It’s official–this past July set multiple records nationwide for being the hottest July in over a century, and so far, much of August has proven to be just as hot and humid in the Lakes Region. So, what do you do to cool off and relax in this steamy weather? In New Hampshire, the answer is simple–head for the nearest body of water, whether it’s a cold mountain stream, a river, a pond or a lake.
While busy places like Lake Winnipesaukee have much to offer to visitors in the way of recreation, if you are looking for places that are a little bit quieter and more off the beaten path, the Newfound Lake region is a great place to start. Newfound Lake, located in Bristol, Bridgewater, Hebron, and Alexandria, is a spring-fed glacial lake (you can’t get much more refreshing that that!) with the reputation of having some of the clearest, cleanest, and deepest water of any of the lakes in the state of New Hampshire. The lake encompasses 4,106 acres, stretching seven miles long, with 22 miles of shoreline, and it measures about 180 feet deep at its deepest point.
One of the best places to spend a hot summer day is Wellington State Park, which according to the New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation, has the largest freshwater swimming beach in the New Hampshire State Park system. The park is located just north of Bristol on West Shore Road, and the beach area of the 204-acre park features changing rooms, restrooms, a lifeguard station, a snack bar/gift shop, volleyball and horseshoe courts, barbecue grills, and picnic tables.
This area of the park is open and staffed Monday–Friday 9am until sunset and weekends from 8:30am until sunset from Memorial Day weekend until Labor Day weekend. Hours are reduced to weekends only after Labor Day through Columbus Day. Admission is $5.00 for adults and $2.00 for children ages 6 – 11. Children under the age of 6 and New Hampshire residents over the age of 65 are admitted for free.
Although Wellington State Park is open year-round, the changing rooms, restrooms, and the snack bar at the beach are all closed after Columbus Day, and there is no staff on duty. There are numerous hiking trails that remain accessible throughout the park, however, with picnic areas, fishing areas, and great views of Newfound Lake and nearby Cliff and Belle Islands. A boat launch at the Park, operated by New Hampshire Fish and Game, is also open year-round for free boating access to the lake (although you might think twice about going out in a snowstorm!).
The park land was deeded to the State of New Hampshire for one dollar in 1931 by Elizabeth R. Wellington as a memorial to her father. The main stipulation was that the land had to be kept as a public forest reservation and wildlife sanctuary, and had to be available to the public for recreation. The State added Belle Island and Cliff Island to the park in the 1940s, as well as an additional piece of land obtained from the Follansbee family.
To get to Wellington State Park from Bristol, take Route 3A north and turn left onto West Shore Road. From the Plymouth area, take Route 3A south to North Shore Road into Hebron, bear left at West Shore Road, and follow the signs. You can call 744-2197 for further details.
Another great place to cool off in the Newfound Lake region is Sculptured Rocks Natural Area, located a short distance from Wellington State Park on Sculptured Rocks Road in Groton. Sculptured Rocks is a fairly popular place during the summer, where the cool (almost cold,) swift water of the Cockermouth River has carved its way over thousands of years through the local bedrock towards Newfound Lake, leaving behind pot holes and interesting rock formations, and creating deep pools and shallow waterfalls for a wonderful place to take a refreshing dip.
The water remains cold and clear throughout the summer and Sculptured Rocks is a favorite spot for local swimmers and visitors alike, as it is just far enough off the beaten path to be far from the maddening crowds, but not so far that you have to bushwhack or work up a sweat to get there. There is a large parking area across from Sculptured Rocks, but there are no facilities and there is no admission fee. It is a great place to bring a picnic lunch and stay for the day. The Natural Area is also accessible year-round.
To get to the Sculptured Rocks Natural Area, take Route 3A to either North Shore Road or West Shore Road and follow the signs to Hebron. From the Hebron Village Store, take North Groton Road to Sculptured Rocks Road, a distance of about two miles.
If your idea of dealing with the “dog days of summer” involves fishing, kayaking, canoeing or simply floating around on a raft or tube in a remote mountain pond instead of swimming, Jackson Pond and Sky Pond, both located off of Lower Oxbow Road in New Hampton, are two wonderful places to head to for low-impact recreation. Lower Oxbow Road is located off of Dana Hill Road, and once on Lower Oxbow Road, you can either take a left onto Jackson Pond Road or continue straight to Sky Pond.
If you go straight ahead, you follow a dirt road to scenic Sky Pond, a 14-acre body of water which is restricted to car-top access boating, with no motors allowed. The fishing is limited to fly-fishing, which as most avid anglers know, is a great way to catch trout. The pond, which is stocked with brook trout, is 20 feet deep at its deepest point, and it is a very popular and relaxing spot for anglers and others who enjoy floating around on inflatable rafts and in canoes.
Back at the junction of Lower Oxbow Road and Jackson Pond Road, if you turn left onto Jackson Pond Road instead of going straight towards Sky Pond, you end up at Jackson Pond, a 39-acre pond which once served as the Town of Ashland’s water supply. This pretty spot, now privately owned, attracts kayakers, canoeists, and fishermen, and some people (and their dogs) actually love to swim here. The pond is 17 feet at its deepest point, but access is limited to car-top boats and parking is also a bit limited.
There are plenty of places located just off the beaten path in the beautiful lakes region to help you escape the heat of the “dog days of summer”-whether you want to swim, fish, or canoe, or just hang out. And most of these places are free-you just have to know where to look!