Newfound Lake, which is 2-1/2 miles wide and seven miles long, reaches depths of up to 180 feet and is fed by eight springs, and the water is considered the most pristine in the state.
Woods and water are essential to a New England summer vacation, and, standing near the tip of Paradise Point on New Hampshire’s Newfound Lake, just west of Lake Winnipesaukee, I realize I’ve happily found summer. I arrived here by walking 10 minutes through hushed woods, where the hemlocks and moss captured the sounds of my every footstep. Along the way, I could smell the luxuriant scent of the forest.
And then, as if a curtain of light had been lifted in the woods: the water.
Ask any resident around Newfound Lake about its water and you’ll get an earful. The glacial lake, which is 2-1/2 miles wide and seven miles long, reaches depths of up to 180 feet and is fed by eight springs. You’ll hear that the water is considered the most pristine in the state. You’ll also hear that this isn’t by chance — the Newfound Lake Region Association remains diligent in monitoring the lake, keeping milfoil at bay, and ensuring it stays this way. From Paradise Point, you may observe that this is no small challenge. This is not a wilderness lake. Motorboats crease the lake’s surface all summer; cottages line the distant shore.
A small lake provides a series of small adventures, not a single large one. That’s certainly the case here. You could spend a week making small forays on the water and into the forest.
I dropped my suitcases at The Inn on Newfound Lake on the eastern shore, which in some form has been welcoming guests since 1840. With its floral wallpaper, it still has the feel of a New England boardinghouse, with creaky stairs and smallish rooms. (Some still have their bathrooms across the hall.) The inn is just across the road from the lake and looks out toward Mount Cardigan beyond the western shore. A refreshing dip in those cleansing waters from the inn’s sandy beach is a good way to start an adventure here.
Then to Paradise Point, the New Hampshire Audubon preserve up at the head of the lake. The preserve consists of just 43 acres, but this encompasses 3,500 feet of untouched shorefront. Bring a picnic. Take a hike. Rent a kayak or canoe from the nature center or launch your own craft and see how the shoreline looks when viewed from the outside in.
Keep driving counterclockwise around Newfound Lake and you’ll soon come to the timeless village of Hebron. There’s a grassy, irregular square with a small gazebo, a church, and a country store, all awash in white clapboard.
Pause if you’d like, but then push on 2.8 miles from Hebron toward Groton to Sculptured Rocks Natural Area. (Follow the signs from town.) The Cockermouth River flows through a cleft in the granite here, but that simple description doesn’t do it justice. The river was once the outflow of a great glacier, and the currents tossed car-sized boulders around like cherry pits in a sink drain. The force carved out all sorts of fantastical, cloudlike shapes in the rock. Older kids with a strong crawl—both aquatic and terrestrial—love to start at the bottom of the gorge and, salmonlike, swim and scramble their way as far upstream as they can go.
A 1912 postcard showcases Sugarloaf’s Ledges, on the west side of the lake, as a local bit of worthy natural drama. And this 200-foot static cascade of gray rock, plunging down the hill and into the lake, still has the power to impress as you drive by, slowly, mindful of oncoming cars and the rock wall between you and the lake.
Farther along is Wellington State Park, a handsome crescent of sand capping the end of a cove. Bustling on weekends and quieter on weekdays, this park—carved out by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s—is a fine destination. You can expand your view nicely by crossing the road and hiking up the Elwell Trail, which will take you to the top of those ledges you recently passed by.
Bristol is the market town hereabouts, and, like the lake, it packs a lot into a little. The town was once known for the high quality of its glacial sand and the bricks that were made from it. Today, it’s known for … well, not much. (A wry someone on Wikipedia saw fit to tout the appeal of the local convenience store, where “the main attraction is the ability to buy a 32 oz slushie for $0.69.”)
Actually, there’s more to Bristol than that. The compact brick downtown has a deli, a diner, a bakery selling a creditable corn muffin, an antiques mall, and a dinner place called Joe’s Restaurant and Sports Bar.
Before completing the loop back to the hotel, take time to stop at Iron Horse Metal Works, where co-owner Victor MacAdam makes his handsome, sometimes whimsical, and generally affordable garden sculptures. They’re for sale at Earthly Treasures (run by Victor’s wife, Elaine), the adjacent gift shop that carries “nature-inspired, American-made” goods including jewelry, lamps, furniture, and other crafts, many of which are made in New Hampshire and all from small producers.
And small, as you will have come to know by now, is good.
Check out the Newfound Lake Region Association’s website for more information.
Have you ever been to Newfound Lake?