Take the Kids: There’s more than outlets awaiting you in Tilton
For us, a visit to Tilton has always meant a few hours spent bargain hunting among the rows of outlet stores along Route 3. But a journey beyond the strip malls and stalled traffic reveals a quiet village just down the road and the base for an unexpected day trip. Add a short jaunt to Laconia to a picturesque outdoor education center, and you have a full and fun winter day with plenty of diversions for kids.
Tilton is a quick drive up Interstate 93 from Concord. Get off at Exit 20, and head west to our first stop: the Tilton Winter Farmers Market. (Look out for the signs on your right just a half mile or so after exiting the highway.) This is the market’s second year and, judging from our visit, it’s already earned a strong following among both shoppers and vendors.
More than 40 farmers, bakers and artisans call the place home every Saturday and Sunday from December through March. Among the stalls, you’ll find bagels from Sanbornton, apples from Grafton, cheese from Canterbury, mead from Ossippee, eggs from Allenstown, beef from Loudon, fudge from Bristol, root veggies from Weare and herbal teas from Wilton – and lots more. Kids will discover plenty to entertain them, too.
Free samples abound, perfect for small fingers, and musicians are usually strumming, plucking and fiddling at the market’s center. Children may be drawn to the beautiful toys a Canterbury woodworker showcases in one corner.
There’s plenty of floor space, with the stalls running onto two levels (with ramp access.) This gives shoppers ample room to browse without feeling cramped, and it gives kids space to ramble on their own, meaning parents don’t have to worry about a stand of beets unexpectedly tumbling across the floor.
You could easily craft a lunch out of the market’s offerings, but we suggest continuing west along Route 3 as it follows the Winnepesaukee River and turns into East Main Street. In just a couple of minutes, you’ll enter downtown Tilton. On your right, you’ll find the stately Tilton Inn and, on the first floor, the Onions Pub. This warm and inviting restaurant, with a wall full of windows overlooking Main Street and friendly staff, is a great place to warm up on a winter’s day. The pub seating is cozy and comfortable, and the unassuming menu has several good options. We recommend the onion soup, the house specialty. Young diners can order off the children’s menu, and the atmosphere is unfussy, which means parents can relax.
After lunch, and if the weather is not too biting, take a few minutes to stroll Tilton’s short Main Street. While it’s hardly been gentrified, there are a few options here to keep kids entertained: Growing Like a Weed kids consignment store, the Lakes Region Cupcake shop, and Mansfield’s Books, with a selection of toys as well as plenty of used children’s books.
When you’re ready to stretch your legs a bit more, head east to Laconia, where the Prescott Farm Environmental Education Center offers several miles of beautiful meadow and forest paths in a pastoral setting. (It’s about a 20-minute drive from Tilton – follow Route 3 through downtown Laconia, then bear right onto White Oaks Road. In a few minutes, you’ll see the open fields of Prescott Farm on your left.)
During a recent visit, we were able to snowshoe directly from our car to a forest trail connected to a larger network of paths – of the dozen or so variations we could have chosen, we opted for a short foray to accommodate one tiny member of our party, who was walking on snowshoes for the first time. Other paths lead through woods to a small lake. The trails are open to the public year-round, sunrise to sunset, and maps are available on site.
Prescott Farm also offers a full calendar of activities through the winter. Feb. 15 is the Winter Fest, with sleigh rides, sledding, bonfires, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. There are also weekly snowshoe hikes and sledding parties. Go to prescottfarm.org for more information.
Head to the farm’s main building to warm up and check out the stuffed black bear and bobcat on display. Or, begin your visit here, and have the kids grab one of the “explorer packs” hanging from pegs just inside the entrance. Each pack is stuffed with just the right tools to turn a simple walk through the woods into a surprising natural history lesson, even in the dead of winter: binoculars, magnifying glass, nets and jars for catching critters, field books and tracking guides.
End your day trip with a dose of classical grandeur. On the way home, head back through downtown Tilton and turn left on School Street (look for the statue on a brick pedestal), then head across the river into Northfield. Follow the road to the left toward the somewhat confusingly-named but impossible to miss Memorial Arch of Tilton, which towers above the surrounding landscape. The 55-foot-tall granite arch was built in 1882, the creation of Charles Tilton (the town of Tilton was named after Charles’s grandfather, Nathaniel). Charles, who had been inspired by the Titus Arch in Rome, wanted to build a monument to peace and create a final resting place for himself, although he ultimately was buried elsewhere.
Today, the arch stands alone in a starkly empty field, with a few scattered picnic tables and barbecue grills. In winter, the spot offers views down through the leafless trees to the rooftops of Tilton and Northfield, and to the low foothills beyond.
Especially at sunset, it’s a mysterious place, likely to calm even the most rambunctious children – the perfect comedown for the ride back home.
If you go
Prescott Farm Environmental Education Center: prescottfarm.org; 928 White Oaks Road, Laconia.