Ready! Set! ... Stay!




Yes! Your vacation time is precious and so are your limited vacation dollars. Spend them both where you know you can get the most out of them, right here in the Granite State. The lake water is cool and clear, the mountains beckon, the food is good and we even have a bit of seacoast to dip your toes in. Here are six great weekends to get you on the road and out of the house without passing through security gates or holding your breath.

And, to sweeten the deal, you can make a game of it. While exploring the roads less traveled, take your camera along and record your favorite spots with the enclosed ?I love it here!? sign. The state is offering a grand prize Dream Vacation worth up to $2,500 for the best photo (see below for full rules and instructions), but look around and you?ll see, any vacation in New Hampshire is pretty dreamy.

So start packing and get ready to stay.

Think of it as a Granite State Love-InIt?s not just local pride, we?re serious about it. New Hampshire folks have a pretty warm and cozy relationship to their hometowns and regions, so it doesn?t really take much to get us to embrace our state. But this year, more than ever, there are plenty of incentives to frolic in our own big, green, mountainous, watery, village-speckled, culturally rich backyard.

The state?s Division of Travel and Tourism Development, usually busy turning on folks from elsewhere and enticing them to bring their appetites for adventure to New Hampshire, has decided to give locals a few more good reasons to hang around for the summer: about 2,500 good reasons to be precise.

A statewide contest has already begun and the stakes are high: a dream vacation custom designed and worth nearly $2,500 is waiting for whoever most creatively declares their abiding love for the Granite State.

Working with their ad agency, Rumbletree, the state?s big idea was to let the state?s biggest fans ? its residents ? spread the word by taking photos of themselves at their favorite places and uploading them to the Web. So, entering the contest is as easy as pointing and clicking, and in keeping with sensibilities of the YouTube-Flickr-Facebook generation, it?s viral. In short, to win the contest, you?ve got to spread the word and attract votes to your photos. Spreading the word brings more contestants who tell their friends and ? well, you get the idea.

Anyway, while the state is concerned, as it should be, with keeping up the flow of rooms and meals taxes, they?ve also got your best interests at heart.

Alice DeSouza, director of N.H. Travel and Tourism, explains, ?We know that vacations are still as important as ever, in some ways even more so. It?s an opportunity to rejuvenate, to get your head back on and spend time with the family. We also know that value is important. If you have limited resources to spend, you want to get the most out of your spending.?

Charlie Yeaton of Rumbletree says the contest idea has been in the works for awhile, and while they were convinced it was on target pretty much from the start, they really knew it would fly as soon as they started testing it in the field. Carrying the simple sign with the four word declaration ?I love it here!? attracted people wherever they went. And it was no trouble finding volunteers to pose with it. ?I was surprised,? Yeaton says, ?because there are a lot of introverted souls out there.?

An encounter with a group of visiting journalists on a junket from the U.K. proved that the concept had international appeal. ?They loved it,? says DeSouza. ?We invited them to participate and of all the things we showed them, the ballot room at The Balsams was the most intriguing to them. Their photo (above) is now framed and hung there.?

But as is the case with any good tourist experience, one thing leads to another. After that, The Balsams arranged for a dog sled ride, ?Just to show the breadth of experience you could have here,? says DeSouza. ?At a point the musher stopped the sled and asked them to get out and hold out their hands. He sprinkled some bird seed in their outstretched hands and it wasn?t a minute before birds flew out of the trees, landed on them and fed out of their palms.?

Memories like that are what great vacations are made of, and the state knows that, where great memories are made, people will return.

This fact should help the next ?viral? component of the contest. Since many of the scavenger hunt locations relate to restaurants and lodging, the hope is that the state?s hospitality industry will take the program to heart and encourage visitors to participate, hand out signs, even recommend great shots.

Businesses are already showing interest. Along with the grand prize offering, Irving Oil has partnered with the NH Dream Vacation Scavenger Hunt and is literally ?fueling? the promotion. All entrants will be eligible to win a $50 gift card from Irving with the cards to be given out by random drawing each week for 12 weeks. Participants only have to enter the main contest to be eligible.

But the biggest prize to anyone who participates will be the discoveries they make along roads and byways they think they already know. Take a little time and even familiar haunts unfold and reveal new dimensions.

?I was thinking about how true this is,? says DeSouza. ?Even in my experience as head of Travel and Tourism. I was recently over visiting the Inn at East Hill Farm. There happened to be a family from New York staying over and I was able to see a child who was just beside herself because she was about to go and collect the eggs for her own breakfast. I didn?t know this place existed, and I?ve lived here since 1981 and I?m in my fifth year in this job.?

Finding new places along old roads is one thing, the other is just looking at the familiar sights in a new way. The designers of the contest know they?ll get lots of photos in front of covered bridges or lakes, but they want people to imagine what they could do with the sand sculptures at Hampton Beach or how they can capture the joy on the face of a kid?s first time at Story Land.

The photos on these pages should offer a little inspiration, but be sure to read the rules and be polite as you scavenge the state for the perfect photo op. And if someone admires your ?I love it here!? sign, pass it along. After all, love is meant to be shared. NH

Rules and InstructionsGet out your cameras and join the state?s first interactive photo scavenger hunt!

Download an "I love it here!" card from http://nhdreamvacation.com or find one in the June issue New Hampshire Magazine.

Prizes include a custom vacation package worth up to $2,500 and $50 gas cards from Irving Oil.

Rules

You must capture images of at least three scavenger hunt locations in order to enter for a chance to win. You can submit as many as you?d like, but the minimum is three!

The contest sign must be in your photographs.

One or more people must be in your pictures. Show the judges you are having a great time!

A New Hampshire identifier must be visible in your photographs. It can be a sign, a building or a natural landmark.

Enter online. Check out other submissions and upload your photos at http://nhdreamvacation.com.

Boost your ratings. Vote for your favorite images and tell friends and family to vote, too. The more votes, the more likely your picture is to win.

Judging: The top 25 vote-getting photos will be judged for creativity, originality and aesthetics.

Please keep New Hampshire beautiful. Be respectful to people and property while taking your pictures.

For a complete list of locations and to read the complete contest rules visit http://nhdreamvacation.com.

The LocationsLots to work with here, but remember that the more creative the photo, the more likely it will be to get noticed, so have fun and think big.

In front of the tugboats in Portsmouth

On the deck of the M/V Granite State for a whale watch

At a drive-in movie theater

Fishing NH waters

Zip-lining

Visiting a museum

Pulling in the catch of the day at the Fisherman?s Co-op in Seabrook

Teeing off on a NH golf course

Horseback riding on a NH trail

With a real live moose

With a sand sculpture at the Hampton Beach Sand Sculpting Competition (June 13-25) With livestock at an agricultural fair

At a lilac or lupine festival

Attending a meeting or conference

Getting married at a NH Resort

In front of the Capitol Building, Concord

Inside the Keene gazebo

Standing on a historic covered bridge

At Manchester-Boston Regional Airport

In front of a general store

On the porch or deck of an inn, hotel or B&B

On the steps of a tower

Next to the Pollyanna statue in Littleton

1st in the Nation Ballot room, Dixville Notch

With the Atlantic Ocean in the background

At Endicott Rock, Laconia

With Mount Washington in the background

In front of a State Park entry sign

Daniel Webster Birthplace, Franklin

Old Man of the Mountain Historic Site

On steps of Tip Top House, Mt. Washington State Park

At the tower at John Wingate Weeks Historic Site

Anchor at Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion Historic Site

At a winery or vineyard

At an orchard or pick-your-own location

Sitting at a diner counter

Sampling the fare at a NH growers? dinner

With a farmer at a farmstand or farmers market

Shopping at an outlet mall

Standing in front of your favorite restaurant

Licking your favorite cone at an ice cream stand

Standing at the entrance gate of any family attraction

Stay-worthy EventsNeed some inspiration to get yourself ready to stay? We picked six of the most stay-worthy events, two for each summer month, and we even identify good targets for your photo-contest efforts. If this doesn?t increase your staying power, then you might need professional help. Well, that?s available, too. Just consult the state?s experts online at www.visit-nh.gov.

June 5-7 Mooseman Festival, Newfound

Billed as ?the most scenic race in New England,? the Mooseman Triathlon is more than a trial for athletic savants, it?s a full-blown party. Featuring both Half Iron (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) and International (.93 mile swim. 27.25 mile bike, 10k run) distances on Sunday, the weekend is jam-packed with other events like a ?Clam Chowdaaaahhhhh!? and Margarita cookout, pasta dinner and pancake breakfast, tons of activities in the Kidz Zone for kids who?d rather not watch adults try to induce heart attacks while wearing spandex, and an expo with great giveaways from sponsors and local favorites like Jordan?s Ice Cream (a favorite stand ? on the list!).

For the less athletically inclined, Mooseman elevates the spectator experience with Inspiration Station, offering cowbells and foam Moose antlers and the innovative MyAthlete GPS tracking system, giving up-to-the-minute updates on location, speed and history of Web-enabled athletes. There also might be no better place to snap a photo of a real moose (on the list!) than at this fun-filled event.

Lodging options abound for lovers of rustic motels and B&Bs (on the list!). Check out the Bridgewater Mountain Bed & Breakfast, the Highland Lake Inn, Belmore Courts, the Inn on Newfound Lake and Picture View Cottages. A full list of lodgings can be found on the Mooseman Web site, which also points visitors to area hotels that offer discounts for athletes.

www.timbermantri.com or (603) 293-8353 for more information

June 14: Wedding Vow Renewal Ceremony, Cathedral of the Pines, Rindge

Romance takes center stage at one of the summer?s best photo ops, the annual Wedding Vow Renewal Ceremony at Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge.

Couples that have been hitched for one year or 50 don?t need a specific faith or denomination to take part in this romantic adventure, an open call for the affirmation of vows at one of New Hampshire?s most celebrated natural settings. Family and friends are also welcome to attend, making this event the perfect getaway for two, or for families with kids not too squeamish to watch as mom and dad celebrate their love and seal it with a kiss. Call the office for details about the ceremony, which will be performed by the Rev. David Smith of Brookline Church in a nondenominational service.

The Cathedral, a spectacular and scenic venue, boasts a museum (on the list!), a wedding (on the list!) and is located near many great attractions in the nearby towns of Peterborough and Keene. Monadnock State Park is a stone?s throw away ? with its many entrances featuring signs (on the list!) its quite-reachable peak beckoning climbers of all ages.

Couples and families can stay right in Rindge at the Benjamin Prescott Inn, the Woodmore Campground or at the Woodbound Inn and dine at Aylmer?s. Lilly?s on the Pond is a popular dining spot and downtown Keene, only a half-hour away, boasts many lovely eateries, like Luca?s and the Blue Trout Grill, as well as a variety of hotels and inns. (603) 899-3300

July 9-12: Hillsborough Balloon Festival and Fair Hillsborough

This four-day extravaganza is full of hot air in the best possible way. Now a full-fledged central New Hampshire destination event, this festival has it all ? the arts and crafts of an Artist?s Fair featuring local craftspeople, live concerts featuring the area?s best musicians including New Hampshire Magazine?s #1 voted band Mama Kicks, traditional fair attractions like truck and tractor pulls and an old fashioned Fireman?s Muster on Sunday, which features competitions among area fire departments.

Of course, the main event is the balloons. All weekend long, hot air balloons are piloted and crewed by New Hampshire?s many balloon enthusiasts. Balloon rides over the scenic Monadnock Region (and the photo ops they provide ?!) are available to the general public, as are tethered rides for the slightly less adventurous. Each evening begins with a 6 p.m. Balloon Lift-Off, a sight and sound to behold as gorgeous orbs of color take off in thunderous bursts of flame, then rise to fill the summer sky like a peaceful Technicolor fantasy. On Saturday visitors should keep their gaze skyward, as the evening is capped with a Grand Finale Fireworks display that prides itself as being the best in the area.

Lodging for the festival is as varied as the fair itself, from the Sandy Beach RV Resort in nearby Contoocook to the cozy Colby Hill Inn in Henniker. In between, there?s the 1830 House Motel in Hillsborough and the Henniker Motel in Henniker. If the Balloon Fair?s daily pancake breakfasts and midway fare don?t fill you up, try dinner at Nonni?s Italian Eatery for fine Italian-American dining or the handcrafted pub eats at Tooky Mills Restaurant & Pub, both in Hillsborough proper. www.balloonfestival.org

July 18-19: Thunder in the Mountains, Berlin

Perhaps it?s the romance of our serpentine mountain roads, or perhaps it?s our lack of a helmet law, but in either case, New Hampshire has carved itself a permanent place among our nation?s favorite destinations for motorcyclists both young and old.

On the third weekend in July, the ?city that paper built? will host Thunder in the Mountains, a two-day rally that will offer food, a live concert at the Northern Forest Heritage Park, fireworks and a Main Street and Pleasant Street that are closed to all traffic except that of the 2-wheeled variety. The real adventure, though, is in the ride to the North Country itself. Stuff your camera in the saddlebag and get ready to capture scenic vistas of the White Mountains, stop for lunch and pie at roadside diners and farmstands (both on the list!) and the rally itself (yes, Thunder in the Mountains most certainly qualifies as a ?meeting? in New Hampshire!).

In the North Country, accommodations are as varied as they are widespread. Try the Inn at Bowman in downtown Berlin, or take a short ride to the Great Northern Moose Lodge in Dummer, where you can choose to sleep either inside or out. Just 21 miles from Berlin lies the Mountain View Grand, one of the state?s most spectacular historic properties, and just on the other side of the border, the Bethel Inn and Resort in Bethel, Maine.

Berlin?s Main Street organization has a great Web site for information about the city and upcoming events including Thunder in the Mountains. Best to not trust your search engine blindly for this one ? coincidentally, there is another event with the same name on that same July weekend happening in Colorado ... but that rally is not at all about motorcycles! www.berlinnh.gov

August 7-9: Tall Ships Visit Portsmouth

It?s hard to describe the scale and majesty of historic replica wooden Tall Ships, which make their way to the port of Portsmouth each summer, and bring with them a very compelling reason to make the trip to New Hampshire?s most visitor-friendly coastal city. The festivities begin with the 9:30 a.m. Parade of Sails on Friday, which is best viewed from Four Tree Island, Prescott Park or New Castle Island. Ship tours and day sails are slated throughout the weekend, with the vessels attracting crowds young and old with their history, purpose and meticulous craftsmanship. Other vessels are also open for tours, including military vessels like the U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle.

When the Tall Ships visit, New Hampshire?s tiny seacoast comes alive with tented parties, live outdoor concerts and plenty of family-friendly photo opportunities. Take a cruise with the Isles of Shoals Steamship Co., go for a whale watch aboard the M/V Granite State (on the list!), catch a fish at the Fisherman?s Co-op in Seabrook (on the list!) or strike a pose on the beach (just make sure it?s the Atlantic in the background ? because the Pacific, Indian and Arctic are definitely NOT on the list!).

Portsmouth is packed with eateries for every palate. Stay at the chic Ale House Inn or one of many of the area?s hotels, like The Sheraton Harborside, The Hilton Garden Inn or the economical Best Inn. Call (603) 431-7447 for more information.

August 21-23: Bluegrass Festival, Waterville Valley Resort

New Hampshire is host to many music festivals all summer long, but perhaps no music is better suited to our state?s mountains and streams than Bluegrass, the rootsy and distinctly American fusion of Country, Celtic, Jazz and Blues. At Waterville Valley, a popular year-round family resort destination, these sounds come alive at a festival that has music at its heart, but so much more to do all weekend long.

Groups like the Katahdin Valley Boys, The Pine Hill Ramblers and Blackstone Valley Bluegrass will play performances throughout the weekend, during which visitors can also browse at tent sales, enjoy games for kids and take advantage of all of the amenities at Waterville Valley. Corcoran?s Pond and Beach, canoe and paddle boat rentals, hiking, shopping, golf, tennis and even pub-crawling are all within easy reach by foot or by taking a short ride on the valley-wide open air trolley.

For the festival, Waterville offers a wide variety of lodging packages for both campers and more indoorsy types. Eateries abound in ?Town Square,? the center of Waterville Valley Village, the heart of the resort.

For shutterbugs of all ages, a drive in New Hampshire?s White Mountains offers photo ops galore, like majestic Mt. Washington (on the list!), the Old Man of the Mountain Historic Site (yup ? on the list!) and even a trip up the stairs of one of our state?s many guardian fire towers. www.waterville.com

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