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The New England Spring Travel and Vacation Guide

Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts
Bridge of Flowers, Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

by Eric Hurwitz. Page updated on 3/15/17. All photos by Eric unless otherwise noted.

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Many New Englanders consider spring the best season to vacation in New England. When that warmer weather arrives, the flowers blossom, and the air gives off that unmistakable New England sweet post-winter scent, you know better days are on the way. People come out of hibernation to see what the world is like, correct their Vitamin D deficiencies, reconnect with their neighbors, and know that at least six months of great weather -- maybe even eight months, if you follow Al Gore's line of thinking -- is right at their doorstep.

People aren't yet taking out mortgages to play miniature golf, buy Cape Cod candles and trinkets, and stay at oceanside motels so they can use the indoor, overly chlorinated swimming pool -- oddly what some wait for all year to call their own authentic and relaxing New England vacation. A New England spring affords tourists a more laid-back feel with fewer crowds, better lodging deals and an opportunity to unwind in, and discover one of America's great regions. Even the popular spring break/Easter vacation is relatively laid-back in most parts of New England.

A New England spring justifies having endured the harsh winters and end-of-autumn weather related nastiness that had many of us wondering about calling Erik Estrada regarding those warmer weather Arkansas and Tennessee paradise communities he pitches on late night infomercials. In many regards, a New England spring is more appealing than summer. While the hotter months allow for great vacations, the spring affords does the same with less crowds and not-too-humid temperatures.

A New England spring signifies, for example, the opening of outdoor ice cream stands, that first Red Sox game at historic Fenway Park, walking the beaches of Cape Cod (without 1,000,000 clones of the Ugly American spoiling it with six packs, blaring radios and foul language) and the chance to hike beautiful hills and mountains in New England.

Some New England communities and places of interest capture the essence of a New England spring better than others. There is no science to this observation, just a feeling that four out of five New Englanders would agree on if the subject came up in a conversation. That conversation would probably result in the following places to go to experience a New England spring vaction, especially during spring break/Easter vacation (these suggestions work out equally well for your New England summer vacation, too!):

Shelburne Falls, MA -- Located at the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts, Shelburne Falls features a quaint, compact walkable downtown with shops, boutiques, galleries and restaurants.  The main draw, however, is the Bridge of Flowers, a former trolley bridge that offers 400 feet of more than 500 varieties of flowers, shrubs and vines, as well as a scenic view of picturesque Shelburne Falls. This is a horticulrutalist's dream; what better time to visit than the Spring when it all starts to blossom?

Peterborough, NH -- This quintessential small New England town has an artist's community feel, but they welcome all types of people -- even if you can only draw stick figures. Spring gently saturates Peterborough with some of the freshest air in New England, the antithesis of the winters that roar into this southwestern New Hampshire community. It is a great place to walk, star gaze and casually tour -- from the grand views of a greener Mount Monadnock and quaint little downtown to communities that are wonderfully stuck in a colonial time warp -- like Hancock and Harrisville. When everything blossoms, you know this region represents the best of New England -- so green, so renewing and so accommodating.

Plum Island and Newburyport, MA -- A stretch of seven miles of untouched land surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Plum Island (Parker Wildlife Refuge) is a nature's paradise with chances to bird watch (countless species), watch deer roam the open land, and walking the boardwalks en route a casual stroll along the empty beaches. It might be one of the great places to discover spring because there are simply no distractions getting in the way between you and Mother Nature. If you're looking for a little distraction, the City of Newburyport is a few minutes away. Although Newburyport is a small city, you are easily able to relax and feel safe in this outside masterpiece of sea captain's homes, federalist architecture, brick walkways, restaurants with indoor and outdoor harbor side dining and shopping galore (no chain stores, thank goodness). Once downtrodden, Newburyport has become revitalized to the point where it is now a favorite destination for New Englanders not wanting to travel far. For those outside of New England, you'll love the salt-air feel of this interesting, historical museum piece in the form of a city.

Concord, MA -- Spring truly blossoms in Concord, a lovely historic town 35 minutes west of Boston where our freedoms began. Everywhere you look results in a great place to walk, with its tree-shaded side streets, beautiful flower gardens near the Old North Bridge, the lovely walkable Walden Pond and well maintained colonial homes.The downtown area retains a wonderful sense of history with the Old North Bridge, superbly maintained colonial homes, the feel-good atmosphere of the Colonial Inn (lodging and a fine restaurant in a historic setting) and nice, little independently owned shops. Concord will warm your heart as a classic New England town that has a great New England spring feel.

Kelly's Roast Beef, Revere Beach, MA -- Kelly's, a Revere Beach institution and across the street from the Atlantic Ocean, is open-year round but somehow it's more appealing eating a delicious clam plate or roast beef sandwich at the first sign of warm weather. This is much better than getting hit by a wave on a 24 degree day in February. Kelly's is a haven for muscle heads and girls with big hair and little clothing, even during the frozen tundra days of a New England winter. It is ultimately, however, a great family place and a New England institution. Enjoying a Kelly's Roast Beef meal by the ocean certainly ranks right up there as one of the "true" New England experiences. Kelly's Roast Beef, 410 Revere Beach Blvd, Revere, MA, Tel. (781)284-9129

Bristol, RI -- Newport may have the glory (and crowds), but Bristol, to many, is one of the top choices to visit when in Rhode Island. With a seaside salt-air scent and one of the most pleasant, historically preserved small downtowns in New England, Bristol attracts many visitors in the spring with its laid back, walkable community, great little shops, and nearby Colt State Park -- one of New England's treasures. One walk alongside the beautiful Narragansett Bay at Colt State Park.and you'll be checking out the Bristol real estate ads in no time -- this location lends a lavation of any stresses with its wonderful open-ended views of seaside New England.

Colt State Park, Bristol RI
Colt State Park, Bristol, Rhode Island.

North Country, VT -- It could very well be snowing in the spring, but if not North Country in Vermont makes for an authentic New England spring vacation. Not as "touristy" as some other areas of Vermont, North Country bursts with mountain scenery (Mt Pigsah), aquatic beauty (Lake Willoughby), winding country roads and charming small towns and cities (Lyndonville, St. Johnsbury) that offer a pure New England feel without much hype. The spring is particularly nice, perhaps partly due to the good weather following extreme winter misery.

A great example of "hidden New England" is Francis William Bird Park in the attractive southwest Boston suburb of Walpole, MA - a town combining suburbia with rural farmland. This pastoral gem boasts 89 acres of gentle rolling parkland framed by tall, majestic trees and a scenic part of the Neponset River. Large stone walkways lead you past open, grassy fields, small walking bridges overlooking the water, mature shade trees, tree groves, and ponds. Recreational opportunities abound -- a well-constructed playground for children five years-old and younger, tennis and basketball courts, picnic areas and a bandstand for concerts. The Trustees of Reservations (overseeing 53,000 acres on 94 reservations in Massachusetts), with a deep respect for Bird Park's beauty, acquired the land in 2003. The Trustee's mission is "to preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts."They have certainly done just that at Bird Park, as the maintenance of the land looks better than ever. It is unspoiled New England land to enjoy and respect, a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle of metro Boston.

Another great place for a walk in Walpole is the Walpole Town Forest off South St., about a half mile from Common St. The 150 acre site features beautiful views of the Neponset River, a waterfall, a wide wooden bridge and several miles of hiking trails.

Cape Cod is a great place, but sometimes the summers can be truly annoying with the awful traffic leading to the Sagamore and Bourne Bridges, the case-of-beer slovenly weekend warriors or the tense, ruin-it-for-everyone Joe Pocket-Protecter types, the overcrowded beaches and too many precious candle shops with equally precious people. The spring is a different story, as the crowds are more sparse making Cape Cod seem like you have the area all to yourself. The spring blossoms with abundant plant life, the sweet salt-air smell and a truly relaxed feel. Walking the desolate beaches, having dinner in less crowded and more relaxed restaurants, and strolling through the small, lovely villages without Joe Sixpack and his loud car stereo ruining the mood results in what one would expect from Cape Cod. A great place to start is along the "real Cape Cod" along charming Route 6A. Towns like Yarmouthport, Sandwich and Barnstable offer a true Cape Cod state of mind, with a top pick being the Daniel Webster Inn, of Sandwich, for your lodging and dining pleasure.

Goose Rocks Beach, Kennebunkport, Maine -- Perhaps one of the most forgotten great beaches in New England, Goose Rocks is scenic and tranquil, the perfect spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of the booming southern Maine tourism industry. The stunning views of Goose Rocks and Timber Island and a great three-mile stretch of beach make Goose Rocks a personal favorite to those who have had the fortune to discover this "road less taken" spot. It's especially nice at sundown as the colorful flavor of the day sky weaves magic around the splendid solitude of this grand New England beach.

Dock Square, Kennebunkport MAine
Dock Square, Kennebunkport, Maine, in mid-April

Putnam, CT, has gone in a few short years from a near ghost town to one of New England's premier antiques shopping center. The downtown is now neat looking, offering antique shops everywhere you look, nice places to eat, and a small town feel where it feels safe to sit on a bench and take in the slow pace. Putman is surrounded by some of the most scenic towns in New England like Pomfret and Woodstock. Spring is a particularly good time to visit Putnam as the warmer weather provides a great opportunity to explore the antiques shop scene and get to know the wonderful countryside.

Wickford Village, RI -- Not typically on the top 10 lists for places to visit, Wickford Village scores high points exactly because of that reason. This small community by the ocean has high appeal because it has not fully been discovered yet. Walk the peaceful main streets and delight in the toy store, clock shop, gift stores, cozy seafood restaurants, or by the row of old sea captain and colonial homes en route to the quiet harbor.

Stonington Borough, CT, is a classic New England seaside community with a beautiful, picturesque harbor, and much like Wickford Village, R.I., has interesting little shops, great seafood restaurants and a solitude that makes you feel like your miles away from everything. Late in the day, the streets are virtually empty which allows residents and visitors to feel totally at peace. It's just you, the fresh ocean air and a few birds chirping. If you have visited neighboring Mystic or towns like Kennebunport, Maine, or Newport, R.I., and were disappointed by the commercialism and crowds, then Stonington is the perfect place for you.

Brown University area, Providence, RI -- It's really not "hidden New England" to talk about a large university where thousands of students attend, but relatively speaking, the Brown University area of Providence does not bring as many tourists as Providence Place Mall, the state Capitol building and downtown proper. The Brown University region is an equally great and more interesting choice, filled with spectacular Victorian and Colonial homes, tree-lined streets and funky shops, cafes and bakeries. It's colorful and great to people-watch as it seems Brown University not only admits some of the smartest people in the world, but those who dress very differently than most of us. It's a great spring time place to enjoy and watch the world go by on these charming streets.

Rattlesnake Mountain, Rumney, NH -- There are no rattlesnakes and it really isn't a mountain, but the views of Squam Lake are breathtaking and the hike will make you barely break a sweat. Some hikes that require greater physical effort and most of the day climbing cannot approach the scenery that you'll find at this out-of-the-way New England great discovery. Bring a blanket, food and enjoy one of the best views in New England, with very little effort involved in getting there.

Meredith, NH -- Meredith has great spring appeal being beautifully situated on the western shores of Lake Winnepeusakee. Meredith is truly an ideal place for walking, boating, shopping and dining. The myriad paths along the lake are so pleasant that it's easy to forget about Route 3. The small-town scenery, the not-too-distant mountains and wide body of water make boating a joy for many vacationers looking to find the perfect spot at well-known Lake Winnepeusakee. Shopping begins across the street from the lake at the Inn at Mills Falls (with the Inn and the Chase House as well-known, highly rated places to lodge in Meredith). Here you can find upscale and more down-to-earth shop alongside a pretty waterfall, eventually leading to the "real" downtown up on a hill -- a nice place to stroll, have a cup of coffee or ice cream, and feel like you're back in the 1940s or 50s. Click here for more info on Meredith


Related article:
Think southern Maine coast when the weather gets warmer


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