NH's regions are all filled with summer fun and attractions
A region-by-region guide to warm weather destinations your kids will love
Even if you don’t plan to travel very far this year, there is plenty to do right here in the Granite State to keep you and your kids busy all the way through Labor Day. Need some ideas? Here’s the local scoop on family friendly summer destinations in New Hampshire.
The majestic Whites attract visitors from all over the world every summer, so why not join the crowds? Bring along the hiking gear and take to the trails for visits to such hot spots as the state’s tallest waterfall, Arethusa Falls, a towering 200-foot drop located at the end of 1.4 mile hike in Crawford Notch State Park (Route 302, Harts Location) or really wear the kids out with a trip up New Hampshire’s tallest peak, 6,288-ft. Mount Washington. Scaling Tuckerman Ravine to reach the “Rooftop of New England" is a great challenge for teen hikers and their parents; for summit views without the blisters, try the Mount Washington Cog Railway.
The region offers families another type of “peak” experience, thanks to the White Mountains’ ever-popular assortment of family attractions and amusement parks. At Story Land in Glen, kids can ride the pumpkin coach to Cinderella’s castle, take a spin in a teacup, and hop on the Roar-O-saurus roller coaster. Christmas in July? With holiday-themed rides and a chance to visit the jolly old elf himself, it really does happen at Santa’s Village in Jefferson.
And, of course, it just wouldn’t be summer in the White Mountains without the trained bear shows at Clark’s Trading Post in Lincoln (yes, they’re still as good as you remember when you were a kid). Also in Lincoln, adventurous types can get their thrill on at Alpine Adventures, home of New England’s longest, highest and fastest Zipline Canopy Tour. For a splish-splashy finish to your White Mountains trip, jump into fun at Lincoln’s Whale’s Tale Water Park.
If what you crave for your family is a vacation with a slower pace, look no further than the quaint (and still a bit sleepy) summer resort towns of Sunapee and Newbury, nestled along the shimmering shores of Lake Sunapee. Compared to the crowded beaches found elsewhere in the state, you might actually have enough room to spread out the beach blanket when you hit the relatively quiet shores of Lake Sunapee State Park. In Newbury, The Fells, the 1,000-acre former estate of John Hay, secretary to Abraham Lincoln, offers nature programs for kids and adults; hiking trails at The Fells are open year-round and offer stunning views of the lake.
With their beaches and boat-dotted waters, Lake Winnipausaukee, and neighboring Squam Lake and Lake Winnisquam, are natural magnets for vacationing families. But the region offers plenty to do besides sail and swim. At the Sqaum Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, visitors follow interpretive trails through meadows, marshes, and forests to see live animal displays of some of the creatures who call the area home, including a black bear and bobcat.
Back at the beach, Weirs Beach that is, a rainy day’s worth of fun awaits at Fun Spot, the Guiness Record holder for largest arcade in the world. If that doesn’t deplete your family budget for quarters, head on over to Daytona Fun Park where the highlights include a 24-foot climbing wall, mini-golf, go-karts, bumper boats, batting cages, and of course, arcade games galore.
It’s the most densely populated part of the state, so there’s little surprise that when school’s out for summer, the Merrimack Valley region brims with family activities. Start in Candia with a visit to the Charmingfare Farm, a petting zoo for farm animals, including a walk-in goat pen and enough sheep, donkeys, cows, pigs, horses, and llamas to keep young and old delighted for hours; ringing the farm area are animal displays ranging from a camel to reindeer. Need to cool off? Bring your suits and splash over to Candia Springs Adventure Park in Candia and enjoy waterpark fun as well as ziplines, aerial courses and offroad tours.
Sports fan families who can’t make it to Fenway can still enjoy an afternoon cheering for the hometown team when they take in the Double-A action of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Off the field at the Manchester’s Northeast Delta Dental stadium, kids can spend part of those extra-long innings in a special children’s play area, with bouncy house, games and an obstacle course.
Rainy day? Bring younger children to the SEE Science Center in Manchester's millyard for hours of fun exploring hands-on exhibits and an impressive, permanent LEGO display. Or explore the heavens as you and the kids take in a spectacular planetary show at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord.
If life in New Hampshire’s largest cities makes you yearn for nature when it’s your family’s day off, head for Beaver Brook Association in Hollis. Miles of trails and a chance to see beavers, deer, frogs and heron at home in their native habitats is communing with nature at its kid-friendly best.
Infuse the arts into your family’s vacation plans with a trip to Peterborough, in the heart of the state’s Monadnock region. In the mood for some live theater? Peterbourgh Players offers a variety of family productions during the summertime.
Visit the Mariposa Museum & World Culture Center in downtown Peterborough for hands-on learning about culture and art from around the world. And be sure to have a little pre-summer fun at Peterborough’s annual Children and the Arts Festival, an all-day annual event (always the third Saturday in May) filled with parading Giant Puppets, food, sing-alongs, dancing, and plenty of arts of crafts activities for all ages.
Or why not explore the mountain that gives the region its name? Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey offers access to the White Dot and White Cross trails, two of the most popular summit trails on the mountain. If little legs can’t make it all the way up to the tops, the state park offers a popular family campground and nature trails leading to such scenic spots as Gilson Pond.
What New Hampshire summer is complete without the surf and sand of Hampton Beach? Families will love weekly Wednesday fireworks displays, Monday night movies on the beach and plenty of arcade fun and delicious food on the boardwalk. But when you manage to shake the sand out of your shoes, there are plenty of other worthy places along the seacoast for your family to visit. Take a step back in time at the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth. Walk the lanes and visit the preserved homes of this more than 200-year old neighborhood before hitting the Family Discovery Center, the museum’s hands-on learning house for children. For more museum fun, the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire in Dover is always popular with kids of all ages, as is the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, home to live aquatic exhibits and a marine touch tank.
And speaking of water, check out Water Country in Portsmouth for slip, sliding thrills and wave pool excitement. Or how about really letting your kids ride the waves this summer? Cinnamon Rainbows in North Hampton offers surf boarding lessons all summer to kids as young as 11 years old. All we have to say about that is cowabunga, dude!
Jacqueline Tourville is a freelance writer from Nashua and often writes travel and vacation stories for ParentingNH.