7 New England Family Road Trips

Take a family vacation road trip to these New England destinations that are kid-friendly and affordable.

Don’t let the pinch of record-high gas prices keep you from taking a family vacation this year. Here are seven vacation destinations that offer big city stays, beach getaways, mountain retreats and more—all just a couple hours’ drive from greater Boston

1)    Boston

Do your kids really know New England’s largest city? With tons of museums, historical sites and interesting multi-ethnic neighborhoods, Boston is a natural choice for an action-packed family vacation.

Learning really is child’s play in Boston. The Children’s Museum, New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science are all great choices for hands-on fun.  

In Boston, history is all around you. That red-painted line you see throughout the city is the Freedom Trail—the 2.5 mile path passes 16 historically important Boston sites. Take the Freedom Trail Foundation’s walking tour. The 18th century costumed guides are highly entertaining and your kids will definitely “get it.” 

The North End, Chinatown, and Cambridge are great places for kids who enjoy ethnic eats. In the North End, try Antico Forno for wood-oven pizza, East Ocean City in Chinatown for sizzling hot rice lunch plates and Café Algiers in Cambridge for awesome hummus. Finally, a ride on the Swan Boats in the Public Garden is the quintessential Boston family vacation experience.

2)    Cape Cod

Lounging by the ocean, making sandcastles with the kids and eating ice cream is what a New England summer beach vacation is all about.

With big dunes and crashing Atlantic surf, the 40-mile stretch of beach known as the Cape Cod National Seashore is one of the finest beaches in the world. Coast Guard Beach in Eastham has a broad swath of beigy-white sand and just-right conditions for swimming. Kids can explore lighthouses and Nauset Light allows visitors to climb up to the top during scheduled summer open houses.

After you hit the beach, get an ice cream cone at Emack & Bolio’s in Orleans, a quaint ice cream parlor with cool flavors like “Trippin’ On Espresso” and “Deep Purple Cow.”

The Cape Cod Rail Trail is a 22-mile dedicated bike trail on the path of the Old Colony Railroad. Scenic and flat, this trail is perfect for both new and not-so-new cyclists. Rent your wheels at the Bike Depot in Harwich.

A visit to the Heritage Museum and Gardens in Sandwich is low-key educational fun. There’s an impressive automobile collection, antique toys and beautifully landscaped grounds. The carved wooden carousel is fun for all ages, and you can take unlimited rides. Whee!

Humpback, right and minke whales. A whale sighting will definitely earn vacation bragging rights for the kids. Hyannis Whale Watcher Cruises leave from Barnstable Harbor for the waters of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

3)    The White Mountains, New Hampshire

Dense forests, majestic granite peaks and regional theme parks, New Hampshire’s White Mountains are an especially popular destination with on-the-go families.

There are several amusement parks in the area, favorites for generations of New England families. Story Land is the largest children’s park with fairytale-themed rides. It’s Christmas in summer at Santa’s Village theme park. And Six-Gun City and Fort Splash is all about exciting rides and a water park with a Western theme.

Mount Washington is New England’s highest peak. There is no easier way to climb to the summit than by taking the Mt. Washington Cog Railway, a coal fueled mountain- climbing marvel.

There are several, short looping trails that make ideal first hiking experiences at Franconia Notch State Park. Or check out the Polar Caves where it’s always cool, even on a hot summer day. This is a walk-through cave experience; no special equipment is required!

4)    Newport, Rhode Island

Newport is a maritime city with a strong sailing heritage, scenic beaches and quite the reputation for glamour. 

Newport’s summer cottages—oceanside estates built for rich U.S. industrialists during the Gilded Age—are the city’s big-deal attraction. But mansion-hopping has been known to cause children’s eyes to glaze over. Try the Astors’ Beechwood Mansion. Here, kids can interact with the costumed actors that portray the servants, houseguests and family of wealthy Newport socialite Caroline Astor.

Take in a polo match at the Newport Polo Club. “The sport of kings” is a sight your kids will not soon forget and inexpensive, too—just $10 for adults and free for children ages 15 and under. 

Located on a protected cove, Gooseberry Beach is a private beach club that is open to the public and a wonderful choice for the sand-pail set. Set out on the water to get the full Newport experience. Classic Cruises of Newport offers tours of Newport Harbor by motor boat or sailboat.  

5)    Coastal Maine

Cool off and recharge in coastal Maine. You will be rewarded with charming small town beaches and fun and affordable family activities.

Both Wells Beach and York Beach are wonderful family beaches, with gradual elevation changes for the little ones and mild surf perfect for boogie boarding teens.

Families can learn a new outdoor skill together from the best in the business; the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport (also famously open for shopping 24 hours a day) offers walk-on outdoor discovery school tours in kayaking, fly-fishing or archery for $15 per person.

Lobster shacks really do dot the Maine coast. Try Harraseekat Lunch & Lobster Co. in South Freeport—their lobster roll is wicked good!

Portland has become quite trendy in recent years with unique boutiques and hip restaurants. The Portland Art Museum is light and bright and houses an impressive collection of European and Maine art. Scoring tickets to a Red Sox game at Fenway is next to impossible, but you can snag seats to a Portland Seadogs game, the Red Sox AA farm team. You may even see a future MLB star! The Children’s Museum of Maine offers kids a world of things to do, including exploring a pirate ship or discovering the creatures in a tidal pool touch tank.

6)    Northern Vermont

The mountains of Vermont are a place of natural beauty, comfortable summer temperatures, and countless opportunities for outdoor recreation. It’s also a great place for families to play together.

Burlington is Vermont’s largest city, nestled between Lake Champlain and the foot of the Adirondack Mountains. Lake Champlain is Burlington’s “swimming hole” and North Beach has all the family amenities: lifeguards, changing rooms, even a playground and snack bar.

Spend a day on a farm. Shelburne Farms is a 1,400-acre working homestead. There are walking trails, a children’s barnyard, educational programs and a well-regarded restaurant.

Kids love to see how things are made. Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory and Cabot Cheese all offer fun factory tours.

High adventure mountain thrills can be had at Stowe Mountain Resort. Take a gondola ride to the top of Mount Mansfield for hiking and spectacular views from Vermont’s highest peak.

7)    The Berkshires, Massachusetts

The Berkshires is a well-known region and cultural mecca for music, art and dance. Tanglewood is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Introduce your kids to the world of classical music; lawn tickets are free for children under 12 when accompanied by an adult. Bring a blanket and pack a picnic.

The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge is old-time folksy and Mass MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams is modern and quirky, but both art museums appeal to kids. Jacob’s Pillow in Becket is a wonderful place for children to see dance performances. Inside/Out shows take place on an outdoor stage against the idyllic backdrop of the mountains and feature free, informal performances by the newer dancers.

Do your kids crave adventure? Learn to kayak or canoe, go on a guided white water rafting trip or learn to rock climb with Zoar Outdoor, an outfitter with an extensive base in Charlemont.  

Destinations: Berkshire County, Boston, Maine, New Hampshire, Newport, Vermont, Cape Cod

Themes: Amusement Parks, Art and Museums, Beach Vacations, Family Travel, Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Hiking, Museums, Sightseeing, Swimming, Whale Watching