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The most picturesque small towns in New Hampshire

New Hampshire is home to several quaint small towns that beckon visitors with their quirky charm, unique attractions and outdoor adventures. These include Franconia and the stunning Franconia Notch State Park, Hampton Beach with its lively boardwalk and oceanfront activities, Sugar Hill's famous pancakes and Meredith's lakefront recreation. Nature lovers will fall in love with the natural beauty of Lincoln and the scenic waterfalls and historic covered bridges of Jackson. Each town showcases the natural beauty, vibrant culture and welcoming atmosphere that make New Hampshire a scenic destination.

Franconia

Fall colors in Franconia Notch State Park | White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire, USA.

The small town of Franconia, with a population of just under 1,200, is home to the stunning 2,800-acre Franconia Notch State Park, where visitors can hike, bike, swim, camp, fish and participate in cold-weather activities in the winter. The park features dramatic mountain views, waterfalls and scenic natural features such as Flume Gorge, discovered by “Aunt” Jess Guernsey in 1808. Guernsey's house became known as “The Frost Place” after the famous poet Robert Frost lived there from 1915 to 1920 – a place that inspired his poem “The Road Not Taken.” Today, The Frost Place is a “house museum” and a haven for poetry lovers.

At nearby Cannon Mountain, outdoor enthusiasts can rock climb or zipline. A zipline takes them to the 4,080-foot summit, where on clear days they can enjoy spectacular 360-degree views of New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, New York and Canada. For a moderate 60- to 90-minute hike, take the Artists Bluff Trail from the trailhead near the Cannon Mountain Main Base Area, where hikers are rewarded with views of Echo Lake. On the way back, stop at Rek' lis Brew Pub for a well-deserved pint of draft beer.

Hampton Beach

Aerial view of Hampton Beach, including the historic waterfront buildings on Ocean Boulevard and Hampton Beach State Park.
Aerial view of Hampton Beach, including the historic waterfront buildings on Ocean Boulevard and Hampton Beach State Park.

New Hampshire's coastline is relatively small, stretching just 18 miles along the Atlantic Ocean, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in seaside attractions, scenic beauty and recreational activities in towns like Hampton Beach, with its old-school boardwalk. The mile-long, lively Hampton Beach Boardwalk is like a trip back in time with its old-fashioned pinball machines, skee-ball lanes, saltwater taffy stands, souvenir T-shirt shops, nightly concerts on the Sea Shell stage and free Monday movie nights on the sand.

From weekly concerts to fireworks to the 24th annual Hampton Beach Master Sand Sculpting Classic June 20-22, 2024, where 200 tons of imported sand are dumped on the beach, there's always something going on in this small beach town. Catch a show at the historic Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, a staple of the local entertainment scene since 1899. It hosts concerts and performances by well-known artists, tribute bands and comedians, or take the kids to the Blue Ocean Discovery Center, where they can learn about sea life and local marine ecology through interactive exhibits and touch pools. On the way out of town, stop at the popular Smuttynose Brewing Co. and sit with your dog at the tasting bar or beer garden.

Sugar Hill

Scenic view from Sugar Hill, New Hampshire. Colorful lupine fields, tall evergreen trees, and fog lifting from Canon Mountain in Franconia Notch.
Scenic view from Sugar Hill, New Hampshire. Colorful lupine fields, tall evergreen trees, and fog lifting from Canon Mountain in Franconia Notch.

Visitors looking for a quaint small town for a day trip into the heart of America's version of the “Alps” (the White Mountains) should look no further than Sugar Hill. With a population of just under 700, the town offers some of the most spectacular views of the White Mountains and is known for its lupines. Every June, visitors from all over the United States travel to Sugar Hill to see the annual Sugar Hill Lupine Festival and admire the thousands of purple and pink blooms that dot the mountainside. Besides lupines, Sugar Hill is also known for its pancakes, or one particular pancake restaurant – Polly's Pancake Parlor. A Sugar Hill institution, Polly's Pancake Parlor has been serving stacks of oat-buttermilk, buckwheat and whole wheat pancakes at the Route 117 restaurant for over 75 years. Today, they've updated everything slightly and visitors can now take home seven flavors of pancake mix to make at home.

Another Sugar Hill institution is Harman's Cheese & Country Store. This quaint red country store has been selling natural, high-quality white cheddar cheese, as well as local jams, mustards and jellies to residents since 1955. The Sugar Hill Historical Museum showcases the town's history from 1780 to the present day with exhibits on antique tools, public signs, memorabilia and a sleigh. It also houses a 1939 Ford fire truck.

Meredith

Aerial view of Meredith town center with fall foliage in autumn with Meredith Bay in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, NH, USA.
Aerial view of Meredith town center with fall foliage in autumn with Meredith Bay in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, NH, USA.

Located on the scenic north shore of New Hampshire's largest lake, Lake Winnipesaukee (180 square miles), Meredith is the ideal summer destination for a long weekend. While it's tempting to relax in the sun on Meredith's Leavitt or Waukewan beaches, or rent a kayak and spend the day on the water, the town has a small but vibrant arts scene, starting with the Meredith Sculpture Walk, which features over 30 works of art around the village. The Winnipesaukee Playhouse in downtown Meredith draws crowds from the lakes region, and its 2024 season begins in late June with Jersey Boys.

For shopping, The Marketplace at Mills Falls Resort offers some unique shops, cafes and restaurants, like Identity Coffee Co., which offers coffee from around the world, 603Paws, which offers gifts for four-legged friends, and Lee's Candy Kitchen, which sells candy like Pop Rocks, Charleston Chews and Nerds Rope. On Main Street, be sure to stop by the trendy Hermit Woods Winery, where you can enjoy local wine, food pairings, desserts and live music.

Lincoln

Aerial view of Lincoln Main Street in downtown and Little Coolidge Mountain on Kancamagus Highway with fall foliage.
Aerial view of Lincoln Main Street in downtown and Little Coolidge Mountain on Kancamagus Highway with fall foliage.

One of the most unusual attractions in Lincoln is an area called “The Basin,” a 30-foot-wide and 15-foot-deep bowl at the base of one of Lincoln's numerous Ice Age waterfalls, where the water foams and swirls endlessly. Visitors to “The Basin” are often fascinated by it, as was naturalist and poet Henry David Thoreau, who called it “perhaps the most remarkable curiosity of its kind in New England.”

From the Octagon Lodge base area, visitors can take the gondola to the 2,733-foot summit of Loon Mountain, where they'll find glacial caves, a scenic network of hiking trails, Herbert's Observation Tower and Boardwalk with its stunning views from Mount Moosilauke to Mount Washington, and Loon Peak Disc Golf, the highest disc golf course in New Hampshire at 2,700 feet. When it's time to cool off, head to Whale's Tale Waterpark, a family-friendly destination with slides, wave pools and a lazy river. At Akua Beach, surfers of all levels can practice the “hanging ten” at the park. After a day of exploring, grab a bite to eat and enjoy craft beer at Woodstock Inn Brewery or sample wine at One Love Brewery or Seven Birches Winery at Riverwalk Resort.

Jackson

Covered bridge in Jackson, New Hampshire, called Honeymoon Bridge.
Covered bridge in Jackson, New Hampshire, called Honeymoon Bridge.

Jackson is a quiet resort town nestled in the heart of the White Mountains. Although it's known as a winter getaway, there are plenty of activities for outdoor adventurers, such as Jackson Falls – a gentle waterfall with a 100-foot drop into smaller pools. It's a perfect spot for a picnic, or visitors can use the rocks by the water for sunbathing and sliding. From the village of Jackson, visitors can enjoy a variety of hikes, such as the 1.5-mile Mystery House Loop Trail, which begins right next to the town library on the former historic Gray's Inn property. For longer day hikes, head to the nearby White Mountain National Forest, a 2-acre (800,000 m) national forest where visitors can hike, swim, boat, fish, or stay overnight at one of 22 campgrounds or in a cabin.

The state of New Hampshire is legendary for its covered bridges and Jackson is famous for its iconic 1876 Honeymoon Bridge, set against the backdrop of the Wildcat River. Get that perfect photo on the bridge, where couples are known to kiss under the bridge for good luck.

From the stunning mountain views right outside the hotel room to locally made wine and beer, cheese, local restaurants, friendly locals and maple syrup on everything, visitors from all over the world are captivated by the charm of these six picturesque New Hampshire towns.

Anna Harden

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