A Guide to Driving Scenic Drives in the Lakes Region
New Hampshire’s expansive Lakes Region is praised for its natural beauty year-round, and one of the best ways to experience it is by embarking on an immersive road trip around the Lakes Region.
Take your pick from these three iconic drives in the Lakes Region that deliver more than just breathtaking views. The Lakes Region Scenic Byway, The Branch River Trail, and The Lakes Loop will guide you through picturesque towns, past sparkling deep blue lakes, and stunning mountain views. Driving on these charming roads is just one of the exciting parts about venturing around the Lakes Region. You’ll also find plenty of historical stops, local shops, and decadent eateries to explore along the way – here are our recommendations to make the most of your trip.
Lakes Region Scenic Byway
Length: 97 miles
Towns: Alton, Ashland, Center Harbor, Gilford, Holderness, Laconia, Meredith, Moutlonborough, New Hampton, Ossipee, Sandwich, Tamworth, Tuftonboro, and Wolfeboro.
Circling Lake Winnipesaukee, the Lakes Region Scenic Byway begins its journey in Alton and follows Route 11 up to Gilford. Here, you’ll see some spectacular views of the lake and the Ossipee Mountain Range. You can explore various recreational activities in this area, like hiking up to the top of Mt. Major for more jaw-dropping sights or visiting Ellacoya State Park, where you can lay out a blanket for a quaint picnic or opt for a dip in the lake. But don’t linger too long because the real beauty of the Lakes Region is just around the corner. Gunstock Resort is another option for outdoor adventures – with seasonal activities like zip lining, an epic aerial adventure park, and trails for hiking and biking, you won’t want to pass by this popular New England destination!
As you continue along the byway, you’ll pass through Weirs Beach – located on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Laconia. It’s one of the most popular destinations in the region, known for its sandy beach, boardwalk, and family-friendly atmosphere. It’s the perfect stop along the byway for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports. Visitors can enjoy the amusement park, arcade games, mini-golf, ice cream stands, and shopping along the boardwalk. The whole family can easily spend an afternoon at Funspot, the largest arcade in the world. For those looking to explore more of the lake, boat tours and rentals are available. With its stunning lake views and endless activities, Weirs Beach is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling along the Scenic Byway.
After traveling through Weirs Beach, you’ll make your way to the town of Meredith, where you can visit various shops and restaurants at Mills Falls Marketplace – an al fresco shopping center complete with an assortment of unique shops and eateries. Sample local wines at Hermit Woods Winery or grab a drink and a bite to eat at Twin Barns Brewing Co. – a local brewery housed in an antique 1850s barn just down the road from Mills Falls Marketplace. Once you’re ready to continue on your journey, you’ll arrive at the town of Center Harbor just before Moultonborough. Stop in for a visit to Moulton Farm, which offers seasonal produce, baked goods, and other local treats. You can also take a walk along the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee and take a moment of serenity at one of the region’s largest and most beautiful lakes.
After you pass through Center Harbor, continue on Route 109 to get a taste of the eastern side of Lake Winnipesaukee on the way to your next stop in Wolfeboro or stay on Route 25 to venture up north to the surrounding Ossipiee Lake area, which offers plenty of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy all year round, from boating in the summer to snowshoeing in the winter. The lake’s calm waters and scenic shoreline make it an ideal spot for swimming, kayaking, picnicking, and hiking. For those looking to explore the area’s natural beauty, the Ossipee Mountains offer majestic hiking trails with stunning views of the lake and surrounding forests. With abundant outdoor activities, Ossipee Lake is an excellent destination for nature seekers and outdoor enthusiasts.
As you near the end of your Lakes Region Scenic Byway journey, you’ve probably worked up quite an appetite. If New England dining and tranquil lake views are what you’re craving, look no further than Garwoods Restaurant & Pub. This indoor/outdoor restaurant serves traditional seafood dishes like Baked Cod Picatta, Fish Tacos, and local Oysters while offering a variety of beers on tap for diners to enjoy inside or out on their patio, open seasonally.
With its stunning scenery and quaint stops, the Lakes Region Scenic Byway is a journey you won’t soon forget. Whether you’re looking to explore the region’s history, sample its local cuisine, or simply enjoy the area’s natural beauty, there’s something for everyone in the family. Pack your road trip snacks, hit the road, and prepare for an unforgettable adventure in the heart of New Hampshire.
The Branch River Valley Trail
The Branch River Trail begins in Milton and travels up to Wakefield, following Routes 16, 125, and 123, along with several other small rural roads. Milton is home to the New Hampshire Farm Museum, which offers guided tours of the farm, exhibits, and detailed displays on agriculture in New Hampshire. The historic village of Wakefield Corner draws nature lovers and history buffs to its 26 landmarks, including the Heritage Park Railroad Museum and multiple historic buildings dating back to the mid-1800s.
The Lakes Loop
Length: 134 miles (approximately)
Beginning at the town docks in Meredith, you’ll find an assortment of local businesses and restaurants like the Lakehouse Grille, where classic New England cuisine meets worldy fusion. Grab a bite to eat, then head east on NH Route 25 to Center Harbor and Moultonborough to visit Castle in the Clouds. A family-friendly mountaintop estate that features a variety of gardens, walking trails, and outdoor sculptures, providing visitors with plenty of opportunities to explore and enjoy the area.
Once you’ve scouted the 5,500 acres property, it’s time to continue south on NH Route 109. This scenic loop wraps around Lake Winnipesaukee as it takes you to Wolfeboro, also known as the “Oldest Summer Resort in America.” Depending on the season, you can check out the Abenaki Ski Area, wander around the historic Clark House Museum, or take a vintage boat ride at the New Hampshire Boat Museum. Once you wrap up your Wolfeboro excursion, take Route 109 east which passes by Wentworth State Park, on the way to Sanbornville, where you can hop on Route 153 to venture north to Conway. From here, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure. Join the Multi-Notch Mountain Ride or keep driving on the Lakes Loop to Farmington and Route 11 East in Rochester. Go southwest on Route 202A to Northwood, a small town in Rockingham County. Head east on Route 4 towards Route 152 South to the rural town of Nottingham. Continue on Route 156 to Raymond and head north on Route 107 through Deerfield, Epsom, Pittsfield, Barnstead, Gilmanton, and Laconia. In Laconia, wrap up your tour of the Lakes Region with a local brew and light bites at the Craft Beer Xchange before catching a show at one of the town’s storied theaters, including The Opera House, The Cake Theater, and the Colonial Theater.