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Meet the Animals at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center

Sarah Wright - May 26, 2014


New this year at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center is an exhibit featuring coyotes. (Courtesy Photo)

What animals lurk in the woods of New Hampshire? To find out, explore the Gephart Exhibit Trail at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, where you can see native animals of the state up close. The three-quarter-mile trail is an easy trek through the woods, with exhibits along the way.

All of the animals at the Science Center have been rehabilitated after being either injured or orphaned in the wild. Visitors will learn about habitats, adaptation, interrelationships, and population through various informational displays.

The trail starts just beyond the welcome center. The first exhibit is the Trailhead Gallery, and it includes a new feature about wood energy, explaining how two wood boilers are able to provide heat for all five buildings on the 230-acre campus. The same building houses white-footed mice and two barred owls.

Next is one of the most popular areas for children, the Life Underground exhibit, where visitors can learn about worms and ants and watch the wild chipmunks feed.

New this year is the coyote exhibit. The male coyote featured in the exhibit had been used in educational programs for years. When the center acquired an orphaned female pup last year, the staff decided to train her for the program, with the male coyote enjoying “retirement” in his own habitat.

The Ecotone Mammal area is next, with three red foxes, a striped skunk (who takes turns with a gray fox in the enclosure), three bobcats, mountain lions, and a boardwalk that crosses over the white-tailed deer exhibit. This is my favorite part, because you have a great view looking down at all the deer as they cross under you.

If you’d like to see more of the mountain lions, there’s a training session in their enclosure every Thursday at noon (included in the admission price). The naturalists at the center prefer not to tranquilize animals for veterinary care, so they train the mountain lions to roll on their backs and present their shoulders for inoculations. Then they’re given a treat. If you ask me, any veterinarian who will give a shot to a fully awake mountain lion deserves an award for bravery!

At that point on the trail, visitors can choose to take a slight detour for Kirkwood Gardens. A beautiful garden which showcases natural landscaping, it’s a great place to relax and put your feet up for a while. There’s always something blooming and it’s a haven for bumblebees and butterflies. Feel free to enjoy a picnic lunch there or purchase a snack at the Kirkwood Café.

When you’re done with your rest, continue back onto the main trail to the otter exhibit. The river otters are very playful, and the playfulness really comes out during feeding times, featured at 11:30 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for the public.

Families with young children will appreciate the Gordon Children’s Center, with its big rope spider web and groundhog tunnels under the floor. There are lots of learning opportunities for children (as well as adults) there, too.

When playtime is over, visit the black bears. Climb up the stairs in the educational cabin to see the bears from a higher vantage point. I find that they’re usually sleeping, but one of the great things about Squam Lakes Natural Science Center is that you can always find the animals in the exhibits.

Bird lovers will enjoy the next exhibits which feature songbirds and then raptors, like hawks and eagles.

After the pleasant Wetlands Walk, you’ll reach the end of the trail and the final exhibit. Visitors can learn about the land under their feet in the New Hampshire geology exhibit. Children will enjoy climbing on the large boulders.

At that point, you can either visit the gift shop or choose to explore one of three hiking trails: the Forest Trail, the Ecotone Trail (which skirts the woods and a large field), and the Mount Fayal Trail, a one-mile loop to the top of Mount Fayal.

The center and animal exhibit trail are open from May 1 through Nov. 1,from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (although there are snowshoetours in the wintertime). For the summer season, in July and August, naturalists on the staff also give animal demonstrations five times a day. Visitors can learn about animals not on the trail, like beavers, minks, porcupines, and peregrine falcons. On Wednesdays at 1 p.m. is a coyote demonstration, and there are Turtle Talks on Tuesdays at 10:30 a.m.

Squam Lakes Natural Science Center will celebrate 50 years in 2016. Amanda Gillen, marketing and visitor services director, says that, to mark the occasion, the center will open a new building with water exhibits, so plan on coming back.

If you’d like to venture out onto beautiful Squam Lake, the center separately runs 90-minute ecology cruises. Explore the history of Squam Lake on a covered pontoon boat and learn about the animals that make Squam Lake their home. In June, go on a Bald Eagle Adventure Cruise and view an active nest; or take a Loon Cruise from June through August. Both cruises will have a biologist on board to talk about the birds and answer questions. Romantics might enjoy the Dinner and Sunset Cruise, a joint venture with Walter’s Basin Restaurant. There’s also the Lake Explorers Family Cruise, with a scavenger hunt and a naturalist on board who will show children how to collect microscopic life.

For the full cruise schedule and ticket prices, or for more information about the Science Center, call 603-968-7194 or visit

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