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5 can’t-miss national treasures in New England

At the Salem Maritime National Historic Site in Massachusetts, the square-rigged Friendship of Salem is a replica of a merchant ship used when Salem was one of the East Coast’s richest and largest ports. Zachary Frank/Alamy Stock Photo

Year after year, Maine’s Acadia National Park ranks among the country’s most visited national parks—and for good reason. Few experiences can beat seeing the splendor of the sun’s first rays from atop Cadillac Mountain.

But beyond Acadia, the National Park Service (NPS) oversees 423 additional park units (more than 30 in New England alone)—everything from battlefields and historic sites to lakeshores and scenic trails. Here are 5 of them in Northern New England not to miss.

1. Roosevelt Campobello International Park

Welshpool, Canada

Franklin D Roosevelts Roosevelt Campobello International Park on Campobello Island Maine

Buddy Mays/Alamy Stock Photo

While other members of New York society escaped the city by summering in Newport and Bar Harbor, the Roosevelts of Hyde Park traveled to their 34-room “cottage” on Campobello, a remote Canadian island just across from Lubec, Maine.

There, young Franklin D. Roosevelt spent his days learning to sail and foraging for blueberries, later courting his distant cousin Eleanor. In 1908, his mother, Sara, purchased a neighboring cottage as a belated wedding gift for the couple, who continued their summer tradition there with their own children, enjoying their days on the water, picnicking, and playing tennis.

In 1964, the United States and Canada symbolized their long friendship by establishing Roosevelt Campobello International Park, which they jointly own and administer. Nine hiking trails and 3 carriage roads meander through the 2,800-acre coastal landscape, whose centerpiece is Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s meticulously restored red clapboard summer home.

Start in the Edmund S. Muskie Visitors Center with a film about the Roosevelt family. Exhibits include the birchbark canoe made for FDR by Passamaquoddy leader and artist Tomah Joseph. Then tour the cottage, stroll the formal gardens, and picnic at one of the park’s many scenic vantage points.

Don’t forget your passport—you’ll need it to cross the FDR International Bridge to and from the island, where the clocks are set an hour ahead. Open from late May to mid-October. Free.

You may also like: 5 easy-access, easy-to-love Maine islands

2. Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Patten, Maine

Courtesy Roger Merchant/The Maine Highlands

Covering 87,564 acres of Maine’s North Woods, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument preserves some of the country’s most remote wilderness. Acclimate to the vast landscape by driving the unpaved 17-mile Katahdin Loop Road, which winds through the monument’s southern portion.

Eight stops provide scenic overlooks, hiking trails, and plenty of bird-watching opportunities in the thick spruce forest. At the first stop, the 1-mile round-trip Esker Trail travels along one of the monument’s many eskers—narrow, sandy ridges formed by streams running beneath a retreating glacier. If you have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, take a 6-mile round-trip hike to Orin Falls along Wassataquoik Stream (“place where they spear fish”) by heading north on the loop road and detouring about 2.5 miles north between mile markers 15 and 16.

Katahdin Woods and Waters was designated a National Monument in 2016 and an International Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2020. Rated a 2 on the 9-level Bortle Scale, the monument has some of the darkest skies east of the Mississippi. Find excellent stargazing at the Sandbank Stream Campground near the monument’s south entrance. Open from late May to late October. Free. The loop road and its approaches are unpaved; high-clearance vehicles are recommended.

You may also like: 6 places in Northern New England to reconnect with nature

3. Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park

Cornish, New Hampshire

Don Freemand

In 1885, renowned Civil War–era sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens and his artist wife, Augusta, rented a Federal-style brick house at this site from the sculptor’s friend, Charles Beaman. The couple later purchased it and began summering there to escape NYC’s heat and bustle.

At this summer home, which they called Aspet, Saint-Gaudens completed some of his most influential works, including Abraham Lincoln: The Man, also known as the Standing Lincoln. Their presence in New Hampshire inspired the formation of the Cornish Colony—a thriving community of creatives who energized the bucolic hamlet each summer for the next 2 decades, until Augustus’ death in 1907. As the Colony’s social hub, Aspet attracted some of the era’s most distinguished painters, sculptors, architects, novelists, playwrights, and actors.

Today, the 370-acre estate includes Augustus’ studio as well as lush perennial gardens, walking trails, a birch grove, and views of Vermont’s Mount Ascutney. The site’s 100-plus works of art include everything from finely carved cameos created early in his career to gilded bronze casts of his most celebrated pieces.

A variety of guided tours and immersive programs include “Process of Sculpture,” a short lesson in bronze sculpting with the park’s sculptor-in-residence. In July and August, Sunday afternoon outdoor concerts hark back to the days of the Cornish Colony. Buildings open from late May to late October; grounds open year-round. Adults, $10 (good for 7 consecutive days).

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4. Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

Woodstock, Vermont

Mansion at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

agefotostock/Alamy Stock Photo

Opened in 1998, Vermont’s only national park unit celebrates the mid-1800s legacy of conservation and land stewardship spearheaded by scholar-naturalist George Perkins Marsh. He spent his childhood on the property and wrote about the importance of preserving natural resources in his 1864 book, Man and Nature, a groundbreaking work many consider to be an early impetus for the environmental movement in America.

In 1869, wealthy Vermont lawyer and real estate developer Frederick Billings purchased the Marsh family farm. Billings had read Marsh’s book and was responsible for reforesting the farm’s surrounding woodlands. Billings also established a successful dairy farm and creamery that served as a model for Vermont farmers.

In 1951, farm ownership passed to Billings’ granddaughter Mary French Rockefeller and her conservation-minded husband, Laurance. The couple honored Billings’ vision by creating the Billings Farm and Museum and later donating the property’s Queen Anne–style mansion and 555 acres of surrounding forestland to the NPS.

Begin your visit by meeting Billings Farm’s award-winning Jersey cows in the dairy barn. Then, get a taste of 19th-century farm life in the restored Farm Manager’s House. In the museum, exhibits and the Academy Award–nominated documentary A Place in the Land describe the estate’s 150-year conservation legacy.

Leave plenty of time to wander the park’s trails: A favorite is the loop around the Pogue, a 14-acre mountain pond surrounded by towering hemlock trees and stands of sugar maple. Visitors center open from late May to late October; grounds open year-round. Free.

You may also like: The best of Woodstock, Vermont

5. Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Salem, Massachusetts

Salem Custom House at Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Amanda Ahn/Alamy Stock Photo

Four historic wharves, a smattering of 16th- and 17th-century buildings, and a replica of a magnificent 3-masted merchant ship make up the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Established in 1938, the site shares the story of the area’s rich maritime heritage, which peaked between 1776 and 1812.

Elias Hasket Derby, a wealthy shipping merchant and privateer who made a fortune capturing enemy cargo during the Revolutionary War, played a major role. Derby would later own the first New England vessel to trade directly with China, a feat that helped Salem corner the market on Eastern trade routes and transformed the quiet town into one of the country’s most powerful seaports.

In the Salem Armory Regional Visitors Center on Liberty Street, the short film Where Past Is Present offers an overview of Essex County from the Colonial era through industrialization. Catch a ranger-led tour of the Derby family’s stately 1762 brick home if you can. Finish your visit with a stroll along Salem’s cobblestone sidewalks using the park’s brochure map or the free NPS mobile app, which has 2 self-guided tours spotlighting multiple points of interest. Free.

New York–based journalist Gina DeCaprio Vercesi writes about food, drink, and travel with an emphasis on history and conservation.

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