Fall is coming, and your kids could care less about that fiery foliage. But there are corn mazes, pumpkin patches, apple orchards, boat rides, hiking, and biking that your little ones will love. And yes, there is gorgeous fall scenery. Here are three family-friendly New England getaways that are finest in fall.
RANGELEY LAKES, MAINE
Talk about gorgeous: this region in northern Maine is dominated by deep woods and punctuated with more than 100 pristine lakes and ponds. It’s a 4½- to 5-hour drive to Rangeley from Boston, so you’ll want to stay at least two nights. Loon Lodge on Rangeley Lake (www.loonlodgeme.com) is exactly what you want in this outdoor setting. It’s Ralph Lauren meets fishing camp, a former 1909 private lakeside log home now with eight guestrooms, a popular restaurant and tavern with knotty wood walls and white linen tables, and a back porch and expansive lawn overlooking the lake. For a more Victorian feel, book the in-town Rangeley Inn & Tavern (www.therangeleyinn.com), with a wide porch overlooking Main Street and a backyard that rolls to the shores of Haley Pond. The completely restored grand Victorian hotel is decorated with period furnishings; modern rooms have private baths. One night at one, and one night at the other? That’s what we did.
Of course, you’ll want to get out on the lake. Rangeley Region Lake Cruises & Kayaking, consistently voted the Best Boat Cruise in Maine by Down East magazine (www.rangeley-lakes.com), offers scenic lake cruises, sunset cruises, and guided kayak trips. The kids will enjoy the ride while you take in the fantastic fall foliage.
Get a bird’s-eye view with Acadian Air (www.acadianseaplanes.com), offering a variety of tours, including the Fly & Dine, with a flight to a remote sporting camp where you’ll enjoy dinner; the 75-minute Mountain Explorer flight for views of the Bigelow Range and Dead River Valley, and shorter 30- and 15-minute flights.
There are miles of hiking trails, including a section of the Appalachian Trail that goes to the summit of 4,120-foot Saddleback Mountain, one of the highest peaks in Maine. Families should check out the Rangeley Lakes Trails Center, located at the base of Saddleback Mountain (www.rangeleylakestrailscenter.com), with more than 35 miles of marked trails, including trails leading to the shores of Saddleback Lake.
Don’t leave without visiting the Outdoor Heritage Museum (www.rangeleyhistoricalsociety.org), housing an amazing collection of artifacts, boats, wildlife, and art, as well as an authentic 1910 sporting cabin. Yankee magazine named it the “Best Sporting Museum in New England.” We agree.
Heading home, take the Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway (www.rlht.org/scenic-byway) for incomparable fall scenery. Be sure to stop at the Height of Land outlook, with views across miles of undeveloped lakes, mountains and forests.
Time your visit: Oktoberfest Weekend, Oct. 3-6, is a four-day celebration with food and entertainment.
BLACKSTONE RIVER VALLEY, RHODE ISLAND
Dubbed the Birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, this often-bypassed riverside region in northern Rhode Island was once clogged with textile mills powered by the 45-mile-long Blackstone River. Today, you’ll find a cleaned-up river, historic sites, outdoor recreation, and plenty of scenic beauty.
If your kids think they have it rough, take them to the Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark in Pawtucket (www.facebook.com/slater.mill), where they’ll learn that children — as young as 6 years old — once worked 12 to 16 hours a day, six days a week in the mills. Costumed interpreters, hands-on exhibits (try weaving or spinning), and special events keep it interesting for the young set.
It’s the river that shaped this region, and plying its waters is still one of the best ways to see it. Explorer River Tours (www.rivertourblackstone.com/site) offers 50-minute, narrated cruises down the Blackstone River; have the kids look for turtles, great blue herons and hawks along the way.
You’ll also have fine river views on the Blackstone River Bikeway, a dedicated walking and biking path that travels some 10 miles (and further with connections to other trails) along the Blackstone River and Blackstone Canal. It’s particularly pretty in fall when the marshes turn gold and hardwoods lining the shores are ablaze. There are several parking areas along the route (www.cycleblackstone.com/site/?page_id=857) and bike rentals are available at Blackstone Bicycles (www.blackstonebicycles.com).
Slater Memorial Park is a great place for families to spend a few hours. There are walking and biking paths, a playground, a small petting zoo with farm animals, and the Charles I. D. Looff Carousel, the oldest stander carousel in the world. The region has a number of other leafy, fun parks, too. Lincoln Woods State Park has a scenic 2.5-mile loop hike, a small beach on Olney Pond, and kayak and SUP rentals. Blackstone River State Park is another gem, set along the Blackstone River, with walking and biking paths, and Instagram-worthy family photo opportunities.
What better time than fall to visit a farm? Postcard-pretty Adams Farm in Cumberland, family owned for three generations (www.adamsfarmri.com), has a giant pumpkin patch, petting (and feeding) zoo, and a kid-friendly corn maze and hay maze. Don’t forget the caramel apples!
Time your visit: The Heritage Festival will be held Sept. 21 at the Pawtucket Armory Arts Center, with arts and crafts, music, food, and more.
While its Midcoast neighbors (think Boothbay Harbor and Camden) get all the attention, pretty Damariscotta, filled with early 19th-century mansions, keeps its peaceful charm. Once a wealthy shipbuilding center, today it’s best known for the briny, tasty oysters pulled from the nutrient-rich waters of the Damariscotta River that threads through the village. Here is where more than 80 percent of Maine’s oysters are farmed. And while mollusk shucking, eating, and harvesting take centerstage, there’s plenty more to see and do.
Your kids may not eat oysters but they’ll likely love the Oyster Farms & Seal Watching tour with Damariscotta River Cruises (www.damariscottarivercruises.com). Spot seals and other wildlife on your boat ride out to one of the farms, and then help sow the world-famous bivalves. If paddling is more your speed, Midcoast Kayak offers guided tours of nearby Muscongus Bay (www.midcoastkayak.com), perfect for beginners. The protected bay, filled with lobster boats and colorful buoys, is also home to seals, porpoises, waterfowl, and osprey.
Reserve some time to wander the open meadows and wildflower fields at Great Salt Bay Farm and Nature Education Center (www.coastalrivers.org). The 115-acre farm has a pond, salt marshes, wetlands, and more than three miles of trails. The 18th-century farmhouse contains a nature center with a fish tank, hands-on exhibits, and mounts of local birds. Nearby, a short interpretive trail takes you to the Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site, where massive heaps of oyster shells were formed by Native Americans over a period of 1,000 years (www.coastalrivers.org/trail/whaleback-shell-midden-state-historic-site).
Does your family like a good ghost story? Red Cloak Tours (www.redcloaktours.com) offers a variety of guided excursions, including the twilight Haunted History Tour led by a costumed guide who tells spooky stories about the village homes and historic buildings.
Time your visit: The popular Pumpkinfest & Regatta will be held Oct. 10-14, with giant pumpkins, scavenger hunts, contests, children story hours, arts and crafts, and more.