New Hampshire may be a small state, but it’s packed full of attractions and activities for visitors. 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.
Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves
The Lost River Gorge tops the list of what to see in New Hampshire for those looking for a one-of-a-kind outdoor experience. Open seasonally from early May to mid-October, this attraction has a self-guided, 1-mile boardwalk loop trail with more than 1,000 stairs. Make sure to dress for the weather and wear sturdy footwear.
Along the way there are scenic spots to stop and admire the Lost River and its cascading waterfalls in the gorge. If you’re limber and not too claustrophobic, you might choose to maneuver through nearly a dozen boulder caves, including one particularly tight spot called the Lemon Squeezer. Visitors to this attraction in the White Mountains appreciate that any of the cave crawls can be bypassed. Lost River Gorge is around 5 miles from North Woodstock’s Main Street, where The Wilderness Inn Bed & Breakfast welcomes overnight guests in a craftsman-style 1912 home.
Address: 1712 Lost River Road, North Woodstock, NH 03262
Mount Washington Cog Railway
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.
Schedule and pricing may vary based on weather and train excursion selection; check out Mount Washington Cog Railway’s website for more information. The Cog Railway makes multiple daily trips in the warmer months to the summit, with its visitor center and rooftop observation deck. From late October to early spring, the railway operates shorter trips to the Waumbek Station, at about 4,000 feet in elevation. Past travelers appreciated the onboard live commentary that covers the history, flora and fauna of the area. The Mount Washington Cog Railway is located in the White Mountains near Bretton Woods, home to the majestic Omni Mount Washington Resort with its relaxing spa and multiple dining options.
Address: 3168 Base Station Road, Mount Washington, NH 03589
[Read: The Best Hotels in New Hampshire.]
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.
Lodging abounds in the area, from vacation homes and lakeside cottages to budget motels and small inns. Church Landing at Mill Falls in Meredith has a convenient and scenic location right on the lake, within walking distance of several restaurants and shops in town.
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.
Outside of winter, the easy hike to the waterfalls at Diana’s Baths is on a fairly flat gravel path, but the small parking lot can get quite busy in the summer, so recent hikers advise you try to go early or late in the day. Visitors flock to North Conway’s many shopping outlets and malls, with no general sales tax charged on goods in New Hampshire. For a glamorous place to rest your head, consider a night at Stonehurst Manor, a beautiful 19th-century hotel with mountain views and wood fireplaces.
[Read: The Top Romantic Getaways in New Hampshire.]
Hampton Beach State Park
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.
Across the street from Hampton Beach sits the legendary Hampton Beach Casino, which dates back to 1899. Not so much a popular place to gamble (though there are a few games of chance), this historic strip is filled with family-friendly arcade games, small amusement rides, snacks and souvenir shops. If you want to stay overnight, check out the oceanfront Ashworth by the Sea, the only full-service beachfront hotel here.
Lincoln is a great home base for exploring New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The small town is home to Loon Mountain Resort for skiing, tubing and snowshoeing in the winter as well as zip lining, gondola rides, biking and hiking in the summer. Other local attractions for warm weather visitors include Whale’s Tale Waterpark, Hobo Railroad and Flume Gorge. If you’re trying to keep things affordable on your getaway to the White Mountains, consider booking a room at the Notch Hostel, a dog-friendly spot with fire pits, camping spaces, cabins and more.
Hood Museum of Art
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.
Address: 6 E. Wheelock St., Hanover, NH 03755
McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center
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.
Concord, the capital of New Hampshire, has plenty of hotel chains and budget-friendly lodging, but if you’re looking for something different and historic, consider The Centennial Hotel, located in a 19th-century Victorian mansion.
Address: 2 Institute Drive, Concord, NH 03301
Visitors to Prescott Park in the seaside city of Portsmouth rave about the beautiful flowers and waterfront views, commenting on what a great job the gardeners do with the landscaping in the summer months. The 10-acre waterfront park makes for a lovely place to stroll and take in the sights and smells of the serene space; there are also benches for rest and reflection. Admission to the park is free. In the summer, concerts, movies and theater productions take place in the park as part of the Prescott Park Arts Festival.
If you’re looking to stay overnight in the city, Ale House Inn is housed in an 1880 former brewery warehouse and located within walking distance of the park.
Address: 105 Marcy St., Portsmouth, NH 03801
[Read: The Best Weekend Getaways in New England.]
Canobie Lake Park
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.
The amusement park is open seasonally, generally from Memorial Day weekend through Halloween. Check the website calendar for specific days and hours of operation (early and late in the season it’s open on weekends only). Canobie Lake Park is located in Salem, in the southern part of New Hampshire. The closest hotel is the basic, budget-friendly Red Roof Inn Salem, which gets props from past travelers for its convenient location next to Interstate 93.
Address: 85 N. Policy St., Salem, NH 03079
Russell-Colbath Historic Site
The Russell-Colbath Historic Site sits in Albany, New Hampshire, along the Kancamagus Highway between the towns of Lincoln and Conway in the White Mountains. Built in the 1830s by the Russell family, a simple home on the property serves as an example of what living quarters were like for original settlers of the area. Guided tours are offered from July to September, and recent visitors praise the on-site staff, who can explain some of the home’s history and preserved household items on display.
Operated by the U.S. Forest Service, this historic site also includes an accessible half-mile trail with interpretive panels about the logging and railroading industries here in the 19th century. The Russell-Colbath Historic Site is open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Outside of Conway along the Kancamagus Highway you’ll find the Kancamagus Swift River Inn, with 10 quaint rooms and daily continental breakfast.
Address: Kancamagus Highway, Albany, NH 03818
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.
Recent visitors note that the optional one-way Wolf’s Den path, which involves crawling on hands and knees through boulders, is especially fun for kids. Make your reservations in advance to ensure that you’ll be able to access the trail (and get a reduced entry fee) via the New Hampshire State Parks website. Nearby lodging includes Indian Head Resort in Lincoln, with resort rooms, cottages, bungalows and rustic houses.
Address: 852 Daniel Webster Highway, Lincoln, NH 03251
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.
Young children like to visit the petting zoo with animals right out of favorite storybooks like the “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” Older kids can pilot Swan Boats on a calm pond. More thrilling attractions include Dr. Geyser’s Remarkable Raft Ride (be prepared to get splashed) and the Roar-O-Saurus wooden roller coaster. Nearby Nordic Village Resort in Jackson gets rave reviews from past travelers for its spacious accommodations that include studios, condos and townhouses, as well as pools, hot tubs and saunas for relaxation.
Address: 850 state Route 16, Glen, NH 03838
Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park
This National Historical Park honors Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a prominent American Renaissance sculptor who spent his later years (1885 to 1907) at this estate in Cornish. Visitors to this historic site can see his home, tour his studio and walk the grounds where his sculptures are on display. Recent parkgoers say they were in awe of the beautiful gardens.
Travelers should note that some areas are only open seasonally, with most indoor areas like the galleries closed from November to Memorial Day. In addition, there are wooded hiking trails up to 2 miles long on the 100-acre property, if you’re looking to get a little exercise amid nature while visiting Saint-Gaudens National Historic Park. Cornish is located in central New Hampshire, near the Vermont border. Some of the closest budget lodging can be found to the north in the Connecticut River Valley, including the Fireside Inn & Suites West Lebanon — admire the hotel’s impressive atrium filled with trees while you’re there.
Address: 139 Saint Gaudens Road, Cornish, NH 03745
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.
Visitors have noted how clean and charming this amusement park is. Typically Santa’s Village is open daily in the summer, with limited weekend hours in the late spring and from Labor Day through Christmas. Be sure to check the website for operating hours before you visit. One inexpensive option for overnighting nearby is the Coos Motor Inn in Lancaster, located 6 miles north.
Address: 528 Presidential Highway, Jefferson, NH 03583
Strawbery Banke Museum
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.
As an outdoor history museum, Strawbery Banke is typically open daily from May through October. In the winter months, try out outdoor ice skating on Puddle Dock Pond. Tickets can be purchased online or in person. If you’re with kids, consider getting a family admission ticket to save some money. Just around the corner from Strawbery Banke is The Sailmaker’s House, an intimate and historic boutique hotel with just 10 guest rooms.
Address: 14 Hancock St., Portsmouth, NH 03801
Whale’s Tale Waterpark
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.
Past travelers consistently praise the friendly staff at Whale’s Tale Waterpark, which is generally open mid-June through Labor Day. Located less than half a mile away on U.S. Route 3 is the Days Inn by Wyndham Lincoln, which has an indoor and outdoor pool and a kids playground.
Address: 481 Daniel Webster Highway, Lincoln, NH 03251
Castle in the Clouds
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.
Spend the day hiking more than 28 miles of scenic trails, including gentle paths to waterfalls and more strenuous summit hikes. Trails in the Castle in the Clouds Conservation Area are free to access for summer hikes as well as winter snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. There is a gift shop, cafe and restaurant on-site with outdoor seating offering sweeping mountain and lake views. You won’t find many hotels near Castle in the Clouds, as it’s located in a rural part of the Lakes Region. One of the closer options is Center Harbor Inn, set right on Lake Winnipesaukee and featuring a sandy beach plus kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals for guests.
Address: 455 Old Mountain Road, Moultonborough, NH 03254
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.
Be prepared to crawl, twist and get a little dirty if you choose to make your way through the natural obstacles, say past travelers. Visitors can also feed the fallow deer and ducks at the on-site animal park. Polar Caves is open seasonally, from mid-May through mid-October. Nearby Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Plymouth White Mountains offers daily hot breakfast.
Address: 705 Rumney Route 25, Rumney NH 03266
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.
Along the highway, there are also parking lots at trailheads that allow you to traverse through the woods on foot. Past road-trippers and leaf-peepers note that cell service is very limited in this remote area. You won’t really find any motels or hotels along this stretch of rural road that reaches 2,855 feet in elevation, though there are six White Mountain National Forest campgrounds.
Gunstock Mountain Resort
This ski area in the Lakes Region welcomes outdoor enthusiasts in the winter with its 49 downhill ski and snowboard trails, around 17 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, and a tubing hill. You can also hike or snowshoe up the mountain, practice tricks in the terrain park, and even ski or snowboard under the lights at night.
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.
Address: 719 Cherry Valley Road, Gilford, NH 03249
Currier Museum of Art
Manchester’s Currier Museum of Art has a collection of 15,000 art objects, with a focus on painting and sculpture from the 14th through 17th centuries as well as contemporary works. Rotating gallery exhibits and special exhibitions showcase the varied collection. The Currier also offers access to two Frank Lloyd Wright homes, the only houses designed by the influential architect that are open to the public in New England.
Guided house tours are offered on Thursday evenings as part of “Art After Work,” and the Currier Museum of Art is open year-round. For accommodations nearby, the Ash Street Inn is a bed-and-breakfast located in a 19th-century Victorian home with all the modern comforts you need. It’s a couple of blocks from the museum and within easy walking distance of downtown shops and restaurants.
Address: 150 Ash St., Manchester, NH 03104
A popular attraction for all ages in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, Funspot in Laconia houses the world’s largest arcade with more than 600 games, including classic video arcade games and pinball machines, a 10-pin and candlepin bowling alley, indoor mini-golf, and rides for young children. Kids love playing games of skill to earn tickets to redeem for prizes, or you can spend a couple of hours playing old favorites like Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Asteroids. With Funspot’s plethora of classic games, past travelers applaud the attraction for its nostalgic factor, while others say it’s a good value for game tokens. Laconia’s Summit Resort has two-bedroom suites, making this lodging option a good fit for families.
Address: 579 Endicott St. N., Laconia, NH 03246
Jenness State Beach
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. Dunes Motor Inn, with rooms under $200 a night, is right across the street.
Address: 2280 Ocean Blvd., Rye, NH 03870
[See: The Top Dog-Friendly Beaches in the U.S.]
Bear Brook State Park
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 is a heavily wooded area, and cell service may be limited — so come prepared with insect repellent and perhaps a paper map for navigation. Primitive campsites are available for RVs and tents at Beaver Pond Campground, with advance reservations available online. The closest lodging outside the park is near Concord and Manchester, including Tru by Hilton Concord, which is just off I-93 and offers free hot breakfast.
Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden
This Georgian-style mansion at the heart of Portsmouth has been open as a museum for more than a century. Built around 1760, the Moffatt-Ladd House is brimming with history, having housed General William Whipple, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. With original furniture, the house feels like a time warp; visitors have complimented the house’s tour guides for their intimate and intriguing knowledge of the house’s history.
Don’t forget to check out the flower-laden garden while you’re there. The house is open seasonally from spring to fall. Given the downtown location of this attraction, you’ll find plenty of chain hotels in the area, but for something more special, consider staying at The Inn Downtown, a boutique apartment-hotel with chic rooms in an early 19th-century building.
Address: 154 Market St., Portsmouth, NH 03801
Mount Washington Auto Road
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.
You’ll want to download the Auto Road app to get an audio tour as you go up. For safety reasons, there are restrictions on certain vehicles as well as weight limits, so be sure to check them on the Auto Road website before heading out. If you don’t want to drive, there are also guided tours available; in winter, the only option is to take the company’s Snowcoach up, as private cars aren’t permitted from December to March.
Address: 1 Mount Washington Auto Road, Gorham, NH 03581
USS Albacore Museum
If you or your family loves all things motorized, the USS Albacore is a fascinating place to visit. Built right nearby in Portsmouth, the USS Albacore was a state-of-the-art submarine that set a world record for speed in the 1960s. With the vessel now decommissioned, you can hop aboard and learn about how it works at this location just outside downtown Portsmouth — there’s also a museum and memorial garden on-site. Take note: Children younger than 2 cannot go into the submarine, and the attraction is closed from around mid-December to mid-February each year.
Address: 600 Market St., Portsmouth, NH 03801
Wright Museum of World War II
If you’re faced with a rainy day while visiting New Hampshire’s Lake District, this museum is a formidable indoor alternative (and hard to miss, thanks to the tank poking out from one of its exterior walls). The museum has a collection of 14,000-plus items sourced both from the U.S. and the front lines of World War II as well as fully operational military vehicles. The museum aims to help visitors understand the role that Americans played in the Allied victory in 1945. Visitors have praised the Wright Museum for being thoroughly informative and for showing what happened in the U.S. during the war, not just focusing on the battle zones. If you’re hoping to stay nearby, the historic Wolfeboro Inn with a New England-style pub on-site is one solid option.
Address: 77 Center St., Wolfeboro, NH 03894
Echo Lake State Park
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.
You might also be interested in:
— The Top Things to Do in Maine
— The Top Things to Do in Vermont
— The Top Things to Do in Rhode Island
— The Best Places to Hike in North America
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30 Top Things to Do in New Hampshire originally appeared on usnews.com
Update 04/07/23: This article was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.