From its 18 miles of coastline to its centrally located Lakes Region to the looming White Mountains up north, New Hampshire offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Then there are the amusement parks, historic sites and thought-provoking museums to explore while vacationing in the Granite State.
With skiing in the winter, summer fun by the lakes and leaf-peeping in the fall, this state is a year-round destination. Here are some of the best things to do and see in New Hampshire.
Ascend to the summit of the highest peak in New England aboard the Mount Washington Cog Railway. Onboard one of the specially designed biodiesel locomotives, you'll pass through steep grades and three climate zones to reach the Mount Washington summit at 6,288 feet in elevation. When you book your tickets online, you can also choose to take a historic steam locomotive at certain times of the year.
The largest lake in the state at 72 square miles, Lake Winnipesaukee is one of New Hampshire's most popular summer vacation spots. Families flock to the lake to go boating, fishing, swimming, kayaking and canoeing on the clear water surrounded by thick forest and looming mountains. A popular excursion is a scenic boat ride on the historic M/S Mount Washington ship. The resort towns that ring the lake are chock-full of fun things for families to do, including old-fashioned arcades, go-karting and mini-golf.
In the heart of New Hampshire's Mount Washington Valley, North Conway is a fabulous vacation destination for fans of scenic railroads, historic covered bridges and outdoor adventures. The village is an especially popular spot in the winter months, as it's been ranked among the best ski towns in North America, with more than a dozen ski areas within a short drive of the village.
Hampton Beach State Park is packed with people in the summer, especially on hot, sunny weekends. Walking the wide sandy beach or picnicking under an umbrella for the day is free at this coastal state park. You'll need to pay to park your car, and recent visitors suggest making parking reservations ahead of time online at the New Hampshire State Parks website; otherwise, you'll likely have to hunt for a first-come, first-served metered space around town.
It's more than just a 7.6-mile road: The Mount Washington Auto Road bills itself as America's oldest continuously operating attraction. It opened in 1861, allowing visitors to take a four-hour carriage ride to the frigid summit of Mount Washington. Nowadays, you can do it a lot faster in your own car – just drive to the base of the road, pay the fee (you have to pay on a per-passenger basis) and start your ascent.
Home to a wide range of art and artifacts, including Indigenous Australian contemporary art and a major archive of photojournalism, the Hood Museum of Art is located on the campus of Hanover's Dartmouth College. The collection is vast, with more than 65,000 pieces of art in the museum's care, though only a portion are on display to the public at any given time. Recent museum enthusiasts note that with free admission, the museum is certainly worth an hourlong stroll through the exhibits; there are also free guided tours on occasion. Right next door to the Hopkins Center for the Arts and the Hood Museum is the elegant Hanover Inn, the oldest continuously operating hotel in the state.
Concord's must-visit McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center honors two New Hampshire residents: Alan Shepard, who in 1961 was the first American to travel into space, and Christa McAuliffe, a teacher who was aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger that tragically exploded just after it launched in 1986. Visitors to this family-friendly attraction can learn about space travel and science through hands-on exhibits, demonstrations and planetarium shows.
Canobie Lake Park has been delighting visitors since it opened in 1902 with its botanical gardens, swings, canoes and penny arcade. Today it's a fun-for-the-whole-family amusement park filled with exciting rides, a water park and carnival-style midway games – plus dining venues that serve quintessential New England favorites like lobster rolls and fried dough. Thrill rides at this amusement park include the spinning, strobe light-filled Psychodrome and a roller coaster called Untamed that sends riders on a beyond-vertical drop of 97 degrees.
Part of Franconia Notch State Park, the Flume is a scenic gorge with a 2-mile loop trail that allows visitors to admire the looming granite walls, rushing Flume Brook and even a classic New England covered bridge. The boardwalk trail at this attraction in the White Mountains does include many steps, so you'll want to make sure to wear sturdy shoes to traverse it safely. Admire plentiful mosses, ferns and flowers along the way.
For small children or nostalgic adults, this attraction is probably one of the most fun places in New Hampshire to spend the day. Story Land is located in Glen, east of the White Mountain National Forest, and dates back to 1954. It features classic attractions that celebrate children's nursery rhymes and fairy tales, including a giant Humpty Dumpty and Cinderella's Pumpkin Coach – both make great photo opportunities.
Just as the name suggests, Christmas-themed Santa's Village is a celebration of the jolly old fellow himself, as well as all things that make this winter holiday special, from elves and reindeer to sleighs and sweet treats. Family-friendly rides at this amusement park in Jefferson include the Reindeer Carousel, Christmas Ferris Wheel, Santa's Express Train and Yule Log Flume. There's also a water park that's open in the summer, with slides, splash pads and water sprays.
Set on 10 acres in downtown Portsmouth, Strawbery Banke Museum brings centuries of U.S. history alive with costumed role-players who share what life was like in New England's past. Visitors can tour historic buildings and interactive exhibits to learn about the people who once made their homes in this waterfront neighborhood. Past travelers say a highlight of their visit is chatting with the craftspeople in period dress, such as barrel makers and boat builders.
Cool off during New Hampshire's hot and humid summer months at Whale's Tale Waterpark in Lincoln. Thrill rides include the Plunge body slides, where you might reach up to 40 miles an hour, as well as the Banzai Pipeline, which is a speedy tube ride that shoots you into a quarter pipe. Other attractions include Whale Harbor with short slides and gentle water sprays for toddlers; Shipwreck Island with its massive bucket dump; and Willie's Wild Waves, billed as the only wave pool in the White Mountains.
This unique seasonal attraction in Moultonborough offers a variety of things for visitors to do. You can tour a historic, 16-room, mountaintop mansion that was built in 1913 and features some modern technological advances of the time, including a central vacuum system. Take a self-guided mansion tour of the first two floors from late May to late October; guests can also opt for a guided basement tour of the mansion for an additional charge.
The Polar Caves in Rumney were formed by a moving glacier 50,000 years ago. Visitors can pass through nine distinct boulder caves on a self-guided tour, while enjoying the cooler temperatures on a hot summer day. The granite spaces are all named: Shimmy through Orange Crush and walk the narrow path of Devil's Turnpike. The caves are linked by a series of trails and wooden boardwalks, and all cave entry is optional.
The Kancamagus Highway is a 34.5-mile National Scenic Byway that stretches from Lincoln to Conway in the White Mountains. This portion of state Route 112 is a wildly popular scenic drive in the autumn for its plentiful vistas of colorful fall foliage. Many pull-off points allow for stretching legs along this curvy, wooded highway, where you can take in views of mountains, waterfalls and rivers.
Gunstock Mountain Resort also shines in the warmer months with its activity-packed Adventure Park. Go zip lining amid the trees up to 70 miles an hour, zoom through the forest on the Mountain Coaster, or walk along swinging bridges on an aerial obstacle course. If you're looking for a more mellow activity, consider a scenic lift ride. Tent and RV campsites are available at Gunstock Mountain Resort. Further afield is The Margate on Winnipesaukee in Laconia, which past travelers have praised for its sandy beach and indoor and outdoor pools.
Smaller, with fewer bells and whistles than nearby Hampton Beach, Rye's Jenness State Beach is popular among families especially on sunny summer weekends, when you'll need to arrive early in the day to snag a metered parking spot, according to past visitors. Beachgoers will likely appreciate the bathhouse with restrooms, changing rooms and showers. Lifeguards keep watch as kids frolic in the waves in the summer months. Dogs are not allowed on the sandy beach in the summer, but leashed pets are permitted in the off-season.
If you're looking to immerse yourself in nature on your trip to the Granite State, you can't go wrong with Bear Brook State Park, the largest developed state park in New Hampshire. Hiking, biking, camping, fishing, kayaking and swimming are a few of the activities you can enjoy in the warmer months in this recreational area. The park sits in the southeastern part of the state, near Manchester and Concord.
This small but mighty state park is home to two stunning viewpoints. White Horse Ledge and Cathedral Ledge both require a little effort to get to, but they offer stellar views over Echo Lake and the surrounding forests. The trail up to Cathedral Ledge is shorter, at 1.2 miles, compared to 4.2 miles for White Horse Ledge. If hiking isn't your thing, you can swim and picnic by Echo Lake. Visitors praise the beautiful reflective waters of the lake and the easy walking trail that goes around it. The park is also easy to get to, located just outside the town of North Conway.