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Interstate-93 draws an almost straight line north from Boston into the center of New Hampshire. Or, as straight as roads get as they weave between New England’s lakes and mountains. This is the state’s Lakes Region, named for the vast Lake Winnipesaukee and its smaller neighbors. This is the perfect location for a New Hampshire road trip.
History of the Lakes Region
The Lakes Region has been a vacation destination since 1768. NH Royal Governor John Wentworth built a summer home on the shore of Wentworth Lake. The Governor's home is America’s first summer vacation “cottage”. By 1795, visitors were vacationing two miles away on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. Today the lake—and the entire region—is a favorite both for family vacations and for romantic lakeside getaways.
Meredith, on Lake Winnipesaukee's westernmost corner, is a good base for your New Hampshire road trip. It is only 7 miles from I-93. You can return between driving sections of your New Hampshire road trip without needing to change hotels. You'll want a room with a lake view, of course. We like the luxury rooms at Church Landing that overlooks Meredith Bay from private balconies.
Church Landing has direct access to the lake, a full-service spa, and Adirondack-style décor. It seems just right for its historic lakeside setting. After a day’s driving, guests can relax in front of their in-room stone fireplace and eat dinner overlooking the lake in the Lakehouse Grille.
Western Lake Winnipesaukee
Start your New Hampshire road trip by driving south from Meredith on Rte 3. You’ll pass the popular attractions of Weirs Beach. Weirs Beach is the lake’s most popular family resort. First is FunSpot, a huge arcade and the world's largest video game museum. Next is the busy boardwalk. The boardwalk offers fast food and a century-old amusement park. It is the boarding point for train rides on the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad.
The boardwalk is also the landing for boarding the M/S Mount Washington and the US Mailboat M/V Sophie C. Board one of these boats for sightseeing cruises around the lake.
Next to the boardwalk is a 450-foot sand beach with changing facilities, lifeguards, picnic tables, and a boat launch for canoes and kayaks.
Follow the lakeshore on Rte 11B and Rte 11. Look for Sawyer’s Dairy Bar at the intersection for ice cream. Route 11 passes Ellacoya State Park in Gilford. At the state park, there is a 600-foot sand beach with lifeguards, refreshments, and a bathhouse. This is another good put-in for kayaks. For mountain activities and views over the lake, make a short detour to the right on Rte 11A in West Alton to nearby Gunstock Mountain Resort. The resort has a zipline, scenic lift rides, Segway tours, and a mountain coaster.
Continue south alongside Alton Bay to the lake’s southern tip, turning left onto Rte 28 in Alton toward Wolfeboro.
Continue your New Hampshire road trip by heading to Wolfeboro. Known as the quiet side of the lake, with fewer family-oriented attractions, Wolfeboro was the first point on the lake reached by the railroad in 1870. The railroad delivered 19th-century tourists to the original landing for the M/S Mount Washington, which began service in 1872. Nearby and close to the site of Governor Wentworth’s mansion, is Wentworth State Park, with a beautiful sand beach.
To get to Wentworth State Park, follow Route 28 a short distance beyond Wolfeboro to a right on Rte 109. On the way, you’ll pass Albee’s Beach, also on Lake Wentworth, and the New Hampshire Boat Museum. The boat museum houses a collection of small craft. Get tickets at the museum for lake tours on the vintage lake boat Millie B. You can take a walk in Ryefield Marsh to see birds, wildflowers, and beaver lodges.
Back in Wolfeboro, Main Street and the Town Docks are worth exploring for shops, galleries, and places to eat. The Kalled Gallery features Jennifer Kalled’s colorful jewelry and The Art Place represents several of the region’s prominent artists. The Country Bookseller is an independent book shop with comfortable chairs for browsers.
Discover how life used to be as you continue your New Hampshire road trip. The Wolfeboro Historical Society operates the Clark Museum Complex, which includes the 1778 Clark House, an 1805 one-room schoolhouse, an 1820s barn, and antique fire-fighting equipment. Few visitors can resist a stop at the sidewalk window of Yum Yum Shop, a bakery, café, and ice cream parlor that’s been a downtown favorite since 1948.
For a deeper dive into history, check out Life in the 1800s by Marc McCutcheon.
The East Shore
For the next leg of your New Hampshire road trip, from Wolfeboro, follow the lake north on Rte. 109, passing the charmingly quirky little Libby Museum—NH’s oldest natural history museum—to see Abenaki artifacts, a collection of antique fans, and a pair of Egyptian mummy hands. A short side trip to the right on Rte. 171 takes you to the stone gates of Castle in the Clouds, a 16-room Craftsman-style mansion overlooking the lake. Built between 1913 and 1914, the stone “castle” has stained glass by Tiffany and finely crafted woodwork, not to mention some of the region’s best views.
Return to Rte. 1o9 and into Moultonborough, where you’ll find the Old Country Store. One of the oldest in the country, it dates from the early 1800s. It still has its antique counters and fixtures, including the original pickle barrel. Along with pickles, you’ll find aged cheddar, common crackers, cream soda, and other New England country store favorites. There is also a free museum upstairs.
Outside in a glass-enclosure is an original Concord Coach, one of the oldest remaining of these coaches, made in Concord, NH, known as “The Coach that Won the West”.
Follow Rte. 109 to Center Sandwich, an idyllic New England town set around a village green, where you’ll find the Center Sandwich Fine Craft Gallery, operated by the League of NH Craftsmen. The gallery is filled with beautifully handcrafted woodenware, pottery, jewelry, and furniture, as well as hand-woven scarves, graphic arts, and glassworks. More works by regional artists are shown in the Surroundings Art Gallery and in the 19th-century barn of the Patricia Ladd Carega Gallery on Maple St.
Close to the Green, the Elisha Marston House serves as the museum of the Sandwich Historical Society, whose furnished period rooms display vintage textiles and household items of past centuries. The Quimby Barn houses a restored Concord Coach and other horse-drawn carriages and vehicles. If it’s late in the afternoon, the historic Corner House Inn in the center of town opens at 4:30 for dinner.
From Center Sandwich, Rte 113 leads to beautiful Squam Lake. But, before the road reaches its shore, you can get a spectacular view of the lake. The view is a reward for a short, easy climb up West Rattlesnake Mountain. Look for the trail parking on the right, about 6 miles from Center Sandwich. The mile-long Old Bridle Path is more of an uphill hike than a climb, and the reward is a full aerial view of Squam Lake and its islands, where eagles nest in the trees. This may be the adventure portion of your New Hampshire road trip.
Squam is a different world from busy Winnipesaukee. The irregular shoreline seems almost completely undeveloped, with cottages set back among the trees. Loons are a common sight. Holderness is the only town on its shore. There is a boat landing and a waterside restaurant, Walter’s Basin. To see more of the lake and learn about its wildlife, take a 90-minute pontoon boat tour operated by a naturalist from the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center.
At the center’s protected preserve you can see native wildlife, such as river otters, bobcats, black bears, and deer in spacious natural habitats. A short trail leads from the center to the nearby Kirkwood Gardens, where flowering plants have been selected to attract birds and butterflies.
Rte. 3 leads along the lake’s southern shore and back to Meredith where you can finish your New Hampshire road trip. Meredith is worth exploring, too. You can shop for treasures ranging from old wooden kitchen utensils to vintage vinyl at Waukewan Antiques on Main Street or stop for crepes with an international flair at 48 Main Cafe & Creperie.
The park alongside the lake is a sculpture garden. The Mills Falls Marketplace, overlooking the lake, holds a collection of shops specializing in candy, fine women’s clothing and accessories, home furnishings, and souvenirs. The staff at Innisfree Bookshop can offer suggestions for something to read as you lounge by the lake in one of Church Landing’s Adirondack chairs.
Be sure to find out more great things to do during your New Hampshire road trip courtesy of our Wander writers. We also have more great suggestions for places to visit in New England and other great road trips across the US.