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New Hampshire’s 8 Most Underrated Towns to Visit in 2024

by Staff

New Hampshire, boasting the iconic motto ‘Live Free or Die,’ is a New England state bordered by Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, and the Canadian province of Quebec. It’s a state that shines in every season, drawing in travelers with its picturesque landscapes, rich history, and enchanting charm. From the tranquil shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith to the historic lanes of Exeter, these lesser-known towns embody the soul of the Granite State. Many people may flock to tourist areas in Portsmouth and Gorham, yet these eight underappreciated towns are ones you should consider for your 2024 travel bucket list.

Meredith

Meredith, New Hampshire, in fall.

Nestled in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, Meredith is a town of approximately 6,500 residents. This charming East Coast gem in Belknap County is the perfect getaway, sitting at the base of the White Mountains on Lake Winnipesaukee. The town’s location makes it a tourist hub in any season, with stunning fall foliage and a plethora of outdoor activities during the summer. Despite its allure, it’s often overlooked for destinations like Gilford or Laconia, making it one of the state’s most underrated towns. Lake Waukewan and its surroundings offer everything from swimming and boating to water skiing and ice sports.

For families looking to enjoy the outdoors, Meredith boasts facilities like Childs Park with sports courts and a play area, enhancing its appeal as a versatile destination. The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad offers rides along Lake Winnipesaukee’s banks from May to October, with special Christmas-themed rides during the holiday season. Exploring the Meredith Sculpture Walk or catching a performance at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse are great ways to experience the local arts and culture.

Exeter

Downtown Exeter, New Hampshire.
Downtown Exeter, New Hampshire.

First settled in 1638 and originally known as Squamscott, Exeter stands as one of New Hampshire’s oldest towns. Located along the Squamscott River, it gained fame for being the region where Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial’s Abraham Lincoln, spent part of his childhood. Today, Exeter bursts with quaint shops, delicious dining, and recreational spots. Founders Park, next to the Exeter Library, commemorates the town’s rich history and is a popular picnic site during warmer months.

The American Independence Museum is a haven for history buffs, showcasing Revolutionary War artifacts and the Ladd-Gilman House, a National Historic Landmark. For outdoor enthusiasts, Swasey Parkway offers a scenic river loop, and the New England Dragway hosts the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series, among other events, attracting visitors year-round.

Sugar Hill

St Matthew's Church in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire.
St Matthew’s Church in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire.

Sugar Hill, named for its abundant sugar maples, is a gem in Grafton County with about 600 residents. It’s celebrated for its proximity to the White Mountain National Forest, offering stunning views year-round. The town, especially along Sugar Hill Road, is renowned for the beautiful lupine blooms in shades of blue, pink, and purple. While enjoying Sunshine Hill Road’s lupines, remember that many properties are privately owned, so please respect these boundaries.

Winter brings numerous opportunities for snow sports near Sugar Hill. Cannon Mountain is a short drive away, known for skiing and an aerial tramway that provides panoramic views. The Sugar Hill Inn, operational since the early 1920s, offers cozy accommodations near top skiing spots. Don’t leave without visiting Polly’s Pancake Parlor, a local institution known for its award-winning pancakes served in a charming 1800s-style setting.

Hancock

Aerial view of Hancock, New Hampshire, in winter.
Aerial view of Hancock, New Hampshire, in winter.

With roughly 1,700 residents, Hancock in Hillsborough County is a haven for history buffs and cultural enthusiasts. Its Village Historic District, with nearly all buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, includes the Meetinghouse and First Congregational Church. The Hancock Inn & Fox Tavern, the state’s oldest continuously operating inn, offers fine dining and is a coveted venue for events.

Spacious Skies – Seven Maples Campground provides a wealth of amenities, including fishing and a mini water park. The Hancock Historical Society Museum, established in 1970, is dedicated to preserving the town’s rich heritage for future generations.

Franconia

Beautiful fall colors in Franconia Notch State Park near Franconia, New Hampshire.
Beautiful fall colors in Franconia Notch State Park near Franconia, New Hampshire.

Franconia, home to approximately 1,200 people, nestles in the White Mountains and boasts part of Franconia Notch State Park. This town offers nature lovers and winter sports enthusiasts alike a plethora of activities, sharing many attractions with neighboring Sugar Hill.

Notable sights within Franconia Notch State Park include the Flume Gorge and Echo Lake Beach, offering diverse experiences across seasons. The Frost Place, once home to Robert Frost, and the New England Ski Museum, are essential visits for those interested in history and ski culture.

Hanover

Main Street, Hanover, New Hampshire.
Main Street, Hanover, New Hampshire. Image credit: Ken Gallager via Wikimedia Commons.

For those seeking a serene yet vibrant setting, Hanover, nestled in Grafton County, strikes a perfect balance. Although it’s consistently rated as one of the best places to live in the United States, Hanover’s charm as a quaint college town merely two hours north of Boston remains somewhat underappreciated. This town boasts a robust arts scene and a variety of restaurants featuring diverse cultural cuisines, reflecting its community’s pride in both education and cultural richness. Dartmouth College, an Ivy League institution with a picturesque campus, enhances Hanover’s appeal, offering easy access to nature preserves like Mink Brook Nature Preserve.

The Hood Museum of Art, affiliated with Dartmouth College, welcomes visitors to explore its vast collection of over 70,000 works of art, offering free admission to all. For those seeking solace and beauty, Nathan’s Garden is a must-visit. Established in 1991 as a living memorial, this botanical haven offers a peaceful retreat with its scenic walking path, gentle stream, and diverse flora and fauna.

Wolfeboro

Main street in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
Main street in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, via Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock.com

Dubbed the “oldest summer resort in America,” Wolfeboro, with its population just shy of 6,500, is a gem on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee. This vibrant town becomes a hub of activity in the summer with its festivals and outdoor events, and it doesn’t quiet down in winter, thanks to its thriving snowmobiling and skiing scene. The Abenaki Ski Area, a community-run ski lodge known for its affordability and warmth since 1936, features trails of varying difficulty and a cozy lodge for post-ski relaxation.

Museum enthusiasts will find Wolfeboro particularly engaging, with attractions like the Wright Museum of World War II, showcasing an impressive collection of WWII artifacts. The Libby Museum of Natural History, the state’s oldest, and the New Hampshire Boat Museum offer glimpses into the area’s natural and nautical heritage, respectively. Wentworth State Park provides 50 acres of scenic land on Lake Wentworth, perfect for outdoor exploration.

Jackson

Covered Bridge in Jackson, New Hampshire.
Covered Bridge in Jackson, New Hampshire.

Jackson, in Carroll County, epitomizes the quintessential New England town charm, especially within its mountain villages: Glen, Hart’s Location, Intervale, and Bartlett. Offering an escape from the hustle of tourist-heavy areas, Jackson presents a tranquil yet vibrant setting. Notably, The Thompson House Eatery, a James Beard-nominated restaurant, serves farm-to-table dishes that delight the palate.

A highlight of any visit to Jackson is the Honeymoon Covered Bridge on Main Street. Constructed in 1876 and spanning the Ellis River, this bridge provides a picturesque glimpse into the past. Jackson’s array of resorts and recreational areas, including Black Mountain Ski Area and Wildcat Mountain Resort, cater to skiing enthusiasts, while the natural beauty of Jackson Falls and Glen Ellis Falls appeals to those seeking outdoor adventure.

In Conclusion

New Hampshire invites travelers of all interests with its blend of natural beauty, historical richness, and cultural vibrancy. While destinations like Portsmouth and Gorham are well-known, the unique charm of towns like Hanover, Wolfeboro, and Jackson offers a refreshing alternative. These underappreciated gems exemplify the diverse appeal of the Granite State, making them perfect additions to your travel itinerary.

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