Are you thinking about heading to the Lake Sunapee area for a vacation? It certainly is a great place to visit. With lots to do and see, yet it still maintains a quiet, non-touristy feel. Featuring friendly locals, great eateries and lots of beautiful places to stay. It has all the benefits of the Winnipesaukee or Conway, NH area but without the crowds! There are several great campgrounds and there is also loads of tax-free NH shopping for those rainy days.
There are three major geographic features to the area, Lake Sunapee, Mount Sunapee, and Mt Kearsarge.
So tons of hiking, biking, swimming and boating and just some plain good sightseeing, allowing for a very inexpensive getaway location. About ninety minutes from Boston and less than two hours from Burlington, Vt, the area is in a very easy to access location in central New Hampshire. Lake and Mount Sunapee has been a haven for vacationers since the middle 1800's. Thriving in the era of the big steamships, travelers would arrive by train and be taken by ship to the various lodges around the lake. There is a famous photo of Teddy Roosevelt on the docks in Newbury, surrounded by early Secret Service agents as he set out for the estate of John Hay, who among other things was the private secretary of Abraham Lincoln.
The must-do's start there, the John Hay estate, now known simply as The Fells, is a non-profit museum and natural area on the shores of Lake Sunapee, opposite the mountain of the same name and the Sunapee State Park. Located in the quiet town of Newbury, The Fells has a small day fee, with additional charges for tours of the Main House and the incredible gardens that have been maintained for well over a century. The day fee includes miles of lakeside hiking trails and you may view the gardens on your own and view the outside of the estate housing. One of the truly amazing things on the property are immense Rhododendron bushes that dominate the lower portion of the driveway. In winter the property offers some really great snowshoeing but the main house is closed. While hiking, be sure to grab a guide to the Interpretive Nature Trail.
The second must-do is the Mt Sunapee State Park and the Mount Sunapee Adventure Park. There is a beautiful sandy beach on the shores of Lake Sunapee, along with a boat launch and canoe and kayak rentals, a bath area and a small snackbar. There is a small entrance fee to the beach area. The resort area is at the base of the ski mountain just up the hill from the lake. Mount Sunapee Resort leases this part of the property from the State of NH and runs a year round skiing and summer adventure area. Featuring some of the best snowmaking and grooming on the east coast in the winter and Aerial Zip Line tours, an aerial adventure park for the smaller ones, or perhaps the slightly less brave, mountain biking, mini-golf and more. The resort area has fees for these adventures either as packages or a la carte. See their website for additional details.
The third must-do is to get out onto the lake itself, and without your own boat the best way to do this is with Sunapee Cruises. They offer two main options, both on larger tour ships that remind their passengers of the romantic age of the steamship. There is a voice-guided tour option where the captain explains the history of the lake and the steamships and the different geologic and natural features of Lake Sunapee, while you travel around the lake much like those early boat trips to the great lodges. The second option is known as "The Dinner Boat" where you can take a tour of the lake on a restaurant ship. Great food and service combine with the ability to get out on the deck and see amazing views, often at sunset. One thing I found to be really fun was how many of the cottage owners on the lake will wave and ring their dock bells to interact with the captain of the ship. The Fenton family, who also own the Appleseed Restaurant in Bradford and Fenton's Landing in Sunapee Harbor do an amazing job at hosting guests to this beautiful area.
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