Winter Festivals and More Outdoor Fun
Not into snow sports? Not to worry — there's plenty of other winter outdoor fun to be had in New Hampshire.
It’s easy to be grumpy about winter. At least once a week I ask Siri to tell me how many minutes of sun we’ve gained back since late December, my driveway is an icy death trap, I dream of jumping into a pool of lotion to finally reach all the dry skin spots, and I’m sick of dressing in 15 layers so I’ll be warm outside, yet not overheat in my little office.
The key to staving off winter grumpiness, I think, is to embrace the things it does have to offer. I’m not only talking about skiing and riding, though that’s certainly widely available within New Hampshire. I get that not everyone is into strapping slippery boards on their feet and hurtling down a mountain. There’s more to do than hitting the slopes though — cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, ice climbing, skating — those are just some of the fun winter activities you can find, and all are open to beginners. Speaking for the incurably uncoordinated, however, sports alone aren’t necessarily enough incentive to learn to tolerate, never mind enjoy, winter. Come, join me at the ice bar (here, here, here or here) and we’ll talk about the following fun winter diversions for the less-than-athletically inclined.
Winter Festivals and Carnivals
Outdoor festivals aren’t just for summer. In fact, there are a number of multi-day events happening around the state, from the iconic Dartmouth Winter Carnival (celebrating 109 years and Dartmouth College’s 250th anniversary) to the brand new Winter Fest in Concord.
January 23-26, Concord
Winter Fest is debuting in 2019, but it’s held in conjunction with a longstanding winter favorite — the Black Ice Pond Hockey Tournament. You can take advantage of the free shuttle service that will ferry people between the hockey tournament in White Park to the festival activities in downtown Concord. The big attractions include an ice-carving competition and demonstrations, plus four themed ice bars with a luge on the patio at O Steaks and Seafood. There will also be games and activities for kids and families, such as the cornhole tournament, warm-up stations with hot cocoa and s’mores, the chance to meet an NHL player and more. Check out the entire schedule of events here.
17th Annual Keene Ice and Snow Festival
February 2, Keene
This family-friendly winter carnival includes snowball fights, ice sculpture competitions and plenty of hot cocoa sipping. There are also crafts for kids, train rides and pictures with polar bears and ice princesses.
Dartmouth’s 109th Winter Carnival
February 7-10, Hanover
In honor of Dartmouth College’s 250th anniversary, the theme of this iconic winter carnival is Ice Age: 250 Years of Winter. This three-day festival begins on Thursday evening with the opening celebration and concludes with a 99-cent ski day at Oak Hill and the Skiway on Sunday. Other activities include the polar bear swim, human dogsled race, ice carving and more. While you’re on campus, consider warming up with a trip to the newly reopened Hood Museum of Art, which is once again available to the public after a lengthy and extensive renovation (opens January 26, 2019).
Newport Winter Carnival
February 7-10, Newport
The small town of Newport will be transformed into a winter wonderland for four days of activities. There will be events ranging from a winter carnival pageant to midnight skating to winter parades to pancake breakfasts. Don’t miss out on the fun and an opportunity to celebrate 103 years of community.
New London Winter Carnival
February 7-10, New London
Enjoy skating, an ice hockey tournament, wagon rides, kids’ activities, a s’mores party and more at this winter extravaganza. Don’t miss the dinner with Jack Frost, an outdoor dinner hosted by area restaurants that takes place on the town green. There will also be live music and campfires and Tiki torches to keep you warm(ish).
16th Annual Ice Harvest and Winter Carnival
February 16, Tamworth
Find a new appreciation for your icemaker by trying your hand at this old-fashioned ice harvest. Visitors can hit the pond to help haul in chunks of ice (oxen included) or stick to the tamer activities such as visiting the bob-house, listening to live music or admiring the festival’s fleet of antique snowmobiles.
Alton Bay Winter Carnival
February 16-17, Alton Bay
The theme for this annual carnival is “Winter Dreaming.” There will be excitement available for the whole family, including ice fishing, snowmobile races, ice boats and a pancake breakfast. While you take in the sights, make sure you enjoy a hearty homemade meal at the diner on the bay.
Wolfeboro Bay Winter Carnival
February 16-24, Wolfeboro
There will be icy fun had by all at this winter carnival. Take part in events like ice skating, snowshoeing workshops, sleigh rides, inflatable obstacle course competitions, a pancake breakfast and more. The entire village will be set up on the ice in the harbor of the bay, and there will be delicious treats available at the post office and local shops.
2019 Fire & Ice Festival
February 22-23, Wolfeboro
Held at the lovely Wolfeboro Inn, this fourth annual festival includes three ice bars and two bands each night, plus fire dancing performances by Mikhol Mars and Brigid Sinclair. If you’re not staying at the inn, travel safely with complimentary town car transportation from five public parking lots in Wolfeboro. Town car transportation to and from in-town lodging and other locations is available for $10. Admission to the event is $5.
Wasserman Park Winter Carnival
February 23, Merrimack
Head to Wasserman Park to celebrate the 26th annual winter carnival. This fun-filled event is packed with indoor and outdoor activities for the whole family. There will be a campfire with s’mores, an ice fishing derby, snowshoeing demonstration, sledding and even a cardboard box sledding contest.
Collegiate Ice Carnival
February 22-24, Freedom
Grab your hat and mittens and get ready to become a cold-weather climbing convert. This event is open to college students who are looking for a weekend away that will be filled with ice climbing, guest speakers, raffles and much more. The home base will be at Camp Cody, where you can get warm with heated cabins and hot catered meals.
More Outdoor Fun
Visit the picturesque village of Jackson to see artists turn snow into beautiful sculptures, fly along scenic trails in a horse-drawn sleigh, tour an ice castle or even experience real dog sledding.
The Ice Castle
Through winter 2019
For 2019, the Ice Castle location moved just a few miles from its original Hobo Railroad location to Clarks Farm Road in Woodstock. Since 2011, travelers from all over the globe have flocked to Ice Castles’ locations to walk through the interactive castles. The castles feature ice-carved tunnels, fountains, slides, frozen thrones and towers that reach astonishing heights. LED lights frozen inside 25 million pounds of ice twinkle to music, adding a magical ambiance to the already awe-inspiring structures. Click here for ticket prices, times and information about the Ice Princess and fire dance performances.
Snow Sculpting Competition
January 25-27, Jackson
The 19th New Hampshire Sanctioned & Jackson Invitational Snow Sculpting Competition will be at Black Mountain Ski area, where — if you feel so inclined — you can ski as well as view the amazing work of the snow-sculpting artists. It begins on Friday January 25 at 12 p.m. when teams from all over the Northeastern part of the United States will converge on Jackson Village. Sculpting continues throughout the weekend, finishing at 12 p.m. on Sunday. You can stop by any time to see the sculpting in action, but to see the finished pieces, you’ll want to visit on Sunday.
Valley Snow Dogz
Family-owned business that offers dogsled rides and tours at Benton’s Sugar Shack, Waterville Valley and Squam Lake.
Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel
Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel and Raft NH is a year-round dogsledding outfitter located in the White Mountains region.
Mountain View Grand Resort
This lovely resort offers dog sledding during the winter months with Becki Tucker of Outlaw Ridge.
You can see our guide to sleigh rides in New Hampshire here, but the following are two of our favorites.
This excellent family attraction is fun all year long, and during the winter months they offer a few different sleigh ride options, including a 16-passenger logging sled, a 10-person sleigh and an intimate four-person sleigh. Among other events, they also host fun two-hour sleigh ride socials where you can warm-up around several large bonfires while enjoying complimentary hot dogs, roasted marshmallows and hot cocoa in a secluded pine grove.
Omni Mount Washington Resort
In addition to staying at one of the state’s remaining grand hotels, guests can enjoy all sorts of winter activities, from skiing at Bretton Woods to sleigh rides through the beautiful grounds. Rides are available to the public as well.