Summer road trip itinerary: Concord to Lebanon
Rural beauty and small-town charm make the Lake Sunapee Region a summertime must-see
Interstate 89 between Concord and Lebanon leads to shimmering lakes, windswept mountain tops and plenty of cultural destinations, too. Here is an exit-by-exit guide to family-friendly adventures found along this northwest corridor.
Picking up I-89 at its very beginning in Concord, take Exit 2 to the McLane Audubon Center on Silk Road to visit the headquarters of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Audubon Society. The learning center offers live animal exhibits, including the rehabilitated hawks, owls and a bald eagle who call the place home. Elsewhere, find picnic areas, several miles of hiking trails and a nature store stocked with bird seed, books, clothing, jewelry, gifts and more.
Do you have your bikes with you? Just past the entrance to the McLane Center, pick up the Silk Farm Road Bike Path, a paved 1.3-mile stretch that passes fields and forest and crosses a foot bridge. For a map, go to www.concordnh.gov.
As you can probably see out your car window, this region is home to many farms. If you want to visit one, take Exit 4 to visit local favorite Gould Hill Farm in Hopkinton, where you can pick your own blueberries starting in mid-July and your own apples later in the season — the farm grows 80 varieties. The views of the surrounding countryside from this hilltop orchard are stunning no matter when you visit. As a bonus, visit the farm’s Little Nature Museum where kids will enjoy the hands-on nature activities.
For more time in the great outdoors, take Exit 6 to Contoocook’s Elm Brook Park Recreation Area. Here you will find a sandy swimming beach, picnic area, nature trail and boat ramp. Elm Brook Pool is a popular fishing spot for walleye and brook trout, so if you have an angler in the family, don’t forget to pack the fishing poles.
As I-89 starts to enter hillier terrain, take Exit 8 in Warner to visit one of the region’s towering giants, Mount Kearsarge (elevation 2,900 feet). Follow Route 103 to Kearsarge Mountain Road and the entrance to Rollins State Park on the southern slope of the mountain. For a small fee, you can drive along a 3.5-mile-long scenic auto road that rises from the park entrance through woodlands to parking and a picnic area just below the summit. From the parking area, follow the trail to the summit’s fire tower for panoramic views in all directions.
Back at the base of the mountain, the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum pays homage to Native American tribes from New Hampshire and throughout North America. Stop by to enjoy the Quest museum scavenger hunt to learn more about the region’s first inhabitants.
Off Exit 10, the clean and quiet waters of Kezar Lake beckon. To access this local gem head to Wadleigh State Park in North Sutton. Go for a swim in Kezar Lake, play along the narrow stretch of beach and have a waterside cookout in the pine-shaded picnic area. Lifeguards are on duty in season.
Cruising into the heart of the Lake Sunapee, take Exit 11 to Newbury and the Adventure Park at Mount Sunapee. In summer, the Mount Sunapee ski resort offers canopy zip-line tours, an aerial challenge course, chairlift rides, an 18-hole miniature golf course, airbag jump, climbing wall, mining flume and bike park. Be prepared to make a day of it because your kids won’t want to leave.
Nearby off Exit 12, visit New London and enjoy its lakeside charm and laid-back summer vibe. You will find plenty of shops, restaurants and artisan galleries. Families also flock to the New London Barn Playhouse for live kid-friendly summer theater including performances this year of Sleeping Beauty and The Wizard of Oz.
For something completely different, follow Exit 17 to the Shaker Museum of Enfield to learn more about the peaceful religious group who once lived here. Shakers are known for their simple way of living and excellent craftsmanship in making everything from brooms to furniture. All summer long, stop by to take part in craft activities and other hands-on learning activities for all ages.
Before your journey on I-89 crosses the Connecticut River and enters Vermont, take Exit 18 toward Lebanon, a small town most famously known as the home of Dartmouth College. Stroll the leafy college campus, then visit the surrounding downtown area filled with cafes, bookstores and other college town favorites. If you are in Lebanon on a Thursday this summer, pack a picnic lunch and enjoy free children’s entertainment at Colburn Park/Lebanon Green. Performances include children's theater, music, storytelling and more. The free weekly events run from June 29 through August 10; performances start at noon.