Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2019. Business information and costs have been updated to reflect 2020 availability.
Not that we’re denying the due of those who decide to hit the beach during the summer, but, frankly, what else do you do?
Laying around in the sun for eight hours a day might sound like a fantastic way to spend a summer vacation, but then what? Gorge yourself on fried seafood? Take in a movie? How much minigolf can you really handle?
Consider me to be on the fence when it comes to the debate of whether the seaside or mountains pose a better summertime destination. What the beach lacks in activity, it is abundant in the mountains, providing the perfect mix of rest, relaxation, adrenaline and family-friendly attractions one hopes to find during the summer months.
So, in some ways, it’s easy to consider the New Hampshire Lakes Region the Cape Cod of the North, a popular summertime destination for either a long weekend or an extended stay. There are some 250 lakes and ponds to enjoy, all in addition to a multitude of outdoor activity, numerous attractions, summer dining and lodging in a host of stressfree atmospheres, and the ability to read the same book you would by the ocean at a quiet, sandy beach along one of the many interior shorelines.
Lake Winnipesaukee, the largest lake in the Granite State at 72 square miles, often looms as the Lakes Region’s most frequent hotspot in the GPS settings, but there’s also the attraction of Lake Sunapee, Newfound Lake, Squam Lake, Ossipee Lake and Lake Winnisquam to consider. Weirs Beach is a landmark summertime haven, with a throwback aura complete with boardwalk and other family amusements. There’s tax-free shopping at the outlets in Tilton, the beauty surrounding the Castle in the Clouds, and even a little quiet time, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Of course, each summer always brings Laconia Motorcycle Week, a 95- year tradition in New Hampshire. This year, the virus forced organizers to delay the celebration until Aug. 22-30. Dating back to 1916, this is the oldest motorcycle rally in the United States, annually welcoming thousands and their bikes to the Lakes Region for a week filled with motorcycle-themed events, not to mention the ability to showcase your ride and talk shop. (laconiamcweek.com)
It isn’t only Harleys and the like that have a spot in the Lakes Region, also a popular destination for mountain biking. At Highland Trails in Northfield, visitors will find nearly 600 vertical feet and about 15 miles of lift-accessed terrain, ranging from beginner to expert levels. Highland Mountain Bike Park is the world’s only mountain bike-specific lift-accessed mountain, focused entirely on biking, making it a great place for beginners to start the hobby. Rentals are available ($40-$60 per two hours and $80-$120 for a full day, depending on bike type), and lift access rates range from $25-$59. (highlandmountain.com)
Gunstock Mountain Resort will be offering a limited menu of attractions this summer, with off-road Segway and e-bike tours beginning July 1 ($68). The resort also boasts plentiful camping, with 270 sites on 140 acres, including amenities such as hot showers, a pool, and coin-operated laundry. (gunstock.com)
Meanwhile, Lake Winnipesaukee shimmers in the summer sunlight, a picturesque haven that gives instant reason for it being a vacation destination. The best way to explore the historic lake is aboard one of the Winnipesaukee fleet of ships that depart Weirs Beach daily at different hours of the day. Mount Washington Cruises offers a variety of routes including daytime cruises, dinner cruises in the evening and a Sunday brunch outing. The M/S Mount Washington is the queen of the fleet, visiting five different ports on alternating days of the week. All cruises are 2½ hours roundtrip. The M/V Doris E. takes shorter excursions to the islands adjacent to Weirs Bay, while the M/V Sophie C. offers the unique experience of taking a trip aboard the oldest floating post office in the United States.
The Mount Washington vessel holds history in its name as well, one of only two boats with the name to grace the waters of the Winnipesaukee since 1872. The original was the fastest of a host of vessels that navigated the lake, and by the end of the century was welcoming some 60,000 passengers per year. Now, with a capacity of 1,200 passengers, the Mount Washington is a fixture of the Lakes Region, filled with daily tourists, as well as community proms, weddings and other celebrations. Cruise prices vary depending on time, but daytime cruises run $16 children, $32 adults during the summer. Get a complete schedule at cruisenh.com.
So if there is to be a home base of sorts for the family on any visit to the lake, then Weirs Beach beckons with a multitude of lodging, restaurants and activities to explore. The history of Weirs Beach dates back to 1650, but even the oldest miniature golf course in the area can’t tell tales about what happened that far back. But according to more recent history, it was the marketing idea of a few locals to add the word “Beach” to the town name of “Weirs.” It was an interesting maneuver; after all, try finding more than a handful of inland waterfronts that consider themselves to be “beaches.” But ultimately, the name proved a summer success, sparking decades of New England vacation bliss.
The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad’s nostalgic excursions take place between Meredith and Lakeport, always within view of the lake. The railroad long outdates the surroundings of Weirs Beach and the rest of the builtup attractions, built in 1849, once a part of the Boston and Maine Railroad that brought tourists to the lake through the 1950s. One-hour ($15 children, $20 adults) and two-hour trips ($17, $22) are available at various hours of the day through October. Check hoborr.com for complete schedule information.
The weather is destined to turn at one point or another. But rainy days don’t always turn into bummers at Weirs Beach. In Laconia, you’ll find what’s billed as “The Largest Arcade in the World” at Funspot (re-opened June 29), a place with more than 600 games, including 300 classic arcade games in addition to a candlepin bowling alley and indoor miniature golf. (funspotnh.com)
You’ll probably want to wait for a sunnier day though to take in the spectacle at the Castle in the Clouds, the Lucknow estate built in 1913-14 in Moultonboro. Opened to the public in 1959 (and re-opened on July 1 after COVID-19 closure), the Castle in the Clouds provides a unique look at architecture and a 360-degree view of the New Hampshire outdoors.
Visitors can browse an art galley, located in the Carriage House, grab a bite to eat at the on-site restaurant, or go for a hike down one of 28 trails available. Check out castleintheclouds.org and inquire about pony rides and horsedrawn carriage rides on the property at ridingintheclouds.com.
Nighttime brings with it its own brand of activity in the Lakes Region. It’s always fun to show the younger members of the family what life was like decades earlier with a throwback cinematic experience at the Weirs Drive-In Theater, showing a double feature of greatest hits every night at dusk ($28 per car for up to four people, $6 each additional person, weirsdrivein.com).
Those with a sweet tooth will no doubt want to try a nightcap at Kellerhaus in Laconia. This spot has been treating locals and guests alike since 1906, providing a tasty mix of chocolate creations and homemade ice cream. Try the Colossus, a 10-scoop beauty that’s perfect for sharing. Curbside and in-store pickup available. (kellerhaus.com)
After all, you’re on vacation. Might as well act like it.