Well-loved and still in mint condition, Lake Winnipesaukee occupies at least the physical heart of New Hampshire’s boating scene—and is bent on capturing the figurative heart and soul of New England mariners too. So if you prefer to avoid the tides and salt water of the coast, or simply want a change of pace, Winnie’s the right place: some 72 square miles of boating nirvana set between the White Mountains to the north and picture-postcard New Hampshire immediately to the south.
Whether you trailer
your own boat to Winnipesaukee or rent one when you get there, you won’t run out of places to visit or
things to do on
New Hampshire’s largest lake.
The first thing many boaters notice when setting out on the lake is the remarkable clarity of the water. “I think our short season contributes a lot to the water quality,” offers Jeff Fay, who represents the third generation of Fay’s that have run the eponymous boatyard on the lake’s southwest shore since 1944. Even in midsummer, water clarity can be 15’ after a few calm days. With hundreds of powerboats zipping all over, and quite a few sailboats working out of Smith Cove, where Fay’s is located, the water is decidedly unspoiled—and usually warm enough to swim in, at least after June.
Indeed, it is Winnie’s consistency that has brought vacationers back to the lakeside town of Gilford and Fay’s for generations. “They like that we still treat customers the way we always have,” says Fay, who notes that his facility is one of the few left in New England where customers can still work on their own boats. Most choose to use the yard’s multitude of services, but a few die-hard, do-it-yourself sailboat owners still insist on wielding their own paintbrushes, sanders and powerwashers.
Sail, Power and Paddle
Smith Cove boasts the largest concentration of sailboats on the lake, which on the whole tends to be a powerboater’s paradise. Still, leaving Varney Point to port in a spanking northwesterly and coming out from under the lee of Lockes Island can be a memorable event for any mariner new to the lake. Farther on, after leaving Welch Island to port and reaching across a wide-open portion of the lake known locally as The Broads, the only logical destination is Wolfeboro to the northeast. Few will argue that this lively port is anything less than attractive.
Just exactly what allows Wolfeboro to lay claim to the title “Jewel of Lake Winnipesaukee” may be evident long before you actually tie up along the bustling waterfront. At first, it may be a shiny Lyman runabout from the 1950s skimming out to the open lake. Next you may encounter a stately Chris-Craft cruiser from the ‘60s, just clearing the shallows. With luck, a Gar Wood speedster from the 1920s or ‘30s may be spotted in the channel leading to the waterfront. And…well, you get the picture: Wolfeboro is classic-powerboat country.
At its heart is the New Hampshire Boat Museum, around which a powerboat-revival industry has arisen in the last 20 years or so. You can hardly move among the throngs ashore without overhearing conversations about boat restoration, vintage motors for sale and regattas to be held. In fact, the museum sponsors a vintage powerboat regatta each September that attracts thousands.
Party at The Weirs
If your crew is more attracted to a carnival-like atmosphere, the better port is Weirs Beach, on the lake’s northwest shore. At what locals call “The Weirs” you’ll find waterslides, train rides, go-carts, a boardwalk and a swimming beach, among many other things. For the adults, there’s nightlife ashore, plenty of dockside dining choices and several marinas where you can tie up for the day, a week or longer. Just be sure you reserve a slip well in advance, as The Weirs—having served as a fun spot for boaters for more than half a century—is well loved.
Not interested in lakeside attractions and just want some peace and quiet? Winnie can provide that too, particularly when you consider it has some than 250 islands in whose lee you can anchor. On 112-acre Stonedam Island in Meredith, boaters are welcome to go ashore and explore the interior or hang out on shore. Amid the rest of the lake’s 180 miles of shoreline are coves in which you could be one of only two or three boats on a hot summer weekday. The north side of the southeast corner of the lake is particularly laid back during much of the summer.
Fishermen find Winnie a worthy destination as well, particularly those who pursue lake trout (togue) and landlocked salmon. The best fishing tends to occur in the cooler months, but there are plenty of guides who say they can hook you up almost anytime, as long as you play the dynamics of the hot and cold waters churning up and down and around the lake’s considerable depths.
In short, you can always find something attractive amid Lake Winnipesaukee’s crystalline waters. Rent a boat when you get there or trailer your own baby behind you. But by all means, put it on your “must visit” list of New England boating destinations.
Reminder: A boating-safety certificate is needed to operate a powerboat with an engine of 25 horsepower or more in New Hampshire waters. The certificate requires passing a boating-safety exam, or proof of equivalent certification in another state. For information call (888) 254-2125.
Fun Things to See & Do on Winnie
Paddlesteamer Mount Washington: (888) 843-6686; or go to CruiseNH. Docked in Weirs Beach, this historic paddlesteamer gives tours of the lake. “Old Mount” was launched in spring 1872 to carry mail, goods, and passengers under the flag of the Boston and Maine Railroad. She makes one or two round-trips on the lake per day during summer, as well as dinner dance cruises.
- Mailboat M/V Sophie C: (603) 366-5531; or go to CruiseNH. The Sophie C is the oldest, and one of 2 currently operating, floating U.S. post offices. The boat delivers mail Monday-Saturday, sells postage, and collects and postmarks outgoing mail. The Sophie C also operates as a sightseeing boat, carrying up to 125 people on its two cruises per day as it delivers mail and sells ice cream and snacks to residents of the islands it serves.
- Hobo Railroad: (603) 745-2135, Scenic train rides around Lake Winnie.
- Weirs Beach Waterslides: (603) 366-5528; Wet, wild fun for the whole family.
- Weirs Drive-In: (603) 366-4723; Throwback drive-in movie theater at lively Weirs Beach.
- Center Harbor Town Band: (603) 253-4561; Performs at the Center Harbor town gazebo on Friday nights in season.
- New Hampshire Boat Museum: (603) 569-4554; Two miles from the center of Wolfeboro, the museum features many examples of vintage mahogany and antique boats on a rotating basis, including Gar Wood, Chris-Craft, Century, Dodge, Penn Yan, Lyman and Hacker. Also featured are runabouts, raceboats, canoes, guide boats, and sailboats.
- Stonedam Island: (603) 253-3301; Boaters can access this 112-acre wildlife preserve in Meredith via a dock and beach on the northeast cove. A map of the site may be obtained by calling the Lakes Region Conservation Trust at the above number.
- Canoe & Kayak Rental: Half-day, full-day and weekly rentals of canoes, kayaks and SUPs are available through Wild Meadow Canoe and Kayak in Center Harbor, (603) 253-7536; Some of the marinas on Winnie, such as Faye’s, also rent kayaks and boats.
- Fishing: Lake Winnie offers excellent fishing for salmon, trout, bass, pike and pickerel.
For a full listing Lake Winnipesaukee marina, launch ramps, boatyards, restaurants and more, CLICK HERE.