Finding cheap family entertainment is as simple as going to one of the hundreds of city, state, and privately owned parks and nature centers in the area. No matter what a family might be looking for, there will be a location not too far from home that will provide it. Activities such as skateboarding, swimming, hiking, biking, swinging, picnicking and learning about the environment are all possible at many New Hampshire destinations. There are parks with playgrounds, parks with lakes, parks with swimming pools, parks with museums, and parks with miles of trails for hikers of all levels. There are environmental centers devoted to teaching families just how precious our natural world is. Appreciate the great outdoors of New Hampshire with the family this spring. Just remember to take any trash away with you when you leave.
• Bedford’s Riverfront Park/Heritage Trail on South River Road is a 30-acre property along the Merrimack River. Walking, fishing, canoeing and picnicking are all possibilities here. The Heritage Trail is four miles long and can be used for walking or mountain biking.
• Benedictine Park, located on Wallace Road, is a 27.4-acre conservation area that is ideal for hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, archery, picnicking and bird-watching. Two one-mile walking trails provide visitors with the choice of an open field or woodland passage.
• Legacy Park is a great place for sports. There are softball and multi-purpose fields, tennis and basketball courts and a skate park. There are also many trails for walking and biking, as well as cross-country skiing in the winter.
• The Joppa Hill Property, located at Joppa Hill Road, is one of the largest recreation areas in Bedford, comprising 190 acres. It offers trails for walking, hiking, cross-country skiing, bird-watching and picnicking. Fields for football, soccer, and lacrosse are also located at the property.
• Even larger than Joppa Hill is the Pulpit Rock Conservation Area on New Boston Road, containing 200 acres of open space with three miles of walking trails. A rock formation known as Pulpit Rock is the centerpiece of the conservation area.
• White Park, at the intersection of Washington and Center streets, is one of the oldest municipal parks in the state and one of the most popular family-friendly destinations in Concord. It boasts an impressive playground called “Monkey Around Playground.” Repainted annually and meticulously maintained, the equipment is bright and beautiful, as well as unique. Slides that jiggle and walkways that wiggle will delight guests. There is a pool that caters to young children, with a shallow entry, ramps, slides and a whale that squirts water. The park is open to the public, but nonresidents will be charged a seasonal family pass fee.
• Rolfe Park is located slightly north of Concord on Community Drive in Penacook and offers a large variety of activities for families, including a swimming pool, hiking trails, a playground and sports fields. With plenty of parking available and hours spanning from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m., the park is a great gathering place for families. Nonresidents can use the pool for a fee. With a family pass, families can use any of the seven public pools in Concord.
• Merrill Park, on Eastman Street, is another of the seven major family parks in Concord with an outdoor swimming pool. It also has ball fields, a playground, and a pond for trout fishing. Annually, a special trout day event is held and guests young and old can learn how to trout fish.
• The four remaining parks in Concord that have swimming pools are Garrison Park (off Hutchins Street), also known for a set of basketball courts; Rollins Park (on Broadway Street), which has the only public pool in Concord with a diving board; Keach Park (Loudon Road), which also has sports fields, tennis courts and a picnic shelter, and Kimball Park (off North State Street), which is within walking distance from White Park and has a nice playground for kids.
• Families seeking quiet, beautiful scenery will be in for a treat at Sewall’s Falls State Recreation Area, across from Beaver Meadow Golf Course. This 94-acre recreation area is filled with trails and has a boat launch, bridges and plenty of opportunities for fishing. It has a couple of picnic areas, streams and scenic vistas along the Merrimack River.
• Don Ball Park is a gem of a location for families, located on Humphrey Road, off Route 28 in Derry. The property has many sports fields and baseball diamonds, a large, wide-open playground, bathroom facilities, and a concession stand. It is also home to the newly constructed “Derry Splashpad,” a favorite summertime treat for kids of all ages.
• Hood Park is on Rollins Street and offers a waterfront area with docks, fishing, picnic areas, a shuffleboard court and a playground. This park is open to residents as well as the general public.
• At the request of parents in town, Funway Playground on Nelson Road has gotten a facelift with new shaded play areas, benches and a great playground with a farm theme for kids. Located in the baseball fields complex, the Funway Playground offers state-of-the-art equipment such as swings, slides, bridges, ladders and zip lines, and will please even the most active child.
• Crystal Lake Park is located on Bodwell Road in south Manchester and is a very popular swimming, playground and picnic area. It has a large sandy beach, clear water, tables and a function hall, and is open to nonresidents in the summer during afternoon hours. Morning hours until 2 p.m. are reserved for Manchester residents only.
• Derryfield Park on Bridge Street has a state-of-the-art playground for children of all ages and abilities. It also hosts area sporting events, with a baseball diamond, basketball court, and track and field. Nearby, there is a pleasant nature trail and picnic shelter.
• Livingston Park/Dorrs Pond is located on DW Highway North, across from the Puritan Backroom restaurant, and is one of the largest outdoor entertainment parks in Manchester. It offers many amenities, including two playgrounds — one for toddlers and preschoolers and one for older children. There is a baseball diamond, a soccer field and a running track. There is also a picnic shelter. It is adjacent to Dorrs Pond, where families can find a walking trail that encircles the water, and fishing is allowed in the warmer seasons. Livingston Park also has a newly constructed swimming pool, complete with water features and slide.
• Pine Island Park has a newly constructed playground and many waterfront-walking trails. It is located on Brown Ave., north of the Manchester Airport.
• There are many other parks in Manchester that offer playground facilities. Check out Prout Park on Young/Haward Street, Sweeney Park off South Main Street, Shaheen-Basquil Park on Maple/Auburn Street, Simpson Park on Coolidge Avenue, Stevens Park on Tarrytown/Mammoth Road, or Youngsville Park on Candia Road.
• Twin Bridge Park/Kids Kove is located off DW Highway, and is a little-known location with appeal for children as well as adults. The Kids Kove play area is home to a wooden maze structure that will keep the kids busy for hours. Swings, slides and hidden passageways will engage the young and young at heart. There is also a separate play area for toddlers. Scenic walking paths are also available at this park, with two mighty bridges that have been used to cross Baboosic Brook as far back as colonial times, kid-sized waterfalls, and a rock pond. The park also has half-court basketball, a baseball field and picnic tables.
• Home of Merrmack’s Parks and Recreation Department, Wasserman Park and conservation area offers recreational activities such as picnicking, swimming, fishing, tennis, volleyball, basketball, ball fields, and the Norma French Memorial Playground. Access to Horse Hill Nature Preserve can be found by following the Quarry Trail.
• Keyes Memorial Park is on Elm Street and offers a swimming pool and wading pool, four tennis courts, sports fields, a playground and a skateboard park. There is also lots of open space for picnicking. Approximately 19 acres in size, this park abuts the Souhegan River.
• Shepard’s Park can be found on the east side of Nashua Street and is a great athletic area. It has baseball fields as well as a playground. The open land beside the park is used for the annual Labor Day Parade turn-around and Carnival.
• Bicentennial Park is a three-acre property near Railroad Pond on South Street and provides excellent access for fishing and boating (canoes and rowboats). Ducks, Canada geese, great blue herons and green herons can all be spotted from the park. Though there is no playground equipment here, this area would be a nice quiet place for a family picnic.
• Greeley Park is one of the best parks for families in Nashua. Located on Concord Street, Greeley Park offers a wading pool for small children, playground equipment, trails, horseshoes, a picnic area and the all-important restroom facilities. There are also lighted tennis courts and a softball field, as well as a bandstand that is regularly graced by family-friendly entertainment in the summer months.
• Mine Falls Park offers a terrific wooded walking trail (a little over two miles of easy terrain) along the Nashua River. It also has a boat launch and softball fields, and it is a conservation area with wildlife. Mine Falls is a 325-acre nature sanctuary in the heart of the second-largest city in New Hampshire.
• Roby Park is located on Spit Brook Road and is among the many kid-pleasing parks with playgrounds. The playground equipment is well-kept and interesting, with bumpy slides and jiggling bridges, and the park also offers sports fields, as well as outdoor ice-skating and sledding in the winter. It is conveniently located near the south end shopping of Nashua’s DW Highway.
• There are three public outdoor pools (not including Greeley Park’s wading pool) in Nashua. The Labine Park Rotary Pool on Cleveland Street offers swim lessons for all ages in the summer, and there is also a toddler wading pool at this location. Other pools in Nashua include the Crown Hill Pool on Burke Street and Centennial Pool on Sargent Avenue near Holman Stadium.
• Another neat location of note in Nashua is Sandy Pond. Located on National Street, the park has a great little playground and boasts a popular splash pad, open to the public and free of charge.
• Muldoon Park on Mammoth Road in Pelham has sports fields and a playground for children, a duck pond with an oval-shaped walking track, and a wooded hiking trail. It also has a challenging 18-hole disc golf course located in the left corner behind the minor league outfield fence. Disc golf is just like regular golf except the players throw Frisbees into baskets suspended on poles, instead of hitting balls into holes in the ground. There is no fee to play a round of disc golf at Muldoon Park.
• The Windham Rail Trail is a 4.1-mile paved trail that runs along the old railroad bed that once took passengers from North Lowell Road in Windham to an intersection of Routes 111 and 28 in Salem. The trail is perfect for walking and biking and has many scenic areas, some with ponds and wildlife. The start of the trail is marked by an old refurbished C16 caboose that children will get a kick out of, and a great antique-style restaurant and ice cream, candy and gift shop called Windham Junction that is a popular with locals.
• Griffin Park is one of the best parks in the area. Located on Range Road, it is home to a great outdoor playground with climbing wall structure, small duck pond, large paved walking/biking track, concession stand, bathrooms, shaded picnic area, skateboard park, and many sports fields and open spaces that are perfect for running around and using up energy. Griffin Park is immaculate and even provides doggie bag stations for those walking their dogs here. Johnson’s Highland View Farm abuts the park and offers ice cream and fresh fruits and vegetables in the summer, as well as cool farm animals.
Nearby state parks
• Silver Lake State Park, on Silver Lake Road (Route 22) in Hollis, is a nice little swimming location for families in the summer. The beach is 1,000 feet in length, and the park spans 80 acres. There is a bathhouse with flush toilets, picnic tables, a park store and playing fields, and paddleboat and kayak rentals are available. Admission is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-11, free for children 5 and under and seniors. The park opens annually on Memorial Day and closes at the end of August.
• Bear Brook State Park on Deerfield Road in Allenstown is the largest developed state park in New Hampshire, with more than 10,000 acres of property. Camping, swimming, hiking, fishing, boating and picnicking are a few of the many activities that can be enjoyed here. There are shelters, picnic tables, ball fields, canoe and rowboat rentals, an archery course, a physical fitness course, and even a museum complex devoted to camping, conservation and snowmobiling. There is also an educational nature center. The park has two waterfronts, Beaver Pond (for campers) and Catamount Pond (day use only), with sandy beaches at each. Camping reservations can be made in advance by calling ReserveAmerica at 877-nhparks (647-2757) or visiting www.nhstateparks.com.
• Pawtuckaway State Park, off Route 156 in Nottingham, is a favorite camping destination for southern New Hampshire families. Camping, swimming, hiking, fishing, boating, biking, picnicking and plenty of newly established playground equipment are awaiting summer guests. The park has updated bathroom facilities, a camp store, an island connected to the beach by a bridge, great hiking trails, and a large pavilion for larger groups. 5,500 acres of outdoor entertainment will please day visitors and vacationers alike. Camping reservations can be made in advance by calling ReserveAmerica at 877-nhparks (647-2757) or visiting www.nhstateparks.com.
Audubon and other environmental centers
• Peabody Mill Environmental Center, 66 Brook Road, Amherst, is the home of nearly 600 acres of conservation land where many educational activities are run by the Amherst Recreation Department. Workshops, camps, birthday celebrations, science classes and a plethora of other educational opportunities await here. To learn more, call 673-1141 or visit www.amherst.gov.
• The New Hampshire Audubon, headquartered on 84 Silk Road in Concord, is devoted to protecting New Hampshire wildlife and natural environment. Audubon has several locations in the area that provide free or affordable educational programs for families. Amoskeag Fishways in Manchester is an environmental center on the Merrimack River. Many of their programs are focused on watersheds and riparian systems. Their visitor center is home to an impressive exhibit of the inner workings of the great river and its inhabitants. The Massabesic Center in Auburn provides year-round education programs to teach guests about woodlands, wetlands, streams and marshes in New Hampshire. Lake Massabesic and the surrounding property is also a wildlife sanctuary, including many scenic trails. The organization’s oldest center is the McLane Center in Concord, formerly known as the Silk Farm Center. It has live animals, nature exhibits and several miles of hiking trails. The McLane Center offers many camps and nature programs to children and families, and a nature store. There is also a chapter of the New Hampshire Audubon in Nashua. Known as the Nashaway Chapter, this group of dedicated volunteers will periodically host educational presentations and programs at the Nashua Public Library (2 Court St.) and organizes nature field trips (such as bird counts) at various locations. Call 224-9909 to learn about any of these Audubon centers, or visit www.nhaudubon.org.