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Take the Kids

A full day of fun in Hanover

Hanover is one of those quintessential college towns in which it’s hard to tell where the campus ends and the town begins, so tightly are the two interwoven. Young children can have a ball exploring Dartmouth College, both indoors and out, even if they’re years away from heading off to school themselves. Here’s a suggested itinerary in Hanover that features a walk over the river and through the woods, a visit to a small gem of an art museum, and some campus exploration from a kid’s-eye view.

Hanover lies in the heart of the Upper Connecticut River Valley, a beautiful, hour-long drive up Interstate 89 from Concord. After the ride, your passengers may want to stretch their legs a bit. Hanover has several great hiking trails, and one particularly fine network is accessible just on the outskirts of downtown. The Mink Brook Nature Preserve trails follow a quiet tributary of the Connecticut River through woods. Find the trailhead at the end of Brook Road, off Route 10, just a half mile or so south of the center of town.

After a few minutes of easy walking along the brook’s edge, you can follow the trail across to the opposite bank. The crossing is hard to miss – a magical-looking wooden bridge, fashioned from a single pine tree split down the center. It makes for a narrow footpath, and while a pair of hand-crafted railings provides some balance, younger hikers should pay special attention to the sign at the bridge’s end: “Cross with care.”

Once across, follow the trail to the left, through even denser woods and past rising piles of giant granite boulders, like the remnants of an ancient stone fortress. Retrace your steps to return to the parking area, and then make the short drive to Hanover’s downtown.

Park on one of the side streets or in the parking garage on Lebanon Street (no charge on Sundays); all of the stops in this itinerary are within a few blocks of the center of town.

If you’re looking for lunch, you’ll find plenty of options along pedestrian-friendly South Main Street, including diners, pubs, burrito places, Thai, Indian and more. One of the newest additions to Hanover’s dining scene is also a great place to bring kids: Three Guys Basement BBQ, located kitty-corner to the Dartmouth Green, up the alley next to the Dirt Cowboy Cafe.

True to its name, this place is at the bottom of a set of stairs, so be aware that it may not be accessible to all.

The subterranean setting and warren of small dining areas makes for a cozy, comfy atmosphere, especially on chilly winter afternoons. The specialty at Three Guys is, obviously, smoked meat: ribs, pulled pork, brisket, and more. But non-meat-lovers won’t necessarily have to settle, as the side dishes are varied and carefully prepared. On the day we visited, the menu included a beet salad, fantastic mac-n-cheese, and some of the tastiest kale we’ve ever had. The children’s menu offers the usual grilled cheese and hot dogs, as well as kid-sized portions of pulled pork and other BBQ items. And the tiny cornbread muffins are perfect for little hands.

After you’ve had your fill, take some time to explore Hanover’s small but busy downtown. South Main Street is home to some funky independent stores, including Left Bank Books, located just past the Dirt Cowboy coffee shop on the second floor.

The space is small, but the selection has been carefully curated, including a small selection of second-hand children’s books and a box of well-worn wooden toys to keep young browsers entertained.

Kids also will find toys and books to covet in the nearby Eastman Pharmacy, Dartmouth Bookstore and College Supplies.

When it’s time to head indoors again and warm up, walk around the corner, onto East Wheelock Street, where you’ll find a heaping dose of art and culture at Dartmouth’s Hood Museum of Art. Bonus: Admission is free for everyone. The selection of art on display is modest by most big-city museum standards, but the collection is eclectic.

On our recent visit, we saw ancient Egyptian artifacts, a Cubism exhibit, Picasso etchings, work by a modern Chinese painter, and a wall-sized lilac-and-orange Rothko canvas. Our young children especially liked the expressions on the ancient Buddhist temple sculptures, carved into writhing dog and dragon heads.

The Hood also hosts a rotating selection of special exhibits: On past visits, we’ve seen galleries devoted to Inuit culture and contemporary African sculpture.

The Hood also offers special events to engage families and kids: Family Days, on select Sundays, allow kids ages 6 to 12 and their parents to explore the museum through activities, puzzles, sketching and games. And Children’s and Family Workshops on certain Saturdays let kids and their parents learn about the art and work on related projects.

After the museum, head into the adjacent Hopkins Center for the Arts, a sprawling complex that seems always full of activity. Here you’ll find the Hood’s gift shop (where your kids will spy postcards of many of the works on display as well as artsy books and toys), a bustling cafeteria, and a maze of student studio space, galleries and performing venues to peep into. Through one big set of windows, we saw colorful stage designs being prepared for an upcoming performance of The Winter’s Tale. In the building’s front entrance, you’ll find some funky built-in seating that provided a fun romp for our 3-year-old. The hallways are wide and often bustling with students – so no one ever seems to mind an energetic toddler or two running wild.

Head outside and across the street to The Green, 5 acres of grass and paths, where kids can run and play freely. Dartmouth calls it “the heart of campus.”

It’s especially nice for young children who have extra energy after spending time in a museum. Bring a ball or, if the weather cooperates, play a game on the lawn. Behind the row of white brick buildings along one edge of the Green, you’ll find the Dartmouth Bema, a wooded amphitheater that provides another, more secluded, place for kids to tumble and run.

Morano Gelato (at the opposite end of South Main Street, next to the Nugget Theatre) is worth a stop even on a chilly November afternoon.

The icy sweets here are handmade on site, and available in a wide assortment of flavors: pistachio, raspberry, chocolate mousse, hazelnut and pumpkin, among others, were on the menu on our recent visit. If you need a warm-up, you’ll also find hot apple cider and Italian hot chocolate.

Either makes a perfect hand-warmer during the walk back across campus at day’s end.

If you go

∎ The Hood Museum of Art: 4 E. Wheelock St.; 646-2808; hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu; free admission. Hours – Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sundays, noon-5 p.m.

∎ Three Guys Basement BBQ:
5 S. Main St.; 643-7227,

 Morano Gelato: 57 S. Main St.; 643-4233, moranogelato.com.

∎ Mink Brook Nature Preserve: Trail maps available at hanoverconservancy.org/lands/mink-brook.

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