New Hampshire Seacoast: 18-Mile Vacation
The area’s natural history is every bit as intriguing as the human sort. Aim south and you’ll soon begin a desultory tour along the coast and around the edges of harbors and marshes. You’ll find a half-dozen state parks, too. Odiorne Point State Park is one of the best, offering a lot in a little space.
With a bit of sleuthing, seven varied and distinct ecosystems may be found here, from rocky shores to rustling marshes. Most visitors seem to gravitate oceanside. Come in the early morning, when the landscape is emptier and the rising sun glints off the water. Nearby are open fields and shady groves dotted with picnic tables and barbecues, where visitors soak up time on summer afternoons.
To learn about the living landscape, leave time enough to wander over to Seacoast Science Center in the park at the water’s edge. It’s filled with engaging exhibits and hands-on activities, helping make sense of all that space out the windows–including what’s lurking under the water.
The museum’s new million-dollar Gregg Interactive Learning Studio features a broadcast studio, a computer lab, and microscope stations that will open hidden worlds, from the deep and silent seas to the state’s blustery mountains.
Freshly informed, you’re ready to set off on Odiorne’s hiking and biking trails in search of those ecosystems. Along the way, look for concrete traces of a more recent past: During World War II, the military acquired all the land, swept away the homes and hotels, and turned Odiorne Point into Fort Dearborn, which for 20 years was part of a network of defensive strongholds protecting Portsmouth’s harbor. In 1961, the federal government sold the entire parcel to the state.
When you’ve had your fill of history, both cultural and natural, pack up and push southward. Continue along rocky shores, where the cobblestones roll in against low headlands of striated rock, which here and there looks like a library shelf that’s toppled forward, leaving pages bristling upward.
Then comes sand: great and unexpected expanses of it as you near Hampton Beach, a summer town, where you ease into the present. Well, near the present. To visit the southernmost stretch of New Hampshire’s coast is more like slipping into the 1950s. It’s imbued with a slightly honky-tonk beach-town vibe. Visitors stroll the shore and drape themselves on the seawalls, rousing themselves from time to time only to achieve some high objective, like tracking down a cardboard tray of fried clams.
After all that education on history and outdoor life that you’ve endured, you’ve earned a long afternoon of indefensible laziness. Enjoy it. It makes for the perfect ending to a perfect summer day.