A Local Shares The Best Family Weekend Getaways in New England

by | Mar 10, 2023 | Destinations, Family Adventures, North East, Traveling with Teens, USA, Weekend Trips

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New Englanders can be tight-lipped about their favorite hotspots, making it a challenge to find the best places to visit.  As someone who grew up in the region and loves exploring it with his own children, let me spill the beans and share a few suggestions for families to consider for their next trip to the North East.  Here are our favorite things to do for families seeking adventure, beaches, education, or an all-inclusive no brainer.




Family Adventure in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

No place in New England is better suited for a family adventure than the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In Franconia Notch, lying between the Kinsman and Franconia Mt. Ranges, families will find an easily accessible National Forest that is teeming with outdoor activities like hiking, canoeing, fishing, golf, and skiing.  Travelers could spend a week here and still have plenty to do. 

In the winter, there are countless options for skiing and snowboarding.  Rentals are available, as well as lessons for beginners in the family.  Another great option that has exploded recently is tubing.  At The Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center, adventurers can spend the day enjoying a groomed hill on rented tubes.  Mt. Washington looming over the trees sets the scene for an epic day in the snow.  The staff keeps a fire pit cranking out warmth and atmosphere at the top of the hill. And, of course,  s’more ingredients are available for purchase.


Pro Tip: Cash only on the hillside, so make sure to slip a few dollars into your pocket.


kids snowtubing - new england family trips

It’s all downhill from here! Photo by David Shankbone


Route 93 runs straight through the center of Franconia Notch, with a biking trail that follows alongside.  The moderate southward slope makes this an excellent opportunity to spend the day exploring by bicycle.  Sport Thoma in Lincoln, NH is located at the southern edge and provides bike rentals as well as a shuttle service.  Their package includes a bicycle (kid trailers are an additional fee), helmet, and transportation to the northern terminus of the bike trail at the Cannon Mt. parking lot.  Make sure to stop at the Flume Gorge for refreshments and snacks and take the opportunity to explore the Gorge. The 2-mile path follows a boardwalk above the outdoor pools of water that have formed so much of the local landscape.


Cannon Cliff overlooking Franconia Notch

Cannon Cliff welcomes travelers to the Northern entrance of Franconia Notch.  ©Tom Rhodes


A great way to cool off after all that adventure is a trip to Echo Lake State Park.   When packing up the towels, don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars.  Rock climbers scaling Whitehorse Ledge and Cathedral Ledge provide a striking backdrop for this day at the lake, a fun distraction between dips in the clear water.  For those curious about the view, who aren’t ready to scale the cliffs, there are trails leaving from the lake that reward hikers with sweeping views of the park in exchange for a little sweat. The park saves space on a first-come, first-served basis. However, the area can be quite popular in the summertime, so reservations are suggested.


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Where to stay near the White Mountains

When visiting the White Mountains, it just makes sense to stay in the shadow of Mount Washington. The Joe Dodge Lodge shares a parking lot with the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and is centrally located on Route 16.  Just a short ride to both Conway and Gorham, or shoot across the famed Kancamagus Highway to access Franconia notch. The lodge has bunkroom-style accommodations as well as private rooms for families seeking privacy.  Breakfast and Dinner are included with the stay, and lunch is available for purchase. Miles of the best hiking trails in New England are right outside the front door and a shuttle that services the forest has a stop in the lot.  Book early. A stay here is a highly sought-after memory for travelers from around the globe.   


Cape Cod Beach Family Getaway

Just south of Boston, the state of Massachusetts sends a flexed arm into the Atlantic Ocean.  As though the birthplace of the American Revolution is showing its might right back at the crown.  This arm, known lovingly to locals as simply ‘The Cape,’ evokes images of long beaches backed by rolling sand dunes, towering historic lighthouses, and long days spent chasing waves with friends and families.  The Cape offers more than just beaches. There are one-of-a-kind hiking trails, engineering marvels, and the oldest art colony in America, all set in an area with a notorious reputation for shipwrecks and piracy. When mentioning the beach to people across the globe, they will probably start daydreaming about a small island with palm trees and clear blue waters.  Clearly, these people are not from New England.  Around here, we picture a day on Cape Cod.   


Grass covered sand dunes - Cape Cod

Cape Cod’s scenic beaches are ready for your family. © Jack Cohen

A Little Cape Cod History

The windswept eastern shore of Cape Cod that forms a forearm on the map became the final resting place for over 1,000 ships making the dangerous voyage from Boston to New York.  These waters and their sandbars became feared by merchants and frequented by pirates who took advantage of the dangers with their specially outfitted ships.  For centuries, shipwrecks accumulated off the coast until finally, in 1914, a dream was realized, and the Cape Cod Canal welcomed its first vessels.  The canal saved time and mileage and, most importantly, spared travelers from the treacherous waters off the Cape Cod National Seashore.  The canal is a beloved boundary line between the mainland and officially reaching The Cape.  


Cape Cod Canal

There are several picnic areas with scenic views of the canal and a free visitor’s center with an extensive collection of canal artifacts, history, and an explanation of the science behind the engineering.  The Cape Cod Canal Visitor Center is found beside the northern mouth of the canal among many picnic tables and has plenty of hands-on activities for kids.  Expect to spend 1-2 hours in the museum, where kids and adults alike can learn about the canal’s history and engineering.  Inside, there is even a replica U.S. Navy Patrol Boat surrounded by assorted costumes and period artifacts. 

The best way to get the full canal experience is by cruising the bike path that closely follows the canal’s rocky shores.  Little kids will love watching boats of all types floating by from the comfort of a bike trailer. Don’t worry about needing to travel with your bikes to do this. Bicycles and trailers are available to rent from nearby bike shops.  Reserve online and they’ll have the family off exploring the area in minutes.  The trail is pancake flat and approximately 6.5 miles, making it a great spot for kids that are able to ride on their own.  


Cape Cod Canal Bike Path

The Cape Cod Canal bike path is a great place for kids to ride their bikes. © Señor Ashraf


Best Cape Cod Beach for Families

Anyone visiting the Cape can’t properly say they’ve explored without enjoying a beach day.  It can be a challenge to find a great spot on the ocean to enjoy with little ones, but  West Dennis Beach stretches out over two warm, welcoming miles.  With minimal waves and plenty of on-site amenities, this is the perfect spot for young families.  A snack stand on-site serves beverages, lunch, and snacks.  There is also a playground for breaks from the surf.  A short walk to the end of the beach will bring the family to the Bass River Estuary, a hotspot for wildlife and an opportunity to spot the various critters that frequent the waters of the area. 


Best Cap Cod Family Hike

Continuing out on the cape, just before reaching the fist of the arm, families can enjoy a stroll through the Beech Forest Preserve.  This trail is 1 mile long and meanders through the only beech forest in New England that has formed on sand dunes.  This type of forest originally covered the region, but due to heavy logging, the sand dunes were left bare by the mid-1800s.  Walking among the twisting trunks of the smooth-skinned beech trees as they struggle to the sky in the shifting sand leaves nature lovers in awe.  Let the pitch pines with large bark plates that have formed over the last 200 years guide the way around the central pond.  Be sure to stop and appreciate the unique formations of the black gum trees growing on the ridges.  Strong winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean battled the trees for decades until they lost, humbly submitting with their flattened tops. 



Things To Do In Provincetown With Kids

After a scenic drive north, visitors will reach the hand of Cape Cod’s flexed arm, where America’s oldest art colony and the colorful streets of Provincetown await.  Lovingly known simply as P-town, families can spend hours strolling the streets and soaking in the sights.  There will surely be several street performers, art installations, and live music to enjoy while exploring the shops in this small town.  A stop for ice cream and a walk down to the water is sure to provide a welcome break from the crowds.



Where To Stay In Cape Cod

What a waste it would be to travel all the way to the Cape and not get a room with an ocean view. The Pelham House Resort is centrally located on The Cape’s southern shore.  Looking out on Nantucket Sound, this is the perfect place to relax after a long day on the sand.  Their in-house dining room serves up first-class meals alongside a world-class view.  When visiting in winter, make sure to reserve a spot on their curling rink to pass the time in between dips in the heated indoor pool.


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Southeast Connecticut Educational Experience

A museum can captivate children’s imagination and transport them to the distant past or the farthest corners of the world.  South-Eastern Connecticut has so much to offer families that are looking to spend a few days immersing themselves in new experiences.  A diverse area with a strong Native American presence, thanks to the long-lasting legacy of local tribes and its location on the border of both the Pequot and Narragansett historic lands.  Thanks to the many protected bays formed by the rivers that feed into the tip of Long Island Sound, this region is host to a sailing tradition that predates our founding fathers.  There are few more scenic locations in New England to spend a weekend exploring family-friendly museums.


Explore Mystic Seaport

At the Mystic Seaport, families can touch and experience the maritime history of Connecticut.  Walk through the halls of the Stillman Building looking at artifacts used by whalers in the waters off our coast, see the scrimshaw whittled by sailors to pass the time, and read the journals of these hard men who made their living on the ocean.  Explore the hull of the Charles W. Morgan and feel the squalid conditions that whalers would live in for months at a time.  Children can even climb aboard a whaling schooner for a short trip into local waters.  Plan to spend an entire day here. They conveniently sell snacks at the main building and have a reasonably priced restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating located by the water with space to spread out.  Throughout the day, there are historically accurate demonstrations of activities like blacksmithing, rope making, carpentry, and even a functioning printing press. Not all activities are available throughout the day, so plan accordingly to make the most of your time.


Tall ship at dock - Mystic Seaport

Bring your sea legs and board several replica vessels. © Lia Schmidt


Mystic Aquarium

The Mystic Aquarium is a great place to introduce kids to the world beneath the waves.  Plan on spending the better part of a day exploring the indoor exhibits, and if the weather is nice, take an extra lap around the campus and soak up the sun while watching Beluga whales play.  Stop in at the Penguin exhibit to learn how scientists keep track of the chaotic birds.  While outside, make sure to stroll through the Marsh; the ecosystem is a hotspot for local wildlife.  The path will lead right into the back door of the main exhibit hall.


Child in aquarium - Mystic Aquarium

Kids of all ages can spend hours discovering fish from around the globe. © Biljana Martinić

Once inside, there are several ‘touch tanks’ to help learn about the smaller animals in our waters while learning from the conservationists on staff.  Leave time for the sea lion show, which runs several times a day and never ceases to please the entire family.  Kids will be amazed at the animals’ agile tricks, and Dad will enjoy the non-stop puns.  Kids of all ages will appreciate the movement and colors of the jellyfish exhibit, which is nestled amongst countless exotic species from across the globe.  There are picnic tables located outside by the Milne Ocean Science and Conservation Center. For a more scenic option, the Williams Beach Park has a picnic table pavilion, playground, beach, and harbor views just a short 10-minute drive down the road.


Pro Tip: The food on site can be pricey, the cafeteria is always crowded, and there is no outside food allowed on premises which makes a picnic lunch an excellent option.


Rhode Island With Kids

So far, during our visit to Southeastern Connecticut, we have experienced the lives of sailors on the seas and explored the world under the waves, but now it is time to cast our eye on the sky.  Heading east out of Mystic, just over the border into Rhode Island, is Napatree Point.  This shifting geological work of art began its formation ten thousand years ago as a massive glacier deposited soil and rock into the ocean, forming the entirety of Long Island, Block Island, and even Cape Cod.  The hurricane of ’38 devastated the region, causing millions of dollars in damage and taking several hundred lives.  This disaster was only the most recent brushstroke to paint the Rhode Island coastline and left behind the masterpiece we appreciate today.

Cross into the Napatree Conservation area from the coastal town of Watch Hill.  Featuring a collection of small shops, nestled in the shadow of the Ocean House Hotel, that are all worthy of a visit.  The south side of the peninsula faces Block Island Sound and provides what is perhaps one of the most peaceful beaches in New England.  The area can be crowded in the summer months, making access difficult, but the shoulder seasons provide ample opportunity for seclusion.  Napatree’s location makes it an invaluable stopover for migrating birds, so don’t forget the binoculars while exploring the nature trail.  The northern edge of the peninsula faces “Little Narragansett Bay” and provides an inlet for a large tidal pool.  If attempting a complete loop hike, be prepared to walk through a section of knee-high water at low tide to cross the inlet or simply turn the hike into an out/back. 


Where to stay In SE Connecticut 

The Whalers Inn in Mystic will provide a perfect location for a family to recharge in-between outings.  Their Junior Suite in the 1865 House features a separate bedroom with bunk beds and a shared Jack & Jill style bathroom.  The high-speed internet access included with the stay makes a late-night family movie a breeze.  The Inn offers an ‘under the sea’ package that includes entry into the aquarium and a backpack full of ocean-themed gifts to make the trip extra special.  Their on-site restaurant, ‘The Shipwright’s Daughter, ’ serves locally sourced food inspired by the character of Coastal Connecticut. 


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Family-Friendly All-Inclusive Resort In New England

Even the most adventurous nature lovers need a break now and then.  A chance to relax and make memories with the whole family without the chaos of a road trip.  In the warmer months, a trip to one of the many sandy beaches on the East Coast of New England is the best way to make that dream a reality, but when the leaves fall and the snow accumulates, families can get their fix of water activities indoors.  


Great Wolf Lodge New England

Great Wolf Lodge New England is centrally within the New England states, just a short drive from countless activities for kids of all ages, from cross-country skiing and mountain biking to the historic homes around Boston Common.   Well known for its colorful indoor water park and slides, the modern amenities and lodging options make this one of the best places to relax by an indoor pool during that time of year when the boaters on Lake Champlain have traded in their oars for ice skates.  


Included Amenities

Wi-Fi is included with all guest rooms, providing easy access to the internet throughout the stay.  There is also an adults-only hot tub offering an opportunity to relive the romantic getaways of the past, if only for a brief while.  For thrill-seekers, there is the ‘Howlin Tornado,’ billed as a “six-story tunnel of fun” this ride will leave families clinging to their tube as they make their way to the pool below, howling with laughter.  For those looking for a more relaxing soak, a trip through ‘Crooked Creek’ provides an opportunity to lay back and cruise around the indoor lazy river.  There are several dining options provided by the full kitchens on site, including a Dunkin Donuts, a local brewery, and even a wood-fired grill serving up meals from breakfast through dinner.


Kids playing on bunkbed - Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge has accommodation options for everyone. © Great Wolf Lodge




GWL Activities

While enjoying the facility, kids can take the opportunity to try their hand at mining and stop by the arts & crafts table or perhaps visit the in-house Build-A-Bear workshop.  Why not battle gravity while enjoying some indoor rock climbing or try out the ropes course followed by a family yoga session before heading to the game room to play in the arcade?  Guests can even pick up some board games to bring back to one of their spacious rooms.  The best family vacations are those that provide options, and this destination has plenty to do for both action lovers and those seeking to zone out and relax the day away.


Indoor water park - Great Wolf Lodge

Who says New England doesn’t have water parks in the winter? © Great Wolf Lodge


One of the great things about traveling in Southern New England is the sheer density of worthy destinations.  Families will have no shortage of fun options throughout the year.  From Martha’s Vineyard to Lake Winnipesaukee and the countless historic sites in between, the entire region is teeming with some of the best weekend getaways a planner could hope for.  

Like all great tourist destinations, there is a peak season, but often the best time to visit is when the crowds have thinned. The Atlantic ocean and the opportunity for water sports it provides can draw loads of visitors to the Cape in the heat of summer.  What a great time to travel to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and explore the beautiful scenery in North Conway.  When the snowbirds flock to the mountains, there will be solitude in Southern Connecticut.  New England is rich in history and opportunities for exploration. Wherever a family ends up on the map, they are sure to find an abundance of hidden spots beloved by the locals that have yet to be discovered by the travelers that visit year-round.   




Tom is Firefighter on the East Coast. He grew up with a love for everything outdoors. These days he enjoys loading his family of 5 into their campervan and trying to keep up with his kids on their weekend adventures. Tom began writing recently as a creative outlet, with the hope of spreading his love of the outdoors.