LACONIA — Parking, while inexpensive, can be scarce at Weirs Beach, but there’s always plenty of dock space. Lakes Region residents and visitors alike have their pick of boat slips right beneath the boardwalk, offering an easy way to explore the area for a few hours during the day.
Restaurants are popular boating destinations around Lake Winnipesaukee, with docks for their customers. Marinas abound around the lake, offering slip rentals for boaters. But there are also many free, public docks around the big lake that offer space for boaters to tie up while they enjoy time around town.
“People come to visit - it’s a destination,” said Kristina Sanborn, owner of 603 Candy, of the pier and boardwalk, which she compared to Hampton Beach on the coast. In her first year at the Weirs Beach location she sees a steady stream of families clad in bathing suits coming into her store. “The Mount being in port helps as well,” Sanborn continued, and mentioned an increase in business when boaters disembark from the M/S Mount Washington after having taken the cruise from other ports around the lake.
Weirs Beach, named for the fence-like barrier Native Americans used to catch fish, offers dining, shopping, no shortage of ice cream and, of course, a sandy beach. After docking, visitors can also catch a train ride, play arcade games, take a walk down the quarter-mile-long boardwalk, have a picnic at Endicott Rock Park, and visit the New Hampshire Veterans’ Association. Hitch a ride on the mail boat to visit some of Lake Winnipesaukee’s islands, take a dinner cruise, or even catch a concert.
“We have a lot of people that come in by boat from Alton, Wolfeboro, and Meredith,” said Bob O’Brien, manager of the Winni Pier Family Fun Center. He thinks the boat traffic is between 25 and 30 percent of the customer base, which is mostly made up of summer residents who come in to play on the weekends. O’Brien said there is plenty of space for boats on the dock.
Parking isn’t the only consideration when opting to take a boat instead of driving a car. Getting around the lake can be much quicker when navigating through the water. Lake Winnipesaukee, most commonly translated to “Smile of the Great Spirit,” has many islands and rocks throughout its 72 square miles, so visitors or those unfamiliar with the lake should be sure to heed all buoys and postings, and take a GPS unit on the boat if possible.
Docking in Meredith provides a variety of family activities. Aside from the typical shopping and dining that nearly each Lake Winnipesaukee boating destination provides, Meredith boasts a winery, a renowned spa, and several lakefront parks. The sculpture walk and the loop self-guided tour can help visitors explore the town. Public docks are located behind the aptly named Town Docks restaurant.
“Sixty to 70 percent of our business comes from the lake,” said Marius Rosioru, manager at Town Docks restaurant, “The docks fill up and people have to wait.” He estimates that half of restaurant customers are visitors, and the other half Lakes Region residents. Most of the visitors to the ice cream window come by car, he added.
Center Harbor also offers shopping and dining, as well as a bandstand on the Village Green. There are basketball courts near the docks, and a playground. Everything is within a mile’s walk of the public beach, where the docks are located, including a grocery store.
The public docks in Moultonborough show a much quieter side of the big lake. Inland from Bryants Point, at the end of Lee’s Mill Road, the docks are within a short walk of The Loon Center. The secluded spot is suited for a picnic.
Melvin Village in Tuftonboro offers several spots to tie up a boat, including Union Wharf, Melvin Wharf, and at the end of Lake Road. Union Wharf in Nineteen Mile bay is across from the now-closed Pier 19. Melvin Wharf has a beach for swimming, and a spot for picnics. Boaters can walk from Melvin Wharf or the Lake Road docks to the Pine Cone Cafe in less than a mile, east of Melvin Village.
Wolfeboro, billed as the nation’s oldest summer resort, has docks close to dining, shopping, boat gas, and art galleries. The mail boat also makes a stop here, and there is an arcade, a bandstand at Cate Park, and a beach. A trolley tour brings visitors to see several museums, and a converted train station serves as the visitor’s information center and chamber of commerce. The local dive shop has classes as well as watersports rentals. There is even an entrance to the Cotton Valley hiking trail, and a local brewery.
Alton Bay’s public docks in Railroad Square Park are central to dining, shopping, water toy rentals, miniature golf, and a variety of ice cream selections. Just to the west, Harmony Park offers a swim dock. Two bandstands – one on land, and one floating – offer entertainment, like the summer concert series on Saturdays in July and August. The old train station west of the town beach is now an information center, with a display outside offering many additional activity options.
Boaters spending time in Gilford have limited public dock space available at the Glendale Facility, just inland from Belknap Point, to stop and have a meal at the Lyons’ Den Restaurant. Around the bend at Coleman Point, the Ames Farm Inn has a convenience store with bait and other fishing supplies.
Dock space is plentiful around Lake Winnipesaukee, reflecting the relatively low traffic the lake sees, even at the height of the summer season. “Keep it pristine,” said Mark Dupont, a visitor from the Charlotte, North Carolina area, who thinks this lake is much less busy than his hometown Lake Norman, the largest man-made body of water in North Carolina. Dupont, who was staying in Wolfeboro for a week with his family, likes to go by boat to Alton Bay. He called the area quaint, and appreciates the fact that the lake is not completely commercialized.
Those opting to boat instead of drive are eligible for a refund of New Hampshire road tax on gas purchases. Apply with receipts to the state Department of Safety Division of Administration Road Toll Bureau.
For a detailed boating map of Lake Winnipesaukee, visit bizer.com.