When we asked locals and returning visitors what they liked about New Hampshire’s Lake Sunapee region, we heard repeating phrases. “It’s not as busy.’’ “It’s not as commercial.’’ “It’s very relaxed.’’ “It’s more low-key and laid-back.’’ And, “it’s beautiful.’’ Most often, they’re comparing the region, surrounded by mountain peaks and punctuated by sprawling Lake Sunapee, to its more boisterous and bustling neighbor to the east, Lake Winnipesaukee. But no comparisons are needed; this pretty lake area stands on its own, offering a bounty of outdoor activities, cultural events, and on-the-water fun.
The lake, some nine miles long, is anchored by three towns, each with a cluster of shops, restaurants, and lodgings. New London, home to Colby-Sawyer College, sits on the eastern edge of the lake. Newbury rests on the southern tip, and the town of Sunapee is nestled on a picturesque harbor along the lake’s western shoreline. This year, Sunapee will celebrate the 250th anniversary of its founding with a lineup of special activities and programs. During celebration weekend (Aug. 17-19), there will be antique boat and street parades, concerts, fireworks, fairs, and more. But, any time after Memorial Day, when the area ramps up for the summer season, there’s plenty to see and do.
The all-suite Mountain Edge Resort and Spa in Newbury sits at the base of Mount Sunapee and at the doorstep of Mount Sunapee State Park (603-763-4600, www.mountainedgeresort.com, rates start at $279). It’s more resort-like than most area lodgings, with a restaurant-tavern, indoor and outdoor pools, a full-service spa, and one- and two-bedroom suites with full kitchens. The quiet and elegant Inn at Pleasant Lake, just outside of New London, has a private beach, 10 luxurious rooms and suites with private baths, beautiful views, and a talented chef (603-873-4833, www.innatpleasantlake.com, rates start at $149).
For budget-friendly, simple accommodations, great service, and in-your-face lake views, consider the motel-style rooms at the Lake Inn at Mt. Sunapee (603-763-2701, www.lakeinnsunapee.com, rates start at $79). Rooms have private baths, free Wi-Fi, and mini refrigerators and microwaves, some with private screened-in porches and outdoor patios.
If you’re traveling with a group, the old-home-style, Dexter’s Inn in Sunapee is a good option (603-763-5571, www.dextersnh.com, rates start around $100). The rambling farmhouse, with sloping floors and low ceilings, has large indoor and outdoor gathering spaces, an outdoor pool, tennis courts, lawn games, and access to miles of hiking trails. Rooms are simple and old-fashioned, in a variety of shapes and sizes, but all have small private baths. It’s perfect for unfussy, laid-back family get-aways.
Wahoo! Kids of all ages love the Adventure Center at Mount Sunapee Resort offering thrills aplenty (603-763-3576, www.mountsunapee.com; Memorial Day to mid-Oct., prices vary.) There’s a ¾-mile canopy zipline course and an aerial challenge course with swinging platforms, swaying bridges and twisty monkey vines. Don your helmet and bring your bravado to the lift-accessed mountain biking course, with banked turns, rock gardens, and jumps. There’s also mini-golf, archery, and a climbing wall. For a less ambitious outing, consider a visit to The Fells Historic Estate & Gardens located on the eastern shore of Lake Sunapee. Visit the historic 22-room summer estate of statesman John Milton Hay, tour-themed gardens, and stroll paths crisscrossing the estate’s scenic 83 acres, including a trail along the shoreline (603-763-4789, www.thefells.org, grounds open year-round, house open from Memorial Day to mid-Oct., adults $10, students $8, ages 6-18 $4, family pass including two adults and two children $25, discounted prices offered off-season). The estate offers a variety of special activities throughout the summer including kid-friendly nature programs and musical events.
Ready to explore the lake? Take a cruise aboard the MV Mount Sunapee II (603-938-6465, www.sunapeecruises.com; Memorial Day to mid-Oct., adults $20, ages 6-12 $10, family pass including two adults and two children $55). The open-deck boat departs from the Sunapee town dock for a 90-minute narrated tour; it’s a fun way to learn about the history of the “Lake of Wild Goose,’’ and soak in pretty lake and mountain views. Or, take a sunset dinner cruise aboard the MV Kearsage (same company). You can also rent motor boats, kayaks, and canoes from Sargents Marina in Sunapee Harbor (603-763-5036, www.sargentsmarina.net). Or, head to the beach. The Mount Sunapee State Beach in Newbury has lifeguards, a playground, picnic areas, canoe and kayak rentals, and a bathhouse (603-763-5561, www.nhstateparks.org).
There’s plenty of hiking in the area. The trek to Lake Solitude in Mount Sunapee State Park is popular; there are two trails in — one easy and one tougher. We also like the two-mile hike up the Summit Trail to the top of 2,743-foot Mount Sunapee, where you’ll have sweeping mountain and lake views. If the uphill summit hike sounds like too much work, take the aerial sky ride from Mount Sunapee Resort ($10, ages 5 and under free) — same views for a lot less effort.
The award-winning New London Barn Playhouse, considered one of the finest summer theaters in New England, will celebrate its 86th season this year with a lineup of professional shows, including “Camelot,’’ “Little Women,’’ and “42nd Street’’ (603-526-4631, www.nlbarn.org, $20-$37).
Summer time is a season-long celebration in the Lake Sunapee region. There are free outdoor concerts held throughout the summer at the Newbury Bandstand (Thursday evening), the Ben Mere Bandstand in Sunapee Harbor (Wednesday evening) and the Flanders Stage in Sunapee (Saturday evening). The 85th Annual League of N.H. Craftsmen’s Fair will take place Aug. 4-12 at Mount Sunapee Resort (www.nhcrafts.org). The always-popular Hospital Days in New London will be held Aug. 2-5, with talent shows, an antique car exhibit, carnival rides, music and parades (www.newlondonhospital.org/hospitaldays). The Sunapee 250th Anniversary celebration will feature art exhibits, music, hikes, parades, and more (www.sunapeenh250.org).
If you’re like us, you’ll want to dine waterside for at least a meal or two, right? The Anchorage at Sunapee Harbor has decent, something-for-everyone food (burgers, sandwiches, pasta), great water views, and outside deck seating (603-763-3334, www.theanchorageatsunapeeharbor.com). Bubba’s Bar & Grille in Newbury Harbor, with lake views, is a local favorite, with a large selection of fresh sandwiches and chowders (try the seafood chowder) and from-scratch entrees, such as grilled salmon with lime hollandaise, balsamic chicken risotto, and bourbon beef tenderloin tips (603-763-3290, www.bubbasbarandgrille.com). The refined Oak and Grain restaurant at the Inn at Lake Pleasant gets rave reviews for its three-course, prix fixe dinners, showcasing fresh ingredients and creative flourish, with dishes like cioppino stew; locally raised skirt steak with ginger chimichurri; and porcini mushroom ravioli with confit duck and goat cheese. Salt Hill Shanty in Newbury (603-763-2667, www.salthillpub.com) has local drafts and decent pub grub (fried brussels sprouts with bacon and Parmesan shavings, beer-battered fish and chips — yes!), and Sanctuary Dairy Farm is the go-to ice cream place (603-863-8940, www.icecreamkidbeck.com).
For more information, visit www.lakesunapeeregionchamber.com.