For those of you who have been to New England know, there’s no better time to visit than in the late summer or the Fall. Many may disagree, particularly if they look to the area for its incredible winter skiing and other natural beauty which is prominent year round, however there’s something magical about late summer. Why? As someone who grew up in upstate New York, late summer was the time when the sweltering heat subsided a bit, mosquitoes were on their way out and kids were preparing to go back to school, so the crowds were gone and yet the weather was still, well…..perfect.
Photo credit: Howard Arndt (taken of a bald eagle on Squam Lake)
Late fall goes without saying for the leaf peeping lovers among you and in some parts of New England, those leaves turn sooner than others. While New Hampshire has no shortage of natural wonders and things to do, from mountain activities to its vast number of lakes, our August visit was to the Lakes District of New Hampshire. As someone who grew up on a lake in the Adirondacks, I’m a particular fan of New England lakes and think there’s no better way to introduce your kids to nature — that magical pulse of nature as well as her silence will be instrumental to their lives later on. See my view on this in my article entitled: Nature From Your Roots is Your Best Serenity Source. Anyone living in an urban area should take advantage of getaways with their kids and New Hampshire’s Lake District is an easy drive from Boston, Providence and easily doable from Philly and New York as well with a little planning.
Above, the view from our hotel suite at Steele Hill Resort in Sanbornton NH
Let’s start with a list of lakes you’ll want to research, though we did not have enough time to experience all of them. Those on your list should include Lake Winnipesaukee, Squam Lake, Lake Sunapee, Newfound Lake, Lake Opechee, Lake Winnisquam, Ossipee Lake, Pleasant Lake, Highland Lake and Kezar Lake. Most of them are easily accessible, however let’s start with the gem among them in my opinion: Squam.
Located just south of the White Mountains, straddling the borders of Grafton, Carroll, and Belknap counties, Squam is one of those lakes that has been well preserved and has a whole lotta rules to keep it that way. The largest town center on the lake is Holderness which is where we discovered Experience Squam and the force behind it, Cindy O’Leary. Experience Squam allows you to see the magic of pristine Squam Lake via a private boating excursion, which frankly, if you don’t know the area, is the best way to go. In Cindy’s 23′ Sea Ray Bow-Rider, you’ll explore the nooks and crannies of the lakes while basking in the sun and you set the pace, whether that’s anchoring in quiet coves or off sandy beaches, or jumping off the boat for a swim.
Cindy brought us to infamous “Jumping Rock” but we were too lazy to jump. Since we out in the afternoon and stayed out until dusk, I was more interested in taking in the magical light at every turn, from seeing bald eagles in the distance and their nests to well renowned Golden Pond movie sites and the precious historic Church Island. The latter is known to be one of those breathtaking spots to have a wedding — imagine having your entire wedding party on a private island with stunning views and they all have to make the effort to get to the Chocorua Island Chapel via boat since that’s the only way to visit it. Another quirky factoid is the island’s 1903 organ which remains there year round.
Photo credit: HomeDec.biz.
As for the views and the experience? It’s about as pure as it gets and nature lovers will want to make sure it’s on their bucket list.
Before you leave the area, you should visit the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, which is a must do if you’re traveling with kids. Nature lovers, environmentalists and historians will also appreciate this gem which has been open to the public since 1969. Located in Holderness, the center is an environmental education center and zoo brings you into another world through spectacular live animal exhibits, natural science education programs, an informal public garden, and lake cruises.
Much more accessible and a whole lot smaller is Kezar Lake where we stayed for several days at an old fashioned stay called Follansbee Inn, which sits immediately across from the lake with boat and swimming access. What’s really lovely about this spot is its size and the fact that a road runs around the lake, making it a fun way to get exercise while taking in the natural beauty of the area. Follansbee offers its guests complimentary boats and bikes, so we not only kayaked and canoed around it a few times, but we cycled around it twice, which can easily be done in an hour or less, making it a nice family travel activity if you’re traveling with kids. Below is a shot I took on our bike ride on late afternoon in August.
More shots from another day’s bike ride around Kezar Lake….
What’s so lovely about this option in addition to the cycling and boating activities is its size and the fact that it doesn’t get as crowded as some of the other lakes. Wadleigh State Park offers swimming on the lake and is surrounded by woody pine trees and has picnic sites located adjacent to the beach, making it an ideal location for families and group outings. Amenities in the park include a bathhouse, picnic tables, and playing fields. The Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Greenway is a 75 mile loop trail that links four New Hampshire State Parks: Sunapee, Winslow, Rollins, Wadleigh. The trail also links three New Hampshire State Forests: Gile, Kearsarge and Shadow Hill as well as one Wildlife Management Area: Bog Mountain. See the Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Coalition website for more information.
In the Sutton / Sunapee area near the lake, you’ll find the Wild Goose Country Store, which is a great place to get a hot dog, a cream soda or ice cream. We loved the authenticity and charm of this place!
There’s also a cemetery a block or so away, a stone’s throw from the backyard of the Follansbee and a two minute walk to Kezar Lake’s edge.
A short drive away, you’ll find the incredibly traditional and quaint Peter Christian’s Tavern on North Main Street in New London. It’s only been around since 1975, but with its low ceilings, odd-shaped old wooden tables that sit back in the corners, you’d think you were in a tavern from the turn of the century. It exudes all things comfort and antiquity and they have crayons for the kids while you wait for your meals. They also sell their Original Mustard sauce in jars as you enter. From buffalo wings (baked, never fried), burgers, Mussels sauteed in beer (Switchback Ale to be precise) and garlic, and burgers, to an assortment of salads, crab cakes topped with a roasted red pepper aioli and Peter’s Cajun Shrimp, it’s a great family hang out for dinner.
Did I mention how hard it was to leave?
Blissful on my final morning…..
Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake of New Hampshire’s Lake Region and from Weirs Beach, which is a great place to bring kids for its arcade games and ice cream shops, you can catch a variety of boat cruises from there, many of which have food, sweets and drinks on board.
Photo credit: John Burk taken from Fine Art America.
We opted for a fairly large ship to counter our small boating experience on Squam Lake. Mount Washington Cruises offers Scenic Cruises and Sunset Dinner Dance Cruises on Lake Winnipesaukee. They visit 5 ports on the lake and stops in Wolfeboro, Meredith, Center Harbor and Alton Bay on alternating days of the week with daily cruises from Weirs Beach, which is where we boarded. A cool factoid about Lake Winnipesaukee is that it is spring fed and surrounded by mountain ranges, contains more than 300 islands and covers 44,000 acres of crystal clear water. Home port is actually at Weirs Beach on 211 Lakeside Avenue in Laconia and more information on logistics can be found at Cruise NH.
Have a look at some of the scenic views….
Places to Visit
While we didn’t cover all the lakes, the Lakes Region website has a boat load of information on the others we didn’t cover, which includes tips on what to see, where to go, places to stay. The Inn at Pleasant Lake is incredibly charming is not so much of a family stay as it is a quiet getaway for couples who want peace, relaxation and fabulous food in the evenings — their chef is top notch. We dined there one evening, so be sure to read my article which has a lot of scrumptious photos to entice you to visit as well as information on accommodation. Those who enjoy the serenity of New Hampshire’s natural beauty, mountains and lakes but who are also into fine dining, will want to book a dinner there (reservations required), however if you have kids in tow and want a mid-ranged option, then T-Bones in Laconia is a fun spot that caters more to families, has booths and mini Etch A Sketch pads for the kids. While it’s largely known for its steaks, I tried their lobster and all of their desserts were incredibly delicious. We were pleasantly surprised to find a Cannonball Cabernet Sauvignon by the glass on the menu, which is a rarity for a restaurant in this category (impressive!!). See my write up on T-Bones for more including appetizing photos.
Located next to Church Landing, you can rent stand up Paddle Boards, Aqua Cycle, Kayaks, Canoes and Bicycles at EKAL Activities Center at Mill Falls in Meredith, so if you have kids in tow, this is a great option. Other fun things to explore in the area is the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad which you can pick up a various stops, Hermit Woods Winery, Moulton Farm, the American Police Motorcycle Museum and the Marina. There’s also a children’s museum nearby. The railroad ride will take you through a nostalgic scenic excursion along the shores of the lake — they travel between Meredith and Lakeport always within view of the lake. The railroad line has been there since 1849 and it is a downhill ride most of the way from Meredith to Weirs Beach after of which you’ll catch an unobstructed view of the lake with Mt Belknap in the background. We give it two thumbs up and a lovely afternoon or morning activity for your Lakes Region list.
The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad – photo credit: lakewinnipesaukeenh.com
When you’re hungry, head to the Town Docks Restaurant, which is quite a local “scene”, and a fun place to hang your hat while you grab a burger and a drink in between activities.
Above shot is of Town Docks; photo credit: winnipesaukee.com
Wolfeboro & Around
There are adorable little shops and restaurants here as well as a beautiful walk along Ossipee Park Road from the old train station. From Wolfeboro, we’d recommend heading to the Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborough where you can also go horseback riding. When you’re up there, be sure to stop dine at Carriage House Restaurant — the views are absolutely breathtaking and you won’t be disappointed. You can even opt to dine in the original horsestalls if you want.
For those new to the area, Castle in the Clouds is a 16-room mansion and 5,500-acre mountaintop estate that is owned and operated by the Castle Preservation Society. It boasts a whole lot of WOW magic moments and for romantics, it’s not to be missed when in the area. You can also visit the castle Lucknow, which was built in 1913-1914 high in the Ossipee Mountain Range. The house is an unusual example of Arts and Crafts architecture in New England, expressing that aesthetic movement’s philosophy of living in harmony with nature. It also features a number of technological innovations of the early 20th century. Talk about idyllic!!
Photo credit: paigenicholl.wordpress.com
For a stay, check out the Wolfeboro Inn, Wolfeboro’s only full-service luxury Inn, which combines a lakeside courtyard flourishing with lawn, apple trees, a garden gazebo, and a landscaped pathway that leads to their private beach on Lake Winnipesaukee. From cozy inn rooms to spacious suites with lake views, each room offers complimentary Wi-Fi, upscale amenities, and evening turndown service. It’s about as historical as it gets with a quaint, romantic touch that makes it great for a long weekend escape or when you want some serious down time. Oh so lovely!
Photo credit: Wolfeboro Inn
Beer Tasting: Head to the Nearby White Mountains….
Head to the Woodstock Inn’s Station and Brewery in North Woodstock. While technically in the White Mountains, you could do a side trip overnight, stay at the ever so classic inn and get a taste of what New Hampshire’s beer scene has to offer. They have 40 rooms, a restaurant, two pubs, entertainment, outdoor patio during warmer months and a company store. The brewery has a traditional seven-barrel system which churns out premium hops from around the world blended with imported English grains and then brewed with pure, deep-well water to produce a superior selection of seasonal ales. You can watch their brew masters at work! There’s a long list of signature ales to choose from including a Scottish ale, a Pig’s Ale Brown Ale and an Old Man Oatmeal Stout. YUM!!
Photo credit: Woodstock Inn.
Architecture & Old Barns
Stop in Historical Fitzwilliam en Route
The Loon Center
While this may be an odd thing to find on a “to-do” list, it’s important to note that locals take their love of loons seriously. I know this because it’s not specific to New Hampshire, but it is specific to places where loons spend their time, including Maine, and upstate New York where I grew up. They have a lovely sound to them, almost mesmerizing and have helped me fall asleep on more than one occasion. The Loon Center is in Moultonboro, so you could stop by here when you visit the Castle in the Clouds. This center which is also the Markus Wildlife Sanctuary is a great spot to learn about loons and the ecology of New Hampshire. There are exhibits, nature trails and videos…
On the lake where I grew up, there was concern about preserving the safety of loons. Apparently the Loon Preservation Committee (LPC) was created in 1975 in response to concerns about a dramatically declining loon population and the effects of human activities on loons. LPC’s mission is to restore and maintain a healthy population of loons throughout New Hampshire; to monitor the health and productivity of loon populations as sentinels of environmental quality; and to promote a greater understanding of loons and the larger natural world. For over 40 years, the Loon Preservation Committee has undertaken state-wide monitoring, research, management and outreach to preserve loons and their habitats. I love that this place exists! Not familiar with what a loon looks like? Have a look – they’re beautiful and I love spotting them on a New England lake.
Photo credit: loons.org.
It’s not what they look like that makes them so magical, however, but the “call” they make, especially at dusk. You can find them in many parts of the states, but certainly they are plentiful in the Adirondacks where I grew up, New Hampshire and in parts of Minnesota as well as other areas. There’s a sense of peacefulness and serenity to their call and frankly, there’s nothing quite like it. Here’s a grew video narrated by Greg Budny that gives you an idea of the magic that I am referring to…
Gunstock Mountain Adventure Park
While this is largely an attraction for a family trip, it’s a beautiful place to go if you love nature as you can paddle board around the small pond on the premises and there’s skiing during winter months.
You can venture down Ziplines (this takes a couple of hours, so be sure to plan for it), climb in the trees at the “Aerial Treetop Adventure”, which is the longest aerial obstacle course in New England (this is so great for kids), go summer tubing, take an off-road Segway Tour, enjoy a scenic Lift Ride to the top or have fun on their latest addition which was newly opened when we were there: the Gunstock Mountain Coaster. It was such a blast that we went on it three times – yes really! This is a must visit if you’re in taking a family trip to New Hampshire’s Lake District!