Our Best Family Fishing Vacations

New England's top summertime vacation destinations offer something for everyone: relaxing, scenic getaways that include everything from fishing to hiking, biking and more. These highly rated hotspots will get you started.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Al Raychard

Family fishing vacations have been a part of the New England lifestyle for more than 100 years. Taking advantage of America's passion for the outdoor life, many fishing camps and lodges were established across northern Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont since the Civil War, offering anglers and their families a chance to get away following the greatest period of death and destruction in the nation's history.

Today, many of the sporting camps opened during the 1800s are still operating. They have changed with the times, and while angling remains the primary attraction, most of these operations offer additional recreational opportunities for today's more active and variety-minded clientele. Some offer fly-fishing schools, hiking trails and other outdoor pursuits for Mom and the kids while Dad wets a line.

But, some things never change. At the end of the day, the whole family can gather and sit on the front porch, listen to the loons and ponder the simplicity of it all.

Today, whether it is a remote backwoods camp, a state park, national forest, private campground or other destination designed for outdoor recreation, variety seems to be the current trend.

The modern outdoor family is looking for more diversions to occupy their time and satisfy their outdoor interests, and fishing remains a popular attraction. For this reason, angling is only part of the package being offered by family-oriented outfitters these days. The following is a look at some of the best family fishing vacations available to New Englanders in 2004:

MAINE

Baxter State Park

For the family oriented toward traditional outdoors pursuits, Baxter State Park offers one of the best deals going in New England. Covering more than 200,000 acres of genuine wilderness, individuals, groups and families from all over the world come to Baxter for a non-typical vacation. Rental cabins are available with fantastic native brook trout angling literally at your doorstep; or tent sites can be rented at one of the park's eight designated campgrounds. Most campgrounds offer tent sites or lean-tos, fireplaces and picnic tables, drinking water and washing facilities, while a few offer community bunkhouses. Canoes can be rented at some campgrounds as well.

The big attraction at Baxter, in addition to its scenic beauty and abundant wildlife, is its hiking and fishing. There are 46 mountain peaks within the park, 18 of which exceed 3,000 feet in elevation, including Baxter Peak atop Mt. Katahdin. At 5,267 feet, it is the highest summit in Maine.

Access to the top of most of these heights and the surrounding wilderness is provided by approximately 140 miles of trails including the northernmost section of the Appalachian Trail leading to the summit of Baxter Peak.

Baxter State Park has long been known as a hiker's paradise. Its many trails lead to quiet ponds, scenic vistas and natural wonders on the way to the top of some of the highest mountains in Maine. The degree of difficulty varies, but there are hikes for people of all ages and levels of expertise, from just a couple of miles to a jaunt of more than 20 miles.

For the fisherman, Baxter State Park is home to some of the finest native brook trout fishing in the Northeast. There are remote ponds off the beaten path, some restricted to fly-fishing only, while others are open to lure-fishing.

There are some large lakes and two excellent trout streams, Nesowadnehunk Stream along the western boundary for the flyfisherman and Trout Brook in the north, which is open to angling with lures and worms as well as flies.

Just outside the park's southern boundary, the West Branch Penobscot River offers excellent angling for landlocked salmon. The river below Seboomook Dam is nationally known for its whitewater rafting, in case the family is interested in a wild ride.

Baxter State Park is open from May 15 through Oct. 15 for general use. Reservations are recommended. A list of rules and regulations as well as trail maps can be ordered by contacting the Baxter State Park Authority, 64 Balsam Drive, Millinocket, ME 04462, or call (207) 723-5140. Also, visit the BSPA's Web site at www.baxterstateparkauthority.com.

Reservations are also recommended for rafting trips on the West Branch. They can be made with any of the several guide services on the Web at www.maineguides.com. Click on "Whitewater Rafting" under the "Water Guides" tab.

SPORTING CAMPS

As they did a century or more ago, Maine's sporting camps continue to be a popular family draw. Most are located on prime fishing waters and these camps offer access to some of the best trout, salmon and bass angling in the state. Fishing is the prime attraction of these places, but many offer other activities to keep visitors occupied and entertained during their downtime. Fly-fishing schools are offered at several establishments, while others offer fly-tying and other related classes. Most of these camps and lodges are in secluded locations where day hikes to nearby mountains are also possible. Boat or canoe rentals are generally available, but biking, mountain biking, bird and wildlife watching and photography are all popular pastimes.

For a list of camps and services, contact the Maine Sporting Camp Association, P.O. Box 119, Millinocket, ME 04462; call (207) 723-6622, or visit the MSCA Web site at www.mainesportingcamps. com.

ACADIA NATIONAL PARK

For folks who like to be close to the ocean, Acadia National Park offers just about everything the fishing and outdoor-minded family could ask for. Covering 47,633 acres off the coast in Hancock County on Mt. Desert Island, this gem in the national park system offers a mixture of granite-domed mountains, spectacular forests, rugged coastline and more than 20 ponds that contain a variety of trout species. Outboards are restricted on some ponds, while the size of outboards are limited, generally to 10 horsepower or less, on others. It should be noted that anglers are required to possess a valid Maine fishing license to fish anywhere in the park.

There is much more to this popular destination. Scattered throughout the park are more than 45 miles of rock-surfaced carriage roads for vacationers who enjoy bike riding. Many of those old roads provide access to the heart of the park. There are also 120 miles of hiking trails, including one leading to the summi

t of Cadillac Mountain, where the sun first shines on America each day.

There is a scenic 27-mile auto drive along the rugged coast leading to Thunder Hole, Otter Cliffs and other scenic wonders. For the bird lover, Acadia is home to more than 270 species of birds. There are organized nature excursions for adults, guided children explorations courtesy of the park service and also carriage tours from a local stable; and at Bar Harbor, there are several museums to visit, plus a nature center.

Camping is provided at two official park campgrounds, as well as at a dozen other private campgrounds scattered about the island. It should be noted Acadia National Park draws more than three million visitors annually, with July, August and September being the busiest months. Advance reservations for camping and certain other activities are highly recommended.

Access to the island and park are easy from Bangor using Route 1A or U.S. Route 1 along the coast.

For more information, contact the Acadia National Park office, PO. Box 177, Eagle Lake Road, Bar Harbor, ME 04069-0177; call (207) 288-3338, or visit the park's Web site at www.nps.gov/acad/index.htm.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

White Mountain National Forest

The White Mountains are among the most popular recreational areas in the Northeast, and have been a popular playground for fishermen for over a century. Much of the region is formed by the White Mountain National Forest, which contains more than 760,000 acres of rugged mountain country, scenic vistas and natural wonders. Small villages and hamlets dot the landscape, many offering vacation and tourist attractions suitable for all age groups. Clark's Trading Post, Santa's Village, Six Gun City and Story Land are just a few prime examples of off-the-water diversions in the region.

Several of the highest mountains can be reached via tram and gondola rides to their summits, where breathtaking vistas of the surrounding countryside await.

The Mt. Washington Auto Road allows visitors to drive to the summit of 6,288-foot Mt. Washington. It is also possible to travel by train to the summit via the Mt. Washington Cog Rail, one of the oldest cog railways in existence. For the nature lover, scenic wonders such as the Flume Gorge, Lost River Gorge, the Polar Caves and other natural wonders abound.

The national forest is traversed by the Appalachian Trail, and several other hiking trails wander for miles through the region. Visitors may camp at any one of numerous campgrounds throughout the region, some away from the hustle and bustle (offered by the National Park Service), with others closer to the action, plus bed and breakfast establishments, hotels and motels.

Antique hunting and shopping are available in the towns and villages in the area, where numerous small shops and retail outlets can be found. There is plenty to see here and visitors will not lack for things to do. In fact, what to see and do first may prove a pleasant dilemma!

For a list of things to see and do, contact White Mountain Attractions, P.O. Box 10, Route 112, 200 Kancamagus Highway, North Woodstock, NH 03262; call (800) 346-3647; or visit the agency's Web site at www.visitwhitemountains.com.

The White Mountains region is also blessed with some great trout-fishing opportunities. Within the national forest are 750 miles of moving trout water. Eighteen rivers originate in the forest, including some of northern New England's best: the upper Saco, Ammonoosuc, Baker, Beebe, Swift, Ellis, Dry, Wildcat, Zealand and Sawyer rivers to name but a few. All are stocked annually, and in their upper headwaters wild brook trout are plentiful. Some rivers or sections are managed by special regulations, so be sure to check the most current rules governing fishing in the region. There are also 50 ponds of various size and character totaling more than 1,200 acres. Some are easily reached, while others require a short hike. The best fishing generally occurs in late May and June, and then again in September, but trout can be caught early and late in the day throughout the summer.

For more information on fishing, camping and hiking in the White Mountain National Forest region contact the Forest Supervisor, 719 Main Street, Laconia, NH 03246; or call (603) 528-8721.

VERMONT

State Park System

The Green Mountain State manages 50 state parks, each offering something for the family to do, including camping, hiking, fishing, interpretive programs and various outdoor events. Many Vermont parks are located near historical landmarks and tourist attractions, and the parks also offer plenty to do and see.

One of the largest is Bomoseen State Park. It covers 3,576 acres in the scenic Taconic Mountains near Fair Haven, a region known for its history of slate production. The park has several quarry holes that provided slate for the West Castleton Railroad and Slate Company, a complex of 60 to 70 buildings that once stood between Glen Lake and Lake Bomoseen. Several slate buildings and foundations remain inside the park, and visitors can see them on the park's self-guided Slate History Trail.

Other area attractions include the Hubbardton Battlefield area, the Wilson Castle and Marble Exhibit in nearby Proctor, the Morgan Horse Farm in Middlebury, the Devil's Bowl Raceway in Benson and the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne. The Lake Champlain ferries are also nearby. Several hiking trails offer the opportunity for wilderness adventures, and there is a beach for swimming.

For the angler, Lake Bomoseen offers both warmwater and coldwater fisheries. Nearby Glen Lake also offers good angling opportunities. Boat rentals are available at the park, which also features 105 campsites including 36 lean-tos, all on a wooded ridge above Emerald Lake. Flush toilets, hot showers and dump station are available as well. For additional information, call (802) 265-4242.

Another interesting state park is Emerald Lake State Park in East Dorset on Route 7. The park covers 430 acres along the side of Dorset Mountain, with Emerald Lake, the headwaters of Otter Creek, at its base. Visitors will find over 100 campsites including 36 lean-tos, a small beach with a snack bar and boat rentals.

Hiking trails are available throughout the park, offering a quick escape into some beautiful countryside.

For non-anglers, there is shopping to do in nearby Manchester, and the many local historic landmarks including the Hildene and Equinox Hotel in Manchester and the Bennington Museum and Monument.

Emerald Lake contains yellow perch, northern pike and smallmouth bass, and the headwaters of Otter Creek and the nearby Batten Kill, to name but a few, offer some excellent trout action.

For more information, call (802) 362-1655.

For information on Vermont's other state parks, call (802) 241-3655, or visit www.vtstateparks.com on the Web.

MASSACHUSETTS

Cape Cod Trout

Nickerson State Park in Brewster is a true gem in the Bay State's park system. Covering 1,200 acres of wooded terrain on Cape Cod, this is a marvelous family getaway in a part of the Commonwealth that is developing fast. Visiting Nickerson is like spending time in the sparsely populated Berkshire region far to the west.

Available here are 420 campsites, an amphitheater, eight miles of roads, bird-watching opportunities, seasonal interpretive and recreational programs presented by park staff, swimming in Flax Pond and an eight-mile bike trail that connects with the Cape Cod Bay Rail Trail; a 25-mile bike trail connecting the towns of Dennis, Harwich, Brewster, Orleans, Eastham and Wellfleet. The trail is paved with few hills and has well-marked road crossings, so it is enjoyable and safe for bikers, walkers and joggers of all ages.

Cape Cod Bay is within walking and biking distance, and elsewhere on the Cape there is much to see and do. Boston can be easily reached from the Cape, so consider taking in a Red Sox game or viewing the city's many historical sites including Bunker Hill, Old Ironsides, Old North Church and others.

Inside the park are eight ponds, known as "kettle ponds," some of 300 on the Cape formed by receding glaciers during the last ice age. Most popular among anglers are Big Cliff, Little Cliff, Flax and Higgins ponds. All are stocked annually with trout. Little Cliff and Higgins primarily with brook trout, Flax Pond with rainbows and Big Cliff with browns and rainbows.

Boat ramps are available on most of these ponds, which also offer prime shore-fishing and wading. Higgins Pond is restricted to catch-and- release fishing.

The Cape Cod Canal also offers good angling for striped bass, and charter boats offering some options for offshore bass, bluefish and shark angling may be found in nearby coastal towns.

Reaching the park is easy off Route 6A in Brewster. For additional information and reservations, which are recommended, call (508) 896-3491.

For more on the family fishing vacation opportunities near you, contact your state's tourism office or local chamber of commerce.



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