By Jeff Mucciarone
Summer was still hanging by a thread when I turned onto Route 13 in Goffstown last week. As I proceeded north toward Dunbarton, the faint shimmer of orange and yellow hung over the tops of the oak and maple trees that guarded both sides of the roadway.
The stretch of Route 13 between Goffstown and Dunbarton is part of the General John Stark Scenic Byway, which mixes in fantastic scenery and a history lesson. I was out to experience quintessential New Hampshire by car, and I think I found it.
I zipped by farmland, stone walls, small ponds dotted with lily pads, and old — in some cases historic — homes, not to mention a big white gazebo in Dunbarton.
My car’s engine strained just a little as I crested the tops of hills and then subsided as I wound along the sometimes curvy route, all the while with mountains looming over the road in the distance to the west. The road swung up on overlooks providing quick but expansive views of the valley below.
A few minutes later, I passed a Moose Crossing sign. Just 10 minutes or so from downtown Manchester, I was in moose country?
That’s the reality of scenic driving in New Hampshire. It doesn’t take much to get out on a country road and begin to take in all of the scenery the state has to offer. Left or right? If scenic beauty is what you’re after, it doesn’t matter.
“The really cool thing about our state is that you really don’t have to go on a specific scenic route,” said Tai Freligh, communications manager for the state Division of Travel and Tourism Development. “You can get on one of the smaller roads and just see the beauty.”
While it really is that simple — you could just get in your car and drive — the state also has a number of established scenic drives that truly encapsulate what New Hampshire is all about, like the Currier & Ives Scenic Byway, which runs through Henniker and Hopkinton. The Travel and Tourism Department website lists such scenic routes, some long enough to make a day of, others short and sweet. Regardless of which you choose, you will find something worth seeing.
“Because New Hampshire is such an old state, and such a historic state, you never know what you’ll come across,” Freligh said. “You could see part of a stone wall or you could just see a random cemetery that consists of three or four headstones on the side of the road. You pull over, stop, get out, and see the dates — you’re looking at history.
“On the other hand, there’s farmers markets. You could be driving along and see a farm with a corn maze. There are all these little surprises. You could stop, pull over and continue on your way. It’s really an adventure.”
We’ve laid out six scenic byways motorists can enjoy anytime of the year, along with what to see, eat and do along the way.
Plan your trip
Currier & Ives Scenic Byway
Sure, you could hop into your car, drive the 30-mile route and be back out of your car an hour later.
But that’s not the point.
“It’s not so much about spending time in the car,” said Kate Bartlett, who owns the Henniker House Bed & Breakfast and is vice-chairman of the Currier & Ives Scenic Byway Council. “It’s about getting out of the car.”
The byway strings together the quaint towns of Henniker, Hopkinton, Contoocook Village, Webster and Salisbury, along with a corner of Warner, along routes 202, 103 and 127.
“You can go for a ride and see New England, New Hampshire at its best, from the natural beauty, through historical places, the towns — it’s just quintessential New Hampshire,” Bartlett said.
Just a few weekends ago, Bartlett had friends visiting from New York City, and she took them along the byway.
“We packed a little lunch and stopped at Amy Brook Part in Henniker for lunch,” Bartlett said. “Then we went to the village, hit the shops, walked through the covered bridge right there, which I think is the oldest covered bridge in New Hampshire.”
About four years ago the route was deemed a scenic drive, complete with a new nonprofit organization, the Currier & Ives Scenic Byway Council, to look after it. The council recently put up signs with the byway’s logo so motorists will have an easier time following the route.
“You don’t have to invest a whole day in getting here,” Bartlett said. “It’s just a nice little bit of rural New Hampshire.”
Much of the route follows first the Contoocook River, and then the Blackwater River. In season, both are popular kayaking destinations. (The deck at the Henniker House Bed & Breakfast hangs over the Contoocook River.) The Appalachian Mountain Club conducts its whitewater skills course on the Contoocook River.
The byway features plenty of places where people can hop out of the car and go for a hike. Elm Brook Park, right near the Hopkinton dam, gives people the chance to go on some nice walks, Bartlett said.
The route also takes motorists through Contoocook Village, technically part of Hopkinton. A new association, Explore Contoocook, has worked to highlight the route as well as the little village businesses in Contoocook, Croteau said. Contoocook, technically part of Hopkinton, is a mill village located on the Contoocook River.
“Contoocook Village is just cute, cute, cute,” Bartlett said.
“You’re by the water,” Croteau added. “There’s lots of shops.”
Hopkinton is beautiful, with its distinctive New England feel, as byways.org puts it. Downtown Hopkinton features Colonial-style homes and a town hall that once was the state capitol building.
Drivers will stray from the river in downtown Hopkinton, but there are plenty of photo ops there, too.
“There is a beautiful stone church in Hopkinton, a nice graveyard,” Bartlett said.
Hopkinton puts on a cemetery walk in the fall, during which local residents give tours and tell stories about its residents.
From Hopkinton, the byway turns north and follows Route 127 into Webster and Salisbury, where motorists will get a little change of scenery, Croteau said.
“All of a sudden, it just opens up and you’ve got rolling fields and stone walls,” Bartlett said.
For the adventurous
Jump off the byway in Warner and head out on Kearsarge Mountain Road to hike the popular Mount Kearsarge in Rollins State Park, which features spectacular views.
For some history
The end of the route puts motorists a short drive from the Daniel Webster birthplace in Franklin.
For the kids
The Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum is a great spot for little kids, Bartlett said, and everyone can enjoy ice cream at Dimitri’s Pizza & Restaurant in Contoocook and at the Beech Hill Farmstand and Ice Cream Barn in Hopkinton. Beech Hill also has corn mazes for families to get lost in.
There’s also apple picking at Gould Hill Farm in Hopkinton or at Peak Orchards and French Pond Orchards in Henniker.
Try stopping at the Henniker Brewing Company for a taste test.
Bartlett suggested enjoying a meal at Daniel’s of Henniker Restaurant & Pub on Main Street overlooking the Contoocook River. Also in Henniker, diners can enjoy Country Spirit Restaurant and Tavern. In Contoocook Village, the Covered Bridge Restaurant is popular, along with the Everyday Cafe.
Bartlett said the options are endless along the route. The Contoocook River provides lots of choices for photo-taking.
“There’s lots of places to get down to the river,” Bartlett said.
For the bookworm
Bartlett said somehow Henniker became “the center of the universe” when it comes to used bookstores. There are five used book stores in a roughly eight-mile radius, including the Henniker Book Barn and Depot Hill Books.
Freligh lives on the seacoast and he said he loves driving along Route 1A, which winds all along the coast.
“It’s just beautiful out there,” Freligh said. “You can see the beaches on the ocean, and there’s also a lot of historic houses and mansions. You can kind of go house-watching.”
Start driving on Route 1A in Portsmouth — if you can get yourself to leave the historic city, and all its shopping and dining options — and head south. You’ll pass several state park beaches: Odiorne State Park, Jenness State Park, Wallis Sands State Park, Hampton Beach State Park, along with Rye Harbor, Hampton Harbor and Seabrook Beach.
At this time of year, motorists can take in all the beautiful views of the ocean, without the crowds.
Freligh said the Rye area features lots of mansions.
“They’re impressive-looking homes,” Freligh said. “They’re cool to drive by and check out some of the bigger mansions out by the coast.”
In the summertime, the boardwalk at Hampton Beach is packed with people and vendors. In the fall, it’s all about the views.
Snap a photo
Well, there are great photo opportunities all along the way, but for a breathtaking historic photo, try taking a few pictures of the Wentworth-By-The-Sea Hotel in Portsmouth.
For the kids
Sneak off the byway to check out the Seacoast Science Center in Rye.
Grab a bite to eat
Park in Portsmouth and choose from the city’s plethora of eateries and coffee shops. And go shopping, too. On Yelp.com, Lexie’s Joint, The Portsmouth Brewery and Cava scored well among reviewers.
Grab a book, a beach chair, a blanket and the sun, and hit the beach for a relaxing afternoon of reading and watching and listening to the waves.
General John Stark Scenic Byway
This is quintessential New Hampshire, says Adam Hlasny, transportation planner with Southern New Hampshire Regional Planning Commission. The byway circle loops through Goffstown, Dunbarton, Weare and New Boston, following routes 13, 114 and 77.
“It has a good mixture of natural resources like the Piscataquog River, and historical sites, centered around Gen. John Stark, obviously,” Hlasny said.
The route spans four towns. A history buff could easily spend a half day to a full day exploring the route, Hlasny said. Along with historical stops, such as the Molly Stark House in Dunbarton, where John and Molly Stark lived for several years, the route will boast fantastic scenery, including breathtaking foliage this fall.
The route does have some elevation changes, so motorists should be ready for some rolling hills.
“It’s a lot of winding back roads through small towns,” Hlasny said, adding the route also boats nice views of the Piscataquog River, which runs alongside.
Take in some history
Visit the Molly Stark House in Dunbarton, the Stark Cemetery in Dunbarton, the Amos Chase House in Weare or Paige’s Corner Cemetery in Dunbarton.
The Goffstown Pumpkin Weigh-off and Regatta, which, yes, features giant pumpkins as sailboats, takes place in Goffstown on Saturday, Oct. 19, and Sunday, Oct. 20.
Snap a photo
Hlasny said the Uncanoonuc Mountains can be seen from Route 13 in Dunbarton and Goffstown.
Shop and eat
Downtown Goffstown is probably the best place to park, hit a few shops and grab a bite to eat. Hlasny said the downtown features a few restaurants and shops for patrons to enjoy. Putnam’s Waterview Restaurant provides a view of the Piscataquog River.
Drivers have choices when it comes to Lake Sunapee. Pick the west side of the lake, and you’ll find a little more of a commercial area. Choose the east side, and you’ll find a little more of a wooded, residential area. Or just circle the whole lake and take in both sides.
Motorists follow routes 103, 103A, 11 and 103B as they make their way around the popular lake from the south. Driving down the west side on Route 103B to Route 103, motorists will find a few shops and restaurants as they weave into Sunapee Harbor.
“Heading south toward the southern point to Newbury, you’ll get some great views of the lake coming around the corner,” said Jennifer Tockman, director of the Lake Sunapee Region Chamber of Commerce. “Driving around the harbor, it’s not a long drive. It is a really pretty area too.”
On the eastern side of the lake, motorists will find a more wooded, residential setting. Drivers won’t find shops and places to eat.
“There are some fields and some great spots to get quick views of the lake,” Tockman said. “There’s not a lot of stopping areas.”
You’ve got time to do both sides of the lake. Tockman said she figured it would probably take a half hour to drive around the whole lake if you didn’t stop, but chances are you’ll find something worth stopping for.
Enjoy nature and history
The Fells is a historic estate with beautiful outdoor trails and things to do for all four seasons. The estate features nature trails, sculpture, public gardens and stuff for kids to do. Families can sign out a Nature Explorer Activity Kit, which includes binoculars, a magnifying glass, an animal tracking guide, an activity booklet, a map and a clipboard.
For some history at The Fells, check out an exhibit highlighting the relationship between John Hay and his uncle Abraham Lincoln.
For some adventure
Veer off into Mount Sunapee State Park and hike to the top of Mount Sunapee for sweeping views of the lake. Bring lunch and a camera.
Shop and eat
Tockman said to make sure to stop at Sunapee Harbor. Along with some eateries, she said, it boasts cute boutique shops, though it tends to be a little more seasonal, with some businesses closing down after Labor Day. Try Marzelli’s Sweet Shop & Cafe.
“It’s a nice place to walk around and hear some live music,” Tockman said, adding the harbor also has an an “old-time general store.”
There are more views of the lake on the western side.
“The lake itself is very much surrounded by a lot of residential area,” Tockman said. Sunapee State Beach is open to the public.
The lake is known for its lighthouses. The state of New Hampshire has five lighthouses, three of which are on Lake Sunapee, Tockman said. People can spot one or two from shore.
Lake Sunapee Cruises provides tours of the lake through the middle of October, which feature good views of the lighthouses, Bartlett said.
This short route boasts rolling hills and a seemingly endless supply of lakes and ponds, as motorists make their way on Route 125 from Milton to Wakefield. The route, which is a little more than an hour’s drive from Manchester to the southern end of the route, features spectacular foliage along the Belknap Range.
Along with scenery, the route — deemed a Cultural and Scenic Byway by the state in 1993 — includes plenty of history. Beginning in Wakefield, motorists can enjoy Wakefield Corner, a village that is on both the State and National Register of Historic Places. There are 27 homes in the village on the national register: some are private residences and others are public buildings, including a couple museums, an old library and the old town hall, said Pamela Wiggin, chairman of the Wakefield Heritage Commission.
From Wakefield Corner, follow the route into Sanbornville, an area known for its history in the railroad industry. All those lakes and ponds came in handy for producing ice, much of which was shipped to Boston in historical times, Wiggin said.
Union was a bustling community in the mid-1800s. Today, Heritage Park in Union houses an early railroad station museum, which the Wakefield Heritage Commission restored. The museum is open through the end of September and has events on Sunday, Oct. 20, and in December.
Officials are working to restore the freight house in Union as well as an early blacksmith shop. The plan is to make it a working blacksmith shop, perhaps as soon as next spring.
Snap a few photos of the Drew Mill, a former woodturning mill, in Union. The Union Village Community Association is working to turn the mill into a working museum.
Sneak off Route 125 and check out Milton Mills, which features early homes and early historic sites. Turn around and head back onto Route 125 and into Milton.
The Wakefield Heritage Commission, along with the Strafford Regional Planning Commission, is working to develop a brochure to highlight stops along the way.
For the kids
At Heritage Park, kids can enjoy an old plow train car that used to plow the line between Sanbornville and Wolfeboro, when trains traveled that route, Wiggin said.
Kids can get hands-on at Heritage Park.
“They can go inside it ... actually use the telegraph, an early typewriter,” Wiggin said. “Kids love to do anything with trains.”
Wiggin said the commission is also working on developing a replica of the five railroad stations around Wakefield.
“So kids can watch and learn history through seeing it,” Wiggin said.
Make a stop at the New Hampshire Farm Museum in Milton, which is a working farm meant to illustrate what life was like on a rural farm,
Bring a blanket
The route features lots of places where people can pull over, spread out a blanket and enjoy a picnic, and perhaps snap a few photos, too. Make a stop at Northeast Pond in Milton.
Moose Path Trail, southern portion
Mileage: About 45 miles; the entire Moose Path Trail stretches 98 miles.
While foliage-seekers line the Kancamagus Highway from start to finish, you’ll be on somewhat more secluded roadways in search of wildlife, foliage, scenery and the main attraction: moose.
Beginning on Route 2 in Shelburne, motorists can get a little past the fall foliage crowds in New Hampshire’s North Country. Follow Route 2 to Route 16 north to Errol. The route largely follows the Androscoggin River, one of the state’s largest rivers.
“It’s a gorgeous ride,” said Dick Huot, of the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“And the foliage is unbelievable,” added Paula Kinney, also of the Chamber.
The southern portion of the Moose Path Trail links Shelburne, Gorham, Cascade, Dunbar and Errol. For some history, motorists can stop at the Gorham Historical Society and Railroad Museum in Gorham.
The St. Kieran Community Center for the Arts in Berlin and Berlin’s own Historical Society are interesting stops, Huot said. Before you enter Milan, you can check out the Nansen Ski Jump. The jump hasn’t been used in years, but Huot said it was once the highest ski jump in the country.
Milan is a “nice, little agricultural type of town,” Huot said.
For wildlife, check out the 13-Mile Woods in Errol, which is exactly that: a stretch of woods without any trace of man, except for you. Look for moose, deer, bear, fox and coyotes, among others, Huot said.
“That’s a neat place to look around,” Huot said.
To spot a moose
Scan the sides of the road as you drive or stop at any of the state parks along the way: Moose Brook State Park, Milan Hill State Park or Umbagog Lake State Park.
If you do spot a moose, by all means, pull over and snap a photo. But don’t walk up to the moose because it looks friendly or because it doesn’t run away.
Kristine Rines, a wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game, said moose don’t run when people approach because standing their ground is their best line of defense against natural predators.
So keep your distance.
For a historical lesson
Visit the Brown Pulp and Paper Company House Museum in Berlin.
Grab a bite to eat
Try out Up the Rivah Restaurant in Milan, or Ursula’s Snack Shack in Milan. Berlin and Gorham have plenty of dining options as well.
Slow down to take in the scenery, but also to avoid colliding with the namesake of this trail. Moose are particularly active at this time of year, and they’re often crossing roadways without much regard for motorists. So be ready to hit the brakes, especially at night when their dark bodies blend in with
For the adventurous land lover
Rent an ATV at Jericho Motorsports in Berlin or Northeast ATV in Gorham and head over to Jericho Mountain State Park. Both places offer rentals and tours. If you’ve got an ATV, Cascade Falls on the east side of the river is a
For the adventurous water lover
Stretching about 13 miles north from Berlin, the Androscoggin River is a great place to try out a kayak or a canoe, since the water is largely flat, Huot said. The Androscoggin is also a popular whitewater rafting destination during the summer.
Look for birds
At Lake Umbagog, people can get out, stretch their legs and look for loons and eagles. Motorists occasionally see eagles and osprey driving north on Route 16 all the way, since the road follows the bank of the river. The Pontook Dam is another great spot to look for eagles and osprey, Huot said.
Bring your rod
Anglers try their luck in the Androscoggin River. There are plenty of places to pull over and do a little fishing.