The beautiful state of New Hampshire boasts an incredible 93 state park properties, each providing a variety of recreational opportunities for visitors of all ages and physical abilities. The park system features beaches, campgrounds, historical sites, waysides, gorgeous natural areas, a whole slew of cut trails, and so much more for you and yours to explore. Though there is no shortage of state parks to choose from should you decide to visit, we’ve rounded up our top 10 favorites to highlight. Here’s hoping you can cross each of them off your list!
1– Franconia Notch State Park
Located in the heart of the gorgeous White Mountain Forest, Franconia Notch is a popular New Hampshire state park that spans from the Flume Gorge to Echo Lake. Often regarded as one of the most beautiful state parks in the entire country, the park features the Flume Gorge ride and the New England Ski Museum. At Franconia Notch, you can also swim in Echo Lake, fly fish at Profile Lake, take a ride on the aerial tramway, go biking on the Recreational Trail, rock climb, and even hike part of the infamous Appalachian Trail.
2– Cardigan Mountain State Park
Another sizable park, Cardigan Mountain State Park comes in at 5,655 acres, with a mountain road leading to the summit, as well as a network of many trails. The summit at Mount Cardigan is 3,121 feet and comes with amazing panoramic views of the White Mountains, as well as Mount Monadnock. The West Ridge Trail—the most direct route to the summit—has wooden bridges and log staircases for hikers to climb as they trek through the beautiful hardwood forest. The park remains open throughout the year; however it is not fully staffed during the offseason, so if you choose to visit during winter, make sure your outdoor survival skills are up to snuff.
3– Sculptured Rocks Natural Area
Sculptured Rocks Geologic Site is a spot worth stopping by that’s only a few mere steps from your vehicle. This natural area spans 272 acres along the Cockermouth River and features unique rock formations and natural potholes you could easily sink hours into exploring. This geological feature was painstakingly sculpted over the approximate 12,000 years since the last ice age ended. Each season here offers its own draw, from colorful autumn leaves to winter snow to temps perfect for a summertime swim.
4– Rhododendron State Park
Rhododendron State Park is unique and special, offering up beautiful nature scenes, accessible trail systems, and always interesting ecology. The best time to visit is during mid-summer when the rhododendrons are in bloom, and the trails are easy enough for explorers of any age and ability to enjoy. Be sure to watch out for deer, birds, and other wildlife– specifically bird species including the ruffed grouse, white-throated sparrow, nuthatch, and woodpecker, all of which call this lovely environment home. Enjoy a picnic lunch at the recreation area, and take a nice walk through the tunnels of the park’s namesake rhododendrons that burst into life each summer.
5– Odiorne Point State Park
Situated on the New Hampshire seacoast, Odiorne Point State Park features a picnic area, playground, a science center, a boat ramp, a bike path, and hiking trails spread out against the rocky Atlantic coast. Initially a fishing and farming settlement, the area later became a vacation site for many. In 1942, the area became Fort Dearborn, and the concrete military bunkers and gun mounts can still be seen today. Some of the bunkers aren’t too obvious at first glance because the foliage growing on and around them provides camouflage. In the winter months, the trails at Odiorne Point become ideal for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
6– Bear Brook State Park
Bear Brook State Park, with more than 10,000 acres, is the largest developed state park in all of New Hampshire. It’s located in the southeastern region of the state, and an ideal backdrop for camping, hiking, biking, swimming, and fishing. There are roughly 40 miles of trails that wind through the park, leading to ponds, breathtaking summits, and other natural landscapes. This New Hampshire state park also plays host to two archery ranges for those handy with a bow and arrow, or eager to try it out.
7– Pillsbury State Park
For those who like to evade the crowds, Pillsbury State Park might be just your cup of tea. Relax and get away from the buzz of the world at this New Hampshire State Park which features some of the most scenic ponds around. The Monadnock-Sunapee-Greenway Trail winds through the park, eventually leading up to Lucia’s Lookout, while other nearby trails lead you to beautiful ponds dotting the park’s acreage. Known for its camping and paddling, this park also offers canoe and kayak rentals, and a lot of chances to see wildlife like moose, loons, ducks, and turtles.
8– Pawtuckaway State Park
Pawtuckaway State Park offers a family-friendly beach on the lake, hiking trails leading to a unique, mountaintop fire tower, and a marsh ripe with wildlife like beavers and great herons. The park is also dotted with massive boulders that were deposited there when the glaciers melted at the end of the Ice Age. Rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard to get on the water, or plan to camp, as the campground features 192 wooded sites, many with lovely views of the lake.
9– Crawford Notch State Park
Stretching out over 5,775 acres, Crawford Notch State Park is home to hiking trails, mountain views, waterfalls, fishing, and wildlife viewing. Gain a history lesson at the Willey House, and go camping at the Dry River Campground in one of the 36 wooded campsites. During the summer, you can even opt to join a nature-based program to learn firsthand from a park ranger. Camping is available at Crawford Notch between June and October, but you can also camp in the early spring and late fall on a first-come, first-served basis when the weather cooperates.
10– Echo Lake State Park
Echo Lake State Park is a family-friendly outdoor area in Conway with incredible hiking trails, including some that go around the lake and others that offer Saco River Valley views on the way to Cathedral Ledge State Park. Swimming in the lake and rock climbing are also popular activities to engage in here, as well as kayaking and canoeing. Unfortunately, there is no camping permitted at Echo Lake State Park but worry not. You can camp in one of the other close-neighboring state parks instead, such as White Lake State Park or Crawford Notch State Park.
Even if you can’t visit all 93 breathtaking New Hampshire state parks, try to check these top ten off your list when you visit our incredible state. There is so much life and beauty here to experience for those who make the time and space.