Here’s a back-woods road-trip on some of New Hampshire’s best roads and through some quaint New England towns away from the traffic and crowds.
This fall droves of Bostonians will head up Rt. 93 north to leaf peep. Fall is the best time of year for New England road trips, and the tourist-traps are well known north of the border. Here is an alternative that will take you on some of New Hampshire’s lesser-known scenic and curvy roads. We’ll even give you some suggestions on sights to check out and places to eat.
Before you begin, plug in this address to your GPS: 8 White Ave Bedford, NH 03110. Have it at the ready. I suggest you check those GPS settings to allow toll roads and also private and dirt roads.
OK, now escape the Boston area and get on Rt. 3. Not the Rt. 3 that goes south to the Cape, the other one that heads north from Rt. 128 in Burlington. Drive Rt. 3 North past the border of NH and keep on trucking. We need to get you to the fun part. Just as you are about to leave the Nashua area stay on the main highway which becomes The Everett Turnpike. It’s a toll road so have your EZ Pass with you.
Around Manchester take Rt 101 West to Rt. 114. That is a tricky spot, so enable your GPS before you get too far up the Everett Turnpike and hit that address I suggested. As you leave the Everett Turnpike, you come to an intersection after a few miles on 101. Straight ahead at the light. If you need to take a break, there is a gas station/Dunkin Donuts hiding up ahead at the light if you turn right. That is the address I suggested. The store sells detailed NH map books. The kind that have every single town on an individual page. Not a bad idea to grab one. This is the actual starting point of your trip. Plug in this address as your next key point: 833 S Stark Hwy, Weare, NH.
114 is called the John Stark Highway. They never taught you this in school, but Stark was an original American badass. Read about him on Wiki at your next stop. Follow 114 into Goffstown. On your left, you will spot Magoos. A good place to have a roadside burger if you are so inclined. In the town of Weare, birthplace of Supreme Court Justice David Souter, you want to be sure to look for Rt. 149. Use the address I provided, but take 149 just before you get there. It is a convenience store that won’t let you use their bathroom. If you get to it, you missed the turn for 149. Take 149 towards Deering.
Rt. 149 is a great driver’s road. There are some great elevation changes and tight turns. If your car has a sport-mode and/or paddle shifters, now is the time. Follow 149 all the way to Deering. One cool place along the way is the New Hampshire School of Falconry. Call ahead if you plan to visit. At the road’s end stop and take in the view. You will know the spot, but it looks like this in late August:
Ahead is the town of Hillsboro, NH. You are about to cross the Contoocook River. The locals pronounce it “Con-too-kik.” As you drive up the hill after the bridge, you will be turning left at the light. Hillsboro has lots of places to eat and gas if you need it. Across from the light is German John’s Bakery. Worth checking out. Turn left onto Rt. 202/9 and follow the road through Hillsboro. If you need a bathroom break, a Dunkin Donuts is five miles ahead. As you pass through Hillsboro, you are going to look for the intersection of Rt 31. It will be a right turn.
About 5 miles ahead on Rt. 31 are a few things of interest. Washington New Hampshire is named after George Washington, but not the President. The town named itself after General Washington before the end of the Revolutionary War, a gutsy move if you think about it. As you roll into Washington, look for the Washington General Store. Inside, the store has the look of a place where a politician might stage a photo-op while saying “Can I git me a hunt’n license here?” Indeed, you can get a hunting license at the General Store. More importantly, it has a bathroom and Ray, the owner, is happy to let you use it. Ray told me that his biggest seller at the counter is the BLT as he pre-cooked a box of bacon the size of a college refrigerator. The General Store also has gasoline for sale. From a huge steel cube outside. You cannot beat the convenience of a good BLT – tank of gas combo while on a road trip.
Consider continuing up the hill on 31 a bit to the intersection of Lempster Mountain Road and 31. Follow Lempster Mountain Road for a quarter mile and you will be able to see some windmills and a decent vista. If you want a challenge, find the entrance to the windmill path on your own. You are not far away. Circle back to Rt. 31 to continue on Rt 31 north.
Next up is Pillsbury State Park. This is maybe the smallest and most accessible state park you will ever find. Turn in and stop at the headquarters. Rent a canoe or kayak for $10 per hour. You can also camp here if you make a reservation or get lucky. Use your bait from Ray’s store to try your luck. The pond is beautiful.
At this point in the journey, you have two choices. First, you can head up 31 to 10 to 103 and on to Mt. Sunapee (or try your own more direct route). Ride the chair lift to the top of Sunapee and either hike or just take in the fall view. From Sunapee to go directly home take 103 to Rt 89 south to 93 south. Or you can do more. If you want to skip Sunapee and drive some small back-roads, try taking East Washington Rd. from 31 just south of Washington. Take West Road toward Bradford and then left on Country Road to Jones Rd to Rt 114. If you try this be aware part of it is a well-groomed dirt road. On the route, you will pass real dairy farms. You are now way off the touristy route. I suggest a detailed map book and GPS both if you take this route.
To keep exploring after you leave Sunapee, take 103 to Bradford and then take 114 south to the town of Henniker. In Henniker consider a stop overnight at the Colby Hill Inn or have dinner at Bartlett’s, its restaurant. If you are driving electric and freaking out about your range, the Inn has two EV chargers; one specific to Teslas, and one for any EV. You will not find a more authentic New England B&B. Tell Cyndi and Mason we sent you.
If you just need some quick supplies, the Henniker Pharmacy is your spot. When was the last time you saw a soda fountain?
From Henniker, you can either take 202 to Rt. 89 South to 93 South, or you can opt to take 114 back the way you came. I’m a Rt. 114 guy myself. Should you try this road trip, please comment below and tell us something you saw that surprised you. If you want to explore some more obscure, but very cool spots in the area here is a quick list you can seek out on your own:
– Beard’s Brook, Gleason Falls (off 202 in Hillsboro) – Partial dirt roads (Groomed).
– Hillsboro Town Center to Kimball Hill Rd. (off of N. Rd.) Park at the very end and hike in to be completely alone with mountain views.
– The falls at the center of Henniker and the covered bridge.
– Rowell Covered Bridge off Rt 202 in Hopkington, NH. At Dunking Donuts turn north (left if you are going south on 202) onto to Rt 127. There is also another surprise before you get over to the bridge.