Break out the bathing suits and waterproof sunscreen. From lakes and ponds to pools, water parks, and even the Atlantic Ocean, splish splash the heat away at one of these family friendly hot spots for cool and refreshing summertime fun.
Just can’t make it to the beach? Spend a hot, lazy summer afternoon at Portsmouth’s Peirce Island Pool, a local swimming institution that has kept kids and families cool since first opening in 1945. Located only steps away from Prescott Park and downtown, the pool’s swimming space is a plentiful 33 yards wide with depths ranging from 14 inches to 6 feet. Open seven days a week, weekday mornings at the pool are reserved for children's swimming lessons. Afternoon, evening, and weekend recreational swim hours are open to everyone, including six lap lanes for serious swimming. Portsmouth residents with ID pay reduced pool admission prices.
Livingston Park Pool 955 Beech St Manchester 624-6568
With its kiddie splash pool, water slide, racing lanes, and shower fountain, Livingston Park’s oversized outdoor pool is easily mistaken for a resort water park. A very welcome relief from the city heat, the urban oasis offers swimming lessons, recreational pool time, and lap swimming. Don’t live in Manchester? Non-residents are welcome during late afternoon open swim hours. Call ahead for weekly schedule and resident/non-resident admission prices.
Built in the 1930s, the UNH outdoor pool holds an amazing 1.8 million gallons of water and varies in depth from less than a few inches to 10 feet deep. Lifeguard classes, swimming lessons, lap swimming, water aerobics, and open recreational swim times are offered throughout the season. Low-cost admission prices are available for non-university members. In 2009, day passes for kids and adults cost $5.
Hampton Beach Route 1A (Ocean Blvd.) Hampton
A magnet for beach seekers from all over New England, Hampton is a hot spot with cool breezes, even cooler ocean waters and no shortage of really cool shops, restaurants and community events. New to ocean swimming? Pay close attention to the warning flags posted along the shore and near lifeguard stations. Red flags indicate dangerously high surf and very strong currents (including deadly rip currents), yellow flags mean moderate surf and semi-strong currents, and when green flags fly, beach-goers should expect relatively calm conditions.
This popular oceanfront park in New Castle boasts a sandy beach with stunning views of nearby lighthouses and the Isles of Shoals. Take a quick dip in the Atlantic’s chilly waters (no lifeguards are on duty) or wade along the shore and explore the rocky outcroppings. Elsewhere in the park, find a bathhouse, playground, seaside walking paths, picnic areas, playing fields and two volleyball courts. Visitors pay a nominal admission fee during the summer months and children younger than 5 enter Great Island Common free of charge.
Wallis Sands State Beach Route 1A Rye 436-9404
Looking for a low-key alternative to Hampton? With its sandy beach, sweeping ocean views, grassy picnic area, park store, and deluxe bathhouse (hot and cold showers), Wallis Sands State Beach is a family favorite when all you want to do is play all day in the sun and surf. The parking lot at Wallis Sands can accommodate up to 500 cars, but be prepared to pay a hefty parking fee ($15 per car in 2009). Call ahead for conditions and lifeguard hours.
Splash around at the lake or pond
Catamount Pond Bear Brook State Park 157 Deerfield Road Allenstown 485-9874
Towns offering lake and pond access often enforce various residency restrictions, but for a low entrance fee, all are welcome to get into the swim of things at beaches located within the New Hampshire State Park System. At Bear Brook State Park, cool off at Catamount Pond, a family-friendly swimming hole surrounded by towering pines. Out of the water, build a sandcastle on the sandy beach, find a shady picnic spot or explore the rest of Bear Brook’s 10,000 acres. The park is home to a campground, miles of hiking trails, archery ranges, even more ponds, and the Museum of Family Camping. Open seven days a week, weather-permitting. Call ahead for conditions and lifeguard hours.
Forest Lake Forest Lake State Park NH Route 116 Dalton 837-9150
One of New Hampshire’s 10 original state parks, the crystal clear waters of Forest Lake have refreshed Granite State families since 1935. Swim, fish, boat, and play along the stretch of sandy beach. Other lakeside amenities include lifeguard supervision, bathhouse, playground and shaded picnic grounds. A trip to Forest Lake State Park is also a trip to the Great North Woods. And like most places in this wilderness-dense region, don’t be surprised if you see a moose or two wondering through the 397 acres of forested park land. Call ahead for conditions and lifeguard hours.
Kezar Lake Wadleigh State Park Route 114 North Sutton 927-4724
It’s sun, fun and not too many crowds at this clean and quiet lake just off I-89 in North Sutton’s Wadleigh State Park. Go for a swim in Kezar Lake, play along the narrow stretch of beach and have a waterside cookout in the pine-shaded picnic area. Lake-goers will also find a spacious bathhouse, park store, and on-duty lifeguards (weather- permitting). Non-swimmers looking for something to do? Fishing is permitted and the park’s playing fields are perfect for a soccer scrimmage or pick up baseball game. Call ahead for conditions and lifeguard hours.
Lake Winnipesaukee Ellacoya State Park Route 11, Scenic Drive Gilford 293-7821
Cool off in scenic style. Located on the southwest shore Lake Winnipesaukee, this long sandy beach rewards bathers with panoramic views of the lake and nearby peaks of the Sandwich and Ossipee mountains. An ideal spot for a full day of swimming and picnicking, amenities at Ellacoya include on-duty lifeguards, accessible bathhouse, boat launch, picnic grounds and a small park store offering refreshments and souvenirs. Call ahead for conditions and lifeguard hours.
Newfound Lake Wellington State Park Off Route 3A Bristol 744-2197
New to Newfound Lake? The pristine body of water is one of the deepest and clearest lakes in this state. Finding your way into Newfound is easy with a trip to the 204-acre Wellington State Park beach, the largest freshwater swimming beach in the New Hampshire State Park System. Weather-permitting, the lake is open daily for swimming, boating and fishing. Once you’ve dried off, follow the park’s kid-friendly nature trail to shaded picnic areas, plant identification markers and spectacular views of Cliff and Belle Islands. For even more post-swim adventure, a well-marked hiking trail provides access to Goose Pond, Bear Mountain, Welton Falls, and Mount Cardigan. Call ahead for conditions and lifeguard hours.
Pawtuckaway Lake Pawtuckaway State Park 128 Mountain Road Nottingham 895-3031
A favorite beach of NH families, Pawtuckaway offers lifeguard-supervised swimming, group picnic area, bathhouse, playground, lakeside campsites, park store, canoe rentals, boat launch and ball field (available by reservation). Taking to the water at Pawtuckaway also gives kids a lesson in New Hampshire geology. Surrounding the lake is a number of glacial erratics: gigantic boulders dumped in the area at the end of the Ice Age. Take a swim break to follow one the park’s hiking trails for an up close look at these oversized rocks (many with heights over 12 feet). Hiking trails at Pawtuckaway also lead to such sites of interest as a mountaintop fire tower and a marsh where you will probably spot beavers, deer and great blue herons finding their own relief from the summer heat. Call ahead for conditions and lifeguard hours. Park it
Liquid Planet Water Park 446 Route 27 Candia 483-2200 http://www.liquidplanetwaterpark.com/ Greetings earthlings! This space-themed water park has ultra-fast body slides, a 25,000- gallon pool and is home to the Fountain of Youth, New England's largest interactive spray playground. Now in its second season, Liquid Planet has expanded in 2009 to offer summer day camps, Saturday night entertainment and pool party, and Crater Springs, a natural, spring fed swimming area with more than 2,000 square feet of sandy beach.
Six Gun City and Fort Splash Waterpark 1492 Presidential Highway Jefferson 586-4592 http://www.sixguncity.com/ Celebrating its 52nd summer of frontier-style family fun, it’s the best of both worlds at the venerable Six Gun City in Jefferson. Spend the morning on the go-karts, roller coaster, and Six Gun’s western-themed amusement rides. When the midday sun starts to really turn up the heat, put your bathing suits on and head to Fort Splash. With new features and improvements every year, get ready for a wet afternoon of waterslides, bumper boats, and a wild ride on the Prospector’s Plunge water coaster. A wading pool is ready to cool off the theme park’s youngest guests.
Catapult through the darkness of the watery Dragon’s Den, race along the speed slides, climb aboard a pirate ship and plunge down 422 feet of racing rapids. With more than a dozen different water rides and slides, plus many more activities on the park’s 47 acres (including a wading pool area for younger kids), your family is in for a wet and wild time. Water Country even boasts New England's largest wave pool: more than 700,000 gallons of crashing surf.
Whales Tale Waterpark 481 Daniel Webster Highway Lincoln 745-8810 www.whalestalewaterpark.net/ Want a thrill to go along with your chill? Twist through the flume slides, get drenched in a downpour, ride the surf in the White Mountains’ only wave pool and streak down extra-slick slides at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. At Whale’s Tale Waterpark in Lincoln, cooling off has never been more exciting. A true fun-for-all-ages destination, families with younger children can splash the day away at Whale Harbor, a toddler activity pool with mini-waterslides, spray fountains, water see-saw and a manageable depth of 16 inches. Jacqueline Tourville is a freelance writer from Nashua and frequently writes travel and vacation stories for PNH.