Monadnock Berries | Most Beautiful Places in New HampshirePhoto Credit : Courtesy of Monadnock Berries
The farther away from home we travel, it seems, the more we see with fresh eyes. A mountain or a meadow or a sun-dappled beach — or even a bright nighttime cityscape — becomes more dramatic, more lovely, when we view it as strangers for the first time. But what if we live here in New Hampshire, one of the most beautiful places in the country? Will our eyes ever grow weary of looking at beauty?
I have lived in New Hampshire nearly 40 years, and I am still discovering places and moments of beauty that surprise me. Sometimes it may be seeing the same setting — a country road, a hillside, a meadow — in different light or in a different season. New Hampshire is compact enough for visitors to visit everything on my list of most beautiful places in a day or two, but the secret to appreciating beauty is to take time. Step out of the car. Let the scenery soak in. Look around with fresh eyes.
Mount Monadnock rises 3,165 feet — barely a foothill in some parts of the west. But geology has given Monadnock the status of mountains many hundreds of feet taller, because Monadnock, located in the southwest corner of New Hampshire, stands alone. No other ridge distracts the eye. It is a mountain that gives an entire region of some 40 villages and towns a singular identity: We say we live in the Monadnock Region. Yankee is located in the heart of this area, in the small town of Dublin, and just up the road, around the curve of Route 101 heading west, Monadnock rises to the south, a blue lake at its feet. Small wonder that the setting is often compared to Switzerland. Each year some 125,000 hikers climb Monadnock’s many trails, and guidebooks typically claim it’s either the most-climbed mountain in the world or, after Japan’s Mount Fuji, the second-most-climbed. Fuji sees more people; however, there is a road cut through part of it now, so those of us who live in the shadow of Monadnock stay firm in claiming our title.
You climb above the tree line in less than an hour, and from there the landscape below will reward you even if you don’t take another step toward the summit. New England has more-famous mountains — Mansfield, Katahdin, and Mount Washington, for instance — but none that speaks as eloquently to the rugged yet gentle beauty of forest, meadow, water, home. It is why for two centuries poets and artists have climbed this mountain.
People claim that on the clearest of days they can see all six New England states from the summit. I cannot say that I have, but no matter: The promise of one day doing so is always there.
I could easily compile a list of the most beautiful places in New Hampshire with nearly all the nominees coming from the 40 towns nestled along the rivers and lakes of my home Monadnock Region. I promise I’ll get to the other New Hampshire regions in a moment here, but first let me say there are few better ways to spend a late summer morning or afternoon than picking blueberries at Monadnock Berries, with Monadnock rising to the northeast and the green hills seeming to float above the fields. The blueberries, raspberries, and other, more exotic fruits are the reason that many go (it’s also a favorite place for weddings), but chances are good that after you have enjoyed the berries’ sweetness, you’ll recall the feeling of a day passing slowly on this hillside, feasting on what you pick and what you see.
The beauty to be found at Canterbury Shaker Village is the enduring sense of living history all around. Even if visitors arrive with only a vague knowledge of the Shaker sect and what they believed (simple living, equality of sexes, communal living, pacifism, celibacy, respect for nature), the 300 people who lived and worked here two centuries ago would still feel at home all these decades later. Today, more than 25 years since the last Shaker sister at Canterbury died, the village is a tribute to a way of life that has influenced generations to appreciate the beauty in simplicity. Strolling the village, you feel relaxed, unhurried. There are nearly 700 acres of meadow, ponds, and nature trails to explore, and more than two dozen buildings to poke about — all the while perhaps singing softly the timeless melody “’Tis the Gift to be Simple.”
SEE MORE: Exploring Canterbury Shaker Village
Here is the picture to hold: It is nearing twilight in the Whites. It doesn’t really matter if you’re sitting in one of those made-to-pass-the-day chairs on the 900-foot-long Omni Mount Washington veranda, in Bretton Woods, or on the porch of the Mountain View Grand, in Whitefield. Both of these historic grand hotels understand the beauty of repose. Having the time to simply watch (preferably with a late afternoon adult beverage in hand). The mountains seemingly close enough to converse with. The quiet.
To my mind, there’s no more beautiful interstate highway stretch in America than the eight miles of I-93 that cuts through Franconia Notch. You’re flying along north of Concord at 70 mph when the road narrows, your speed slows dramatically, and you can’t take your eyes off the rising mountains (even though you must). There are moments when you feel as if your car is a watercraft slicing through a gorge. These eight miles can easily take a day, with stops along the way including the storied Flume Gorge,with its boardwalk that lets you traverse the deep gorge cut by the Pemigewasset River; the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway and, at its base, Echo Lake; and hiking trails that take you as deep into the wilds as you want.
When you put the word scenic in the title of your enterprise, you need to deliver, and the train excursion from North Conway to Crawford Depot over tracks that were laid in the 1870s does so in breathtaking fashion. There is an hour layover at the depot, and that is enough time to easily reach a knoll on Mount Willard for the view of Mount Washington and the southern Presidentials. If this train ride and short hike doesn’t make your own New England bucket list of most beautiful experiences, then I need to know where you’ve been.
When you think “beautiful New Hampshire,” you must think “fall foliage.” The season is New England’s own Mardi Gras, a celebration of fleeting color that’s among the most vibrant in the world. Of all the scenic fall drives in the region, none is more celebrated than the nearly 35 miles along Route 112 that carries the local nickname “the Kanc.” The two-lane road that carries you straight through the heart of the White Mountain National Forest holds no stores, no gas stations, and no signs except for those pointing to hiking trails and campgrounds. The pull-offs look out over the national forest, waterfalls, and mountains. Moose-watching is a bonus, especially in early morning and at twilight.
SEE MORE:History of the Kancamagus Highway
In the startlingly clear, deep waters of Newfound Lake, located in central New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, you can see fish swimming 10 feet below as if in an aquarium. The stream-fed lake is one of those treasures hidden in plain sight, easily overlooked in the shadow of the region’s more famous freshwater destinations, Winnipesaukee and Squam. Walk along its 20-plus miles of shoreline. Jump in. This is what a beautiful lake feels like.
SEE MORE:Prettiest Lakes in New England
A summer afternoon at the home and gardens of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of America’s greatest sculptors, gives you these possibilities to soak in beauty: sit on the expansive lawn and listen to the Sunday concerts; walk the expansive landscape of one of only two National Park Service properties devoted to visual artists; look in awe at his famous Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, a version of the same monument that faces the Massachusetts State House in Boston and depicts the bravery and sacrifice of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment during the Civil War. When my sons were growing up, the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site was an annual visit, and as they ran around the lush green lawn they never knew they were playing amid the setting that helped create enduring beauty — but they were.
From the Wildcat Mountain summit, Polecat cuts down the flank, and for more than two miles of twisting yet easy trail you stare west into Mount Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine. There are so many longer and steeper and more famous ski trails in America, but I venture there is none more dramatically beautiful than Polecat.
What are your picks for the most beautiful places in New Hampshire?
Mel Allen is the fifth editor of Yankee since the magazine began in 1935. His career at Yankee spans more than three decades, during which he has edited and written for every section of the magazine, including home, food, and travel. In his pursuit of stories, he has raced a sled dog team, crawled into the dens of black bears, fished with the legendary Ted Williams, picked potatoes in Aroostook County, and stood beneath a battleship before it was launched. We think he’s as New England as they come.