mere two percent of the number of visitors. So, yes, Baxter is empty.
But what makes Baxter special is not the lack of crowds. It’s things like some of the best hiking in the Northeast, like creeping along the knife edge to Baxter Peak, the tallest peak on the 5,268-foot-high Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain and the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. Besides hiking on some of 215 miles of trails, and perhaps spotting moose or white-tailed deer, adventurers can rock climb and mountain bike. Anyone looking for a calmer experience will appreciate fishing, canoeing, or biking on the park’s collection lakes and ponds. And if you want to stay the night? You’ll have 337 campsites to choose from.
Mount Blue State Park
At 8,000 acres, Maine’s second-biggest state park is considerably smaller than Baxter but is plenty spacious for a state park. Within those acres are the 3,187-foot-high Mount Blue, which you can climb to in a moderate 3.2-mile loop. Up top, you’ll get views of the park’s Webb Lake, a top spot for boating, canoeing, and stand-up paddling. Fishing for trout, salmon, and bass is also popular here. Horseback riding and mountain biking trails beckon in warmer months while snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and ice skating are excellent winter options. Those planning on staying overnight can reserve a campsite.
Quoddy Head State Park
With its candy-cane stripes, the easternmost lighthouse in the US is hard to miss. While the lighthouse is the most noticeable feature of this small, coastal treasure, the park’s real rewards lie in its trails that take you through forests of evergreen pines and alongside cliffs that reach as high as 150 feet. You can look out from the bluffs for humpback and finback whales, as well as birds ranging from plover and gannet to sea ducks and sandpipers. Often wrapped in fog, Quoddy Head is also home to one of the few peat bogs in the US.
Smugglers Notch State Park
The park in Vermont’s Green Mountains is not only in a stunning location, but its name also belies an intriguing history. Located just 40 miles from the national border, near Stowe, Smuggler’s Notch was a pass-through point for goods smuggled between Vermont and Canada after the US passed the 1806 Embargo Act. It was part of the underground railroad, which helped escaped slaves find freedom in Canada. Later still, it functioned as a way-point for alcohol smuggled in from Canada during Prohibition. Today, more benign activities include hiking, biking, bouldering, or exploring some of the caves nature built into the granite peaks. Should you opt to stay overnight, Smugglers Notch is also our favorite place to camp in Vermont.
Emerald Lake State Park
Named for its sometimes green-hued lake, this park is a hidden wonder located in a valley between the Green Mountain and Taconic ranges. Only non-motorized boats are welcome here, adding to the peaceful feel. Anglers take in pike, perch, and bass while stand-up paddlers take in the views of nearby peaks like Dorset Mountain. You can hike up to Dorset, as well as along the northern edges of the nearby Appalachian Trail. Should you choose to stay the night, over 100 campsites surround the 20-acre lake.
Crawford Notch State Park
You may think that New Hampshire’s White Mountains are so named because of their wintertime blankets of snow. Two competing theories are that European settlers were impressed with how some of the mountain’s exposed granite peaks shone in the sun or that the white refers to the pale bark of the area’s ubiquitous birch trees. In any case, in summer the White Mountains are anything by white. They’re in fact bursting with green leaves, crossed by rivers, and dotted with deep blue lakes. One of the loveliest state parks in this special region is the 5,800-acre Crawford Notch State Park. Highlights of hiking or mountain biking in this park tend to be arriving at one of 10 waterfalls that cascade over rock faces. Crawford Notch is also our choice for camping in the state.
Pawtuckaway State Park
The biggest draw at Pawtuckaway is its sprawling Pawtuckaway Lake, complete with inlets and coves to explore by canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboards,