There are hard core hikers and there are wanderers. This list is more for the wanders - families, perhaps - who want to get out and enjoy the beauty of autumn in different environments where the color of leaves will depend solely on the trees standing there before you.
These areas are not necessarily unique to New Hampshire but formed during glacial erosion at the end of the ice age and will likely have you standing in awe of the magic that nature can produce through force or erosion.
This is far from a comprehensive list. It's merely a start on your ecological journey. Hopefully you will be so enamored with the beauty you see along the way that you'll continue to search for the unusual and phenomenal environments that New Hampshire has to offer.
Sculptured Rocks Natural Area - Located in Groton, the Sculptured Rocks Natural Area, which spans 272 acres, is a unique example of nature's powerful yet delicate artistry. The Cockermouth River carved out this narrow canyon in bedrock on its travels to Newfound Lake, around the time that the last ice age was ending. Grains of sand within the current carved its walls into curious shapes and interesting potholes made of bedrock. It's like nature took a paintbrush and, using fine sand as it's pallet, rounded out the corners of the bedrock canvas. The area just begs to be explored. It may not be the Grand Canyon, but it's our little canyon.
The Sunken Forests - Near Odiorne Point in Rye you'll find the stumps and partially submerged roots of coniferous trees like white pine and hemlock. Known as the "Drowned Forest" it's only visible during most low tides unless you want to strap on some scuba gear and explore them underwater. Sunken Forests were created during the ice age when temperatures rose and the trees were 'caught' in with the rise of sea level. They started to sink and could not live in the salt water. A much larger Sunken Forest can be found at Jenness Beach in Rye but it is rarely seen above sea level. The trees, which are 8-10 feet around, have been carbon dated to around 3,400-3,800 years old. There are currently 56 stumps remaining and it is believed that the forest was once much larger, making the coastline stretch out into the Atlantic Ocean by many miles. There are areas where the transatlantic telegraph cable, which was laid in 1874, are believed to have gone through the forest here.
Doe Farm - Durham has several interesting lands to explore with its exposure to the Great Bay, marshland and farms and fields. But the Doe Farm, a 87-acre property that consists of red pine, norway spruce, red oak and white pine offers some nice woodland trails, an old cellar hole and cemetery of the family homestead and an island. Moat Island, accessible only when the water is low is about 15-acres of land that is completely surrounded by the Lamprey River. There are bridges and trails on most of the land however, and it's a nice area to explore. It is located off Route 108, one mile west on Bennett Road. Parking is available on a gravel lot east of the railroad crossing.
Ossipee Pine Barrens - The Ossipee Pine Barrens is one of New Hampshire's most endangered landscapes. Shaped more than 10,000 years ago when the ice age came to an end leaving behind a broad, deep, sandy outwash plain, the area is far from barren - there is a thick forest of pitch pine and scrub oak, dense and tangled in some areas, open and airy in others. There is a bed of blueberries and ferns during the summertime near the ground. The unique habitat provides a home to many uncommon creatures including nearly two dozen threatened and endangered moths and butterflies that cannot be found elsewhere in the state. It's also an important breeding habitat for several bird species. There are 7.5 miles of hiking trails in the preserve.
Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve - This 602-acre preserve features 42-acres of globally rare Atlantic cedar-giant rhododendron swamp - rare and old; some of the trees - including the Black gum found beside the Atlantic white cedar - are over 450 years old. In June, pink and white flowers bloom along the Rhododendron Loop Trail. Milestone Brook flows through the property offering marsh areas in the southeastern section of the preserve, an area where you might see wetland birds like great blue herons and yellowthroat warblers, along with deer, mink and beaver. Located on Countryside Boulevard in Manchester, this is the largest protected land in the Manchester area. Look for the trailhead and sign and park along the south side of the road.
Madame Sherri Forest - The Town of Chesterfield has a gem located off Gulf Road. With its 488 acres that was thankfully donated for conservation to the Society for the Preservation of New Hampshire Forests, the land features the remains of the eccentric Madame Antionette Sherri's castle. Sherri was a costume designer for the Zigfield Follies in the 1920s. She became famous for the parties she threw at the castle for visitors from the city. The castle was destroyed by a fire on October 18, 1962 but the foundation, chimneys and a grand stone staircase from this once magnificent home can be seen adjacent to the forest on a side trail. There are many intresting trails in the area that take you through forests of moss and hemlocks, loop around a mountain lake or allow you to explore Daniels Mountain. Pick your trail and get to exploring! More info
John Hay National Wildlife Refuge - The John Hay National Wildlife Refuge was originally established as a place for migratory bird conservation. It has since turned into so much more. The Refuge originally contained 164 acres including the family residence, a gate house, shore house, and garage. In 2008, 84 acres was transferred to The Fells, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the Hay Family Estate. The remaining 80-acre refuge, when combined with The Fells property, includes the longest stretch of undeveloped shoreline on Lake Sunapee. There is a 0.9-mile interpretive hiking trail created in honor of John Hay’s grandson, also John Hay, who was a well-known naturalist in New England. Habitats include an expansive mature forest consisting mainly of northern hardwood trees along with hemlock and white pine, a small meadow, shoreline on Lake Sunapee, and Minute Island, just off shore. The refuge is located on 103A in Newbury. Look for loons on the lakefront part of the property. Be sure to also visit the Fells, which contains the historic estate and gardens, the John Hay Ecology Center, and several fields and trails. The area consists of many fine tree stands of white and yellow birch, red and white pine, beech, sugar maple, and two special virgin hemlocks that are dated at 300-400 years old. There are also striped maples, shadbush, hobblebush and tupelo. The ground cover consists of abundant examples of native ferns, mosses and wildflowers. Come explore the fields and forests and lake frontage with amazing views.
Chesterfield Gorge Natural Area - There are some places we find to be magical because it feels like you've stepped into a beautiful netherworld. This is one of those places. Spanning 13 acres, the area was formed thousands of years ago when the glacial meltwaters flowing through created a fault joint and exposed the natural bedrock. The Wilde Brook Stream continues to erode at this bedrock today, creating new natural formations and shapes in the bedrock as this erosion process continues. You'll find oak and pine trees, and various plants as you travel along the trails. The waterfalls and cascades here are impressive but the gorge itself is a natural wonder worthy of any adventurer who likes to explore.