Twenty Things to Do in the NH Dartmouth-Sunapee Region
Thinking about spending some time in the Dartmouth-Sunapee region? This area, which borders the Connecticut River to the west, is known for its character and charm. With the Ivy League to the north and the crystal-clear waters of Lake Sunapee to the south, the region has many distinctive and distinguished attractions. But slip off the beaten path and you'll discover the "other" great things that this region has to offer. We've picked out Twenty Things to Do in the Dartmouth-Sunapee region to get you started. For a more expanded list of ideas, see our list of the 101 Things to Do in NH.
Cross the Cornish-Windsor
There is no covered bridge that stops people in their tracks like the Cornish-Windsor Bridge. The 449'5" span that crosses the Connecticut River is truly a sight to see. The bridge happens to be the longest 2-span covered bridge in the world and the longest covered bridge in the country. But there is something special about this bridge; magical even. Perhaps it's the history that the wood breathes. Maybe it's the sign that reads "Walk your horses or pay two dollars fine," or the exquisite construction that has held the bridge together since 1866. Cross the bridge by car (turn your lights on), and you are deposited in Windsor, Vt., in minutes. How you get there — via this bridge; that's where the magic is.
Hang out in the Hood
Dartmouth College's Hood Museum in Hanover has a permanent collection of more than 65,000 works of art and artifacts from all over the world, including important works by Picasso and several prints by artists like Rembrandt and Goya. Their collection of historical artifacts includes a mid-19th century Concord Coach, and a rather large assortment of scientific instruments that date back to 1769, the year the college was founded. The Museum is also home to many exhibits, and at one time or another has showcased objects from Asia, Africa, Europe and Australia as they passed through Hanover on their way to other museums. Spend an afternoon at the Hood; you won't be disappointed.
Spend an afternoon watching the boats load and unload at Sunapee Harbor. The harbor is far from bustling, but there is a fair amount of quiet activity, especially in the late afternoon as boaters head out from a day on the lake. Just be careful; you might catch fiberglass "fever." Lake Sunapee is a gem, with its 18 miles of shoreline, 3 lighthouses (two visible from the road) and peaceful, family-friendly atmosphere. Bring a picnic and have lunch harborside, or take a cruise on the M.V. Mount Sunapee. On weekends, hang around and watch the local bands who entertain visitors on late afternoons during the summer months.
Although there is no shortage of antiques in the Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee region, there is no place like Prospect Hill Antiques in Georges Mills. You will be amazed at the sheer size of this place, which is tucked away in an enormous horse barn atop a hill. The horse stalls are crammed full with hand-picked items from Ireland, England, France, Holland and Belgium. Prospect Hill Antiques features 12,000 square feet of antique furniture, fine quality replicas and decorative accessories. Among the accessories, you'll find clocks, ironwork, wooden signs, baskets and Nicholas Mosse Pottery in more than 50 shapes and 30 patterns.
Head for the Hill
Take a ride to the top of Mount Kearsarge. The 3½ mile scenic auto road at Rollins State Park in Warner takes you to a picnic area near the top of the 2,937-foot mountain. From there, a ½-mile hike to the summit brings you to a lookout tower where you can see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the City of Boston to the south and the Green Mountains of Vermont to the west.
Wander through History
Visit Charlestown's Main Street Historic District. The town features 62 structures on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of these buildings date back to the 18th century. Structures include the town hall and meetinghouse, a parsonage, a schoolhouse, gas stations, a diner (circa 1930-40), and many houses and barns. While you are in Charlestown, stop over at the Fort at #4, a living history museum located off Main Street on Route 11. The museum will take you back to the authentically reconstructed settlement of Charlestown during the 1740s. "Meet" the early settlers and experience — firsthand — what life was like in colonial New England.
Chip Away at the Stone
Visit the oldest Mica, Feldspar, Beryl, and Uranium Mine in the United States. The two hundred year old Ruggles Mine in Grafton is an open pit mine with gleaming walls of white quartz and feldspar. But there are also tunnels to explore, and visitors are encouraged to collect minerals at this site. You'll find more than 150 types, including amethyst and garnet, rose and smoky quartz, beryl and gummite. Ruggles Mine can be found off Route 4 at the Village Green in Grafton.
Alyson's Orchard in Walpole is possibly one of the best places in the Granite State to pick apples. They have more than 50 varieties of them, including Baldwins, Ginger Golds, McIntosh, Redcort, and many others that we've never heard of but can't wait to try! The orchard, which overlooks the Connecticut River, also features pears, grapes, plums and peaches. So, there's something for everyone!
Swim with the Sculptures
Take a dip in the cool waters of the Cockermouth River at the Sculptured Rocks Natural Area in Groton. The area is a great swimming spot for the whole family. The kids will enjoy jumping and diving from the rocks and cliffs. The water is clear, and the exquisite natural artistry of the rocks makes this a one-of-a-kind spot.
Mount Sunapee in Newbury is the premier ski resort in the region. It has been rated #2 for snow quality and grooming in the east by the readers of Ski Magazine. The mountain features 65 trails, 10 lifts and a snowboard park with a super pipe and terrain park. Mount Sunapee has trails for all abilities, so whether you are a beginner, an intermediate or advanced skier, there's a trail for you. Views from the top include Lake Sunapee below and Mount Kearsarge and Cardigan in the distance. In August, the mountain is host to the oldest and one of the most prestigious craft fairs in the country.
Wade into Wadleigh
Wadleigh State Park, located in the small town of Sutton, is a superb day trip destination for families. Swim, canoe or kayak in the clear blue waters of Kezar Lake or have a picnic beneath the tall pines at this peaceful state park. The park is also part of the Sunapee-Ragged-Kearsarge Greenway, which links four state parks: Sunapee, Winslow, Wadleigh and Rollins as well as three state forests: Gile, Kearsarge and Shadow Hill, and one Wildlife Management Area, Bog Mountain. The trail, which flows through ten towns, is popular with hikers and offers sweeping view of lakes, mountains and historical sites.
American Renaissance Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens had a summer home in the town of Cornish, where he founded the "Cornish Colony." His home is a National Historic Site and features a spectacular setting of expansive gardens with various features such as a cutting garden, "birch allee," pagodas, perennial beds, a sweeping great lawn, water features and several of his incredible sculptures. More than 100 of his prestigious sculptures can be seen here too. The man was a legend, becoming a part of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans after his death. He even had a sylish signature. What's not to love? Visit his gardens and take in the bountiful views of the surrounding area from his lofty perch.
Sugar Shack attack
Visit New Hampshire's "King of Maple Syrup" on Route 103 in Newbury. Sweet Maples Sugarhouse offers tours on weekends during March and April when they are boiling the sweet stuff. Come see how it's made, then pour it over vanilla ice-cream, taste some maple cotton candy (really), and try/buy all sorts of oh-you-can't-imagine how tasty maple treats. It's a great learning experience for the kids. Just watch out — too much maple madness and you'll find a new meaning to the term "sugar high" on the drive home. Find other sugar shacks sprinkled throughout the region at the New Hampshire Maple Producers website and be sure to call ahead to make sure they are boiling sap since the season may differ slightly from year to year.
Reconnect with the natives
Spend some time at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner. The museum has a collection of pottery, basketry, and embroidery from the Seminole, Navajo and Cherokee cultures, a full-scale tipi, feather headdresses from the Plains Indians, harpoon heads, fur-lined moccasins and stone sculptures from the tribes of the Northwest Indians and more. There is also a ceremonial room that showcases the instruments, pipes, and regalia used in ceremonies of all types. The Medicine Woods Nature Trail offers a self-guided 2 1/2 acre outdoor museum that highlights over 100 native plants that were used by native people for dyes, food, and building materials. Every summer, the museum hosts a powwow that celebrates the culture through drumming and dancing. While you are in Warner, check out the live buffalo at Yankee Farmer's Market Buffalo and Meats on Route 103.
Head to the airport
Parlin Field in Newport is a small municipal airport. But it's not just for flying anymore. Events like Old Home Days and Ski Joring competitions (held in the winter) commonly take place at the airfield. Better yet, you can have lunch in the wooded picnic area beside the sugar river and a historic covered bridge. From there you can follow the railroad bed by foot or bike and head west across five more bridges, two of which are covered bridges. You can even camp on the airfield, but first call ahead and get details from the airport manager.
Go flower picking
Spring Ledge Farm in New London is one of the few places around where you can pick your own fresh flowers from their gardens. How cool is that? They have over 1/3 of an acre of flower beds with 248 varieties of flowers, including ten types of sunflowers! Get lost in their not-so-secret gardens. In season you can also pick your own strawberries, grab a bakers dozen of corn and other fresh fruits and veggies from their farm stand.
Off to the races!
Check out a races at Canaan Fair Speedway on the weekend. The raceway features a 1/3 mile asphalt track as well as a dirt track where they race Pro Stock. On the asphalt they race Pro Stocks, Late Models, Super Streets, Pure Stocks, Bandits and Daredevil Youth Racers. There are even drag races at times. Take a peek at the schedule and plan a night of raucous racing fun. Also, visit our NH Race Tracks page for details on other tracks in the state.
Drive through Washington
Take a ride through the rural town of Washington. It has one of the most picturesque town commons in the state thanks to a historic Town Hall that was built in 1787 and a small but notable cluster of traditional white New England style civic buildings. The town has two small villages; East Washington which sits along a brook scattered with old mill sites, and Washington Center, where you'll find the Town Common. While you are there, spend some time at Pillsbury State Park and do some warm-water fishing in its pristine waters.
Drop a canoe, kayak or raft into the Connecticut River. North Star Canoes in Cornish will get you on the river for a half-day, full-day or an overnight trip. More experienced rafters may want to travel on the Class I rapids in certain sections of the river. A shuttle bus will drop you and your gear to your launch site and off you go! Half day trips will even take you under the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge, the longest wooden covered bridge in the country. You'll maneuver your way back to the farm where you started, just south of the covered bridge and .2 miles past Chase Island, a great place to stop and sunbathe, swim or have a picnic lunch.
Find the Fort
Spend a day at the Fort at No. 4 Living History Museum in Charlestown. The Fort is a replica of the fortified village of No. 4, which was the most northwestern settlement in New England in 1740. That's pre-Revolutionary War time. You don't have to imagine what life was like in the 1740's and 1750's. You'll see it for yourself — from the crops they planted, to the trades and craftwork they created. There are also re-enactments from the militia battles that were fought here. Take a step back in time and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the past.