Jagged mountains, serene valleys and island-dotted lakes lurk in every corner of New Hampshire. The whole rugged state begs for exploration, whether kayaking the hidden coves of the Lakes Region or trekking the upper peaks surrounding Mt Washington. Each season yields a bounty of adrenaline and activity: skiing and snowshoeing in winter, with many slopes open into spring; magnificent walks and drives through fall's fiery colors; and swimming in crisp mountain streams and berry-picking in summer.
Jewel-box colonial settlements such as Portsmouth set a sophisticated tone, while historical allure and small-town culture live on in pristine villages like Keene and Peterborough. Manchester and Concord are two urban strongholds sprucing up their main drags with indie shops and innovative eats. There's a relaxing whiff in the air, too – you're encouraged to gaze out at a loon-filled lake, recline on a scenic railway trip or chug across a waterway on a sunset cruise.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout New Hampshire.
Visible from 50 miles in any direction, the commanding 3165ft peak of Mt Monadnock is southwestern New Hampshire’s spiritual vortex. The surrounding state park is an outdoor wonderland, complete with a visitor center, a camp store, 12 miles of ungroomed cross-country ski trails and more than 40 miles of hiking trails, about 10 miles of which reach the summit. The 3.9-mile White Dot & White Cross loop is a popular hiking route to the top.
Spread across a 10-acre site, the Strawbery Banke Museum is an eclectic blend of period homes that date back to the 1690s. Costumed guides recount tales that took place among the 40 buildings (10 furnished). Strawbery Banke includes Pitt Tavern (1766), a hotbed of American revolutionary sentiment, Goodwin Mansion (a grand 19th-century house from Portsmouth's most prosperous time) and Abbott's Little Corner Store (1943). The admission ticket is good for two consecutive days.
Perched on high like a king surveying his territory, the arts-and-crafts-style Castle in the Clouds wows with its stone walls and exposed-timber beams, but it’s the views of lakes and valleys that draw the crowds. In autumn the kaleidoscope of rust, red and yellow beats any postcard. The 5500-acre property features gardens, ponds and a path leading to a small waterfall. Admission includes a self-guided tour of the house, with stories about the eccentric millionaire Thomas Plant, who built it.
To get up close and personal with the wildlife in the Lakes Region, visit the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. Four nature paths weave through the woods and around the marsh. The highlight is the Gephart Trail, leading past trailside enclosures that are home to various creatures, including bobcats, fishers (a kind of marten), mountain lions and a bald eagle. Note that last admission to the trail is at 3:30pm.
In the summer of 1885, the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens rented an old inn near the town of Cornish and came to this beautiful spot in the Connecticut River Valley to work. He returned summer after summer, and eventually bought the place in 1892. The estate, where he lived until his death in 1907, is now the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site.
Perched atop New England's highest summit, this observatory is staffed year-round by scientists who measure the mountaintop's extreme weather conditions; the world's second-highest wind speed (231mph) was famously recorded here in 1934. Tours of the observatory, allowing visitors to meet and observe the scientists who work here, can be arranged with advance reservation and purchase of an observatory membership. It also runs a program of exclusive summit adventures, including summer and winter day trips and overnight stays at the observatory.
Robert Frost (1874–1963) was America's most renowned and best-loved poet in the mid-20th century. For several years he lived with his family on a farm near Franconia, now known as Frost Place. Many of his best and most famous poems describe life on this farm and the scenery surrounding it, including 'The Road Not Taken' and 'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.' The years spent here were some of the most productive and inspired of his life.
The 16-acre rhododendron grove in this serene park is the largest in New England. It makes for a nice stroll in mid-July, when thick stands of the giant plant (Rhododendron maximum) bloom white and pink along the 0.6-mile Rhododendron Trail circling the grove. The blooms can last for weeks and the final blossoms may occur as the leaves are turning. Listen for songbirds in the foliage while on the trail. The trail is also accessible to people with disabilities.
New Hampshire's oldest state park, Miller revolves around Pack Monadnock, a 2290ft peak not to be confused with its better-known neighbor, Mt Monadnock. The park has three easy-to-moderate paths to the summit; you can also access the 21-mile Wapack Trail here. A 1.3-mile scenic auto road also ends at the summit, where you can climb the fire tower for magnificent views of surrounding peaks. Miller State Park is about 4.5 miles east of Peterborough along NH 101.