Looking for a New England getaway without the crowds? Read on to discover some of the best hidden gems in New England.
From coastal and mountain resort towns to historic and cultural landmarks, New England offers a little bit of everything. There are tons of popular and well-known places to visit, but the more exciting (and in these times, more practical) destinations are the lesser-known ones.
As a native New Englander with a passion for all things history, culture, and nature, I’ve curated this list of the best hidden gems in New England to visit in 2021. For more New England travel inspiration, be sure to check out my other articles:
So pack your bags, and let’s get off the beaten path to discover these cool hidden gems in New England.
Disclosure: Due to COVID-19, there will likely be travel restrictions in certain areas. Before booking any travels, be sure to follow relevant government guidance and safety protocols. And of course, be sure to practice social distancing!
Bash Bish Falls State Park, Massachusetts
Looking to chase waterfalls this summer? Look no further than Bash Bish Falls State Park in southwestern Massachusetts.
One of the top hidden gems in New England for nature lovers
This state park is best known for its 60-foot waterfall, Bash Bish Falls, which is the highest waterfall in Massachusetts. The pools beneath the falls are also a sight to behold, as they are so clean and crystal clear. But beware: while you may see visitors swimming, it’s not permitted and can actually be quite dangerous due to the shallow pools and slippery outcrops.
Bash Bish Falls State Park sits along the MA-NY state line, just next to Mount Washington State Forest in Massachusetts and Taconic State Park in New York. There are two parking lots, one in each state, where you can reach the falls from. On the New York side, the hike from the parking lot is about 2/3 miles; from the Massachusetts side, just 1/3 miles. These hikes—though a bit short— are very scenic and an enjoyable part of the Bash Bish Falls State Park experience.
In addition to the summer months, I can imagine that this state park is beautiful during New England’s fall foliage season. While you’re at it, be sure to spend a lot of time exploring the rest of the Berkshires region, too. Find a quaint Massachusetts town like Stockbridge or Great Barrington to stay overnight in. You’ll quickly see why fall is one of the best times to visit!
In the beautiful town of Greensboro, there are no stoplights and no crowds. Upon visiting this small town, you’ll quickly discover the quiet, relaxed, and sustainable way of living. So much so, that National Geographic selected it as part of their geotourism program for sustainable destinations.
A hidden gem in northern New England
One of the main draws to Greensboro is Caspian Lake, a glacial lake tucked away between Route 14 and 16. It’s more than 789 acres in size and has a maximum depth of 142 feet.
In the summer, locals and visitors go boating, swimming, water skiing, and fishing on the lake. Every Sunday night during the summer, there’s even a classical music concert played from the Landon Lake House. It’s a nice alfresco scene, where people enjoy the music from the comfort of their own boats, docks, and homes. In the fall, the lake is sought-after for its leaf peeping and autumn colors. In the winter, there are plenty of opportunities for skiing and snowmobiling. Such a beautiful place!
Another interesting attraction in the area is the Museum of Everyday Life, a funky and unusual museum (in a good way) that is so quintessentially Vermont. Visitors also won’t want to miss Barr Hill, which is a scenic viewpoint overlooking the surrounding mountains. And adding to this rustic experience is Willey’s Store, a local country store.
Cliff Island, Maine
They don’t call Maine “Vacationland” for nothing. With more than 3,000 miles of coastline and pristine wilderness at every turn, there’s so much to see and do.
Every summer, visitors flock to popular destinations like Portland, Ogunquit, and Acadia National Park, but often overlook the lesser-known hidden gems in New England’s biggest state. One of those off-the-beaten-path places is Cliff Island, which lies in Casco Bay. It’s a 1-2 hour ferry ride from Portland, where you’ll be transported back to a rural and relaxed setting that gives you a feel for what Maine looked like a hundred years ago.
On Cliff Island, you’ll find that all the roads are unpaved. Most people get around by walking and bike riding, but you’ll see plenty of golf carts, too. There are just over 60 year-round residents who live there. However, during the summer the number jumps up to a few hundred who are drawn to the island’s calm coastal landscape. With so much conservation land, Cliff Island feels remote and wild.
Just a stone’s throw away is another unique island, Jewell Island. It’s best known for its scenic hiking trails and WWII fortification ruins. It also offers beachside campsites with stunning views of the Atlantic.
As the smallest year-round island in Casco Bay, Cliff Island is a great day trip destination that merits a spot on your New England bucket list.
Shelburne Moriah Mountain, New Hampshire
When many think of New Hampshire, the first image that comes to mind is Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in New England (6,288 feet). It’s also one of the top hiking destinations in New England. In addition, there are many other prominent peaks, including Cannon and Loon Mountain, attracting visitors year-round for hiking, skiing, and leaf peeping. But for the purposes of this article, I’m focusing on the best hidden gems in New England rather than the touristy spots, so here’s why you should visit Shelburne Moriah Mountain:
Located within the Carter-Moriah Mountain Range in northeastern New Hampshire, Shelburne Moriah Mountain is a quiet and peaceful retreat tucked away from the crowds. It has a 10-mile round-trip trail that gives you sweeping alpine views from the summit.
Hobby hikers beware: though much of the trail is relatively flat with a gradual incline, it becomes very steep and rocky towards the end. The trail can even be snow-covered as late as June, which is why many consider it to be among the most challenging trails in NH. But if you’re prepared with hiking boots, plenty of water, and are willing to spend the greater part of the day hiking, you’ll find it’s well worth the climb.
Shelburne Moriah Mountain is connected to the rest of the White Mountains region, so while you’re there, be sure to also check out well-known places like Bretton Woods, Franconia Range, and the Kancamagus Highway.
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Block Island, Rhode Island
Looking for an island experience like Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket, but without the crowds? Consider a visit to Block Island, a rural retreat just off the coast of Rhode Island.
On Block Island, there are no stoplights or international chains. In fact, it has barely changed at all since the late-19th century—except for the advent of electricity and a handful of cars—which certainly adds to its charm. Visitors are also allured by its historic homes and lighthouses, beautiful beaches, and rustic terrain.
People typically visit Block Island as a day trip, but there are overnight accommodation options as well, including the iconic National Hotel, the island’s flagship Victorian-era hotel.
Growing up in Massachusetts, I rarely heard anything about Block Island until a few years ago. It’s considered more of a semi-hidden gem rather than an unknown destination, but it’s definitely worthy of a spot on this list.
Consider pairing Block Island with a trip to Newport, as many ferries leave from there.
Planning a visit to Rhode Island? Check out these cool and unique Airbnbs in Rhode Island!
Cathedral Ledge – North Conway, New Hampshire (A Hidden Gem in New England Tucked in Nature)
Looking to get off the beaten path in the White Mountains of New Hampshire? You won’t want to miss Cathedral Ledge.
Located in North Conway, a shopper’s paradise, is this beautiful 700-foot ledge with sweeping views of the Saco River Valley and White Mountains. It’s no less beautiful than the other top sights and attractions in the White Mountains, but thankfully it doesn’t draw the same crowds.
Cathedral Ledge State Park and nearby Echo Lake State Park offer tons of unique hiking trails, so bring your outdoor gear along and enjoy one of New England’s best hidden gems.
Read Next: Coolest Airbnbs in the White Mountains
Bound Brook Beach – Wellfleet, Massachusetts
It’s not every day that you hear Cape Cod and hidden gem in the same sentence. But that’s exactly what this hidden beach in Wellfleet, MA, is.
Bound Brook Beach is a secluded beach nestled between the “tip” and “elbow” of Cape Cod. It’s easily overlooked for places like Provincetown to the north and Eastham to the south, but it shouldn’t be, given how stunning it is. Bound Brook Beach has so much to offer in the way of windswept coastlines and sand dunes that it’s a mystery how it has remained a hidden gem for so long.
Be sure to spend time lounging on this isolated beach and hiking to the top of Bound Brook Island (which is considered a mountain though it’s only 70 feet tall!). Even still, from the top you’ll have sweeping views of Cape Cod, as the hook-shaped peninsula is very flat and there are no obstructions. As you can imagine, it’s also an amazing sunset spot. Many locals don’t even know about this place, so you’ll likely have the whole beach to yourself.
To get here, either drive a mile down a narrow, winding dirt path or walk 25 minutes from the Atwood-Higgins House (a national historic site) down Coles Neck Road to the sand dunes. Then, it’s just a short and easy hike up the 70-foot tall hill and to the secluded beach below.
Looking to visit the Cape anytime soon? Read next: 17 unique stays in Cape Cod.
Old Red Mill – Jericho, Vermont
Seeking a dose of nature and history on your next New England getaway? Check out the Old Red Mill in northern Vermont. It won’t disappoint!
One of the most unique hidden gems in New England
This red (and quintessentially New England) mill is a National Historic Site that dates back to the mid-1800s. It was powered by the river around it, and once employed six people who did milling for local farmers. Today, it’s home to a museum and artists’ showroom, where you can purchase prints and crafts from local artists and take a self-guided walking tour. There are also historical artifacts, photos, and antique machinery left behind that paint a picture of how this mill was operated more than a century ago.
In addition to the red mill itself, the hiking trails out back are a great reason to visit. On a hot summer’s day, be sure to take a dip in the little pools along the river.
Another unique sight in Jericho is Mills Riverside Park, an open meadow with six miles of trails and stunning views of Mt. Mansfield (Vermont’s highest mountain).
Jericho is only around 10 miles away from Burlington, Vermont, which deserves a visit for its incredible food, beer, and views of Lake Champlain.
Whether you’re into historical attractions or scenery, you’ll find that Jericho, Vermont is one of the best hidden gems in New England.
Read next: The most unique places to stay in Vermont
Gungywamp – Groton, Connecticut – One of New England’s Best Hidden Gems
Gungywamp is an excavation site in Connecticut that drives archaeologists mad. It isn’t a hidden gem in a ‘beautiful scenery’ sense, but it sure is unique and unusual. That’s why I’ve included it as one of the best hidden gems in New England.
Gungywamp is shrouded in mystery
Situated in the woods of Grotton, Connecticut, Gungywamp is made up of stone chambers, ancient artifacts, and other cryptic carvings and relics left behind from the past. This includes artifacts from both European settlers and Native Americans, though it’s unclear exactly who left things behind and when. There’s said to be hundreds—if not thousands of years of history between all the piles of rocks, rings of stone, and mysterious carvings and relics—but it’s tricky to tell where one era ends and another begins.
While you’d think that archaeologists could figure out the origin and timetables for these structures and artifacts, it’s still a total mystery, which has opened this site up to many conspiracy theories. One popular theory is that the area was established in the 6th century by Celtic Christians who fled the Vikings. Though extremely unlikely, there’s no apparent evidence to refute that claim.
Making things more complicated, there are strong electromagnetic signals here, leading some to claim that there’s an energy vortex influenced by UFOs. Crazy, I know. People come for the cool stone chambers and stay for the tour guide’s compelling stories and tales.
Before visiting, be aware that the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center is the caretaker of the site. As such, you’ll have to do a scheduled tour with them to enter the Gungywamp property. The area sits on swampland, so be sure to bring bug spray.
Hammond Castle Museum – Gloucester, Massachusetts
This medieval-style castle is easily one of the most unique places to visit in New England. Today, it’s a museum filled with unique exhibits where you can all but transport yourself to Europe.
Hammond Castle was built in 1929 by John Hays Hammond as a wedding gift for his wife. It’s filled with historic furnishings and artifacts from Europe, which definitely makes you feel like you’ve stepped inside an old world castle. Add to that its idyllic setting along the Atlantic Coast, and you’ll see why Hammond Castle is one of New England’s best hidden gems.
Read next: Most Unique Castles in the World
Desert of Maine – Freeport, Maine
This is one of those hidden gems of New England that’s a bit out of the ordinary.
I don’t know about you, but when I think of Maine, small fishing villages, vast untouched wilderness, and lobsters come to mind. The very last thing I could imagine in one of America’s “greenest” states is a desert, yet here we are.
A New England hidden gem unlike any other
Located in Freeport, a classic New England town 30 minutes north of Portland, the Desert of Maine is a cool and unusual sight. It’s also among the best hidden gems in New England. The desert is enclosed by green pine trees, providing a unique contrast as if part of the land were in Maine, and the other in the southwest.
In all, the Desert of Maine has more than 40 acres of arid desert sand. It was used for farming back in the 1700s, but due to neglect and over-grazing, the glacial salt beneath the ground made its way to the surface, giving the terrain its sandy appearance today. Visitors can now walk through the sand dunes and pose for pictures next to a camel, which by the way is not endemic to the area (the last camels to live in North America went extinct around 13,000 years ago).
After a guided tour or camping experience at the desert, be sure to explore downtown Freeport, which is buzzing with shopping outlets, restaurants, and fresh Maine seafood. Outdoor enthusiasts should also check out the L.L. Bean Headquarters in Freeport, which welcomes visitors 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
With so much to see and do, this is definitely one of the most unique places to visit in New England.
Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge Massachusetts
People are dying to go here (literally).
Okay, so when I started writing this article on the best hidden gems in New England, I hadn’t planned on featuring a cemetery. But this one in Cambridge is quite special and deserves a mention among the most unique places in New England.
Located in West Cambridge, Mount Auburn Cemetery is a great place for a stroll, picnic, and taking photos. The architecture and greenery are stunning, particularly during the fall foliage months when the trees are covered in yellow, orange, and red leaves.
Founded in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery is the country’s oldest garden cemetery. It’s a National Historic Landmark that contains famous graves of the Boston Brahmins (Boston’s elite upper class) including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and B.F. Skinner.
You don’t often hear Cambridge and hidden gem in the same sentence, but that’s exactly what this place is. It’s only 4 miles west of Boston, but it feels worlds apart with all its beautiful scenery. The grounds are incredibly well-maintained, and it’s free to enter.
Bristol, Rhode Island is Among the Best Hidden Gems in New England
In Rhode Island, destinations like Newport and Providence get all the glory. But if you’re looking to discover a relatively unknown vacation spot in Rhode Island that will keep you entertained for a weekend, visit Bristol. You won’t regret it!
As one of New England’s first ports of call, Bristol is a historic coastal town with lots of charm. It features the oldest continuously held Fourth of July celebration in the US (since 1785). The town is also home to the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, showcasing Bristol’s maritime heritage going back hundreds of years.
Bristol is in Narragansett Bay, making it a prime spot for boating and sailing. It’s also a popular place for bike riding, as there are lots of bike paths sprawled around town. Gently hugging the sea, Colt State Park offers the best bike path of all. Bristol is truly an outdoor paradise, and if that isn’t enough to convince you, the amazing food and shopping scene, will.
If you’re looking to experience the seaside charm of Rhode Island, forget the more touristy destinations and make your way to Bristol. It’s undoubtedly one of the best hidden gems in New England, and is a unique place to visit anytime of year!
For further reading: When to Visit New England
Best hidden gems in New England to visit in 2021
Do you know any hidden gems in New England that you think belong on this list? Let me know in the comments or send me an email at [email protected] Happy Travels and stay safe!
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