Ossipee Lake and North Conway, NH | A Late Fall Visit to the White Mountains
In the beautiful Lakes Region of central New Hampshire, it’s fair to say that the mighty Lake Winnipesaukee gets most of the attention. While the hustle and bustle of Lake Winni is hard to avoid, it was the lesser-known (but no less praiseworthy) Ossipee Lake a little bit northeast that spurred a recent excursion, which included a visit to nearby North Conway.
My mother’s friend Neha had generously invited us (meaning my mom and me), along with fellow friends Maria and Karen, to visit her family’s lake house for a late-fall getaway weekend, and I was delighted to accept. The older I get, the more I love and appreciate the wonderful group of friends my mom has made through her job teaching small children at my hometown’s community center. It takes a special kind of person to spend the day working with toddlers and pre-schoolers — qualities like kindness, humor, and patience spring to mind — and these women are. Many of them (including Neha) have known me since I was in my early teens, but now that I’m in my early thirties, I get to join in on some of the fun!
Mom and I made the drive north together last Friday, taking route 28 north all the way from my apartment in Manchester, NH past the right bank of Winnipesaukee and up to Ossipee. It was dark when we arrived, but in the morning we got our first “wow” views of the lake (the sixth largest in the state), which was just steps from the porch. I immediately understood why Neha and her family love their visits. The house itself was the perfect combination of comfy and cozy, with the added bonus of heat (and hot coffee) to keep us toasty and we looked out the “wall of windows” onto the lake. It was late October, and fall’s cooler temps had definitely moved in!
It was a beautiful spot to enjoy late fall in New England, and what visit to the New Hampshire Lakes Region would be complete without a loon? After all, nearby Moultonboro is home to The Loon Center and Markus Wildlife Sanctuary, and loon loot is for sale in many of the region’s souvenir and tourist shops. We watched our Saturday morning bird swim and dive for awhile (where will it pop up next?) before starting the day.
Because Ossipee is 30 minutes north of Wolfeboro and 45 minutes south of North Conway, we had a tough time choosing which tourist-friendly town to visit for the day. Both offer plenty to see, do, and eat (my favorite part), but the former is a Winnipesaukee (mostly) summer town while the latter sits in the heart of the White Mountains under the watchful eye of Mount Washington. Guided in part by the seasonal shift, we headed north.
Once we arrived in North Conway we headed down the main drag, the White Mountain Highway, making our first stop at Zeb’s General Store. Inside, two floors were crammed from floor to ceiling with over 5,000 items, and where there weren’t items for sale, there were shoppers. Be prepared to do the “crowded shopper shuffle” at Zeb’s — especially near the food samples. The retro-nostalgic vibe makes Zeb’s a top tourist draw for adults missing “the good old days,” while the old-fashioned candy counter (and hundreds of other edible offerings), toys, and games appeal to kids.
The store opened in 1991, but its namesake dates back to an earlier time. Zebulon Northrop Tilton, a colorful thrice-married schooner captain, was born on Martha’s Vineyard in 1866 but spent decades sailing up and down the New England coast from the late 1800’s to 1940. The ultimate New Englander, Zeb’s spirit is a big part of the store’s folksy personality.
New England products like maple syrup, common crackers, soup mixes, Moxie, peanut brittle, kettle corn, and Kenyon’s cornmeal are just some of the culinary items for sale at Zeb’s. Upstairs, a slew of household wares, beauty products, holiday gifts, and souvenirs are also available.
After braving Zeb’s (and reminding myself why I love the occasional bag of Sugar Babies) we headed to Peach’s Restaurant for lunch. Part of the Peach’s experience is looking at all of the decorated napkins tucked underneath the glass on each of the restaurant’s tables. Guests (which visit North Conway from near and far) are encouraged to decorate clean napkins, then leave them in a basket before they go. The staff regularly replaces the napkins with new ones. It’s a neat aspect of a visit to Peach’s.
Of course, we encouraged our resident artist (Karen) to commemorate our weekend!
After lunch we headed next door to the League of N.H. Craftsmen gallery — one of seven throughout the state. The League’s mission is to “encourage, nurture, and promote the creation, use and preservation of fine contemporary and traditional craft through the inspiration and education of artists and the broader community,” and its retail galleries sell the crafts made by its 750+ juried members. Inside the North Conway gallery are beautiful examples of jewelry, furniture, pottery, blown glass, woven baskets, and more on display (and on sale). If you’re lucky, you’ll even catch a glimpse of artist Philip Jacobs demonstrating his glassblowing at the gallery’s glassblowing studio.
Before leaving North Conway we made one final stop for something sweet at the Bavarian Chocolate Haus, where the lovely ladies were kind enough to pose for a photo amid the mushrooms.
Sweet-tooth satisfaction is guaranteed inside, where you can watch the candy being made through a glass window. I picked up some of their homemade fudge — chocolate peanut butter and pumpkin spice.
After a final series of stops at Settlers’ Green Outlet Village for a little early discount holiday shopping (okay, a lot), we headed back to the house for dinner, wine, and a spirited game of Scattergories. In the morning I took a few moments to enjoy some final views of the lake, which was still and calm, like glass, and perfectly reflected the sky and clouds above. In just a few months it will be frozen over, ringed with snow, and ready for skating…
But that’s another story for another visit!
Want to read more about visiting the Mount Washington Valley and North Conway in winter during the holiday season? Read Mount Washington Valley Inn to Inn Cookie Tour.