WHY GO: With its deep lakes bounded by mountains, Squam Lake and Winnipesaukee Lakes in the New Hampshire Lakes Region is an exquisite breath of fresh air for city folk. It can be a bit touristy, but only if you stay on the larger and more crowded Lake Winnipesaukee.
For this Getaway, you’ll find that you can access attractions in towns surrounding Winnipesaukee while staying near the relatively tranquil Squam Lake.
Squam Lake is so serene and restorative in fact, it was chosen as the location for the filming of On Golden Pond in 1980. The following are inns, restaurants and things to do that will blow you, gently, away.
This is also one of the Getaway Mavens recommendations for a quirky romantic place to pop the question in New Hampshire.
Things to Do Squam Lake NH
TOUR: Canterbury Shaker Village, Canterbury
About 20 miles from Lake Winnipesaukee, Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, New Hampshire offers a peek into a fascinating vestige of a not-quite dead yet religious way of life. These 17 buildings are all that is left of the vibrant community that once thrived here.
Founded by James and Jane Wardly in England in 1747, the celibate Shakers nearly died out when the founders did. But, in the 1770’s, after one follower, “Mother Ann” Lee, lost four babies in childbirth, she believed that God was sending a clear message to abstain from sex with her husband.
Origin of the American Shakers
Lee had a vision that God was preparing a place for her in the New World, and, heeding the call, took her own eight followers to Albany NY. There, she established the American Shakers.
Lee was opposed to slavery and promoted women’s rights. Because of that, she was tortured and beaten by mobs of men who accused her of bewitching and taking their wives from them. Undeterred, Lee dictated celibacy and hard work as a way of life, with the motto “Hand to work, heart to God.”
At its height, there were 6,000 Shakers nationwide – 300 of whom lived here in Canterbury NH. An offshoot of the Quakers, which had been established in the 1600’s, the Shakers were an equal-opportunity sect, accepting all races and creeds.
The Shakers worshiped through dance – clapping and singing like Miriam and King David – thus earning the nickname “Shaking Quakers.” While Quakers could marry and own land, the Shakers were celibate and communal.
The Shakers were also inventors, and unlike the Amish, loved technology. Many of those inventors were women.
A Shaker woman invented a rotating oven that could bake 30 loaves of bread at a time. Another invented a version of a buzz saw as she watched men sawing down a tree while she was working at her spinning wheel.
The Shakers invented the simple clothespin, the Shaker-knit sweater, were the first in the country to sell herbal medicine and packaged seeds, and of course created the beautiful oval wooden box finished with copper tacks, the “Tupperware of the day,” that bears the Shaker name.
Touring Canterbury Shaker Village NH
A self-guided or guided tour through the buildings inevitably leads you to the laundry house. The less-skilled women labored here or in the fields. Each phase, from collecting soiled clothing to cleaning it and then returning items fresh and folded to each family, was meticulously executed.
Through friendship with the local Native Americans, Shakers learned how to weave baskets, which were used to sort and deliver the clothes. The slate sinks are just as they were left – original bars of soap and all – from the last wash day in the 1940’s.
The 1820’s – 1860’s were heady times for the Shakers, but by the later 1800’s the Industrial Revolution had taken its toll on the sect. There was so much opportunity for young folks in the cities; it was hard to keep them home on the farm.
The Shakers Hit Product
In the 1890’s – 1920’s the Shakers enjoyed a surge in income (and interest) when Shaker women entrepreneurs hit it big with a product in huge demand among high society – the “Dorothy Cloak.” Used as an opera cloak, this simple woolen “little red riding hood” cape was all the rage.
For the most part, Shaker women traveled to New York City to take orders, though a few wealthy patrons found their way here. The very last Dorothy Cloak was made in Canterbury in 1973. (You can still buy a mini American Doll version here for around $32.)
Today, there are three Shakers left – at Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Glouster, ME. Canterbury remained an active Shaker Village until the death of Sister Ethel in 1992, although it had been turned into a Museum in the 70’s.
You can wander in and out of the 17 buildings on a self-guided tour or take one of several guided tours. Plan to spend at least 3 hours here, and if you can, take the 75 minute Canterbury Story Tour. Open daily mid-May-Early Sept. 10-4. tours 11am and 2pm, daily Sept – Oct., 10-5, tours 11, 1, 3, $19 adults, $9 children
STOP: Tilton Memorial Arch, Northfield
This is just one of those very weird way-off-the-roadside attractions that has to be seen to be believed. Charles Tilton was in awe of the Arch of Titus while visiting Rome in 1881 and returned to his New Hampshire home with plans to replicate it.
Standing 55 feet high on a hilltop above Northfield NH, the arch is surrounded by manicured lawns and picnic tables. It shares a driveway with a nursing home. But yes, you are in the right place.
TOUR: Squam Lake Natural Science Center, Holderness in New Hampshire Lakes Region
Opened in 1966 and updated to modern expectations, this exceptionally well-designed nature center keeps energetic kids and jaded adults happily engaged for hours.
A rescue center for orphaned or injured animals native-to-New Hampshire (including a River Otter saved from the Gulf Oil spill), take your time on a ¾ mile outdoor trail. You’ll see owls, falcons, beavers, coyotes, grey and red fox, bobcats, mountain lions and other creatures.
There’s plenty of signage to educate kids and adults, a fantastic garden and craft center at Kirkwood Gardens, and a sprawling “Predator/Pray” shoots and ladders-like playscape to rival the Children’s section of the Bronx Zoo. $17, May through Nov, daily 9:30-4:30 (last entry at 3:30).
TOUR: Squam Lake Boat Tours, Holderness
This 1 ½ hour boat tour could be called “Finding Loons Tour,” or “Behind the Scenes in the Filming of On Golden Pond Tour,” because you will experience all these things.
Captain and tour-guide, Tom, steers this 12-person boat from “Little Squam” under the bridge to the larger Squam Lake. The first scene of the movie was filmed at the marina office, dressed up like a General Store.
Squam Lake – On Golden Pond
“Katherine Hepburn goes into the store, and 80-year-old Henry Fonda guns the Chris Craft that someone else was supposed to be driving, and misses the boathouse by inches,” Tom explains. “He only lived six weeks beyond the filming of the movie. So some of his sadness and unsteadiness on film might not have been acting.”
Squam was originally called Asquam – “Beautiful Water.” In fact, its waters are nearly pure enough to drink. Only six by 6 ½ miles, the lake is tiny compared to Lake Winnipesaukee a few miles away. But it is more tranquil for sure.
Visit in late spring or summer, and you mights see Loon chicks “practicing” diving and swimming so they can be ready for the November Migration.
You’ll also hear tales about Church Island – a boys camp in the 1870’s turned into a still-operating Church. As many as 200 people paddle and motor to services each Sunday. $25, Mid May – June daily 1pm, July-mid October daily 11, 1, 3.
HIKE: West Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, Holderness
This two-mile round trip hike is a must-do for the views of Squam Lake and Winnipesaukee in the distance alone. Wear sturdy shoes or boots – you’ll be heading uphill for a mile on both stairs and a rocky, rooty path.
Climb to a large flat rock. Go past it up to another set of stairs, and there you’ll find a very wide boulder outcropping for the stunning payoff view. It’s the perfect place for selfies and us-ies and to rest before the quick skip down. Find the trailhead 5.5 miles from Holderness on Rt. 113.
CRUISE: M/S Mount Washington on Lake Winnipesaukee, Meredith or Weirs Beach
Like the Circle Line Tour of Manhattan, the M/S Mount Washington has been a tourist attraction in the New Hampshire Lakes Region for decades. It’s been plying Lake Winnipesaukee since 1872 (this boat since 1940), and every new visitor must jump aboard at least once.
At 230 feet with a capacity of about 1,250 (550 for dinner cruises), the ship chugs on the 21-mile long Lake Winnipesaukee multiple times a day in season. My favorite is the sunset dinner cruise – “dinner” being a buffet with typical buffet food – usually accompanied by live music.
There are plenty of places to wander on several levels, both inside and out. The cash bar of course, is one of the most popular stops. Capable, professional Captains, like Fleet Captain Leo O’Connell and Captain Bob Duffy, make sure things go smoothly in the wheelhouse.
Sunsets on the lake are stunning, viewed best from the deck. You might even see lights from island homes flashing on and off, a traditional “hello” to the Captains at the wheel, who flash their own lights back. Sails mid-May – mid Oct. Day cruise, $35 for adults, $18 kids, under 5 free. Evening Diner Cruise – $55 per person.
VISIT/SHOP: The Old Country Store, Moultonborough
Opened in 1781, this labyrinth of a store sells everything from Cat Lady Action Figures to S’mores kits to Yankee Candles, Family Crest mugs.
There’s “penny candy” for 3 cents each (?), sarsaparilla and other long-forgotten must-haves. You can spend hours there, just don’t miss the dusty museum upstairs with wooden Indians, and signage from centuries past. A plaque near the register says “cash only,” but according to the cashier, “we do cards.”
VISIT: The Loon Center, Moultonborough
Loons are birds designed by Escher; striped and polka-dotted black and white with deep red eyes, they seem more art than animal, and that seems to be part of their appeal. The original “helicopter parents,” Loons carry chicks on their backs and communicate in a complicated series of fluted cries.
But these beautiful birds are endangered in New Hampshire, and this small Audubon affiliate Visitors Center explains what we can do to reverse that trend. Watch a well-produced video, which explains how loons feed by sight (pollution curtails their ability to find food), and must nest on shore even though their strong bodies are ultra-cumbersome on land.
(The video of a mother loon attempting to haul herself out of the water is painful to watch). The loon population is declining due to increased recreation and pollution – and a proliferation of lead-based tackle. So, the Loon Center offers loon-safe non-lead fishing tackle for free. Open May 1-Jan 1st, Mon – Sat. 9-5 (Sundays May-Columbus Day). Free.
VISIT: Castle in the Clouds, Moultonborough
This is one of those New Hampshire Lakes Region attractions that entertain you coming and going. Enter through a gate at the base of a mountain, pay $18, and wind your way up the hill.
Pass a waterfall, take in a lake overview, and then finally, get to the Restaurant and Gift Shop. From there, take a trolley to the actual “Lucknow Castle.”
Thomas G. Plant went from rags to riches in the shoe biz. He manufactured women’s shoes, married a wealthy heiress, and by many accounts was a benevolent employer. Plant offered childcare, parks and a gym for his employees.
In 1910 after marrying a second time, he found 6,300 pristine acres in the New Hampshire Lakes Region, and built this 16-room mountaintop Arts and Crafts style home.
Plant spent lots of money, and made many investments, both good and bad. But it was his multimillion-dollar investment in Russian bonds right before the Bolshevik Revolution that sunk his own fortune. He never quite recovered.
Tours of the “Castle” Since 2006
Though the Castle has been open to the public since 1956, it was taken over by the Castle Preservation Society in 2006 with a mission to return the home to its original state.
Sure, there’s kitsch and tourist traps aplenty, but anyone interested in Arts and Crafts and forward-thinking architecture will find it a place of serious beauty.
There’s a Tiffany glass skylight, decorative wood flooring, rubber tile kitchen floor and even outlets for a central vac system.
FYI – don’t miss the “Secret Room” in the lovely living room – a tiny cubby where Robert would hide out. Mid May to mid June, Weekends, Mid June – mid October. Daily 10-5:30, $18 adults, $10 kids.
VISIT: Libby Museum, 3.2 miles from Wolfeboro
If the Getaway Mavens had a Poster Museum, it would be the Libby. Surprisingly, most people who visit the area, and even people who live here, don’t know about it.
A few miles from Wolfeboro on busy Rt 109, you can’t miss this large pale yellow Natural History Museum, built by dentist/artist Dr. Henry Forrest Libby in 1912 to showcase what has to be one of the strangest, most eclectic collections of oddities I’ve ever seen.
Libby, a poor farmer and artist, became wealthy after attending Harvard Dental School. He believed that art and artifacts should “appeal to the imagination and from imagination to curious investigation.”
In that vein, Libby collected skeletons, taxidermied animals, and thousands of items for his “tables of curiosities.”
In its early years, the Libby Museum drew thousands of visitors, among them, a Lizzie Borden, who signed the guest book.
Tourists were keen to see an 11.2 ft alligator caught in Florida (dead, of course), a real “Cootie” bug sent from the trenches of WW1, a long Chinese fingernail, lace from Napoleon’s wife’s dress, a mastodon tooth, and eek, two severed mummified hands.
This place is worth a perusal, even on a sunny day. You’ll probably stay longer than you first anticipated. Open June-Labor Day 10-4, Sun. 12-4, $2, 12 and under free.
VISIT: Wright Museum of WWII. Wolfeboro
What were the folks on the “Home Front” doing while our soldiers were off to WWII? This excellent museum – jam packed with artifacts from 1939-1945 – tells that story.
It was a time when our country rallied together “for the war effort.” Women went to work in the factories, symbolized by “Rosie the Riveter.” Families grew “victory gardens” to offset the need for food that was rationed out. And people sat around radios listening to the latest of FDR’s Fireside Chats.
Walk through the “Time Tunnel” that takes you through those years, and you’ll see, year by year, the costs of basic items like homes, cars, gas and milk, cultural icons and headlines of the day. Jazz and Pop Music, The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind, Roosevelt’s 4-Freedom’s speech, D-Day – all played a part in our collective memory.
One room is devoted to tanks, jeeps and other military vehicles, lovingly restored to their original condition – a favorite of veterans of that war. Open May 1 November 15, Monday – Saturday, 10am-4pm Sunday, Noon-4pm $10.
VISIT/SHOP: League of NH Craftsmen, Center Sandwich
Though there are 8 other League galleries in New Hampshire, this was the first. By the 1920’s factories had rendered small-town craftsmen – shoemakers, furniture makers, toy-makers – obsolete. Tourism in the area, however, was booming.
Summer residents, Jay and Mary Coolidge, realized that these out of work artisans made the one-of-a-kind baskets, toys, tables, and rugs that tourists would eagerly snap up. They formed the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen in 1932 and built this shop in 1936.
You’ll learn a bit of down-home history while perusing the best of the current crop of 800 craft artisans in this tiny quintessential New England town. In season, the center also offers free craft demonstrations. Open mid May to Mid Oct. Mon-Sat 10-5, Sun 12-5.
Squam Lake Restaurants
(See below under Lodging in New Hampshire Lakes Region).
EAT: Inn Kitchen & Bar at the Inn at Squam Lake
It’s quite surprising to discover a trendy, locavore tavern in back of an 1800’s farmhouse, but Inn Kitchen and Bar is one of the hottest “foodie” destination in the NH Lakes region. All servers are knowledgeable and passionate about what comes out of the kitchen.
Sporting very casual t-shirts and shorts, they recite specials with intricate knowledge about sourcing, prep and ingredients. The New Hampshire-shaped cheeseboard comes festooned with three pairings of cheese “and its perfect accompaniment” e.g. roasted garlic, caramelized figs.
The phenomenal Tuna Tartar, arriving in a martini glass, tastes as if it were caught, filleted and assembled just minutes ago. As with most field and stream to table cuisine, the menu changes often.
I sure hope, though, that Inn Kitchen keeps its ultra popular Ice Cream Cookies on the list. Freshly made ice-cream squished between two large artisanal discs of delight, you’ll need plenty of willpower to leave the second half to your companions.
Hotels Squam Lake New Hampshire
STAY: Manor on Golden Pond
Owners Brian and Mary Ellen Shields greet guests warmly as they enter the lovely Manor On Golden Pond atop a hill overlooking Squam Lake in New Hampshire’s Lake Region. From the Manor’s circular driveway, you can peer downhill at the lake through trees that abound on the property.
In 1980, when the Jane and Henry Fonda flick, On Golden Pond, made this area a sensation, local establishments including this one capitalized on the name.
The yellow-stucco Manor, built as a private home in 1904, was a bit run down in the 90’s when the Shields purchased it. They revitalized and restored to its turn-of-last-century glory with updated rooms and an injection of fun and games.
First Impressions of Manor on Golden Pond
Driving up a long road to the manor on the hill, watch for bathing suit and bathrobe clad men and women ambling back from a large, pristine swimming pool steps away from the main building.
At Tea Time (4-5), guests gather in the elegant wood-beamed parlor to sip, read, and play board games.
Sit down to play a game of chess on a set assembled from salt and pepper shakers. Or place a few key pieces in a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Or, attempt to solved a confounding wooden puzzle that requires 47 moves to solve. (The latter is the bane of many visitors).
It’s a social place, made even more so by Brian and Mary’s helpful presence.
Rooms at Manor On Golden Pond
Most rooms in the Inn are quite large. The blue and white Churchill Suite– on the second floor with a shared deck overlooking Squam Lake – is a Delftware-hued fantasia.
It’s a quiet, tranquil room, with a four-poster bed topped with soft linens, a flat screen TV, and fireplace. It’s wonderful bathroom sports a Jaccuzi bath featuring sliding shutters that open onto the bedroom. It makes for a perfect honeymoon or anniversary suite.
Through the magic of mirrors at the head and foot of the tub, you can gaze into the bedroom and then out to Squam Lake while reclining in bubbling water.
Housekeeping cleans and checks on each room twice a day. Turndown service is so mellow (soft lighting, dreamy bedding), and so stealthy done, I felt compelled to write a thank you note to the staff before leaving.
Dining at Manor on Golden Pond
Breakfast and Dinner are served in the Van Horn Dining Room – one half of which was the manor’s billiard room when a private home.
Billiard balls are wedged in one wall as a nod to its former use. A made-to order breakfast, which always includes steamed Brown Bread French Toast, is included with the room.
Dinner is more formal. Tables glow with votive candles and classical music plays. China with floral designs mirror the wallpaper on the ceiling.
Dishes, for the most part, hit the mark perfectly. The chef is incredibly adept with fish and fowl. My absolute favorite was the Brined Chicken With Maple Mustard in a Mashed Potato Moat, one of the most succulent chicken dishes I’ve ever had.
Amenities at Manor On Golden Pond
A full made to order hot breakfast is served each morning. There are tennis courts, a swimming pool and beautiful grounds for strolling. Hot and cold drinks are available 24/7 in the parlor.
And between 4-5 each day, you’ll find fine-China cups set out for hot tea, crustless sandwiches, and cookies in the living room. Indoor board games and puzzles are also popular, especially on rainy days.
The in-house bar, the Three Cocks Pub, is a pretty perk for travelers and a great space for groups to gather. Suite rates from $230 off season to $495 in season. (Churchill Suite from $350-$425), includes use of all property amenities, afternoon tea and full hot breakfast. Winter package from $486 includes two nights lodging, breakfast, afternoon tea, and dinner for 2 one night.
STAY: Squam Lake Inn
Down the hill from “the Manor” – you’ll find this adorable yellow 1800’s farmhouse. Rooms have been updated, and that goes for the very hipster restaurant, Inn Kitchen, right on site (see Where to Eat). Rooms from $229 includes breakfast and afternoon tea.