Four hundred years ago, when settlers to the new world made landfall at Plymouth Rock, a new nation was born, and a fresh start began.
Imagining the sights and sounds of the untamed, untouched wilderness of so long ago might seem a daunting task in the 21st century, but New England (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire) thankfully still contains a large piece of that frontier heritage preserved within the national parks scattered about the region.
Shorelines, mountains, stunning vistas and trails, lakes, rivers, historical sites, and more are all within a relatively small topographically diverse land area. For those who are searching for the next adventure filled with natural beauty, or for those looking for greater insight into the formative years, people and places that guided a new country, the top right corner of the United States has it all.
Here are some of the must-visit highlights:
CAPE COD NATIONAL SEASHORE (MA): The great writer Henry David Thoreau once said of this legendary shoreline: “A man may stand there and put all of America behind him.” Thoreau was right in his description of one of the easternmost points in the states. Forty miles of pristine beaches, marshes, ponds, and uplands support diverse species in this national preserve. Decades old lighthouses are a familiar feature, as well as marshes filled with wild cranberries, giving visitors a look at both Cape Cod’s seafaring past and diverse ecological present and future. Bike, hike, or simply enjoy a relaxing time on the beach.
NEW ENGLAND NATIONAL SCENIC TRAIL (MA, CT): Owing its name to the region in which it resides, this national scenic trail is a well-known and beloved hiking trail on the East Coast. The New England Trail stretches over 215 miles from Long Island Sound up and across mountain ridges into Connecticut and Massachusetts. The trail gives visitors a wide range of options from 360-degree lookouts to firsthand close-ups of New England’s landscape: from rock ridges to historic towns, farmlands and untouched forests to peaceful streams through deep valleys. Pack a bag and start walking!
MARSH – BILLINGS – ROCKEFELLER NATIONAL PARK (VT): One of the lesser-known but most beautiful places in New England can be found in the great state of Vermont. Visitors to this national park are offered the chance at a remarkably diverse adventure in such a small area. Hike through one of the state’s most remarkable landscapes, under sugar maple trees and enormous 400-year-old hemlocks, across quaint covered bridges and alongside stone walls edging through the terrain and soak up the all-encompassing beauty of the Vermont wilderness.
COLTSVILLE NATIONAL PARK (CT): History buffs will love this national park, and it provides all visitors a different kind of adventure. Located in the capital city of Hartford, this Connecticut park preserves the life and legacy of Samuel Colt (and his wife Elizabeth, who ran and grew his business to even greater success following Colt’s untimely death), the inventor of the Colt revolver. Historians have waxed poetic about this technological triumph that literally changed the fortunes of the young American country. This national park is a must-visit to learn a little more about one of the most consequential inventions of the time.
BLACKSTONE RIVER VALLEY NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK (RI, MA): The smallest state in the union has a lot to offer for visitors. This park preserves the Blackstone River, which sparked America’s first forays into the Industrial Age. The technological miracle of Samuel Slater’s cotton spinning mill based in Pawtucket, RI, changed how people worked as well as where they lived and its effects are still felt across the country even today. Visitors here can see firsthand how this revolution transformed the landscape of the Blackstone Valley and the greater United States.
TOURO SYNAGOGUE NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE (RI): Architectural enthusiasts will not want to miss this national historic site. Dedicated in 1763, Touro Synagogue is the oldest synagogue building in the United States. This synagogue is considered one of the most important architectural sites of the 18th century and the most significant Jewish building in the U.S. Founded in 1658 by Jewish political and religious refugees from Spain, Portugal and the Caribbean seeking the liberty to worship freely that then-colonial Rhode Island offered. In his now-famous letter to the “Hebrew congregation at Newport,” penned in 1790, George Washington declared that this new nation would give “to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.” Touro Synagogue stands as an enduring monument to religious freedom for all, setting out in practice what is preached in the very first amendment to the Constitution.
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK (ME): Often referred to as the crown jewel of the North Atlantic coast, Acadia National Park should rank at the very top of the list for rugged outdoor adventure lovers. This park protects the breathtaking natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along the Atlantic coastline of the United States, a plethora of natural habitats and a diverse and storied cultural heritage. Over three and a half million people visit a year making Acadia one of the most-visited national parks in the country. Hike, bike, swim, or kayak. Acadia has something for everyone!