New Hampshire proves that epic road trips don’t require more than a weekend. Wake up in the Granite State, and you can start your day by combing the beach — two hours later, you could be driving up to the top of the tallest mountain in the Northeast. Ocean sunrise, mountain sunset.
Throughout the rest of the state, you’ll find quaint New England towns and endless hiking opportunities, scenic lakes and rivers for boating and swimming, and spots for history and culture buffs, too. (Clearly, you’ll want more than that weekend!) Here’s a list of can’t-miss road-trip stops covering every corner of New Hampshire.
Stop #1: New Hampshire’s Seacoast
This stop will soon be about sun and sand, but since you’re starting in Portsmouth — one of the country’s most historic port towns — there’s so much more to explore. Spend some time admiring the old-world architecture, wandering the oceanfront trails at Odiorne Point State Park, or sitting down to fresh seafood at a waterfront restaurant like Surf, overlooking the Old Harbour. Wash it down with a pint at Great Rhythm Brewing Company or one of the town’s other signature breweries.
Next, it’s time to get what you came for: a drive along New Hampshire’s Seacoast. It may only be 18 miles, but it’s 18 miles of beautiful sandy beaches and opportunities to play in the waves.
Check out Jenness State Beach in Rye for a nice spot to spend the day with the family, unpack a picnic, and take a dip. Or, if you’re looking for a little more action, head to Hampton Beach with its lively boardwalk and the famed Casino Ballroom. There’s also Hampton Beach State Park, where RVers and tent campers can set up to spend a day or two whale-watching.
Stop #2: The Currier Museum of Art
The Currier Museum of Art in Manchester is a definite can’t-miss — it’s the only art museum in the world with two Frank Lloyd Wright homes, both showcasing the unique ideas and groundbreaking designs that made Wright a household name.
After taking a guided tour of the homes (down the street from the museum proper), visit the Currier’s main building to stroll through the impressive permanent collection, which features over 15,000 pieces of art. Stop by Manchester’s Elm Street afterwards to have your pick of restaurants and bars, or take in a show at the city’s historic Palace Theatre.
Stop #3: Dartmouth
If you’re looking to explore one of the cute, bucolic towns New England is famous for, head to the western New Hampshire town of Hanover. Home to Dartmouth College — an Ivy Leaguer — Hanover is a pedestrian-friendly spot, perfect for exploring the shops downtown or the beautiful college campus on foot. (And perfect for stretching those road-trip legs.)
Save some time for Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art, but also keep in mind that one of the town’s most famous pieces lies about a half-mile away in the Baker Memorial Library: José Clemente Orozco’s Epic of American Civilization. On your way over to the grand mural, don’t be surprised if you find yourself sharing the sidewalks with backpack-toting hikers — the Appalachian Trail runs right down Main Street. (Hanover is one of only 10 towns on the 2,190-mile trail where this happens.)
Tip: While you’re in the area, try to budget time for a visit to nearby Lake Sunapee, known for its pristine waters, historic lighthouses, and sandy beaches.
Stop #4: Castle in the Clouds
The pomp and circumstance of the name comes well-earned. A 16-room Arts and Crafts mansion, Castle in the Clouds looks out over 5,200 acres and 28 miles of walking trails, all set on a dramatic mountaintop routinely draped in — you guessed it — pearly, low-hanging fog.
Travel back in time with a tour of the 1913 Lucknow mansion and grounds, which includes the stables, a six-car garage, two gatehouses, a greenhouse, a manmade lake, a golf course, and tennis courts. The surrounding trails are well worth your steps as well — one of them leads to a 40-foot waterfall. Just make sure you end up on the patio of the estate’s Carriage House Restaurant, pairing spectacular mountain views with beer-battered brie, Tyrolean mushroom strudel, or smoked salmon latkes.
Tip: History buffs should sign up for the basement tour, which provides a look into the construction of the mansion as well the lives of the servants who ran and managed the estate during its heyday.
Stop #5: Mount Washington
No New Hampshire road trip would be complete without the twisting 7.6-mile drive to the top of the highest mountain in the Northeast. After the 30-minute climb up the Mount Washington Auto Road, you’ll reach the summit and its stunning views of the Great Gulf Wilderness and Presidential Range. Make sure to step into the Mount Washington Observatory while you’re there. Not the star kind — the mountain-weather and climate kind. For many years, Mount Washington held the record for the highest recorded wind gusts on Earth: an amazing 231 miles an hour!
Once you’ve descended, make a stop at the Omni Mount Washington Resort in Bretton Woods, a national historic landmark. Grab a bite at one of the resort’s several restaurants, or sip on a cocktail at The Cave, a Prohibition-era speakeasy.
Tip: However you want to experience Mount Washington, remember to check the weather forecast before you go and dress appropriately — the weather at the top is famously unpredictable, and summit conditions can be vastly different from those at the base.
Stop #6: Mount Monadnock
If you’re looking for a good workout, head to Monadnock State Park — near the town of Jaffrey — to summit the peak of Mount Monadnock. Designated as a national natural landmark, the 3,165-foot mountain is said to be one of the most-hiked peaks in the world.
On the challenging trek to the top, you’ll pass fields of massive boulders before reaching the summit and its memorable vistas that extend as far as Boston to the south and Mount Washington to the north. The park is well worth a stop even if you’re not up for the roughly four-hour summit hike — other trails offer pleasant, family-friendly strolls through the woods.
Tip: While you’re in Jaffrey, don’t miss the Cathedral of the Pines, home to a beautiful open-air cathedral and historic monuments honoring the service — both military and civilian — of American men and women.
Stop #7: Moose Alley
To really get away from it all, turn your steering wheel north for a drive along Moose Alley, the stretch of US-3 that runs from Pittsburg to the Canadian border. As the road’s nickname suggests, this is one of the best places in the state to spot a moose. But even if you don’t come across one of the big guys, it’s a beautiful trip past the Connecticut Lakes in the remote region known as the Great North Woods.
When you’re ready to get out and stretch your legs, stop at Lake Francis State Park. Rent a canoe and go for a paddle, or just relax with a picnic and take a dip in the lake.
If you’re looking for a little more adventure, there are plenty of river trip options in the area, with conditions ranging from small riffles to churning rapids. To paddle on the scenic Connecticut River, you can put in just south of Pittsburg and run nine miles of Class I and II rapids until you reach the Canaan Dam. Another beautiful stretch is the 20 miles from West Stewartstown to Colebrook, mostly a mellow paddle with a few Class II rapids.
As remote as you are, remember that from Pittsburg it’s just three and a half hours back to the Seacoast where you started. New Hampshire: proving that incredible prizes do indeed come in small packages.