Squam Lake

The Squam Lakes region of New Hampshire is an ideal outdoor and recreational travel destination, especially for those who like a more back-to-nature setting. For many locals and summer visitors, Big Squam Lake and Little Squam Lake were among the state’s best kept secrets until Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn made them famous in the 1981 movie “On Golden Pond.” But these days, the most popular movie from the Squam lakes comes from the Loon Preservation Committee’s LoonCam, which broadcasts a mating pair of loons lives on YouTube during summer months. Despite the Hollywood glamour, and though 6,791-acre Big Squam Lake is second in size only to Lake Winnipesaukee in the state, the lakes, woods, and mountains of the Squam Lakes Region are treasured by many as a less-traveled, more quiet retreat, a place where animal preservation work takes place.

The Squam Lakes Region is, in fact, among the least commercially developed areas of the Lakes Region, though it is among the most visited yearly by campers, hikers, and island lovers, and in the winter, lovers of ice fishing and snowmobiling. It’s also a great place for recreational boating and outdoor vehicles of most shapes and sizes. The Squam Lake Association, which has protected and promoted the lakes since 1904, provides visitors with a bounty of activities on the water and in the lakes’ watershed area. The SLA has a network of hiking trails, access points, canoe and kayak rentals, and camping sites, and offers maps to visitors showing points of interest, such as Bowman Island, Moon Island, and the Mead Base Conservation Center, which is the southernmost entry to the White Mountain National Forest. The association offers winter events as well, such as ice-harvesting exhibitions – ice that is used to keep its summer camp refrigerators cold, a centuries-old practice still in use. Easy hikes can be found, such as the mile-long Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, which offers a stunning view of Lake Winnipesaukee at its summit. And there are numerous biking trails pass through the watershed, including trails through the Chamberlain-Reynolds

Memorial Forest and the Belknap Woods. Perhaps the natural showcase of the region is the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center located on Route 25 in Holderness, NH. Through its live animal exhibits, natural science education programs, its public garden and lake cruises, the Science Center has educated and enlightened visitors since 1966 about the natural world. The only institution in Northern New England accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the center offers a variety of educational and enlightening programs throughout the year, from summer guided discoveries to natural adventures to lake cruises and other seasonal programs.  Another delightful feature is Kirkwood Gardens which features beautifully landscaped gardens designed to attract butterflies. The Squam Lake Science Center also offers winter programming for all ages. Programs include Bird Banding, animal Tracking, and many other Outdoor Adventure Series.

Squam Lake Islands are great places to explore. Moon Island is 30 acres with several small beaches available for non-motorized boats. Bowman Island is 23 acres located just across from Moon Island and campsites can be reserved via the Squam Lakes Association.  Many enjoy Sunday worship services at the Chocorua Island Chapel. Services are held from June to early September.  Chocorua Island is the site of America’s first resident boys’ summer camp established in 1881 by Mr. Ernest Balch and operated until 1889. 

The Squam Lakes Association also offers the Squam Lakes Range Program which offers hikers 50 miles of hiking over 26 trails.  You can hike all 50 miles to earn your Ranger baseball cap, Patch and Completion Certificate. Many of the treks are child and dog-friendly.

For those who like to hunt, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s Owl Brook Hunter Education Center is dedicated to educating people in the knowledge, skills, and behaviors needed to become safe and responsible hunters, trappers and stewards of the state’s natural resources.

There’s plenty of lodging in the area, with quaint lakeside cottages, motels, bed and breakfasts, and country inns with numerous dining establishments in the area. There are three marinas and other access points to the water for overnight visitors and day-boaters.

For more, visit:

– Take a boat ride with Academy Award winner Ernest Thompson and Captain Cindy O’Leary and see “Golden Pond” through the writer’s eyes. Visit ernestthompson.us.

– Visit the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, call (603) 968-7194 or visit www.nhnature.org for information on Squam Lakes Natural Science Center for their natural trails, live animal exhibits and boat cruise information. Also: www.experiencesquam.com  

– Visit the Squam Lake Association’s web page at www.squamlakes.org or call (603) 968-7444 for maps, events, boat rentals and camp sites in the area.

– Visit the Owl Brook Education Center website at www.wildlife.state.nh.us/hunting/owl-brook.html for information on the center’s programs and activities.

– Use the region’s biking trails. For information, visit www.centerharbornh.org/parks-recreation/pages/nature-trails or call (603) 253-4561.

– Visit the 1869 Ashland Railroad Station Museum and the Whipple House Museum in Ashland. For more information, visit www.oldashlandnh.org or call (603) 969-7716.