The movie “On Golden Pond” conjures visions of idyllic settings in the New Hampshire Lakes region. Even thirty years later, travelers’ easily can find such peaceful, unspoiled spots among the 273 lakes and ponds in the area.
The Lakes Region has a long and rich history as a summer destination. Wolfeboro’s motto, “The Oldest Summer Resort in America”, refers back to pre-Revolutionary times when Governor John Wentworth’s nephew built Kingswood, the first northern New England summer country estate by Lake Wentworth.
Approximately 70 square miles with a maximum depth of 212 feet, Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire, the third largest lake in New England, and the heart of the Lakes Region. Alton, Wolfeboro, Tuftonboro, Moultonborough, Center Harbor, Meredith, Laconia and Gilford border the lake from the south in a clockwise direction. The lake is active with watercraft of all types.
Located southwest of Lake Winnipesaukee, Squam is the second-largest lake in New Hampshire and the setting for “On Golden Pond”. Squam has scrupulously controlled development to maintain its scenic charm. Sunset cruises, loon cruises and cruises touring “On Golden Pond” locations are all available.
New Hampshire’s third-largest lake, Newfound Lake’s waters are refreshed by natural springs. Wellington State Park located on the lake’s west shore in Bristol features a large public beach.
New Hampshire’s fourth-largest lake, Winnisquam is fed by Lake Winnipesaukee. A long, relatively narrow lake, its busiest section is in the southeast area near the center of Laconia.
New Hampshire’s fifth-largest lake, Sunapee features a number of beaches including Mount Sunapee State Park beach, an ideal spot for picnicking, camping, swimming and boating.
New Hampshire’s sixth-largest lake, Ossipee is located in the northeast section of the Lakes Region close to the White Mountains.
Kingswood, Wolfeboro’s first summer estate, was located on Lake Wentworth, the seventh-largest lake in the state.
Lakes Region Communities
The Lakes Region comprises 46 communities located in five New Hampshire counties in the middle of the state:
- Merrimack (Southwest): Franklin, Hill, Northfield, and Tilton
- Strafford (East): Barrington, Farmington, Middleton, Milton, New Durham, Pittsfield, Rochester, and Strafford
- Carroll County (Northeast): Alexandria, Brookfield, Center Harbor, Eaton, Effingham, Freedom, Groton, Madison, Moultonborough, Ossipee, Sandwich, Silver Lake, Tamworth, Tuftonboro, Wakefield, West Ossipee, and Wolfeboro
- Belknap (North): Alton, Barnstead, Belmont, Gilford, Gilmanton, Laconia, Meredith, New Hampton, Sanbornton, and Weirs Beach
- Grafton (Northwest): Ashland, Bridgewater, Bristol, Hebron, Holderness, and Plymouth, Rumney
Wolfeboro remains a popular destination, attracting summer visitors who have ranged from Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco to Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. The town maintains an historic, small-town feeling. Charming shops line Wolfeboro’s main street leading to the town docks.
Located at the crossroads of Rt. 3 and 25, Meredith incorporates its historic roots into a contemporary setting for shopping, lodging and dining. Boating is an especially popular activity.
With an arcade, water slide, mini-golf and drive-in theater, Weirs Beach is a popular family destination. The third-largest motorcycle rally in the country is held here every year during the third week in June.
Lakes Region Things to Do
The Lakes Region is a multi-season outdoor paradise. Summer gives you all of the boating, canoeing, kayaking fishing, and swimming fun that you can imagine, as well as bicycling, climbing, hiking, golf and more. Fall, of course, brings the fabulous foliage for which New England is so famous and at which New Hampshire excels. Winter transforms the Lakes Region into a winter outdoor fun center with activities including cross country skiing and downhill skiing, ice fishing, ice skating, snowmobiling, snow shoeing, horse drawn sleigh rides, tubing, and more. And when you are done outdoors don’t forget to curl up in front of the fire at one of the region’s many quaint country inns.
Key Activities and Attractions
- Mount Washington Cruises – A key Lake Winnepesaukee attraction dating back to 1872 was the Mount Washington paddle steamer. At 187 feet long with a beam of 49 feet, the Mount Washington was the largest steamer on the lake. Once used to transport cargo and passengers, the ship became a popular tourist attraction until it was destroyed by fire in 1939. A 203 foot sidewheeler was then purchased from the Burlington Yacht Club on Lake Champlain, cut up and transported to Lake Winnepesaukee. The new Mount Washington periodically has been expanded, refurbished and re-powered. Accessible from five different points of call, the vessel remains a key attraction, offering twice-daily, in-season scenic cruises and dinner cruises.
- Polar Caves – Formed about fifty thousand years ago when glacial ice retreated from the area, the caves in Rumney, NH can now be explored through self-guided tours.
- Squam Lakes Natural Science Center – Located in Holderness, the science center features lake cruises, animal exhibits and educational programs.
- Ruggles Mine – Located in Grafton, they claim to be the “Oldest and most spectacular mica, feldspar, beryl, and uranium mine in the USA”.
Interesting Facts about the New Hampshire Lakes Region
- Ashland is said to be the geographic center of New Hampshire
- Holderness and Squam Lake are the settings for the movie “On Golden Pond.”
- President Grover Cleveland had his summer home in Tamworth. The Barnstormers Summer Theater was created by his son, Francis.
- The Weirs is named for weirs, primitive brushwood fences used to catch fish by the Abenaki Native American tribe who had a large settlement at the site.
- Center Harbor was the site of the first intercollegiate sporting event in the United States. In 1852, Harvard bested Yale in first Harvard-Yale Regatta.
- Lake Sunapee features three lighthouses on the National Register of Historical Places.
Getting to the New Hampshire Lakes Region
Route 93 is the main highway leading from the South. Wolfeboro is located approximately 100 miles north of Boston; 100 miles west of Portland, Maine; 250 miles southeast of Montreal and 300 miles northeast of New York City.
While most visitors access the region by car, flying by small private plane is an option since Laconia Municipal Airport operates out of Gilford.
New Hampshire Lakes Region Weather
Average daily temperatures tend to range in the 20s during the coldest month of January and in the 70s and 80s in the warmest month of July. A fair amount of rain and snow can be expected with average precipitation levels over two inches and up to four inches depending on time of year and location.