Lake Winnipesaukee (/ˌwɪnɪpəˈsɔːki/) is the largest lake in the U.S. state of New Hampshire, located in the Lakes Region. It is approximately 21 miles (34 km) long (northwest-southeast) and from 1 to 9 miles (1.6 to 14.5 km) wide (northeast-southwest), covering 69 square miles (179 km2)—71 square miles (184 km2) when Paugus Bay is included—with a maximum depth of 180 feet (55 m). The center area of the lake is called The Broads.:31
The lake contains at least 258 islands, half of which are less than a quarter-acre in size, and is indented by several peninsulas, yielding a total shoreline of approximately 288 miles (463 km). The driving distance around the lake is 63 miles (101 km). It is 504 feet (154 m) above sea level. Winnipesaukee is the third-largest lake in New England after Lake Champlain and Moosehead Lake.
Lake Winnipesaukee from summit of Mt. Major
|Location||Belknap County and Carroll County, New Hampshire|
|Primary inflows||Gunstock River; Merrymeeting River; Melvin River; Red Hill River|
|Primary outflows||Winnipesaukee River|
|Basin countries||United States|
|Max. length||20.8 mi (33.5 km)|
|Max. width||9.0 mi (14.5 km)|
|Surface area||71 sq mi (180 km2)|
|Max. depth||180 ft (55 m)|
|Shore length1||288 mi (463 km)|
|Surface elevation||504 ft (154 m)|
|1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.|
Lake Winnipesaukee has been a popular tourist destination for more than a century, particularly among residents seeking a safe haven from the summer heat of Boston and New York City. The Native American name Winnipesaukee (often spelled Winnipiseogee in earlier centuries:27 ) means either "smile of the Great Spirit" or "beautiful water in a high place".:19 At the outlet of the lake, the Winnipesaukee Indians, a subtribe of the Pennacook, lived and fished at a village called Acquadocton. Today, the site is called The Weirs, named for the weirs colonists discovered when first exploring the region.
Winnipesaukee is a glacial lake but an unusual one, since the last glaciation actually reversed the flow of its waters. Draining the central portion of New Hampshire, it once flowed southeast, leaving via what is now Alton Bay toward the Atlantic Ocean. When glacial debris blocked this path, flow was redirected westward through Paugus Bay into the Winnipesaukee River. The latter flows west from the lake and joins the Pemigewasset River in Franklin to form the Merrimack River, which flows south to Massachusetts and into the Atlantic.
Center Harbor witnessed the first intercollegiate sporting event in the United States, as Harvard defeated Yale by two lengths in the first Harvard–Yale Regatta on August 3, 1852. The outcome was repeated 100 years later when the schools celebrated the centennial of the race by again competing on Lake Winnipesaukee (Harvard winning by 2.7 seconds).
The communities that surround the lake, clockwise from the southernmost town, are:
The lake consists of a wide, relatively open central region known as the Broads, surrounded by several large bays, as well as many smaller inlets.
The daytime speed limit for boats on the entire lake is 45 miles per hour (72 km/h).
The main sections of the lake are:
Meredith Bay lies at the western edge of Winnipesaukee. At the northern tip of Meredith Bay is the main village of the town of Meredith. Paugus Bay branches off to the south of Meredith Bay at Weirs Beach, near to where Meredith Bay joins the main body of the lake. Meredith Bay is separated from the Broads by a relatively narrow strait bordered by Governors Island to the south and Stonedam Island to the north. The northeastern shore of Meredith Bay is a long peninsula known as Meredith Neck.
Formerly a hydrologically distinct lake, Paugus Bay became joined to Winnipesaukee when the dam at Lakeport was constructed, raising the surface of Paugus Bay to be contiguous with Winnipesaukee. Paugus Bay joins the main lake in Meredith Bay, running south from a narrow channel connecting it to Meredith Bay. At the northern end of Paugus Bay, where it joins the main lake, is Weirs Beach, the largest and most visited public beach on the lake. At the other end is the village of Lakeport. Both Weirs Beach and Lakeport are villages within the city of Laconia. The eastern shore of the bay is closely followed by U.S. Route 3, and has numerous motels, hotels, inns, and bungalow complexes. The western shore is much less developed.
Wolfeboro Bay is a relatively small wide bay lying in the town of Wolfeboro, creating a small northerly bulge in the shoreline to the eastern edge of Winnipesaukee. A series of smaller lakes and streams connects Wolfeboro Bay to Lake Wentworth.
Winter Harbor is a Y-shaped bay with two branches, separated from the Broads by Wolfeboro Neck and Tuftonboro Neck. Winter Harbor is surrounded by many quiet resort communities in the towns of Wolfeboro and Tuftonboro. It also has panoramic views of the Belknap Mountains and looks out toward Rattlesnake Island.
The longest bay on Winnipesaukee is Moultonborough Bay. It is connected to the Broads by some narrow straits running between a cluster of islands including Long Island (the largest island in the lake), Cow Island, Little Bear Island, Sandy Island, and dozens of smaller islands and islets. The 7-mile-long (11 km) Moultonborough Neck separates the length of the bay from the main axis of the lake, and the Suissevale development in the town of Moultonborough is at the northern tip of the bay. Melvin Village, the main lakeside village of the town of Tuftonboro lies along the northeastern shore of the bay, closer to where it joins the Broads.
There are at least 258 natural islands on Lake Winnipesaukee that are at least 3 feet (0.9 m) above lake level and contain vegetation, about 130 of which are over .25 acres (0.10 ha) in size. 26 of these are 25 acres (10 ha) or larger:
Six islands are connected to the mainland by bridges (Black Cat, Governors, Long, Oak, Christmas (or Plummers) in Paugus Bay, and Worcester), and another eight (Bear, Birch, Cow, East Bear, Jolly, Loon, Three Mile, and Sandy) are served by the U.S. mailboat M/V Sophie C.
Along with the rest of New Hampshire's Lakes Region, which also encompasses Lake Winnisquam, Lake Wentworth, Squam Lake and Newfound Lake, Winnipesaukee has been a vacation community for at least a century, particularly drawing people from the Boston region. The area is home to numerous summer theater troupes and offers a variety of land and water recreational activities. There are numerous hiking trails in and around the surrounding mountains, which include the Ossipee Mountains to the east, the Belknap Range to the west, and Red Hill to the north.
The paddlesteamer MS Mount Washington, named after the highest of New Hampshire's White Mountains, was launched in spring 1872 to carry mail, goods, and passengers on Lake Winnipesaukee, under the flag of the Boston and Maine Railroad. With a hull length of 178 feet (54 m) and a beam of 49 feet (15 m) she appeared as a typical representative of the North American sidewheelers around the second half of the century and was the largest steamer on the lake at that time. The huge paddle wheels were driven by a single-cylinder steam engine of 450 hp (340 kW) at approximately 26 rpm. The power was transferred from the vertical single cylinder to the wheel shaft by the walking beam, high above the upper deck, oscillating in the frequency of the paddle wheels. Known as "The Mount", her kitchen and restaurant service became famous.
On December 23, 1939, a nearby railroad station caught fire from an overheated stove. The fire soon spread to the ship, tied at the dock, and destroyed it. Efforts to cut Mount Washington loose were to no avail as it was a time of extremely low water and the hull was stuck fast in the mud of the lake bottom. Soon after, a local company was formed to build a new ship. Since Europe was already at war, and the US was stocking steel in a pre-war munitions build-up obtaining steel was impossible. Instead, they purchased an old sidewheel vessel on Lake Champlain: the Chateaugay, a 203-foot (62 m), iron-hulled sidewheeler that was being used as a club house for the Burlington yacht club. It was cut into sections by Boston General Ship & Engine Works and transported to Lake Winnipesaukee on rail cars. A new twin-screw vessel was designed for the hull being welded back together at Lakeport. Powered by two steam engines taken from another ocean-going yacht, the new MS Mount Washington made her maiden voyage on August 15, 1940.
Two years after her launch, the new Mount Washington's engines and boilers were removed for use in a navy vessel during World War II. After the war, Mount Washington returned to the water. The ship was a success in the post-war tourist boom.
In 1982, Mount Washington was cut open and extended with an additional 20-foot (6.1 m) hull section to add larger lounge and food service facilities. Still popular, she makes one or two round trips on the lake per day during the summer season, as well as numerous dinner dance cruises in the evenings.
The M/V Sophie C. is the oldest, and one of only two currently operating, floating United States Postal Service post offices. Floating post office service was started on Lake Winnipesaukee in 1892, and currently delivers mail daily to eight of the lake's islands between June and September. The Sophie C. was built by Boston General Ship & Engine Works in 1945 to temporarily replace the Mount Washington, whose engines and boilers had been commandeered by the Navy during World War II, and she took over the mail route from the Uncle Sam II in 1969.
As a floating post office, Sophie C. delivers mail Monday-Saturday, sells postage, and collects and postmarks outgoing mail. Sophie C. also operates as a sightseeing boat, carrying up to 125 people on her two cruises a day as she delivers mail, and sells ice cream and snacks to residents of the islands she serves. In 2018, the M/V Doris E. replaced the Sophie C. as mail boat while the latter was undergoing repairs.
The Alton Bay Seaplane Base is a state-owned, public-use seaplane base in Alton Bay, the southeast arm of the lake. In the winter it is the only FAA-approved ice runway in the contiguous United States, conditions permitting.
Average summertime on or next to the water brings days around 80 °F (26 °C), with overnight lows around 65 °F (18 °C). Less than one-half mile (800 m) away from the water, days can be warmer and nights cooler by several degrees. Summer's most extreme temperatures away from the water may be as high as 100 °F (38 °C) and as low as 50 °F (10 °C). A typical winter day brings a maximum of 28 °F (−2 °C) with overnight minimum around 15 °F (−9 °C). Typical wintertime extremes are 50 °F (10 °C) and −20 °F (−30 °C) but even greater extremes have been recorded nearby.
The water temperature typically reaches the upper 70s F (around 25 °C) in late July and cools into the 60s (around 18 °C) in September. Several days of hot, humid weather at the height of summer can bring the water temperature well above 80 °F (26 °C). It normally freezes during the last week of December. Ice thickness during a typical winter can be in excess of 18 inches (460 mm) in many parts of the lake.
Lake Winnipesaukee is known for its annual Ice-Out Contest, in which people try to guess the earliest date that the Mount Washington can safely leave her port in Center Harbor and motor to four other ports (Weirs Beach, Alton Bay, Wolfeboro, and Meredith). Since records began in 1851, ice-out has happened as early as March 18 and as late as May 12, although 90 percent of the time it is declared during April. This official ruling is made by David Emerson of Emerson Aviation.
The Belknap Mountains are a small mountain range in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire in the United States. The range lies in the towns of Gilford, Gilmanton, and Alton in Belknap County. The highest peak, Belknap Mountain, with an elevation of 2,382 feet (726 m) above sea level, is the highest point in Belknap County. Belknap Mountain State Forest covers the central part of the range, including the summit and slopes of Belknap Mountain.
The range extends for approximately 8 miles (13 km) in an arc that begins at New Hampshire Route 11A in Gilford and runs south, then curves east through the northern end of Gilmanton, before ending in the town of Alton, where it overlooks Alton Bay of Lake Winnipesaukee.
The named summits in the range, from northwest to southeast, are Mount Rowe (1,690 ft or 520 m), Gunstock Mountain (2,240 ft or 680 m), Belknap Mountain, Straightback Mountain (1,890 ft or 580 m), and Mount Major (1,786 ft or 544 m). A cluster of several unofficially named summits with elevations ranging from 1,806 to 2,001 feet (550 to 610 m) are on the main crest of the range between Belknap Mountain and Straightback Mountain, surrounding Round Pond, itself located near the crest of the range at 1,652 feet (504 m) above sea level. A secondary ridge extends southwest from Belknap Mountain to the Gilford/Gilmanton line, containing, from north to south, the summits of Piper Mountain (2,044 ft or 623 m) and Whiteface Mountain (1,670 ft or 510 m).The range is entirely in the Merrimack River watershed. The northeast side of the range drains via several small brooks to Lake Winnipesaukee, the outlet of which is the Winnipesaukee River, which drains westward to form the Merrimack. The west side of the range drains via the Gunstock River into Lake Winnipesaukee, and the extreme southwest end of the range, near Whiteface Mountain, drains west via the Tioga River to the Winnipesaukee River. The south side of the range, including Round Pond, drains south via the Suncook River to the Merrimack.
Mount Rowe and Gunstock Mountain form the slopes of Gunstock Mountain Resort, a major ski area for central New Hampshire.Center Harbor, New Hampshire
Center Harbor is a town located in Belknap County, New Hampshire, United States. As of the 2010 census, the town had a total population of 1,096. It is situated between Lake Winnipesaukee and Squam Lake.Ellacoya State Park
Ellacoya State Park is a 65-acre (0.26 km2) state park in Gilford, New Hampshire. Located on the southwest shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, the park has 600 feet (180 m) of beachfront. There is a pavilion, an accessible bathhouse with showers and a changing area for swimmers.Gilford, New Hampshire
Gilford is a town in Belknap County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 7,126 at the 2010 census. Situated on Lake Winnipesaukee, Gilford is home to Governors Island, Ellacoya State Beach, Belknap Mountain State Forest, Gunstock Mountain Ski Resort, and Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook, a seasonal outdoor concert venue. The lakeside village of Glendale lies within Gilford's borders.Gunstock Mountain
Gunstock Mountain is the second highest peak in the Belknap Mountains of central New Hampshire with an elevation greater than 2240 feet (683 m). It is located 1 mile (1.6 km) north of Belknap Mountain, the highest point in the range. It is home to the Gunstock Mountain Resort ski area. The ski resort has been written up in national ski magazines for its views of Lake Winnipesaukee.
Gunstock Mountain stands within the watershed of the Merrimack River, which drains into the Gulf of Maine in Massachusetts. The east side of the mountain, on which the ski resorted is located, drains into Poorfarm Brook, thence into Lake Winnipesaukee, the Winnipesaukee River, and the Merrimack. The west side of the mountain drains into the Gunstock River, thence into Lake Winnipesaukee.Gunstock River
The Gunstock River is a 6.4-mile-long (10.3 km) river in the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire in the United States. It is a tributary of Lake Winnipesaukee, part of the Merrimack River watershed.
The Gunstock River is entirely within the town of Gilford, New Hampshire. It rises in the southern part of town, west of Piper Mountain, and flows north, collecting streamflow from the west side of the Belknap Range. The river flows through a wide valley in the center of Gilford, passing the town's middle and high schools, then drops through a steep ravine before reaching flat ground near Lake Winnipesaukee. The river enters the lake at Sanders Bay, near the junction of Routes 11 and 11B.Laconia, New Hampshire
Laconia is a city in Belknap County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 15,951 at the 2010 census, and an estimated 16,464 as of 2017. It is the county seat of Belknap County. Laconia, situated between Lake Winnipesaukee and Winnisquam Lake, includes the villages of Lakeport and Weirs Beach. Each June for nine days beginning on the Saturday of the weekend before Father's Day and ending on Father's Day, the city hosts Laconia Motorcycle Week, also more simply known as 'bike week', one of the country's largest rallies, and each winter, the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby. The city is also the site of the state's annual Pumpkin Festival since 2015, having organized it after its former home of Keene rejected it due to riots in their neighborhoods in 2014. The city also includes one of the colleges of the Community College System of New Hampshire.Lakes Region (New Hampshire)
The Lakes Region of New Hampshire is the mid-state region surrounding Lake Winnipesaukee, Winnisquam Lake, Squam Lake, and Newfound Lake. The area comprises all of Belknap County, the southern portion of Carroll County, the eastern portion of Grafton County, and the northern portions of Strafford County and Merrimack County. The largest municipality is the city of Laconia.
The area is a popular tourist destination in the summer time, with the activity peaking during the annual Motorcycle Week and races at Loudon's New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Other tourist destinations include Funspot in Weirs Beach, the children's museum of Center Harbor, Gunstock ski resort and Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion at Meadowbrook, both in Gilford, Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborough, and the town of Wolfeboro, which claims to be the nation's oldest resort town. Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in the state, and is home to numerous vacation homes. Several motion pictures have either been filmed or set in the region, including the 1981 classic, On Golden Pond (filmed on Squam Lake in the town of Holderness) and the 1991 comedy What About Bob?, which was filmed in Virginia but (fictitiously) took place in Wolfeboro.Melvin River
The Melvin River is an 8.1-mile-long (13.0 km) river located in the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire in the United States. It is a tributary of Lake Winnipesaukee, part of the Merrimack River watershed.
The Melvin River lies entirely within the town of Tuftonboro, New Hampshire. It begins at the outlet of Melvin Pond, near the town's eastern border, and flows west along the base of the Ossipee Mountains to the north. The river reaches Lake Winnipesaukee at Melvin Village.Meredith, New Hampshire
Meredith is a town in Belknap County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 6,241 at the 2010 census. Meredith is situated beside Lake Winnipesaukee. It is home to the Stonedam Island Natural Area and the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad.
The primary village in town, where 1,718 people resided at the 2010 census, is defined as the Meredith census-designated place, and is located at the junction of U.S. Route 3 and New Hampshire Route 25 at the head of Meredith Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee.Merrymeeting River
The Merrymeeting River is a 10.0-mile-long (16.1 km) river located in the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire in the United States. It is a tributary of Lake Winnipesaukee, part of the Merrimack River watershed.
The river begins at the outlet of Merrymeeting Lake in the town of New Durham. The river flows south through a chain of ponds to the village proper of New Durham. After passing under New Hampshire Route 11, the river enters Merrymeeting Marsh and turns sharply to the northwest, the course it will take the rest of the way to its end. The river crosses a small dam at Alton and reaches Lake Winnipesaukee at the community of Alton Bay.Moultonborough, New Hampshire
Moultonborough is a town in Carroll County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 4,044 at the 2010 census. Moultonborough is bounded in part by Lake Winnipesaukee in the southwest and Squam Lake in the northwest corner. The town includes the census-designated place of Suissevale and the community of Lees Mill.Mount Major
Mount Major is a mountain located in Alton, New Hampshire, south of Lake Winnipesaukee and northeast of Straightback Mountain in the Belknap Range.
The scenic, rocky summit is a popular hiking destination, accessible by multiple trails including the Mount Major Trail, the Brook Trail, and the Boulder Loop.
The north, east and south faces of Mount Major drain into Lake Winnipesaukee, thence via the Winnipesaukee River into the Merrimack River and finally into the Gulf of Maine in Massachusetts. The west ridge of Mount Major rises only 186 feet (57 m) feet above the col with the higher Straightback Mountain.Paugus Bay
Paugus Bay is a 1,227-acre (4.97 km2) water body located in Belknap County in the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire, United States, in the city of Laconia. A short channel at its north end connects it with Lake Winnipesaukee in the village of Weirs Beach, and a dam on its southern end separates it from Opechee Bay in the village of Lakeport. The bay is named after Chief Paugus, who fought in the Battle of Pequawket during Dummer's War. The 19th-century construction of the dam in Lakeport raised the elevation of Paugus Bay to that of Lake Winnipesaukee. Water flowing out of Paugus Bay travels down the Winnipesaukee River to the Merrimack River.
The bay is classified as a cold- and warmwater fishery, with observed species including brook trout, rainbow trout, lake trout, land-locked salmon, lake whitefish, smallmouth and largemouth bass, chain pickerel, white perch, black crappie, bluegill, and horned pout.Red Hill River
The Red Hill River is a 6.5-mile-long (10.5 km) river in the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire in the United States. It is a tributary of Lake Winnipesaukee, part of the Merrimack River watershed.
The Red Hill River begins in the town of Sandwich, New Hampshire at the outlet of Red Hill Pond, just east of the village of Center Sandwich. The river flows generally south, through a series of wetlands, into Moultonborough. The river passes through Garland Pond, drops in a short river segment to Lees Pond, and ends at an arm of Moultonborough Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee.Tuftonboro, New Hampshire
Tuftonboro is a town in Carroll County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 2,387 at the 2010 census. Bounded on the southwest by Lake Winnipesaukee, Tuftonboro includes the villages of Tuftonboro Corner, Center Tuftonboro, Melvin Village and Mirror Lake.Weirs Beach, New Hampshire
Weirs Beach is an area within the northern part of the city of Laconia in Belknap County, New Hampshire, United States. It is located on the southern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. The cruise ship Mount Washington terminates there. It is a popular destination of bikers during Motorcycle Week every June.
Weirs Beach, or "The Weirs" as it is referred to by locals, is named for a wide, sandy, public beach on Lake Winnipesaukee. Adjacent to the beach and comprising the center of the village are a boulevard and boardwalk that run along a quarter mile stretch of Lakeside Ave. The main summer port of the Winnipesaukee Flagship Company's MS Mount Washington is located on the boulevard. A large public dock is also evident at this popular stop for boaters on Lake Winnipesaukee. On the opposite side of the street are several seasonal arcades and vendors that have been located there for many years. The Winnipesaukee Pier juts out into the lake from the main boulevard. The pier was constructed in 1925 and was a bustling spot for many years attracting many of the most famous big band groups of the time.The Weirs Beach area also contains the Winnipesaukee Playhouse, Funspot Family Fun Center, Mount Washington Cruises, the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad, Half Moon Amusement Arcades, and several motels and cottage complexes. Condominiums abound, and there are three marinas offering new and used boats, parts and accessories, dockspace, storage, and rental boats for outings on the "Big Lake".Winnipesaukee River
The Winnipesaukee River is a 10.5-mile-long (16.9 km) river that connects Lake Winnipesaukee with the Pemigewasset and Merrimack rivers in Franklin, New Hampshire. The river is in the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire. The river's drainage area is approximately 488 square miles (1,264 km2).
The river has two distinct sections. The upstream section consists of a series of river courses connecting a chain of lakes, beginning with Lake Winnipesaukee. From the dam at the outlet of Lake Winnipesaukee in the Lakeport section of Laconia, the river almost immediately enters Opechee Bay. 1 mile (1.6 km) down the lake, the river exits over a dam and drops through the center of Laconia, its banks lined by industrial buildings from the 19th century that were constructed to take advantage of the river's power. The 1 mile (1.6 km) section through Laconia ends at Winnisquam Lake, the fourth-largest lake in New Hampshire. A 5-mile (8 km) stretch across Winnisquam leads to the dam at the lake's outlet and a short descent to Silver Lake.
The river's lower section begins at the natural outlet of Silver Lake, on the boundary between Belmont and Tilton, New Hampshire. The river passes through the center of the twin towns of Tilton and Northfield, then descends through a narrow valley to Franklin where additional small dams use the river's power. From Tilton to Franklin, the river has a drop of up to 90 feet per mile (17 m/km), with challenging rapids for sport boaters who put in at Cross Mill Bridge and take out at the U.S. Route 3 Sanborn Bridge in downtown Franklin. A USGS water gage is in TiltonThe Winnipesaukee River joins the Pemigewasset River just downstream from the center of Franklin, forming the Merrimack River.