5 great New Hampshire outdoor activities for 2014
So we don't do one of those "year-in-review" things, let's just focus on things TO DO. It's January. A time for looking forward – not back.
Here's your challenge: put these activities on your "to-do" list for 2014. If you've done some of these... you rock! And you already know many of these activities are worth repeating and worth introducing friends and family to if they haven't had the experience. So, let's go!
ONE: Ice Ice Baby
The Meredith Rotary Ice Fishing Derby draws anglers from all over for a weekend of fishing and cameraderie. Whether you choose to fish or not, the Derby is worth bundling up to experience. A classic piece of New England culture, the bobhouse city and Derby HQ in Meredith provide the best people watching – ever. The fish on the leaderboard at HQ are "Wow!" big. The event offers tens of thousands in prizes and raises an immense amount of money for Rotary Club charities. And every lake in New Hampshire is open to the competition. The lakes and ponds of NH are beautiful in winter. Even if you only step out onto a frozen lake at dawn to "hear" the quietude, or you just stop by the leaderboard for a short visit, you'll be glad you checked this one off your list. Good fun!
TWO: Do a Goggle search
Grab your ski goggles and gear, or rent some and take a lesson, then ski or snowboard a place with one mind-blowing view: Cannon Mountain, namely, the Upper/Lower Cannon trails. Ride the famous Cannon tram to the top, pause at the summit lodge and pick out distant peaks from the deck. Emerge into an alpine wonderland. Rime ice coated spruce frame super long views to the north and massive Mt. Lafayette dazzles opposite Franconia Notch to the east. The upper trail is a rollercoaster ride with banked curves winding down to huge expanses on the lower half – all good fun. Keep stopping to catch your breath... and those views. Runs with views abound in NH, notably Sunapee (views of Lake Sunapee), Gunstock (Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mtns in the background) and Wildcat (Monstrous Mt. Washington and Tuckerman's Ravine).
THREE: Solitude on 40,000 acres of water
Lake Winnipesaukee, home to the country's oldest resort town (Wolfeboro), biggest motorcycle rally in the Northeast (Laconia) and vacation spot of the rich and famous is a place with wildly varying appearances. The rumble of bikes, the summer crush of tourists, and every craft from boats and personal watercraft to snowmobiles and ultralight seaplanes can be found on and around its waters. Still, at times, the lake is utterly quiet. The formula is simple. Go early. Even at the height of tourist season, no one is on the lake at dawn with the exception of a few salmon anglers. On over 40,000 acres of water, that's a lot of quietude. Get up early. Paddle. Swim. Or motor. Winnipesaukee, always beautiful, has its own charm early in the morning. Often glassy smooth, a light mist will dance on the surface. Cottages and lake houses disappear. The massive expanse of water is wreathed in forest and crowned in sunrise: a beauty primordial and pure. Ducks pass. A distant wake marks a loon diving for breakfast. Fish swirl and dimple the surface. Get out on the lake early and you will see it as the natives Americans did thousands of years ago. Keep your eyes open. That big bird that flaps past will probably be either a blue heron or bald eagle. Movement on the rocky shoreline will be mink. I once caught a moose swimming in the middle of the lake at 5:30 am in July – with every cottage filled on the shore, she decided it was best to also be out early. So, go ahead. Sleep in when you visit Winni. After your early outing... You'll be glad you did.
FOUR: Snake Eyes
One of New Hampshire's most spectacular views is a short, easy hike away. Rattlesnake Mountain overlooks Squam Lake from a vantage point that practically overhangs the lake. In this single aspect, Rattlesnake is unique. Sure – long, jaw dropping views can be had from the top of Mt. Washington, Chocorua, Monadnock, Pack Monadnock, Mt. Major and Castle in the Clouds, among others – but Rattlesnake Mountain's rocky promontory is placed such that you look almost right down at Squam Lake. All of the lake is in view. Swim rafts line the shore looking like a tiny regatta in miniature. Boats, like models in a diorama, maneuver through the lake's islands. You view the lake like a map – from above. It's not uncommon to hear locals pointing out landmarks from the overlook. Don't be surprised if you see hawks or eagles...likely you will be looking down on them as they pass. The hike is 20-30 minutes. A friend got married here last year. She, with her friends and family, brought in all the accoutrements for the ceremony. Her 80-something grandmother hiked to attend. Yes – their family is of good stock, but there's no need to be intimidated by this hike - the effort required is not more than walking from one end of the mall to the other. The payoff is simply beyond belief. If you haven't been, you'll wonder why you waited so long. And you will come back.
FIVE: Sit on the water
(A bald eagle surveys the Nashua River from its lofty perch)
Find a way this year to paddle a kayak in New Hampshire. It is a different way to experience nature – and water. Sup, or stand-up paddleboards are cool, canoes are classic and boating is all good, but kayaking a body of water gives you a unique connection. You're close. The water streams along the paddle and rolls over your knuckles as you glide silently along. This is great wildlife watching. Birds and animals are less threatened by your presence. You'll draw close to herons, ducks, song birds and birds of prey. Painted turtles will eyeball you before darting below. You'll see fish swim among the boulders, weeds sway in the current; watch beaver and muskrat cruise and dive. In summer, water lilies will make you feel like you're paddling through a Monet masterpiece. If you like to fish, by all means, try it from a kayak. Having a bass or rainbow trout jumping at eye level is the best 3D experience you can have. Fishing heightens one's observation of nature, hence deepening the connection. Places with good access for launching, quiet expanses for paddling and a good chance of seeing wildlife include the Exeter River, Exeter; The Nashua River, Nashua; Moore Reservoir on the Connecticut River, Littleton; Lake Winona and Lake Wicwas, Meredith; and the Pemigewasset River above Bristol.
EXTRA INNINGS: Chasing pinstripes and melted rocks
As mentioned at the start of this article, if you've done some of these outdoor activities already, here are two more ideas for 2014.
Take a walk on Hampton Harbor some morning mid-late summer. You'll be surprised at how clear the ocean water is. It's fun to watch the charter vessels come and go as shorebirds and dogs on their morning walk play in the surf. This is a fine stroll. Feel the tidal current sweep sand around your feet as you wade in the Atlantic. Make the walk more interesting by fishing for striped bass. Take a medium weight casting rod with you and a good sized pencil popper. Work it along as you make your way. Try to flick casts towards breaks and rips in the current, working some of the deeper calm pockets, too. Small stripers, called "schoolies", are hard fighters and very strong for their size. These pinstriped denizens of the harbor are a ball to catch. Just remember to catch and release swiftly so they grow to keeper size, 28". As far as fishing trips go, this is also as simple a one as you could ask for, requiring minimal gear: just a rod, a couple good lures and suntan lotion.
If granite could be melted by water, The Sculptured Rocks in Hebron would be the result. These rocks, carved by thousands of years of flowing water are like the Grand Canyon in miniature. Here stunningly clear, swirling water echoes against graceful, sweeping and flowing granite shapes: perfect basins, slides and steps. Shaded by overhanging trees and padded in moss, this is a beautiful spot, shrouded in Zen-like peacefulness. Though you'll find larger formations at the Flume and Basin in Franconia, Sculptured Rocks is a less frequented spot. Just north of Newfound Lake, it's still an easy jaunt, either coming down from Tenney Mountain or up from the lake. After your visit, carve out time to travel back around the lake, through the charming town of Bristol to Profile Falls, just south of town on the Smith River. That will cap your outing very nicely.