With crisp blue skies, green as far as the eye can see and that breezy New England vibe, there’s nothing quite like summer in New Hampshire. This is especially true in the beautiful and diverse Merrimack Valley, dotted with small towns and many opportunities to greet Mother Nature. In this sweet spot of the state, you can reach a mountain's peak, go kayaking, shop local, explore history — and down it all with a microbrew. If your wanderlust is enticing you to Live Free — here’s your summer-shine bucket list for the Merrimack Valley.
Shop local in Concord.
The capital of New Hampshire is a mecca for local eats and art — and summer is their heyday. With a weekly farmer’s market and a handful of artisan stores right on Main Street, visitors and locals alike flock to the stands in search of something fresh and original. Concord also hosts Market Days, which feature local food and goods for sale — complete with live music. If you are a proponent of artisan creations, stop by the League of NH Craftsmen Fine Art Gallery, where you’ll find a vast variety of beautiful pieces. To cool down from a day of summer shopping, try your luck getting into Chuck’s Barbershop. This speakeasy requires you to pick up a phone and solve a riddle before the nondescript red door reveals an entrance.
Though the President of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, Tim Sink, will be quick to tell you the state capital isn’t a ‘small town’ per se, a stroll down their main street may beg otherwise. With quaint, locally-owned shops, a plethora of crafts and hidden gems, there’s plenty to do and experience. You can stay at the boutique The Hotel Concord, centrally located in the heart of downtown, grab lunch at Live Juice for fresh smoothies and wraps, or dine at Revival for a farm-to-table dinner. The capital comes alive in the summer, with their annual Market Days celebration, a modern-day block party with crafts, food, activities and live music. For bookworms, a browse through Gibson’s Bookstore, the largest independent bookstore in the state, can’t be missed.
Hike Mt. Kearsarge.
As Sink puts it, Concord is an ideal place to rest your hiking head while you’re trekking the region. Climbing (or driving) up Mt. Kearsarge, a gem of the area, comes highly recommended. On either side of this peak are state parks, with Rollins on the south side and Winslow on the north. You can start from either area and make your way to the top, depending on your athletic level and interest.
Go camping at Pawtuckaway State Park.
With 5,000 acres to explore, it’s no wonder Pawtuckaway State Park is a tradition for many New England families. With campgrounds, hiking trails and an impressive lake for which the preserve is named after, summertime here is defined by nature. As the largest state park in southeastern New Hampshire, there are a few sights to check off your list: the mountaintop fire tower with 360-views, a large marsh where you can see blue herons, beavers, and other wildlife, and a large field that’s home to “Glacial erratics.” According to geologists, these were created here near the end of the Ice Age as the result of glaciers melting. Even if you aren’t the type to fall asleep under the tapestry of the stars — an afternoon picnic in Pawtuckaway will create a sweet memory for you and your family this summer.
See America’s Stonehenge.
Though it’s not as large as the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Bath, England — it’s still a pretty cool sight to see. Considering an archaeological site, you and your family or travel companions can explore an incredible 30 acres of stone structures at America's Stonehenge. The wide variety of formations are found within the small town of Salem, and in the grassy areas surrounding it. Though you will have to pay an admission fee to explore the park, it includes access to an alpaca farm and a variety of trails.
Hike part of the New Hampshire Heritage Trail.
Technically speaking, you can actually walk from Massachusetts, through New Hampshire, all the way up to Canada on this trail. There are a number of must-see hubs along the trek in the Merrimack Valley. These include a Railroad Depot from the early 1900s, a section of the Underground Railroad and a cottage where poet Robert Frost once lived. What’s best about this accessible adventure is that it’s only 5.6 miles, so you can definitely see it in a day.
Learn about the Shakers at Canterbury Shaker Village.
Especially for families with children, keeping young minds engaged during the summer months is a concern, even on vacation. An afternoon at Canterbury Shaker Village is age-appropriate for all, and will give kids plenty to talk about in show-and-tell. As one of the last standing Shaker Villages left, Canterbury is one of the best preserved, even featuring original flooring in some of the constructions. Visitors can trek through the grounds, learning about how this religious and egalitarian community lived a hundred years ago. From their entrepreneurial mindset and dedication to efficiency, you’ll walk away with a new perspective of this group. Make sure to check their calendar of events since they offer many summer programs — from craft-making to herb-hunting.