• A canoe on the shoreline of Lake Sunapee at sunrise at Mount Sunapee State Park in Newbury, New Hampshire.
    Canoe on the Shoreline of Lake Sunapee
    Mount Sunapee State Park, Newbury, New Hampshire

Off the Beaten Path

New Hampshire

This New England driving itinerary takes you to quieter destinations in New Hampshire. Visit classic small towns and drive along peaceful back roads for much of your way. To get the best out of this route that goes off the beaten path, stay two or three nights in each of the stopovers and follow our Top Tips.

Trip ideas and itineraries are meant as suggestions only. They are intended as ideas and to highlight all there is to see and do in New England.

  • Start and finish in Boston, Massachusetts. Spend a couple of days here to see the sights. The “T,” the public transport system, is efficient and inexpensive — and Boston is the most walkable major U.S. city, so you don’t need to rent a car until you are setting off.
  • Driving distance: About 300 miles/480 km.
  • Allow 8-10 days.
  • View this tour in Google Maps.

Drive north to Exeter, New Hampshire (60 miles/100 km).

Exeter, New Hampshire in Fall (credit: Discover New England)

Exeter, New Hampshire

A small town with a big history: that is Exeter. Founded in 1638, it was the capital of New Hampshire from 1775 to 1789. Learn about the Gilman family, who featured in early U.S. history, at the American Independence Museum. The collection includes an original Purple Heart, awarded by George Washington for bravery, as well as two drafts of the U.S. Constitution. The Gilman Garrison House chronicles three centuries of a local family.


  • See the sea: Cycle, drive or walk along New Hampshire’s Coastal Byway to enjoy the state’s 18 miles of seashore: historic sites, scenery, and grand views of the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Go bird watching: The Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a stopover for migratory waterfowl on their way south for the winter.
  • Portsmouth: Spend an afternoon in this charming city for coffee in the square, shopping and historic sites.

Drive through the back roads and small villages of southern New Hampshire to Peterborough (80 miles/125 km).

Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce - New Hampshire

Peterborough, New Hampshire

Peterborough was the inspiration for Our Town, a classic portrayal of Americana and a favorite of high school drama clubs. It is also the home of the MacDowell Colony. Founded in 1907, it is America’s oldest artists’ community, while the Peterborough Players theater group produces award-winning performances, year in, year out.


  • Hike up Mount Monadnock: “The third most climbed mountain in the world” has a summit of 3,165 feet/965 m and offers intermediate to expert terrain.
  • Shop for tax-free boots, outdoor clothing and more: Peterborough is the corporate headquarters of the popular Eastern Mountain Sports store.
  • Play golf: The Monadnock Country Club may be only a 9-hole, par 29 executive course, but it was built in 1901 and is a fun challenge.

Back roads lead to gorgeous foliage. Pick up the Currier & Ives Trail (Route 202 and 127), a tribute to the 19th-century printmakers who recorded small towns, such as Hopkinton, Warner, Henniker, and Webster — communities that seem unchanged today (65 miles/100 km).

Lake Sunapee Region Chamber - New Hampshire

Sunapee, New Hampshire

Lake Sunapee and Mount Sunapee have something for everyone: pretty villages; outdoor activities; 84 acres of historic gardens at The Fells, an early 20th-century summer estate on Lake Sunapee; and Mount Sunapee's Adventure Park, with canopy zip-lines, rope bridges, and rappelling.


  • Go boating: Rent a canoe, kayak, pontoon or row boat and see the foliage from Lake Sunapee.
  • Cycle back roads: With sweeping views, the Lake Sunapee Scenic Byway is a 25-mile (40 km) route, linking villages, such as Sunapee Harbor and Newbury Harbor.
  • Glide to the top: The Sunapee Express chair sweeps up to Mount Sunapee’s summit (2,743 feet/836 m) for spectacular views.

Drive northeast to the Connecticut River Valley and the handsome town of Hanover, home of Dartmouth College. 

Return to: Two Week New England Driving Tours