KEEP IT SIMPLE

Summer Lake Towns 2009

Retreat to an easygoing American lake town, where you can find simple, affordable pleasures—fishing, hiking, bumper cars, and old-fashioned desserts. We've picked eight we love; chances are, there's a similar one near you.

WOLFEBORO, N.H.
on LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE

Wolfeboro bills itself as "the oldest summer resort in America," and you'll believe it when you get a load of the gingerbread gracing many of the Victorian-era buildings. Lake Winnipesaukee's cabins and campsites made this area a popular summer getaway in the '50s and '60s, and a few decades later wealthy weekenders bought up the choicest bits of real estate. The result is an interesting blend of high and low culture. Jet Skis zip around slow-moving yachts on the lake, which is dotted with 253 islands. Mount Washington Cruises offers sightseeing excursions across the lake to Weirs Beach (603/366-5531, cruisenh.com, $25, kids $12). Stick around and you can indulge your child (or your inner child) on the bumper cars at Half Moon Amusement Arcades, an old-school penny arcade. A bit farther afield, in the town of Moultonborough, is Castle in the Clouds, a mountaintop mansion built in the arts and crafts style popular in the beginning of the last century (603/476-5900, castleintheclouds.org, $12). Rent a powerboat from the oldest marina on Lake Winnipesaukee, Goodhue & Hawkins (603/569-2371, goodhueandhawkins.com, from $240 per day). Or enjoy the scenery from a canoe—Dive Winnipesaukee specializes in lake-diving trips but also offers equipment rentals (603/569-8080, divewinnipesaukee.com, canoes from $35 per day).

Where to refuel Wolfeboro's casual Wolfetrap Grill and Rawbar serves traditional clam boils, featuring a pound of steamers, corn bread, corn on the cob, and coleslaw (603/569-1047, wolfetrap.com, lobster entrées from $18).
Where to stay For a taste of old-time Wolfeboro, Clearwater Lodges has knotty-pine family cottages just a stone's throw from the shore (603/569-2370, clearwaterlodgesnh.com, from $140, including a full kitchen). Just south of downtown Wolfeboro, the Lake Motel is an old standby, with expansive grounds that run down to the water. Guests can use kayaks, canoes, and rowboats for free (888/569-1110, thelakemotel.com, from $114).
Easy escape from Manchester, N.H. (51 miles), or Portland, Maine (64 miles).

JOSEPH, ORE.
near WALLOWA LAKE

The sky-blue waters of Wallowa Lake, hemmed in by the tall, rocky Wallowa Mountains, bear more than a passing resemblance to Lake Geneva—hence the nickname "the Switzerland of America." Recently, the town has become a mecca for artists working in bronze; the Valley Bronze Gallery opened here in 1982. Take a tour of the Valley Bronze Foundry, which specializes in casting sculptures in the metal (541/432-7445, valleybronze.com, $15). There's even a self-guided "bronze walk," a series of 15 bronze sculptures along both sides of Main Street. For a bird's-eye view of the area, take a ride up the Wallowa Lake Tramway, which bills itself as the steepest in North America (541/432-5331, wallowalaketramway.com, $24, kids $14). Horseback riding is a popular pastime in nearby Eagle Cap Wilderness, where summer visitors sometimes see black bears nibbling on huckleberries. There's no charge to ride the trails, but Wilderness Outfitters Network offers numerous guided horseback tours throughout the Eagle Cap Wilderness. Hikers gravitate toward Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area, home of the deepest gorge in North America. For a dose of serenity on the water, rent a kayak from Wallowa Lake Marina (541/432-9115, wallowalakemarina.com, $15 per hour).

Where to refuel Run by a pair of big-hearted sisters, Old Town Café is the best place to start the day. Fill up on the classic old-town breakfast: layers of home-style potatoes, scrambled eggs, cheese, and bacon (541/432-9898, entrées from $8.50).
Where to stay If you're looking for rustic charm, you can't beat the lodging at Flying Arrow Resort—these rustic log cabins are great for families. (541/432-2951, flyingarrowresort.com, from $125). Built in 1915, Belle Pepper's B&B is a lovingly restored country estate (541/432-0490, bellepeppersbnb.com, from $95, two-night minimum).
Easy escape from Walla Walla, Wash. (110 miles).

SCHOOL'S OUT…

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