Take the Kids: Squam Lake offers a day full of family friendly fun

Last modified: 6/20/2013 10:41:44 AM
It’s easy to overlook Squam Lake. This genteel region, tucked between the more popular tourist destinations of Lake Winnipesaukee and the White Mountains, has few obvious tourist draws and no major towns. But the tranquil villages and shady roads hugging Squam’s northern shoreline are actually home to a day’s worth of kid-friendly diversions. You just need to know where to look. Here’s an itinerary that includes face-to-face encounters with some wildlife, a visit to a local farm, hidden woodland waterfalls, and an ice cream shop in the middle of a forest.

From Concord, the quickest way to the Squam region is through Ashland, right off Interstate 93. Follow Route 25 East, turning left at Route 113 in Holderness. Almost immediately after this turn, you’ll arrive at our first destination: the Squam Lake Natural Science Center, home to the kind of wildlife you won’t find in the average backyard.

The Center’s main attraction is its mile-long loop of flat walking trails, dotted with a series of outdoor exhibits that offer up-close (but not too close) encounters with mountain lions, black bears, river otters, bobcats and other creatures native to the state.

There are also several thoughtful, interactive exhibits that manage to both inform and entertain. During a recent visit, our toddler loved all the special touches for smaller folk: a mock bear den accessible only through a narrow tunnel, the imitation otter slide, and the periscope that lets you “spy” on nearby chipmunks. Older children may be drawn to the exhibits’ clearly explained lessons on conservation, habitat and ecological history. The setting, including forest and open marshland, adds to the experience. The center also offers lake cruises and live animal presentations in the summer months. All in all, we consider this one of New Hampshire’s best family destinations.

All that nature exploration will likely work up an appetite. Several picnic tables near the science center’s entrance make a fine spot for picnicking. But if you didn’t pack your lunch, continue east along Route 113. One mile down the road you’ll come to Longhaul Farm, a funky farmstand/brunch spot/events destination during the warmer months. In addition to fresh vegetables, Longhaul sells more substantial lunch items, baked goods and desserts.

Continue east into Center Sandwich, the heart of the Squam Lakes region. Day-trippers who only know this town from the annual, often over-crowded Sandwich Fair might be surprised by an off-season visit. Stripped of carnival rides and hordes of fairgoers, this crossroads village seems right out of a storybook. The roads are lined with well-preserved white colonial homes and churches. Stone-walled, forested lanes and broad, hilly fields give way to stunning views of the lake and mountainsides that seem close enough to touch.

Once you reach the center of town, if lunch is still on your itinerary, cross the street to the Corner House Inn. This 150-year-old restaurant and pub is a great spot for families, with a laid-back, kid-tolerant atmosphere and seriously good food. On a recent day, we stopped in with an excited, hungry baby and a sleeping toddler, worried we might be too much for staff to handle. Instead, they cheerfully pointed the way upstairs to the quiet lodge area – complete with couches, where our oldest napped undisturbed while we sat just inches away at a table.

On the menu: old favorites, such as a meatloaf made from beef, pork, and venison, and some novelties, like sweet potato polenta. There’s also a kids menu and a hearty list of daily specials, and an outside patio.

You can work off lunch by walking across the street to Mocha Rizing, a quirky coffee shop with original works of art on the walls. Older kids may want to stop in Sandwich Home Industries, located on the town green and one of the original League of New Hampshire Craftsmen galleries with a varied collection of artwork, jewelry, dolls and clothing on display.

If your party still needs some outdoor diversions, drive up Grove Street from the town center and bear left toward Sandwich Notch Road. The rough, rutted road was once the main thoroughfare to the North Country. Today, however, it’s all but impassible much of the year. But before conditions get too dangerous, you’ll find a trail on your right that leads to Beede’s Falls, a small flume rushing through dense woods and over rock ledges. Older kids may want to explore the hidden caves and rock formations along this waterway, but there’s one last, sweet pit stop on this itinerary.

The Sandwich Creamery, located on the northern edge of town, has got to be the most remote ice cream stand in New Hampshire. To get there, follow Route 113 east about four miles out of the center of town, and bear left when the road splits, following Route 113A. Turn left onto Wing Road (watch for the sign for the Creamery) and then right onto Hannah Road. Don’t worry if you feel as though you’re driving into an enchanted forest. After a few minutes, the thick woods yield to an open meadow, and a small pen of cows and sheep will come into view. The ice cream stand itself is a humble affair: just an unmanned counter with refrigerators stacked with pints in various flavors. Trust us: You can’t go wrong in your choice.

They operate on the honor system here, so bring cash. Nearby picnic tables make a fine spot for a late-afternoon al fresco dessert, with the creamery’s cows visible across the field. Or, why not bring a cooler and haul home as much ice cream as you can carry?

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