Lake Life: Summer Escapes to Sullivan County Lakes

Lake Gunnison - “Goshen Ocean”. Image Credit: Monica Scanlan.

Lake Life: Summer Escapes to Sullivan County Lakes

Sullivan County Splendor: Dive into Summer Bliss by the Water

In and around Sullivan County, lakes and scenic waterfront destinations beckon visitors seeking relaxation and outdoor adventure. From serene lakeshores to meandering rivers, the region’s waterfronts offer plenty to do.

Lake Sunapee invites visitors to swim, sail, or simply soak up the sun on its sandy beach. Crescent Lake provides a perfect setting for kayaking and fishing. The Connecticut River, winding down the western border of the county, offers opportunities for leisurely kayak adventures, riverside picnics, and plenty of photo opportunities. Whether you want a quiet place to relax or want to dip your toes into the water, Sullivan County’s waterfronts have it all.

List of lakes for summer escapes both big and small in the region:

Lempster NH Pond and Windmill Farm View. Image Credit: Bruce Denis on Flickr.

Local Getaway at Lake Sunapee & Sunapee Harbor


  • The fifth-largest lake located entirely in New Hampshire
  • The lake is approximately 8.1 miles long and from 0.5 to 2.5 miles wide
  • Covers 6.5 square miles
  • Maximum depth of 105 feet
  • Has 3 lighthouses on the National Register of Historic Places

View of Sunapee Lake. Image Credit: yggdrasill on Shutterstock.

History of Lake Sunapee

The expansion of the B&M Railroad into Newbury sparked Lake Sunapee’s rise as a popular vacation destination well before the era of automobiles. With the primary rail station located at Newbury Harbor, the lake’s southern tip, accessibility to the area greatly increased. This led to the development of tourism infrastructure and services around the lake.

Today, Newbury Village serves as a reminder of this historical connection, featuring an antique caboose as a tribute to the railroad era. The railway facilitated the arrival of vacationers from various regions, drawn by Lake Sunapee’s natural beauty and recreational offerings.

Steamboat services further boosted Lake Sunapee’s allure, ferrying passengers from the lake’s southern end to cottages and grand resorts along its shores. Piers like Bay Point, Blodgett Landing, and Lake Avenue bustle with activity, catering to the needs of the growing tourist population.

An interesting historical tidbit illustrates the innovative spirit of early entrepreneurs. In 1854, N.S. Gardner purchased Little Island for a dollar and installed a bowling alley. He then launched the Penacook steamship (later renamed Mountain Maid) to transport passengers to the island, marking the beginning of the steamboat era on Lake Sunapee.

Here’s a glimpse into what Sunapee Harbor has to offer:

Sunapee Harbor, located on the shores of Lake Sunapee is a waterfront area that offers a variety of attractions and activities for visitors to enjoy. 

  1. Scenic Beauty: Sunapee Harbor has stunning views of Lake Sunapee and the surrounding mountains. The waters of the lake combined with the quaint architecture of the harbor create a beautiful setting that is perfect for leisurely strolls and relaxation.
  2. Boating and Water Activities: Lake Sunapee is a popular destination for boating enthusiasts, and Sunapee Harbor serves as a hub for various water activities. Visitors can rent kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, or even take a scenic boat tour to explore the lake and its scenic shoreline.
  3. Dining and Shopping: Sunapee Harbor is home to a variety of restaurants, cafes, and shops, making it a great place to grab a bite to eat or browse for unique gifts and souvenirs. 
  4. Events and Entertainment: Throughout the year, Sunapee Harbor hosts a range of events and entertainment options for visitors of all ages. From live music performances and art festivals to boat parades and fireworks displays, there’s always something happening in the harbor area.
  5. Scenic Walks and Parks: The harbor is surrounded by scenic walking paths and parks, providing opportunities for leisurely strolls and picnics with beautiful views of the lake. Visitors can take in the sights and sounds of nature while enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.

Sunapee Harbor Boats Image Credit: Sullivan County Government.

The harbor is a vibrant and welcoming destination that offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and small-town charm. From outdoor adventure, culinary delights, or simply a peaceful escape by the water, Sunapee Harbor has something for everyone to enjoy.

Retreat into Nature at Gunnison Lake

A hidden gem in Goshen is Gunnison Lake. Although not as well-known as some of the larger lakes in the area, Gunnison Lake offers a serene setting for those seeking a quieter outdoor experience.


  • Area: 96.2 acres
  • Length: 4100 feet
  • Elevation: 1232 feet
  • Average Depth: 19-20 feet
  • Maximum Depth: 44 feet

Gunnison Lake, a 60-acre man-made lake behind Mount Sunapee and accessible via Route 31, can be reached from Gunnison Lake Road or Four Corners Road. Named after American explorer John Williams Gunnison, who was born in Goshen in 1812, locals affectionately call it “The Goshen Ocean.” Since its establishment in 1983, it has been cherished by hikers, swimmers, kayakers, canoeists, picnickers, and birdwatchers.

To access the lake’s main parking lot and boat launch, take the Gunnison Lake Road entrance located at the lake’s western edge. The entrance is flanked by meadows brimming with colorful flowers, leading to impressive boulders that separate the parking area from the lakeshore. Williamson Park, situated adjacent to the parking lot, provides an ideal setting for family picnics.

Going Off the Goshen Ocean Rope Swing. Image Credit: Madeline Ferland.

At Gunnison Lake you can experience a wide variety of activities!

Tucked away in a peaceful wooded area, Gunnison Lake is surrounded by forested hillsides, the lake offers views that are perfect for nature lovers and photographers.

Due to its lesser-known status, Gunnison Lake tends to be quieter and less crowded. Therefore, this makes it an ideal destination for those seeking a retreat away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Despite its small size, Gunnison Lake offers excellent fishing opportunities. Anglers can try their luck at catching bass, trout, and other freshwater species that inhabit the lake’s waters.  Surrounding the lake are several hiking trails that wind through the forested landscape. These trails not only provide opportunities for exercise, exploration, and swimming location, but also offer chances to observe local wildlife, including birds, deer, and other small mammals.

Fish and Play at Crescent Lake Getaway

Crescent Lake is situated within the towns of Unity and Acworth, near the border of Goshen.


  • Its size is approximately 128 sq. acres
  • Maximum depth of around 30 feet
  • True to its name, Crescent Lake has a distinctive crescent shape
  • 1 public boat launch

Despite its modest size, Crescent Lake offers various recreational opportunities for visitors. Fishing is a popular activity – with species such as bass, pickerel, and perch. Crescent Lake is also a great setting for kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding. Although swimming is also possible, there are no designated swimming areas or lifeguards.

The lake is surrounded by wooded shores, providing the perfect atmosphere for nature enthusiasts. The surrounding area features a mix of private residences, seasonal cottages, and undeveloped woodland, contributing to the lake’s peaceful ambiance. Crescent Lake can be accessed via a public boat launch located along its shores. These access points allow visitors to launch non-motorized watercraft, making it easy to explore the lake’s scenic beauty at a leisurely pace. 

Kayaking on Crescent Lake. Image Credit: Madeline Ferland.

Like many lakes in NH, Crescent Lake experiences distinct seasons. Typically, summer is the most popular time for recreational activities. Yet during the winter months, the lake may freeze over, providing opportunities for ice fishing and other winter sports, depending on weather conditions.

Crescent Lake overall offers a place for those seeking a peaceful retreat. So cast a line, paddle along its waters, or simply enjoy the scenery, since Crescent provides a quintessential Sullivan County lakes experience.

Tips to Maximize Summer Fun at Sullivan County’s Lakes!

  1. Plan ahead by researching the lakes, making reservations, and packing essentials like sunscreen, swimwear, and recreational gear.
  2. Follow local regulations on boating, swimming, and campfires, and respect wildlife.
  3. Practice water safety by wearing life jackets and supervising children.
  4. Preserve the environment by cleaning up and disposing of trash properly – Leave No Trace!
  5. Explore nearby trails and picnic areas, and check for updates on weather and closures.
  6. Respect other visitors by keeping noise down and following designated areas.
  7. And lastly, relax and enjoy your time at the lake!

Written by Halle Swets on May 17, 2024.