Cities are enticing - the hustle, the bustle, vibrant shops and thoroughfares teeming with life and possibilities. But sometimes, you need something a little slower, a little quieter.
When that happens, the Currier and Ives Scenic Byway is the ticket to a simpler time. The 40-mile jaunt through central New Hampshire allows motorists to meander by heart-stirring vistas, hike mountains, swim in pristine lakes, picnic in wide open fields or peep at the changing leaves. The route takes one through the quintessential New England towns of Henniker, Hopkinton, Warner, Webster and Salisbury.
First stop, Henniker. Intersected by the Contoocook River, Henniker is home to the New England College Art Gallery, Pat’s Peak ski mountain and a quaint Main Street that features local arts and crafts. Byway travelers can find fine farm-to-table fare at the likes of The Colby Inn and Grazing Room, a so-called eco-retreat, which offers a chef’s menu of whatever the local harvest is available that day or week. Or, for early in the day, one can sit down with a heaping stack of flapjacks and homemade syrup at the Intervale Farm Pancake House.
Back on the road, the drive leads to Hopkinton and Contoocook Village. Here you take in the sights of the town’s well-preserved history or the bucolic beauty of working farms. If you’re looking to stop, take a “selfie” at the oldest covered railroad bridge in the United States or visit the historic Rowell’s Covered Bridge. For those looking to catch a little nature, stand on the shore of the Contoocook Hydro Dam and drop in a fishing line or take advantage of the swimming, boating, picnicking, playground and trail facilities at Elm Brook Park, just one mile north of the byway.
With memories made in Hopkinton and Contoocook, a spur off the byway takes you to the town of Warner and the start of a new journey. Warner is home to Mt. Kearsarge. At 2,937 feet above sea level, it is the highest point in Merrimack County and the third tallest peak south of the White Mountains, according to byway officials. The view from the summit includes the White Mountains, Green Mountains, New Hampshire coast and the tallest buildings in Boston, officials said.
Warner is also home to cultural gems like the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum and natural features like Bagley Park, which includes two large fields, an ice skating rink in the winter months and access to the Warner Rail Trail.
The Byway eventually wends its way to Webster where a stop in the Cogswell Woods area offers access to the Blackwater River as well as an open picnic area to stop and rest. A walk through these woods also reveals numbered historic markers of structures lost to the construction of the Blackwater Dam. For a post-picnic adrenaline boost, head to William Pearson Park, which has whitewater kayaking access.
Last stop: Salisbury, a picturesque surprise. Located between Mt. Kearsarge and Ragged Mountain, the town is a haven for those looking for biking, hiking, fishing or bird watching.
Salisbury is also a great place to get back to history. Whether driving past its antique homes - some dating back to the 1700s - and rock walls or stopping to explore the Hearse House Museum or the Old Baptist Meeting House, the town is replete with fascinating remnants of bygone days.
Whether it’s adventure or nature, shopping or solitude, The Currier and Ives Scenic Byway has enough offerings that anyone can find a way to recharge.
For more information on the byway visit currierandivesbyway.org.