The snow melts, the sap flows, the flowers peek, the waterfalls tumble, the rivers roar, and the days grow longer and warmer. Springtime in New Hampshire — gotta’ love it! And, here’s why.
In the Great North Woods
When the ice melts, usually around Mother’s Day, the fishing begins, and there’s no better place than the Connecticut Lakes region. In spring, native brook trout, rainbow trout, landlocked salmon and large brown trout are feeding and spawning in the Connecticut River. Remote ponds with good brook trout populations also dot the wilderness and are accessible by car. Favorites include Coon Brook, Moose Pond and Boundary Pond. The Cabins at Lopstick, the state’s only ORVIS endorsed outfitter (800-538-6659, www.cabinsatlopstick.com), are open year round and offer guide services, and boat and ATV rentals. (ATV rentals begin Memorial Day weekend, when the logging road gates are all open.) They have 55 waterfront or water view cabins on First Connecticut Lake, Back Lake, Perry Stream and the Upper Connecticut River ($105-$285 for two people); all are cozy, well-furnished and well-kept with full kitchens; many have private decks and fireplaces.
In the White Mountains
Spring is our favorite time to visit Flume Gorge in Franconia Notch State Park (603-823-8800, www.nhstateparks.org/visit/state-parks/flume-gorge.aspx). The natural 800-foot gorge, carved eons ago by the rushing waters of the Pemigewasset River, is at its wettest and wildest when the snow melts from the mountains and the rivers swell. Walk the boardwalk and paths through this moist, mossy chasm, as sparkling cascades and foaming waterfalls tumble down the smooth, soaring granite slabs. A two-mile loop begins and ends at the Flume Gorge Visitor Center. This is waterfall country, and there are plenty more to see in the area. The Basin, Cascades, Kinsman and Rocky Glen, also located in Franconia Notch, are worth the short, mile or so walks in to see. Nearby, off Route 302 in Carroll, you’ll find Lower Ammonoosuc Falls, a pretty cascade ending in a clear, cold pool. There are also several waterfall hikes off the scenic Kancamagus Highway, including Sabbady Falls, Rocky Gorge and Lower Falls. For more information, stop by the White Mountains Visitor Center off I-93, exit 32 in North Woodstock, and pick up a Covered Bridges and Waterfalls of the White Mountains map.
The Appalachian Mountain Club welcomes spring with a slew of guided activities and excursions. On the Birding by Ear in the White Mountains workshop, you can learn to recognize bird sounds as you hike through forests (May 19-21). Bring the kids on the Family Adventure (April 24-26), featuring a walk and overnight stay at the Lonesome Lake Hut. And, one of our favorite gardens in the East, the Alpine Garden on the slopes of Mount Washington, bursts into glory in late Spring. AMC offers Alpine Garden Exploration tours (June 3-4, June 10-11) to explore this extraordinary garden of hardy, tiny plants. For more information and a complete list of activities: 603-466-2727, www.outdoors.org.
In the Lakes Region
The 270-plus lakes in this region are thawing! March 18, 2016, April 24, 2015. April 23, 2014. Those were the official dates for ice out on Lake Winnipesaukee, determined by the day the M/S Mount Washington is able to navigate to its five ports: Center Harbor, Meredith, Weirs Beach, Alton Bay, and Wolfeboro. Ice Out on the lake has been tracked for more than 135 years. One thing is certain: it’ll happen, and the boats will return to the lake in full force. M/S Mount Washington kicks off the season on May 14 with a Mother’s Day Jazz Brunch on Lake Winnipesaukee (603-366-5531, www.cruisenh.com). But you may want to head to the area the weekend before when the scenic town of Wolfeboro hosts its Area Decks and Docks Party (May 5-7.) The annual celebration will feature discounts and specials at retail stores and restaurants, lodging packages, and special events and activities.
More cause for celebration: The Lakes Region’s popular attractions open for the season. The Squam Lakes Natural Science Center (603-968-7194, www.nhnature.org), with more than 90 animals and a variety of hands-on displays opens May 1. Castle in the Clouds on Lake Winnipesaukee, set on 5,500 acres crisscrossed with hiking and horseback riding trails (603-476-5900, www.castleintheclouds.org), opens May 13. Polar Caves (603-536-1888, www.polarcaves.com), with a self-guided tour through a series of glacier-formed caves and passageways, opens the first weekend in May, weather permitting.
In the Dartmouth/Sunapee Region
Spring is our favorite time to visit the Augustus Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site (603-675-2175, www.nps.gov/saga), when the fields and meadows are fresh, and the woods are filled with bird song. Stroll the just awakening gardens filled with the renowned artist’s sculptures and then head out to the Blow-Me-Down Trail, a 1.5-mile meander along the brook. Buildings, including Saint-Gaudens’ home and studio, open May 27; grounds are open year-round.
The Enfield Shaker Museum (603-632-4346, www.shakermuseum.org), listed on the National Register of Historic Places, opens April 1. It’s an active time here, when the gardens are being tended and cultivated, and the Great Stone Dwelling, the largest Shaker dwelling house ever constructed, opens for the season. There are a variety of spring events and workshops, including the Open House, held April 30, with hands-on children’s activities, and demonstrations of traditional crafts practiced by the Shakers, like rug hooking and wood carving.
And, after a long, cold winter, it’s time to get back on the water. Board the MV Mount Sunapee II (603-938-6465, www.sunapeecruises.com) for a 90-minute, narrated cruise around scenic Lake Sunapee, dotted with islands and home to three lighthouses. Cruising season starts Memorial Day.
In the Monadnock Region
It could be July before the snow leaves the trails in northern New Hampshire. So, in early spring when we’re craving an outdoor hiking adventure, we head to the southwest section of the state to climb Mount Monadnock (603-532-8862, www.nhstateparks.org/visit/state-parks/Monadnock-State-Park.aspx). The 3,165-foot peak is said to be the second most climbed mountain in the world, but in the early days of spring, the big hordes of hikers have yet to arrive. There are several ways to the top (we like the White Dot Trail from the Visitors Center or the White Arrow Trail via the Old Toll Road), but all lead to spectacular views from the treeless summit. Or pick a clear, cool day to bike the 42-mile Cheshire Rail Trail.
In Merrimack Valley
The annual spring fish migration at the Amoskeag Fishways, along the Merrimack River (603-626-3474, www.amoskeagfishways.org), is quite the spectacle. Through underwater viewing windows, you can watch thousands of river herring, American shad, and sea lamprey return to the place of their birth to spawn. During May and June, the migratory fish traverse a 54-step ladder, allowing them to bypass the Amoskeag Hydroelectric Dam.
The woods are alive (and noisy!) at the Susan N. McLane Audubon Center (603-224-9909, www.nhaudubon.org/about/centers/mclane), when migrant songbirds return. There are several trails crisscrossing meadows, old orchards and woods, and leading to Turkey Pond, where you might also spot Great Blue Heron, bald eagles and osprey. The center, headquarters for the NH Audubon Society, also has a variety of live animal exhibits, and special spring programs and events.
In the Seacoast
Newly-hatched baby chicks, goats, sheep, lambs, piglets, bunnies, turkeys, ducklings, and more gather at Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, during the annual Baby Animals: Heritage Breeds at the Banke (603-433-1100, www.strawberybanke.org). The family-friendly event, held April 22-30, showcases oh-so-cute animals that were typically found on coastal northern New England farms from the 17th century to present day.
Of course, everyone knows the true sign of spring is dining al fresco. After a long winter, we can think of few things better than enjoying a lobster roll at the River House in Portsmouth (603-431-2600, www.river house53bow.com), overlooking the Piscataqua River. Two other great al fresco spots in this food-loving town: Cava, tucked down a small, brick alleyway, serving contemporary tapas in an intimate garden setting (603-319-1575, www.cavatapasandwinebar.com) and Martingale Wharf (603-431-0901, www.martingalewharf.com), with the largest waterfront deck in town.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.