New Hampshire is renowned for its charming river towns, which offer a blend of natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and vibrant communities. In 2024, there are several river towns in the state that provide a glimpse into the country's American Revolutionary War history, exciting annual festivals, and scenic waterways to explore. New Hampshire is also a great place to view the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, since Northern New Hampshire will be in the path of totality for the eclipse. From the White Mountains to the Southern New Hampshire towns that were part of America's colonial past, here are the most charming river towns in the state to visit in 2024.
Nestled along the confluence of the Saco River and Swift River, Conway is a picturesque town known for its outdoor recreation opportunities. Visitors enjoy activities like hiking in the White Mountains, kayaking along the rivers, or exploring the shops and restaurants in the historic downtown area. In the winter, the town boasts several miles of groomed snowmobile trails in the White Mountains surrounding the charming town. Conway is home to two covered bridges in New Hampshire: the Saco River Bridge, built in 1890, and the Swift River Bridge, built in 1869. Visitors to either bridge can cross the scenic rivers, enjoy a picnic lunch along the river banks, and view wildlife.
For history buffs and outdoor enthusiasts, a visit to the White Mountains Interpretive Association (WMIA) in the White Mountain National Forest is a must. The WMIA provides educational programs throughout the year, including at the nearby Russell Colbath Historic Site from July 4 through early October. For incredible scenic views of the Mt. Washington Valley Area, hop aboard the Conway Scenic Railroad located in the town's North Conway village. In 2024, train riders can take a snow train to Attitash Mountain Village to ski or explore local shops in the winter, a 22-mile train ride to Sawyer River in the spring, or a Conway Valley train ride in the summer.
Located along the Gale River in the White Mountains, Franconia blends history with nature. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy exploring Franconia Notch State Park in the White Mountains National Forest. Visitors to the park can hike the 2-mile Flume Gorge Trail to view the 800-foot gorge and paddle boat at Echo Lake. In the winter, the park is a skiing haven on Cannon Mountain. The Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway takes visitors to the 4,080-foot summit with 360-degree views, 97 skiing slopes in the winter, and walking trails in the summer. Visitors can also learn about the region's skiing history at the New England Ski Museum in the park.
Situated along the Gale River is the Besaw Iron Furnace Interpretive Center, home to the only blast furnace that still exists in the state. Throughout 2024, visitors can enjoy the peaceful walking trail along the riverfront while viewing the Iron Furnace and local art. More nature and history can be explored in town at Frost Place, home to Robert Frost from 1915 to 1920 and for 19 summers. Although visitors can only tour Frost's 1860s farmhouse during warmer months, nature lovers can read several poems by Frost while strolling along the site's quarter-mile nature trail any day in 2024. For those who visit in the spring, the town will be a great place to view the total solar eclipse on April 8.
Hanover boasts scenic outdoor adventures and incredible views of both the White Mountains in New Hampshire and the Green Mountains in Vermont. Outdoor enthusiasts can canoe in the Connecticut River, mountain bike on the Oak Hill and Trescott Water Supply Lands trails, and hike along part of the Appalachian Trail. The trail passes through downtown and takes hikers through the Greensboro Ridge Natural Preserve, a dense forest of white pine and hemlock. Hikers can also explore more than eight miles of trails along Moose Mountain, as well as the 92-acre Mayor-Niles Forest set on the mountain.
Hanover is also famous for being home to Dartmouth College. The Ivy League school was established in 1769 and will be celebrating its 255th anniversary in 2024. Visitors can wander through the historic Dartmouth Green on campus, a spacious green area with views of the diverse architectural styles at the college, such as Colonial, Romantic, and Georgian buildings. For those who visit in the summer of 2024, enjoy Hanover's Old Fashioned 4th of July Celebration on the Dartmouth Green. The town hosts a lively hometown parade and entertainment, such as an apple pie eating contest, touch-a-truck activities for children, and pony rides.
Located on the Piscataqua River, Portsmouth is a vibrant coastal town known for its historic architecture, eclectic art community, and cultural attractions. In 2024, visitors can explore historic sites like Strawbery Banke Museum, which is open from May 1 through October 31. The museum has preserved an entire neighborhood that formed over 350 years ago near the banks of the river. Visitors can explore several historic buildings, including the Abbott House and Store, built in 1720 and the Chase House, circa 1762. During the winter months, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy traditional New England outdoor ice skating on Labrie Family Skate at Puddle Dock Pond.
Throughout the year, visitors enjoy taking a stroll along the banks of the Piscataqua River at Prescott Park. In 2024, the Prescott Park Arts Festival will celebrate its 50th anniversary from June through August with movie nights, musicals, and the annual Chowder Festival on the first Saturday in June. Portsmouth will also host various art events in 2024, including the 35th Enormous Tiny Art Show at Nahcotta, which opens on March 1 and the town's First Friday Art 'Round gallery walk, featuring several art galleries on the first Friday of each month.
For those looking for the most welcoming river town in New Hampshire, look no further than Littleton. With a town motto of "Be glad," Littleton welcomes all visitors to experience its outdoor beauty and historical charm. Nestled along the scenic Ammonoosuc River and bordering Vermont, the river town was home to Eleanor H. Porter, author of Pollyanna. The book's main character, a young girl named Pollyanna, is one of the most cheerful and upbeat characters in history. On June 8, 2024, visitors can enjoy the town's motto at the annual Pollyanna Glad Day, which features a hat party, a glad parade, and a pet show. Any time of year, view the Pollyanna statue along historic Main Street.
Littleton's historic downtown area boasts charming buildings, local shops, and a tranquil riverfront. History buffs can learn more about the town's history and view items that date back to the 1700s at the Littleton Area Historical Museum. Afterwards, take a peaceful stroll along the historic streets or along the Littleton Riverwalk, which takes pedestrians across the Ammonoosuc River on a covered bridge. On October 26, 2024, Riverwalk visitors can enjoy the annual Gathering of the Jack O' Lanterns. After strolling the historic streets, enjoy a bite and pint at Schilling Beer Co., located in an 18th-century grist mill along the riverfront. The town will also be a good spot to watch the total solar eclipse on April 8.
Situated along the Souhegan River, Milford is one of the best river towns in New Hampshire to experience New England charm in 2024. The town is well-known for its annual Milford Pumpkin Festival, which will take place October 11-13. The festival will celebrate its 35th anniversary with live music, a haunted walking trail, and the exciting pumpkin catapult in the Milford Oval. Visitors can enjoy a bite to eat along the riverfront at the Riverhouse Cafe and then walk across the nearby Milford Suspension Bridge over the Souhegan River. Known locally as the "Swing Bridge," the historic bridge was built in 1889 and is only one of two known surviving suspension footbridges built by the Berlin Iron Bridge Company.
For those looking for outdoor adventures, Milford boasts several walking trails around town, including at Tucker Brook Town Forest. The forest is home to wetlands, White Pine groves, hiking trails, and mountain biking trails. Visitors can also participate in or enjoy viewing the 15th annual Ghost Train Trail Races on October 19 and 20, 2024. The race will feature five different races along the historic Granite Town Rail Trail that transported granite from Milford to Massachusetts in the late 1800s and early 1900s. For those wanting to relax while enjoying the great outdoors, watch a movie at the vintage Milford Drive-In Theater from 1958, the only drive-in theater still operating in Southern New Hampshire.
The historic town of Peterborough, situated along the Contoocook River, is one of the best river towns in New Hampshire to visit in 2024 for cultural attractions and scenic beauty. History buffs can explore exhibits from around the world at the Mariposa Museum and World Cultural Center. From April 27 through October 20, 2024, the museum will feature an exhibit on South Indian shadow puppet traditions. The town is also known for its Peterborough Players Theater, a converted 18th-century barn where guests can enjoy live theater in July and August. Since the town was the inspiration for Thornton Wilder's play Our Town, watching a live theater show is a must. More summer activities take place downtown at Depot Square along the river banks, such as the 12th annual Music in the Park on Friday evenings in July and August, as well as the 8th annual Art Walk in the Park on July 6.
Beyond the town's cultural events, Peterborough is known for its natural surroundings and outdoor adventures. Visitors can hike to the scenic 2,290-foot summit in Miller State Park, the oldest state park in New Hampshire. For those who visit Peterborough in the fall, be sure to head to the park's Pack Monadnock Raptor Observatory to view raptors migrating from September through November. Outdoor enthusiasts can also hike in Casalis State Forest or enjoy water activities at Edward MacDowell Lake.
The historic town of Exeter, established in 1638 along the Exeter River, boasts a rich heritage dating back to its colonial roots. History comes to life at the American Independence Museum, where exhibits and artifacts recount the town's role in the American Revolution. Located in the Ladd-Gilman House circa 1721, the museum is already preparing for the country's 250th anniversary with programs and events that celebrate the founding of America. On July 13, 2024, the museum will host the 34th annual American Independence Festival, featuring the original Declaration of Independence that was brought to the town in 1776.
Exeter also boasts exciting outdoor activities. Along the riverfront, nature enthusiasts can stroll through the Robert H. Stewart Waterfront Park and view boats coming to shore. Water enthusiasts can also kayak or paddleboard in the Exeter and Squamscott Rivers. For more incredible views, walk the pathways along the Swasey Parkway, a half-mile-long corridor that connects the river banks to the town's historic streets. History buffs can take a walking tour of Exeter, including a tour that showcases significant sites on Abraham Lincoln's trip to the town in 1860 before he became President of the United States.
New Hampshire's Charming River Towns
These river towns in New Hampshire allow visitors to explore the region's history, discover scenic nature, and enjoy vibrant art communities. From celebrating the annual Pollyanna Glad Day in the welcoming town of Littleton to experiencing the renowned Milford Pumpkin Festival, these river towns blend New England hospitality with unique events. Whether kayaking in the Connecticut River in Hanover or strolling the banks of the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth, a visit to any of these New Hampshire river towns will provide the perfect getaway in 2024.