Summer road trip itinerary: Manchester to Keene

Find adventure on Route 101 from Manchester to Keene

Route 101 bisects the state from east to west, with Manchester located smack in the middle. If you’re traveling along the highway’s western section on the way to Keene or one of the other small towns in between, check out this roundup of the best spots to stop for families.  

Cruising from Manchester on Route 101, the highway turns quickly from a road filled with an abundance of stores and strip malls to a byway filled with an abundance of what New Hampshire may be best known for: nature. To sample some of the state’s great outdoors, follow the signs to Benedictine Park in Bedford. The park comes with two nature trails that pass through fields and forest to explore this prime recreation area. Pets are welcome, making this a great destination for those times when everyone needs to stretch their legs.

For more outdoor fun, look for the sign directing you to the Peabody Mill Environmental Center, which is a few more miles down the road in Amherst. The peaceful Joe English forest trail leads you past rushing streams and to tranquil ponds. Stop by the PMEC interpretive center for family nature programs and rentals including fishing equipment and GPS devices for geocaching.

If you have worked up an appetite, stop by the Black Forest Cafe at 202 Route 101 in Amherst. The family-friendly restaurant offers classic comfort foods mixed with finer dining options and delicious baked goods and desserts, and plenty of choices for kids. If you are stopping by on a Sunday, check out the special children’s breakfast menu.

In Milford — Amherst’s next door neighbor — the buy-local choices are hard to pass up. As the highway brings you to Milford, take Route 101A as it passes through the Milford Oval’s bustling downtown shopping district. One of the gems here for families is Stork Organic Baby Boutique where you can stock up on organic cotton baby and toddler clothes, non-toxic nursery items and “green” toys and gifts for all ages.

Following Route 101A as it heads west to rejoin Route 101, look for the small strip mall just outside downtown that is home to Toyland. Packed to the rafters with off-beat and hard-to-find brands, educational toys, plus all the latest from the big toy makers, this is one of those toy stores that parents end up loving every bit as much as their kids.

For book lovers, just down the road is the Toadstool Bookstore. With locations here in Milford and in Keene and Peterborough, this local favorite brims with everything from the latest bestsellers to books by local authors. With a wonderfully large section of the shop devoted to books for kids, this independently owned bookstore is a book browser’s paradise.

Now back on Route 101 and cruising west, next up is the rural town of Wilton. Take a detour off Route 101 to explore Wilton’s downtown shopping area or head further along 101 west to the Isaac Frye Highway. Here you will find Andy’s Summer Playhouse, an innovative children-only summer theater.

Pushing west again on Route 101, look for the sign for Miller State Park as you cross into Peterborough. It’s the oldest state park in the New Hampshire and home to 2,290-foot Pack Monadnock mountain (“pack” is thought to mean little in an old Algonquin dialect). Drive the winding 1.3-mile paved road to the scenic summit or take one of three main hiking trails, best for kids who already have some hiking experience. On a clear day, views here stretch for miles, made even better with a climbable fire tower.

Back in the car again, take a slight detour at the intersection with Route 123 for a visit to Rosaly’s Farmstand. One of the oldest organic farms in the state, you can pick your own strawberries, blueberries and raspberries in season, or pick your own herbs and flowers. For a quick pit stop, stop by the well-stocked farmstand store stocked with fresh produce and other local foods from throughout the region. Eat your snack at a picnic table before continuing on your way.

Once Route 101 brings you into Peterborough, there are plenty of places to eat and stores to browse in this idyllic small town. Popular spots for families include the Mariposa Museum, a hands-on museum of artifacts from around the world, including clothing from other cultures to try on and marionettes and puppets kids can entertain themselves with for hours.

One very worthy detour in this area is Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey, home of the mountaintop that you have probably seen at various points in your travels. At 3,165 feet, Mount Monadnock provides views all the way to Boston on a clear day. The climb to the summit is rocky and suited for kids with hiking experience. Easy-to-moderate hiking trails on the mountain lead to points of interest including rock formations, waterfalls, springs, a mine and a reservoir.

Heading west again on Route 101? Next up you’re in Dublin. Can you spot the big red barn that’s home to Yankee Publishing? The local landmark sits at the intersection of Route 101 and Dublin Road. For a “step back in time” treat, follow Dublin Road to Harrisville, a small village centered on a uniquely preserved and historic 19th-century industrial mill complex. In the quaint setting, you will find a traditional New England general store and a summer farmers market, and a wealth of working artists and artisans eager to show off their skills.

How about some animal adventure? Just west of Dublin Lake some of the friendliest animals you will meet live at the aptly named Friendly Farm. Located on five sprawling acres, visitors to the farm can pat bunnies, feed baby goats and sheep, scatter corn for the chickens, watch cows frolic in their own field and more.

Route 101 may end in Keene but it’s not the end of your family fun. After exploring the downtown area, head to Colony Mill Marketplace, home to the Cheshire Children’s Museum. Hands-on exhibits and play areas focus on learning more about the local region, New Hampshire and the world around us. Because isn’t learning about something new what family travel is all about?

Categories: Summer Roadtrips