Lake Winnipesaukee, N.H., was a prime summer destination even before the Boston Railroad first reached its shores in 1848, bearing city folk. Abnaki Indians had long used the area for summer hunting and fishing. Now, though the lake has become one of the most popular New England tourist destinations, visitors can still find quiet fishing spots in glassy coves, uninhabited islands and old summer homes, which, like the frequent call of the loon, echo years of long summer days at the lake.
Located in the center of New Hampshire and surrounded by three mountain ranges, Winnipesaukee is the third largest body of water in New England. Some 365 islands dot the lake, and though most of the nearly 200-mile shoreline is lined with summer camps, harbors, houses and towns, trees still dominate the landscape. Each town has a pier or beach access, and numerous marinas rent all kinds of watercraft. Golfers will find 19 public courses in the area.
Part of the lake experience involves visiting its harbors by boat or car. Start in Center Harbor and travel north to Moultonboro, where Castle in the Clouds-a 100-year-old mansion that once hosted Teddy Roosevelt-offers stunning views of the lake plus a taste of the microbrewed Lucknow beer. Then head south to Wolfeboro, where you'll find art and music festivals and restaurants galore. After Alton Bay, on the southern tip of the lake, comes Gilford, home of Gunstock Ski Area-its long, narrow ski runs are trustworthy navigational tools for boaters cruising through rocky sections with nicknames like "The Graveyard" and "The Witches." The next stop is Weirs Beach, a bustling boardwalk of arcades, water slides and a drive-in theater. The last lake town, Meredith, features specialty stores and a great place to watch the Fourth of July fireworks by boat.
To fully appreciate Winnipesaukee's 72 square miles of water, sightseers can board the 230-foot-long Mount Washington Cruise Ship (888-843-6686), a fixture on the lake for more than 125 years. "The Mount" cruises daily between ports. Don't miss the nightly dinner and dance cruise, with live music and full buffet. For a different perspective, take a seaplane ride (which makes house calls, 603-293-7980) or get back to the simple life and just listen to the water gently lap against the shore.
For more information, call the Lakes Region Association (800-605-2537, www.lakesregion.org).