One tank of gas, a weekend, and 10 major stops. That’s all you need for this two-day road trip from Boston to the New Hampshire regions of the Merrimack Valley, Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee, and Monadnock.
New Hampshire may not be the biggest state, but it sure packs a lot within its borders, from historic cities with lively downtowns to scenic mountaintops, lakes, rivers, and ocean beaches. The southernmost regions of the Merrimack Valley, Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee, and Monadnock are no exception – and their biggest attractions are not only within close proximity of each other, but a two-hour driving distance of Boston. Here, in a 260-mile road trip, launching from Beantown and looping through these three southern regions, we detail all you can take in within just two quick days.
8:30 a.m. | Breakfast in a Quaint Cafe [Windham]
Just 10 miles over the border off of I-93 in the Merrimack Valley region, Windham Junction is a hidden gem of a gift shop and café that looks like it could have been pulled right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Housed in a nineteenth-century country house, expect true home-style breakfasts, including omelets made from fresh local eggs, French toast made from thick-cut cinnamon swirl bread, and heaping helpings of homemade hash browns.
10:30 a.m. | Shop & Stroll through a Historic Downtown [Concord]
Park at Durgin Block Garage, then walk the block to Main Street to spend the remaining hour or so of your morning exploring the downtown Concord, boasting a variety of specialty shops, cafés, and restaurants all housed in historic buildings. A couple to check out: Celeste Oliva, a tasting bar where you can sample artisan olive oils and vinegars before you buy, and Fifty Home, a beautifully curated home goods store featuring one-of-a-kind pieces.
12:30 p.m. | An Eclectic Collection of Classic Cars [New London]
After taking I-89 and crossing into the Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee region, stop into the Ice House Museum, a little-known yet carefully-curated museum that is a paradise for car buffs. Housed in – yes, you guessed it – an old ice house, the eclectic collection showcases several working antique cars, including a 1926 fire engine, antique tractors, and a slew of vintage Fords, from Model As to Model Ts.
2 p.m. | Late Lunch of Authentic Slow-Cooked BBQ [Sunapee]
Located just off of Route 11, after it slingshots around the northern tip of Lake Sunapee, Wildwood Smokehouse brings a taste of the “Old West” to the shoreline of Sunapee Harbor. In addition to western-style décor, there’s an outdoor wood-fired smoker that slow-cooks all the meat – think: pulled pork, pulled chicken, ribs, beef brisket, and smoked chicken – to perfection.
3:30 p.m. | Sample a Section of an Old Rail Trail [Newport]
Less than 10 miles west of Sunapee, park at the Newport Recreation Department to access the eastern section of the Sugar River Trail, a nature trail that follows an old train bed nine miles west into Claremont. While you won’t be tackling the entire trail today, in the first mile alone, you’ll cross the Sugar River over bridges while taking in scenic views of Corbin Park, a 26,000-acre wildlife preserve and private hunting park.
6 p.m. | Dine & Sleep in an Old Mill [Claremont]
Located on the banks of Sugar River in the old mill town of Claremont, The Common Man Inn is set in a refurbished 1850s textile mill that plays up the historic charm with rooms showcasing walls of brick, old beams, and industrial touches. As for dinner, you don’t have to wander far: The inn is home to a downstairs restaurant famous for fresh-made comfort food, like home-baked mac and cheese, meatloaf, and pot roast.
12 p.m. | Wine Tastings with a View [Westmoreland]
After a leisurely hour-long ride south on Route 12, which skirts the Connecticut River bordering Vermont, you’ll arrive at Summit Winery, which sits on 80 acres just five miles outside of Keene in the Monadnock Region. Anchored by a beautiful wooden bar, the tasting room offers views of Stratton Mountain, alongside complimentary tastings of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, riesling, red zinfandel, and cabernet sauvignon made here at the winery from grapes sourced globally.
1 p.m. | Meander Main Street in a College Town [Keene]
Recently featured on USA Today’s list of the US’s most charming main streets, Downtown Keene boasts a wide Main Street lined with historical homes, municipal buildings, landscaped tree-lined walkways and scores of stores with colorful signs. First, fuel up with lunch at Fritz, known for its hand-cut Belgian fries and grilled panini-style sandwiches, then spend the early part of the afternoon popping in and out of stores such as Hannah Grimes Marketplace and Ann Henderson Interiors.
3 p.m. | Big Culture in a Little Town [Peterborough]
How about a dose of world culture in a small town? You’ll find just that after a short one-mile detour off 101 East at the Mariposa Museum and World Culture Center in downtown Peterborough. Housed in an old church, the impressive three-story collection showcases an array of artifacts, instruments, and costumes – check out The Big Book: Pages for Peace exhibit – from every corner of the world.
6 p.m. | Evening Picnic in a City Park [Nashua]
Before making your way back to Boston, pick up dinner to-go from Pig Tale Restaurant, a rustic-chic eatery right off of 101A that specializes in wood-fired pizza and apps sourced from local farm ingredients, then head to Nashua to your final destination: Mine Falls Park for an evening picnic. The 325-acre park is a surprising slice of nature splashed in the middle of the city and the perfect place to reflect on your trip beside the Nashua River.