January 20, 2020
Diamond in the Rough: Newfound Lake, NH
Set amid the rugged mountains of central New Hampshire, sparkling, pristine Newfound Lake is a boating gem waiting to be discovered.
By Ray Carbone • Photography by Karen Bobotas
Just a two-hour drive from Boston and nestled between New Hampshire’s Mount Cardigan and Mount Stinson is Newfound Lake, a remarkably clear, aquatic playground for boaters, paddlers, and fishermen. To the north loom the majestic White Mountains, while a few miles east, busy Lake Winnipesaukee stands in direct contrast to this much quieter waterbody.
One person who appreciates the lake’s unique character is Herb D’Arcy, a local boater and fisherman who has spent virtually every summer on Newfound, and now helps monitor its water quality as a volunteer with the Newfound Lake Region Association. “Newfound has exceptional purity, clarity and depth,” he explains. “When we measure the visibility of the lake with a Secchi disk, we routinely get 30 feet. In other lakes, like Winnipesaukee, you’d be lucky to get 15 feet of visibility.”
It helps that Newfound is one of New Hampshire’s largest and deepest lakes, measuring seven miles long by 2.5 miles wide, with an average depth of 75 feet (the deepest spot is 183 feet). Another plus is its topography. There are 64,000 acres of surrounding mountain watershed and 13 tributaries feeding into 4,000 acres of lake, plus eight springs that pump clean water from below. Also, the lake water turns over three or four times a year, so that keeps it healthy too.
Boating Spoken Here
With so much clear, clean water to recommend it, not to mention some great fishing, plenty of boaters have found their way to Newfound since the 1850’s. That’s when economic changes left many New England farms abandoned, and rural communities in New Hampshire began seeing the growth of small lakeside hotels, inns, and cottages aimed at attracting so-called “rusticators” from urban areas. Today, the lakeside communities of Bridgewater, Bristol, Hebron, and Alexandria remain small, friendly towns where vacationing families feel welcomed and summer days slip by easily. And while the lakefront is undergoing some development, it remains mostly home to older homes and cabins, many of which can be rented on a weekly or seasonal basis.
While Newfound is the third largest lake in the state, boat traffic remains surprisingly light. Sole access is via the small launch facility at Wellington State Park, so large boats are rarely seen. Most recreational boaters these days favor pontoons that encourage leisurely exploration, lounging, entertaining and, on some of the newer models, activities like waterskiing, tubing and fishing.
There are a couple of popular sandbars on the lake. One is at the mouth of the Fowler River, by Wellington State Park. The other is in Hebron, by the mouth of the Cockermouth River, in the northwest corner of the lake. It’s a good place for swimming and playing with the kids and dogs.
Home of the Lunker Laker
Not surprisingly, the lake’s superior water quality supports a wide variety of game fish, from yellow perch to trout. Indeed, Newfound is famous for producing the state record lake trout—a 28-pound, 8-ounce monster caught in 1958. Most anglers troll for trout and salmon in deep water, or cast for smallmouth bass along the shoreline. Smallies were introduced in the early 1960’s, and the lake regularly gives up fish over five pounds.
Kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding are other popular pastimes on Newfound. An excellent put-in spot for these smaller craft is the Grey Rocks Conservation Area in the northwest part of the lake. It offers a small ramp with on-site parking, as well as access to the meandering creeks of the Charles L. Bean Sanctuary and the sandy beach just east of the aforementioned Cockermouth River.
Wellington State Park has a good launch area that paddlers can use to access the western side of the lake, as well as Belle and Cliff Islands. You can also rent kayaks at the park for a reasonable fee.
While Newfound doesn’t offer the type of lakeside restaurants boaters can find on Winnipesaukee, there’s at least one dock-and-dine option. The Big Catch restaurant in Bristol, at the southern end of the lake, has a small dock for its waterborne patrons and specializes in fried seafood. Boaters can tie up here after a long day on the water and enjoy drinks, a meal, and spectacular sunsets.
For folks who desire some time off the water, Bristol’s Main Street features several restaurants and shops, including Skip’s Sport Shop, which carries an assortment of fishing and hunting gear for outdoorsmen. If you want to stretch your legs, you’ll find many scenic trails to wander, from easy walks in the state park to more challenging climbs up Mount Cardigan, whose treeless summit affords a panoramic view that includes Mount Monadnock, the White Mountains, Vermont’s Camel’s Hump, and Maine’s Pleasant Mountain.
And due east, Newfound Lake sparkles in the sunlight like a rare and precious gem—which, of course, it is. Quite a find for any boater.
Newfound Names & Numbers
Anyone wishing to operate a boat with an engine of more than 25 horsepower on New Hampshire waters must possess a safe-boating certificate from the state or proof of an equivalent certificate from another state. For more information, go to nh.gov/safety/divisions/nhsp.
The only marina on Newfound, West Shore offers gas, service, boat sales and rentals.
Good state launch ramp for motorized and non-motorized vessels, but the parking lot fills quickly on summer weekends. Launching is included in the general access fee of $5 per adult and $2 per child. The park also boasts the largest freshwater beach in the state park system, as well as picnic areas, hiking trails, fishing spots, and access to nearby islands.
West Shore Marine
Charges $10 for public launching, but has no on-site parking.
Kayaks can be rented at the park’s camp store.
Where to Eat
The Big Catch
Popular dock-and-dine seafood restaurant on the southern shore of the lake.
Upscale dining at the Inn on Newfound Lake in Bristol.
This café in Bristol’s Central Square offers a selection of fine coffees, sandwiches and salads, along with live local music during the summer.
Japanese-style steakhouse and tavern.
Things to See & Do
The Newfound Lake Region Association offers two-hour educational tours aboard the Madelaine, docked at the Grey Rocks Conservation Area at the northern end of the lake.
Newfound Audubon Center
Nature learning center overlooking Hebron Marsh in the northwest corner of the lake. Features picnic areas, walking trails and a nature store.
Warren Fish Hatchery & Education Center
One of the state’s largest fish hatcheries, the Warren facility offers tours and educational exhibits.
Cardigan Mountain State Forest
(603) 227-8745; nhstateparks.org
Spanning 5,655 acres, this state forest is an excellent area for hiking. A mountain road leads to trails on the west slope of Mount Cardigan, as well as a trail to the 3,121-foot summit.