Lake Winnipesaukee is New Hampshire’s summertime playground where travelers come to enjoy lake life. It’s a great family-friendly destination but also works well as a trip for just adults.
Many of the top things to do in Lake Winnipesaukee are about enjoying the lake in the summer. There are lake cruises, jet-ski rentals, and plenty of beaches to relax on. But you’ll also find plenty of museums, breweries, wineries, and shops to enjoy.
Located in the heart of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region between Manchester and the White Mountains, Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire and the third-largest lake in New England after Lake Champlain and Moosehead Lake. Surrounded by three mountain ranges, the wooded shoreline and crystal clear water of this spring-fed lake make it a popular resort and a place to rest and relax in beautiful surroundings and enjoy water sports of all sorts.
The lake is 69 square miles altogether—21 miles long (northwest-southeast) and from one to nine miles wide (northeast-southwest). It is home to at least 264 islands, half of which are less than a quarter-acre in size, and is indented by several peninsulas yielding a total shoreline of approximately 288 miles.
In short, this lake is massive. Additionally, there are some inhabited islands like Bear Island and Governors Island.
Visitors may explore the numerous villages on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee by boat or by car. Each one offers something unique. Weirs Beach has arcades and boardwalks, waterslides, a public beach, and an activity center. Meredith is a restored mill village where you can browse through antiques, art, and craft galleries. Wolfeboro is a picture-perfect village right down to its historic Main Street. Center Harbor, Moultonborough, Tuftonboro, Alton, Gilford, and Laconia all have their special flavor. All communities have public parks and docks and feature varied activities such as fireworks displays, and band concerts throughout the year.
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The Story of Lake Winnipesaukee
Many moons ago on the northern shores of this beautiful lake there lived a great chief, Wonton, renowned for his great courage in war and the beauty of this fair daughter, Mineola. She had many suitors but refused them all. One day, Adiwando, the young chief of a hostile tribe to the south hearing so much of the fair Mineola, paddled over the lake and fearlessly entered the village of his enemies. Her father happened to be away at the time and admiring Adiwando’s courage the rest of the Indians did not harm him. Before long, he and the Indian maid were desperately in love with each other.
On his return, Wonton was exceedingly wroth to find the chief of the enemy in his camp and a suitor for the hand of his daughter; so much so, that he immediately raised his tomahawk and started to kill him.
Mineola, rushing in between them, pleaded with her father for the life of her lover and finally succeeded in reconciling them. After the wedding ceremony, the whole tribe accompanied the two lovers in their canoes halfway across the lake. When they started the sky was overcast and the waters black but just as they were about to turn and leave them the sun came out and the waters sparkled around the canoe of Mineola and Adiwando.
“This is a good omen,” said Wonton, “and hereafter these waters shall be called Winnipesaukee, or The Smile of the Great Spirit.”
Things to Do in Lake Winnipesaukee
Whether you want a relaxing boat ride or the adrenaline rush of driving a jet-ski, want to peruse local handicrafts or dive into history, or want to spend the afternoon wine-tasting or enjoying an ice cream, there is something for everyone to enjoy in Lake Winnipesaukee.
Let’s run down some favorites.
Public Boat Launches
Lake Winnipesaukee is all about boating and there are numerous places to launch a boat and cruise around Lake Winnipesaukee. Launch your boat at one of the many launch sites on the Lake. If you don’t own a boat, you can rent one, charter one, or take a cruise on one of the many excursion boats on the Lake.
Laconia’s boat rental locations include East Coast Flightcraft, Irwin Marine, North Water Marine, and Winnisquam Marine. In Gilford, there is Fay’s Boatyard, Wolfeboro is home to Goodhue Boat Company, and Alton Bay has Lakeside Boat Rentals. Located in Meredith is Melvin Village Marina. Finally, in Moultonborough, there is Trexler’s Marina.
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If you’d rather be closer to the water, Jet Ski rentals on Lake Winnipesaukee can be found at Wolfeboro Jet Ski Rentals, Weirs Beach Jet Ski Rentals, and numerous other places.
Mailboat Cruise on the M/V Sophie C
Lake Winnipesaukee is home to a truly unique lake cruise: the M/V Sophie C, an actual working mailboat and the “oldest floating post office in the country”. The boat travels from Weirs Beach to the islands of Lake Winnipesaukee delivering mail to their residents. And passengers can join for the ride.
On a cruise, you’ll visit a handful of islands and drop off and pick up the mail. Passengers can also fill out postcards, write letters, and mail them with a collectible stamp during the cruise.
This cruise is one of the most unique activities in New Hampshire.
The Mailboat Cruise costs $40 a person and lasts two hours. It only runs during the summer months.
Narrated Scenic Tours on the M/S Mount Washington
Experience the beauty of Lake Winnipesaukee during a narrated scenic tour aboard the historic M/S Mount Washington. Learn about the history of the region and local folklore surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in New England.
With daily departures from Weirs Beach and departures from Wolfeboro and Alton Bay on select days, it’s easy to fit a cruise on “the Mount” into your travel plans.
The 2½ hour cruise costs $42 (+$3.50 fuel surcharge).
Other available cruises offered by Mount Washington Cruises include:
- Sunset Dinner Cruise on the M/S Mount Washington
- Sunday Brunch Cruise on the M/S Mount Washington
- Summer Cocktail Cruise on the M/S Winnipesaukee Spirit
Visit Castle in the Clouds
Castle in the Clouds is a 1913 mountaintop mansion in Moultonborough and one of Lake Winnipesaukee’s most popular attractions. It’s a great example of Arts and Crafts architecture in New England and has an aesthetic of living in harmony with nature. The mansion has 16 rooms and modern amenities for its time. It’s a beautiful house with gorgeous views of Lake Winnipesaukee from above.
And it’s way more than just a historic home to visit. There are over 5,000 acres of land with stunning views of Lake Winnipesaukee and the Ossipee Mountains, miles of hiking, and even an on-site restaurant. The estate also hosts weddings and other private events.
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Self-guided tours of the mansion cost $20 for adults, $10 for children ages 5 to 17, and $15 for seniors ages 65+. Visitors can tour the first and second floors of the mansion.
Guided tours of the basement cost $25 per person and include self-guided tours of floors 1 and 2. The basement tour shows guests where the servants lived who ran the mansion and they had the most interesting stories of all.
Note: Trolleys are the only means of access to the mansion. Trolleys depart the Carriage House every 15 minutes until 4:15 pm.
The Old Country Store in Moultonborough
The Old Country Store in Moultonborough is one of the oldest continuously operated stores in the United States and has been in business since 1781. In addition to selling goods to the community, it’s served as a hub for town meetings, a library, and a post office.
Today, the iconic yellow building serves as a vintage shopping experience for travelers in the area. You can find locally made goods, antiques, and unusual souvenirs. They even have penny candy (not quite a penny a piece anymore, but still quite reasonable prices).
The Old Country Store is around the corner from Castle in the Clouds and makes a nice stop for after your visit.
Loon Preservation Center and Marcus Wildlife Sanctuary
The Frederick and Paula Anna Markus Wildlife Sanctuary is comprised of 200 acres of upland forests, marshes, ponds, clear-running streams, and over 5,000 feet of pristine shoreline on Lake Winnipesaukee, one of the largest remaining areas of natural shoreline on the lake. These diverse habitats make this sanctuary home to a wide host of plant and animal species. Two walking trails wind their way through the Sanctuary.
The Loon Center, located on the north shore of Lake Winnipesaukee on the Markus Wildlife Sanctuary in Moultonborough was built as the new headquarters of the Loon Preservation Committee in 1993. In addition to staff offices, public meeting rooms, and a research laboratory, the Loon Center houses exhibits, displays, and the Loon’s Feather Gift Shop. The interpretive exhibits, presentations, and nature trails give over 10,000 yearly visitors an introduction to the natural environment of New Hampshire and promote a greater understanding of loons and the natural world.
For most people, the call of the loon is their first introduction to the species. Loon calls have a distinct, haunting quality that has enchanted humans for centuries. In popular culture, these calls have become a symbol of the wilderness. Loons are most vocal from mid-May to mid-June. They have four main calls which they use to communicate with their families and other loons. Each call has a distinct meaning and serves a unique function.
Best Time to Visit Lake Winnipesaukee
The best time to visit Lake Winnipesaukee is in the summer months from June through August. This is when the lake is busiest and at its most expensive but when else can you swim, relax on the beach, and go boating underneath the bright sunshine?
The busiest time of year is mid-June when bikers from around the country descend on the lake for Laconia Motorcycle Week. This can be a fun time to visit the lake but know that it will be very crowded with lots of motorcycles roaring.
Fall can be another wonderful time to visit Lake Winnipesaukee with beautiful fall foliage surrounding the lake. And we enjoyed visiting Lake Winnipesaukee in late-September, a warm yet uncrowded time as most kids are back in school.
Winter is a very different trip, but hey, there’s a reason why Lake Winnipesaukee is a favorite New England winter getaways. Lake Winnipesaukee is an ice fishing mecca with competitions taking place in February. This can be a great time to enjoy bargain-basement accommodation rates—with a side of ice skating. There is also a sled dog race held in February.
Lake Winnipesaukee Stats
Elevation: 504 feet above sea level
Maximum depth: 180 feet
Average depth: 43 feet
Volume: 625 billion gallons
Length: Approximately 25 miles
Width: Approximately 15 miles at widest point
Water Surface: 72 square miles
Distance around the lake: 182 miles
Shoreline excluding islands: 178 miles
Island shoreline: 100½ miles
How still it is here in the woods. The trees
Stand motionless, as if they did not dare
To stir, lest it should break the spell. The air
Hangs quiet as spaces in a marble frieze.
Even this little brook, that runs at ease,
Whispering and gurgling in its knotted bed,
Seems but to deepen with its curling thread
Of sound the shadowy sun-pierced silences.
—Archibald Lampman (1861-1899)