Often overshadowed by its neighbors, New Hampshire quietly offers stunning natural landscapes of granite rock formations and the White Mountains. Nicknamed the Granite State, New Hampshire houses America's first wind farm, holds our nation's first presidential primary during election season, and harbors the highest peak in the Northeastern United States. In short, we should not take the Granite State for granted.
Let's explore the best things to do in New Hampshire so you can plan your adventures in the proud New England state.
New Hampshire Offers Plenty To Do Year-Round
New Hampshire is 9,300 square miles and is one of America's smallest states. Although miniature, its mountainous landscapes, vast wilderness expanses, and quaint towns offer plenty for travelers to do.
The state has historic sites and a vibrant arts and culture scene. However, due to its mountains, rivers, and lakes, New Hampshire shines brightest in natural beauty and outdoor recreation.
Part of the Appalachian Trail passes through New Hampshire. Moose and black bears inhabit the state for those who enjoy observing wildlife.
New Hampshire delivers outdoor recreation in spades year-round. Winter sports are popular in the northern mountain regions. Visitors can enjoy skiing, snowmobiling, and sleigh rides. For those who do not like cold weather, New Hampshire's quaint towns welcome you with shopping and delicious eateries.
Spring is an excellent time for hikers to savor gushing waterfalls and colorful flowers in bloom. The state proudly holds over 90 sugarhouses and welcomes visitors to learn about the maple-sugaring process in spring.
Summer is an excellent time to enjoy water sports on the New Hampshire lakes and rivers. Guests delight in the lovely wildflower-filled green meadows.
Fall is an absolute dream for foliage lovers. Much like its neighbor Vermont, the entire state reveals a canvas of bold autumnal colors. Guests can enjoy the views through scenic drives, hiking, biking, train rides, and navigating corn mazes.
No matter the season, a visit to New Hampshire yields rewarding views and recreation. Let's chisel deeper into the granite to find things to do in New Hampshire that suit your interests.
Mount Washington Cog Railway
Embark on a journey on the world's first mountain-climbing cog railway. The thrilling train ride takes you to the summit of the highest peak in the Northeastern United States, Mount Washington. Passengers chug along steep grades through three climate zones before reaching an elevation of 6,288 feet in less than an hour.
“The Cog” nestles in northern New Hampshire, in the heart of the White Mountains. Biodiesel locomotives power most of the train rides. The railway operates two coal-fired steam engines that are over a century old in warmer months.
It is an exhilarating train ride with spectacular summit views. The entire experience is about three hours, giving guests an hour at the summit.
Visit the Mount Washington Cog Railway site to verify rates and availability. Although the railway is open year-round, the train schedule, pricing, and types of excursions typically vary throughout the year.
Franconia Notch State Park
Considered by many the crown jewel of New Hampshire, Franconia Notch State Park sits in the core of the White Mountains National Forest. Named for a scenic mountain pass between the towering peaks of the Franconia and Kinsman mountain ranges, the park sits near Lincoln and Franconia.
An eight-mile scenic parkway winds through the park, connecting Echo Lake to the north and the famous Flume Gorge to the south. The stunning park has many amenities, including hiking trails, campgrounds, beach swimming, skiing, fishing, boat rentals, picnic areas, and bicycling. It is a dream destination for hikers, waterfall chasers, and nature lovers.
Flume Gorge is the park's highlight, comprising a 2-mile loop trail along a massive natural gorge. Hikers will encounter stairs, a covered bridge, and towering granite walls along the surreal journey. Visitors should make reservations online due to the popularity of the Flume Gorge Trail.
A bucket list adventure, guests can ride North America's first passenger tramway. The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway is an eight-minute ride to the peak, yielding breathtaking views. On a clear day, passengers can see mountains from four states and Canada.
Hampton Beach State Park
New Hampshire proudly claims the shortest ocean coastline of any state. Despite consisting of only 18 miles, the stretch of coastline is stunning. Visitors can find this gem in the state's southeast corner.
Hampton Beach State Park is open year-round. Its wide, sandy beaches invite you to swim and soak up rays while enjoying the view. Beyond swimming, the coastal state park offers fishing, picnicking, and camping. For those seeking a unique experience, Hampton Beach permits horseback riding from October through April.
If you enjoy scenic drives, the Kancamagus Highway, a portion of State Route 112, is one of America's best. Although shorter than the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, it offers a similar experience. The twisty 34.5-mile National Scenic Byway runs east and west across the state between Lincoln and Conway.
Although a beautiful drive year-round, it shines brightest each autumn during peak foliage weeks. The Kancamagus Scenic Byway offers many pull-off points for drivers and passengers to savor views of babbling brooks, cascading waterfalls, and soaring mountains.
Highlights along the journey include the White Mountains, Sabbaday Falls, the Swift River, Lower Falls, and Rocky Gorge. For those who desire more than to peer at nature from the overlooks, “The Kanc” has many hiking trails and six campgrounds.
Spanning 72 square miles, Lake Winnipesaukee is New Hampshire's largest lake. It sits in the Lakes Region at the foothills of the White Mountains in the east-central portion of the state. The spring-fed water sparkles against the lovely wooded shoreline.
Quaint towns ring the island-dotted lake, delivering family entertainment such as miniature golf, arcades, and go-karting. Adults can sample delicious beverages with a view from various wineries and breweries.
For those who prefer outdoor recreation, “Lake Winni” has beaches, boating, fishing, hiking, and biking. Winter brings skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice skating, and snowmobiling opportunities.
Hood Museum of Art
Located on the Dartmouth College campus in Hanover, the Hood Museum of Art has a vast collection of over 65,000 pieces. Their collections include American, European, African, and Native American artifacts and artworks. The museum rotates exhibits, only displaying portions of the overall inventory at any time.
Admission is free, making it an excellent opportunity to appreciate art and explore an Ivy League campus. It is adjacent to the Hanover Inn, a historic boutique hotel with New England charm.
Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves
A unique outdoor adventure awaits visitors in New Hampshire's Kinsman Notch. Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves is named for a river that disappears beneath a glacial gorge.
The main attraction is a 1-mile wooden boardwalk loop trail containing more than 1,000 stairs. You will discover jagged rock walls, giant boulders, and cascading waterfalls along the path.
The Lost River Gorge offers additional challenges if you are reasonably limber and comfortable with small openings and darkness. It houses eleven boulder caves that require crawling and maneuvering through tight spaces. The boulder caves are a nightmare for some, while others relish such an exhilarating adventure.
This New Hampshire gem offers other unique excursions, including the Forest Adventure Trail, treehouse, and suspension bridge. Climb above the forest for a spectacular view from the giant bird nest. Visitors can also navigate the gorge and caves on a nighttime lantern tour.
Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves is typically open from early May to mid-October.
Gunstock Mountain Resort
Resting atop the Belknap Mountain Range in Gilford, New Hampshire, Gunstock Mountain Resort is a family-friendly ski resort with year-round adventures. The resort offers 49 trails and 227 skiable acres. Guests can enjoy downhill skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Continue the fun at night, skiing and tubing under brightly lit trails.
The summit delivers stunning views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains. You will find plenty of places to grab a bite and sip a hot cup of cocoa while you savor the panoramic vista.
Summer travelers will discover unique adventures at Gunstock Mountain Resort, including ziplining, scenic chairlift rides, aerial obstacle courses, a 4,000-foot-long mountain coaster, hiking, fishing, and mountain biking. With so many options, it is an excellent family destination.
Currier Museum of Art
The Currier Museum of Art sits in Manchester in south-central New Hampshire. Its collection is comprised of 15,000 art pieces.
Although the museum features paintings and sculptures from the 14th through the 17th centuries, it also has a nice collection of contemporary art. The museum regularly displays special and rotating gallery exhibits.
Guests can try unique experiences like audio tours, studio classes, and touring two Frank Lloyd Wright homes. Afterward, enjoy a leisurely snack or meal at their Winter Garden Cafe. The cafe offers a brunch menu and cocktails on Sundays.
McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center
New Hampshire is proud of their astronaut history. The McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord is an air and space museum that honors American space travelers, including famous state residents Alan Shepard and Christa McAuliffe.
Shepard was the first American to travel into space in 1961. McAuliffe was a teacher aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger during the tragic 1986 explosion.
McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center offers an immersive experience for families. The museum has indoor and outdoor exhibits, including a full-sized replica of a Mercury-Redstone rocket, an observatory, and a full-dome planetarium. Visitors can learn about space travel through planetarium shows, hands-on exhibits, and demonstrations.
For travelers seeking tranquility, head to Portsmouth. The seaside city in southeast New Hampshire houses a beautiful 10-acre park with lovely waterfront views and colorful flowers.
Brick walkways invite you to stroll along perfectly manicured gardens with fragrant blossoms. You will discover many individual spaces with unique themes and designs. The botanical garden has plenty of benches to relax and reflect. Best of all, it is free.
The Prescott Park Arts Festival occurs in summer. Accordingly, it gets busier during this time. The festival holds many special events, including concerts, theater productions, movies, community showcases, and more.
If you have young children, Story Land in Glen, New Hampshire, is the perfect spot for entertainment. The theme park incorporates rides and attractions celebrating classic fairy tales and nursery rhymes.
Kids can experience fantasies that feel like they come straight out of the pages of a storybook. Ride in a flying Dutch shoe as you gaze upon a land of canals and windmills. Meet Cinderella in her castle. Pilot a swan boat across calm waters or spin in a teacup with Alice and the Mad Hatter.
Rides include swings, coasters, a train, and a raft ride where guests regularly get splashed. Beyond the fun rides, Story Land offers a petting zoo, character experiences, live shows, and a playground. You will also find carnival games and plenty of food options.
Castle in The Clouds
Nestled atop the Ossipee Mountains in Moultonborough, Castle in the Clouds is a historic mansion on 5,500 acres with breathtaking views. The mountaintop mansion was built in 1913 and has 16 rooms.
A self-guided tour grants access to the first two floors, while a guided tour is required to see the basement. The Lucknow Mansion features some fascinating technology that was unique at the time, such as a central vacuum system and a house-wide interphone system.
For those who enjoy hiking, the estate offers over 28 miles of scenic trails along lush forests, gushing waterfalls, and challenging summits. Guests can snowshoe, or cross-country ski the trails in winter.
After your tour or hike, grab a bite to eat and relax. Cafe in the Clouds is an excellent spot for a light snack, while the Carriage House Restaurant serves delicious meals, outdoor seating, and sweeping views.
Visit the Castle in the Clouds site to confirm hours and rates. House tours typically run from late May to late October.
Conway Scenic Railroad
The Conway Scenic Railroad in North Conway offers heritage rail excursions and scenic train rides through Crawford Notch and Mount Washington Valley. Visitors can choose from three unique tours. Each departs from a Victorian train station built in 1874, yielding an old-fashioned railroading experience.
The Conway Valley Train is a classic rural rail adventure that journeys 11 miles in under an hour. It is ideal for families with young children.
The Sawyer River Excursion is a vintage train ride that crosses several bridges and provides picturesque views of the Sawyer River. Your ride is a little over two hours.
Formerly named the “Notch Train,” the Mountaineer transports you on a scenic journey through the valley and over the rugged Crawford Notch. The excursion typically spans four to five and a half hours.
Lunch is available for purchase on the Sawyer River Excursion and the Mountaineer train ride. Beyond seeing North Conway, each rail adventure offers a chance to travel back in time.
If you love video games, a trip to Laconia, New Hampshire, is a must. Funspot is the world's largest arcade, with over 600 games. About half of those are classic arcade games like Asteroids, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders. You will find many modern games as well.
Funspot also has pinball machines, skeeball, bumper cars, cash bingo, a bowling alley, indoor miniature golf, a restaurant, and a tavern. With so many things to do in one place, it is a surefire hit for adults and kids.
Carved in Granite: There Are Many Fantastic Things To Do in New Hampshire
New Hampshire is not the most famous East Coast state, but it offers many excellent things to do. Its quaint towns have a rich history, art, culture, and destinations for family entertainment. New Hampshire's beautiful woodlands, lakes, rivers, and mountains provide year-round outdoor adventures. Like a granite mountain, experiences in New Hampshire are rock-solid.