WHO: Doug Most, Globe deputy managing editor/features, and family
WHERE: Holderness, N.H.
WHAT: Squam Lakes Natural Science Center
There will come a day when you are driving home from a camping/hiking/Storyland trip to New Hampshire and you need to get out of the car. Scratch that. The kids need to get out of the car. When that day comes, take Exit 24 off Route 93 and make your way to the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. You’ll have as much fun as the kids will.
Even if you don’t take one of the 90-minute boat tours of the lake, there’s more than enough to occupy two or three hours. The boat tour could make it an all-day adventure. It’s a zoo in the middle of the forest, and the staff gives short, entertaining, educational talks on the animals, holding a falcon on their wrist or a lizard on their arm.
The winding, shaded dirt path through the grounds is perfect to let the kids run through. The path is a packed gravel that almost makes you want take a little jog, until you come to a beautiful scenic meadow with views of the mountains and a floating footbridge that passes over enormous frogs and small turtles. Then you just want to stop, breathe, and put the cellphone back in your pocket — where it belongs.
The main attraction, the animal exhibits, are great, with each stop bringing you up close to black bears, owls, deer, bobcats, otters, and more. But there’s more.
The Gordon Children’s Center is a maze of dark tunnels for children to snake through, ladders to climb, giant spider webs to fall into, animal sounds to listen to, and a hollowed-out learning tree to hide in. Our kids, 6 and 4, ran and screamed here for a half-hour and would have stayed longer if we didn’t drag them off to see giant, scary-looking turkey vultures.
“Do we eat those?” came the predictable question as we stared at the vultures perched on the branches. “Uh, not those kind.”
All this, and it’s not even a two-hour drive from Boston, meaning it’s sort of within day-trip distance, as any New Englander knows.