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10 stunning lakes in Northern New England

Lake Champlain straddles two countries, the U.S. and Canada. | Photo by Rena Trepanier Lake Champlain straddles two countries, the U.S. and Canada. | Photo by Rena Trepanier

Whether you prefer water sports or just want to unplug, these lakes offer the best of all worlds.

“Life is better at the lake,” the saying goes, and in Northern New England, that’s especially true in late summer and early fall, when warm, sunny afternoons fade into crisp evenings and the foliage turns fiery shades of crimson, gold, and orange.

The region’s lakes cater to a variety of vacationing lifestyles and tastes. Whether you prefer a remote campsite by a tarn, a small village by a pond, or a luxury resort on a large lake, this list will help you find a lakeside escape that is sure to please.

Moosehead Lake, Maine

Moosehead Lake, Maine

Photo courtesy Visit Maine

Moosehead Lake, Maine’s largest, lives up to its name. “One of the big activities, of course, is moose watching,” says Steve Lyons, director of the Maine Office of Tourism. 

You can hike to well-known moose “hangouts” like Lazy Tom Bog on your own, team up with a guided moose safari with a company like Northeast Whitewater, or take a narrated cruise, offered seasonally from June to Columbus Day in October aboard the Moosehead Marine Museum’s 100-year-old steamship Katahdin. A spectacular sight is the annual International Seaplane Fly-In, usually in September, when hundreds of seaplanes land on the lake.

Rangeley Lake, Maine

Rangeley Lake is part of the larger Rangeley Lakes Region, consisting of six large lakes in the middle of Maine’s Western Mountains. Rangeley Lake State Park has a sandy beach and views of Saddleback Mountain. You can hike on a nearby stretch of the Appalachian Trail. Or if you prefer, explore the area by car on the 35-mile Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway (Route 17), which winds through quaint towns and includes the Height of Land, a vista point overlooking the lakes and mountains.

Sebago Lake, Maine

Sebago Lake

Photo courtesy Visit Maine

Just 30 miles northwest of the hip, foodie city of Portland lies the glacially gouged Sebago Lake, an ideal place if you don’t want to travel several hours into the Maine woods for a wilderness fix. It has long been a favorite for fishing enthusiasts, thanks to its deep, cold water. Families will like 1,400-acre Sebago Lake State Park, which features hiking trails, sandy beaches, and 250 campsites, not to mention easy access to New Hampshire’s White Mountains over to the west. 

Newfound Lake, New Hampshire

Glacial, spring-fed Newfound Lake, with 22 miles of scenic shoreline, is considered one of the state’s most pristine. Wellington State Park has a long stretch of shorefront for beachgoers and picnickers, easy hiking trails, and nearby nature preserves such as the Newfound Audubon Center. Don’t miss the nearby Sculptured Rocks Natural Area, where water has carved shapes into the granite bedrock that look as though they were chiseled by an artist, rather than nature, and quaint towns like Bristol, which has “authentic New Hampshire charm,” says Kris Neilsen, communications manager for New Hampshire’s Division of Travel and Tourism Development.

Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire 

Mount Washington Cruises boat on Lake Winnipesaukee.

Photo by Ingunn Gardner/Mount Washington Cruises

Lake Winnipesaukee is a true all-season playground. It hosts to an annual motorcycle rally in June and ice-fishing derby in February. In summer and fall, Weirs Beach's boardwalk, beach, restaurants, and nightlife bustle with visitors. 

But if you seek quiet and solitude, head around the lake to Wolfeboro. “The oldest summer resort in America” has attracted summering city slickers since the 1700s and is “really that picture-perfect small town.” says Neilsen. Boating is popular here (in fact, you’ll find the New Hampshire Boat Museum), but don’t worry if you lack your own craft. On guided tours with Mount Washington Cruises, passengers can sail aboard the historic M/S Mount Washington or aboard the country’s oldest floating post office while it delivers mail to residents of some of the lake’s 258 islands.

Ossipee Lake, New Hampshire 

Local families favor Ossipee Lake; their lakeshore summertime camps go back generations. The lake is within the Ossipee Mountains, which are the remnants of ancient volcanos. When you’re in the area, don’t miss the covered bridges, such as Whittier Bridge in Ossipee and Durgin Bridge in Sandwich. Once you’ve had enough hiking and fishing, head into Tamworth, where you’ll find the Remick Country Doctor Museum and Farm, and the Barnstormers Theatre, one of the oldest ongoing professional summer theaters in the United States. 

Squam Lake, New Hampshire

The Oscar-winning On Golden Pond was filmed here, but Squam Lake offers more than Hollywood bona fides. The two connected lakes—Squam and Little Squam—boast unspoiled waters and about 30 islands. Climb the nearby East Rattlesnake Trail in Holderness for beautiful lake views. Despite the trail’s name, you needn’t worry about running into a rattler here: According to New Hampshire Fish and Game department, the state’s only species of rattler, the timber rattlesnake, is endangered and extremely rare. Then, get up close with wildlife at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, where visitors can explore animal exhibit trails, gardens, and even take a lake cruise, like the naturalist-led Bald Eagle Adventure Cruise.  

Lake Willoughby, Vermont

Lake Willoughby

Photo by Alamy Stock Photo

Lake Willoughby is more remote than the other lakes on our list. That means you’ll find deep, clear water, rugged steep cliffs, a landscape that’s almost fjord-like, and no big city nearby. “It’s more of an unplugged experience,” says Nate Formalarie, communications director for the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. 

The lake is an outdoors enthusiast’s slice of heaven, offering hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and standup paddleboarding. That doesn’t mean you won’t find cultural activities, though: Visit the quirky Museum of Everyday Life in Glover, where mundane objects, such as safety pins and toothbrushes, get elevated for visitors’ contemplation. Get here early for leaf-peeping. Because the lake is so far north, autumn leaves change color earlier here than in other parts of the state.

Lake Champlain, Vermont 

Lake Champlain’s 125-mile length (pictured at top) straddles Canada, New York, and Vermont, and covers a lot of ground. To soak up Northern New England charm, visit Burlington and its always-bustling Waterfront Park. There, you’ll find food, music, and other festivals that enliven the lakeshore’s spectacular natural beauty from spring to fall. 

“The sun sets right behind the Adirondacks, and it’s one of those iconic experiences,” says Formalarie.

Beyond Burlington, bike along Vermont’s portion of the 363-mile Champlain Bikeway or explore one of the lake’s 71 islands.

Lake Morey, Vermont

Lovely, laid-back Lake Morey is ideal for relaxing in the Upper Connecticut River Valley. Its clear waters are beloved for boating and hiking on the well-maintained Lake Morey Trails. 

The Lake Morey Resort offers classic guest rooms, cottages, a golf course, and lots of year-round activities that include a wintertime treasure: a 4.5-mile ice skating trail that’s the longest such trail in the United States.

 

AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.

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