Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
By Jacqueline Tourville
October is a month for leaf-peeping, pumpkin picking, and plenty of spooky fun – and this road trip to the western corner of the Granite State won’t let you down! Fall-themed fun includes ghostly hayrides, a walk in a haunted forest, and a stop at one of New England’s premier fall festivals.
Our road trip begins in the leafy town of Keene. Blazing all month with some of the prettiest foliage around, visiting the bustling college town may be worth it for the photos alone. But head west on Saturday, Oct. 20, and you will be just in time for the annual Keene Pumpkin Festival. Join the crowds to watch as the town tries beat its own record for the most lighted jack-o-lanterns in one place at one time, march in the costume parade, compete in the pumpkin-seed spitting contest, and line up for pumpkin pie.
When you’re done with festival fun, stay a while to explore the many shops and restaurants of Keene’s quaint downtown area. Does it all look a little familiar? It may be because Keene provided the outdoor settings for the movie Jumanji. Watch the film before you go to see how locations you can spot in the town square area.
Leaving Keene on Route 9, head west for one mile to our next stop, Stonewall Farm. The nonprofit, educational working dairy farm has cows, Belgian draft horses and assorted other critters for kids to visit and pet. As a special Halloween treat, on Sunday, Oct. 28, families can explore the spooky side of the farm with hayrides through the dark woods and a walk on the haunted trail (good for older children).
Leaving the farm, it’s time for leaf-peeping as you cruise west on Route 9 to Route 63 in Westmoreland. Head north here to Route 12 and continue to Alyson’s Orchards, a spectacular spot for pumpkins and apple picking. Want to make a weekend of it? Stay at the orchard’s inn nestled among the apple trees. No matter how long you stay, don’t leave without one of Alyson’s fresh-baked apple pies and other goodies from the farm store.
For a ghostly finale to this road trip, backtrack to Route 9 and continue west to the last left you can take before reaching the bridge crossing to Vermont. This is Gulf Road, which leads to one of New Hampshire’s most famous haunted places: the Madame Sherri Forest. It’s named for the eccentric Madame Antoinette Sherri, a costume designer for the Ziegfield Follies who built her country "Castle" in the woods of Chesterfield – and who quickly gained notoriety among the locals for the lavish parties she threw.
In 1962, the mansion was destroyed by fire, leaving behind only the central hall’s grand stone staircase. It is said that the spirit of Madame Sherri still roams the grounds of the forest that was once her home. Your best chance for having a close encounter of the ghostly kind? Fellow ghost hunters say visit the staircase, only a short walk from the trailhead on Gulf Road, and call out her name. And then get ready for an impromptu game of “Who can get to the car the fastest?”
Jacqueline Tourville of Nashua is a longtime contributor to PNH.