A drive to Freedom and back.
Although there’s no ignoring the blue swath that Lake Winnipesaukee paints across the map of New Hampshire, we have a lot of other “lakes regions” in the state. Just south of the White Mountains is an especially scenic clutch of smaller lakes, with three National Natural Landmarks near their shores.
Leave West Ossipee heading south on Route 16. The road skirts the large Ossipee Lake, but its cottage-clad shores are completely hidden from view. At Center Ossipee, turn left onto Route 25 for 2 miles, where Heath Pond Bog is on the right. A half-mile trail leads into this classic quaking bog, the first of the three National Natural Landmarks on this route. In its fascinating ecosystem live plants that only survive in a bog’s acidic wet soil.
Continue east on Route 25 through Effingham Falls to Loon Lake Road, turning left on it. A stretch of this little lake’s shore appears on the right, then it offers only tantalizing glimpses as the road continues into Freedom. That pretty village of gracious homes, white picket fences and dooryard gardens is home to the Peg Scully Art Gallery, where the artist shows and sells her evocative oil and watercolor paintings, many of them of local scenes.
Leave Freedom to the left on Andrews Hill Road, turning right onto Route 153. The road drops down into East Madison, where it passes family-friendly Purity Springs Resort, then follows the shores of Purity Lake. This is the first of a string of ponds and lakes along the right, before the road borders a long stretch of scenic Crystal Lake. Overlooking the lake on the left is The Inn at Crystal Lake, with its cozy Palmer House Pub, just as the road curves to follow the northern shore through Eaton Center.
Follow Route 153 into Conway, turning left on Route 16 through the village, past the Chinook Café and the Eastman Lord House Museum, whose 17 rooms are furnished in periods from 1818 through 1945. Conway is also the southern terminus for the Conway Scenic Railroad excursions. South of Conway, turn left on Route 113 to visit the Madison Boulder (right on Boulder Road), the continent’s largest known glacial erratic. The 87-foot-long chunk of granite is estimated to weigh 4,662 tons and was carried here by glaciers. See it now, before the state sells it.
Continue on Route 113 to Madison, where it makes an abrupt turn to the right. Less than a mile after that turn, on the right stands the imposing three-story town hall, covered in green and white shingles. Shortly beyond, Silver Lake appears on the left, with the settlement of the same name clustered around its northern shore. On the right is Silver Lake Railroad, opening on July 3 for weekend train rides alongside the lake in little open cars.
Turn left onto Route 41, following the shore for some distance before coming to the West Branch Pine Barrens. Here the Nature Conservancy protects one of New England’s best pine barrens, an ecosystem where several varieties of pine thrive, along with scrub oak.
When Route 41 rejoins Route 16 in West Ossipee, turn right to White Lake State Park, where trails circle the lake and there are views of Mt. Chocorua from the swimming beach. The park’s 72 acres of White Lake Pitch Pines are the third National Natural Landmark on the route. This forest of mature Pitch Pines is a rare phenomenon in the Northeast.