This week my wife and I returned to an area we had enjoyed in the past -- Squam Lake in Holderness, New Hampshire. Squam Lake is part of the state's Lakes Region, but not nearly as well known as Lake Winnipesaukee, the large body of water which is a bit further south.
The main reasons why Squam Lake is less well known are due to its mostly private nature. We got to hear that story while taking a 90 minute boat ride on the lake. Here is what we saw where the inlet opens up to the broader expanse of the lake:
Squam Lake is massive -- about 10 square miles -- running about seven miles from south to north, and about four and one half miles in width. We entered at the northwest corner, adjacent to the small town center of Holderness. By contrast, Lake Winnipesaukee is about seven times as large as Squam, but Squam is still the second largest lake in New England. However, Winnipesaukee is a mish-mash ranging from crazy over-development in some areas to tightly zoned sections in towns and villages such as Wolfeboro and Melvin Village.
Squam Lake is totally different. There is virtually no commercial development on the lake, with the exception of a few hotels and a couple of restaurants in Holderness. Over 100 years ago, 4 families owned most of the property around the lake and they set in motion a set of agreements which has kept the lake lightly developed. Squam also has rules governing color schemes permitted for lakeside houses -- earthtones and similar shades please -- and has a strong focus on preserving the natural character of the lake. As a result, the lake is home to a thriving loon population -- about 15 nesting pairs -- as well as hosting Bald Eagles. We saw several loons and a pair of eagles during our boat ride.
Here is another view which we saw looking north toward the White Mountains. The nearby peak is West Rattlesnake and is accessible via a hiking trail which our family had enjoyed on a previous visit.
Squam is also dotted by numerous islands, only a few of which have amenities such as electricity. For example, our guide drove us by one island which is set up with pews and is used for non-denominational services during the summertime. All attendees need to arrive by boat. We also saw small islands that included features such as an eagle's nest and a loon breeding area. Some islands also had houses, but more typically, all one saw were pine trees. One surprising fact was that there are enough residents without electricity so that a local business provides and transports fresh ice to load up ice boxes at some island homes.
By midday on this day, the temperatures were in the range of 80 degrees F (27 degrees C), but a light breeze and low humidity kept it comfortable. Our tour guide told us stories about the prominent families who founded and still own property here such as the Coolidges (former President Calvin is the best known). The lake also gained a bit of notoriety in 1980 when a film crew arrived and shot On Golden Pond, starring cinema legends Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn. Our tour included several spots featured in the movie and our guide told a few tales of how Hollywood adapted the natural features of the lake for the purposes of the story.
As we returned, it became clear that the northwest corner from which we departed is much more dense in housing than the rest of the lake. New Hampshire now has laws prohibiting boat houses that extend onto the water, but older structures were grandfathered in and we saw numerous examples of the older style boat houses as well as the boats which they protected.
At the end of the tour, we slipped under the roadway and entered Little Squam, a smaller body of water which is connected to the larger lake only by a narrow causeway, and our tour came to an end. The tour was conducted by the nearby Squam Lake Natural Science Center, which is located just north of the lake. The science center conducts a variety of lake tours and also has its own outdoor attractions. On this day, we opted only for the boat tour, but our family had a good experience at the science center itself several years back.
Afterward, we settled in for sandwiches at Walter's Basin overlooking and weren't disappointed. Soon after that, we took a leisurely ride back to Wolfeboro -- our vacation spot for the week -- with a few stops along the way. Our day trip gave us a fresh taste of one of New Hampshire's most unique and charming locales - Squam Lake.