The Best Location for Every Season
In New Hampshire’s ever-changing climate, where seasons are so distinctly different, it would be a shame not to enjoy each in the place that shows it off best. Our landscapes and diversions are as varied as our weather, from the snow-capped White Mountains and crystal lakes to a busy seaport and lush rural landscapes around Mt. Monadnock. And to each there is a season.
A note from New Hampshire Magazine: Due to the ongoing efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, many places mentioned here are temporarily closed or are delaying/rescheduling events and opening dates. Where available, specific information is noted throughout the story. We will continue to update this and other stories as more details are released. In the meantime, we hope you use this guide (and others) to make plans for when we can once again experience all that our wonderful state has to offer. Stay safe, and stay healthy!
Update: As of April 24, the White Mountain National Forest closed many high-use trailheads, day-use areas and some other facilities. You can find more information and a map of the closures here.
Update: Announced on May 1: “The White Mountain National Forest (WMNF) closed several sites last week as part of a tactical pause to assess operations, including staffing, equipment availability and to develop a phased approach to operate within CDC guidelines and prepare for the summer. As part of a phased opening approach in alignment with Maine and New Hampshire State Parks the White Mountain National Forest will be opening most trail heads on the forest.” Read more here.
Spring in Portsmouth and the Seacoast
Spring comes earlier close to the ocean, and with it the glorious display of tulips at Prescott Park, overlooking Portsmouth Harbor. The gardens at Strawbery Banke bloom throughout spring, decorating the dooryards of preserved homes that display four centuries of Portsmouth history. Browse in the specialty shops on Market Street and tour a historic house or two — the Moffatt-Ladd, Rundlet-May and Governor John Langdon houses have lovely gardens hidden behind them.
Drive south along the coast, stopping to smell the lilacs at the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion. On Memorial Day weekend, the Lilac Festival celebrates their status as the first to be planted in the New World.
Learn about sea and shore life at the Seacoast Science Center at Odiorne Point, and follow the shore to see Fuller Gardens, where the Japanese garden blooms in May as the perennials open; the famed roses begin blooming in June. Stroll along the beaches, a bit cold for swimming then, but lovely and peaceful. New Hampshire’s Isles of Shoals seem to float on the horizon.
Portsmouth is filled with restaurants and plenty of historic sites to visit. The Black Heritage Trail traces the seaport’s long history since the days when slaves arrived by ship to be auctioned at its waterfront. More recent maritime past is recounted in the USS Albacore, a 1955 test submarine, now a museum.
[Editor’s note: As of mid-April, the Portsmouth area attractions listed here are temporarily closed. More updates will be posted when information is available. Fuller Gardens has canceled the 2020 plant sale and postponed its opening date, originally scheduled for the end of May. For now, July events are still planned as scheduled. Stay updated via their website and Facebook page.]
Summer at Lake Sunapee
Summer is when New Hampshire’s lakes come to life, filled with boats and swimmers as the cottages and camps on their shores reopen for the season. There are plenty of lakes for every taste, but for ours, the Lake Sunapee area has just the right mix of activity and lakeside greenery. Cottages hide discreetly among the trees, making much of its shore appear undeveloped, and Mt. Sunapee rises alongside, reflecting in the water.
Savor the views from a lake cruise or watch the sunset on a dinner cruise aboard the replica steamship MV Kearsarge. Swim at Mt. Sunapee State Park beach, climb the mountain for the views and spend a summer afternoon amid the gardens of The Fells, a fine example of a late-19th-century summer estate.
From a base in New London, where entertainment is assured by the New London Barn Playhouse, you’re handily between Lake Sunapee an the smaller Kezar Lake in Sutton. [Editor’s note: Sadly, the New London Barn Playhouse has canceled the 2020 summer season. We look forward to seeing you on the porch next year.] On its shore, Wadleigh State Park is a well-kept secret with its long pine-shaded beach and quiet waters for kayaks, canoes and fishing (no jet skis interrupt the peace).
Step back into an earlier century at Muster Field Farm during their August Farm Days and make ice cream from ice harvested the previous winter from Kezar Lake.
[Editor’s note: Many state parks are open, though the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation is encouraging people to avoid beaches, the Appalachian Trail, White Mountain National Forest and any crowded outdoor areas. Those parks that are open are not currently staffed. See the dos and don’ts here, and check for more information on the status of the state’s parks. The Fells is temporarily closed, and it has delayed the opening date for the 2020 season. See the website and Facebook page for updates and more information. Some spring events at Muster Field Farm were canceled, and see Facebook for continuing updates.]
Fall in the Monadnock Region
From the iconic mountain to the Connecticut Valley’s sweeping river views, the landscape of New Hampshire’s southwest corner is dotted with intimate village scenes: white meeting houses and historic homes around a green framed in orange, red and yellow leaves. And covered bridges — the town of Swanzey alone has five crossing the Ashuelot River.
September and October are the best months to climb Mt. Monadnock, an invigorating day hike with views to Boston and Mt. Washington on a clear day. Autumn leaves crunch underfoot, and the last part of the climb ascends from woods to open granite ledges. Don’t expect to be alone at the summit on a beautiful fall day.
Small towns dot the rolling landscape. Harrisville’s tidy brick mill buildings and library reflect in Harrisville Pond; Walpole’s stately old homes surround a green with a gingerbread bandstand; Fitzwilliam’s meeting house faces venerable Fitzwilliam Inn’s double-decker porch. Wander country roads for more foliage viewing and discover other picture-worthy villages: Hancock’s much-photographed brick church, hilltop Nelson and Jaffrey Center.
Follow alongside the Connecticut River from Chesterfield through Westmoreland (there’s a Paul Revere bell in the church steeple), stopping for a tasting at Poocham Hill Winery, then join Route 12 north to Alyson’s Orchard to pick apples and drink cider with views across the foliage-painted valley. The harvest is in full swing, so take advantage of the farmstands to buy fresh-picked fruits and vegetables.
Choose Keene for a base, right in the geographical center, halfway between Mt. Monadnock and the Connecticut River. Stop at the Horatio Colony House Museum, and browse Main Street to find local crafts, books, vintage treasures and clothing.
Winter in the Mt. Washington Valley
From a base in North Conway at the foot of Cranmore Mountain, you can easily ski there as well as Attitash, Black Mountain, King Pine and Bretton Woods. That’s just for downhill; Jackson XC, Bretton Woods, Bear Notch Ski Touring and Mt. Washington Valley Ski Touring offer miles and miles of groomed trails, with spectacular mountain scenery. One weekend in February, you can ski between valley inns and stop for chocolate treats.
Try ice climbing at Cathedral Ledge, snowshoe through the winter woods or ice skate in front of North Conway’s Victorian railway station in Schouler Park. Not a fan of ice and snow? Fine, curl up by the fireplace at a country inn, have hot coffee at the Met, shop in an original 1939 5&10 store or visit the Mount Washington Observatory’s Weather Discovery Center and be glad you’re in North Conway, not at the summit.
You can revel in the views of snow-covered Mt. Washington from a warm spot at a B&B overlooking the valley or watch the winter moon rise over Cranmore Mountain from the dining room at the White Mountain Hotel.
Along with being our pick as New England’s No. 1 ski town, North Conway is known for its shopping, a good way to stay warm on a winter day. Locally owned shops and boutiques line Main Street. Along with Zeb’s General Store (the place to find New England specialty foods) are shops devoted to fine leather goods, sportswear, local handcrafts, fine art, handmade chocolates, metal sculptures, candles, toys, olive oil, yarn, kitchenware and consignment clothing.
Dozens of restaurants in North Conway, Jackson and along Route 16 serve everything from Irish and Indian to Mexican and old-fashioned Yankee favorites, and there’s a choice of brewpubs and après-ski spots. For assurance of local ingredients and house-made dishes, look for the yellow Valley Originals flag.