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Lake Winnipesaukee

New Hampshire Geography

New Hampshire is the fifth smallest state in the country, covering just 9,351 square miles. But our geography has lots of different physical features, from the Atlantic Ocean to Mount Washington to the Connecticut River Valley. Geographical features are all around us, and they help us figure out where we are in the state. They also make New Hampshire different from any other state. There are 1.3 million people who live in New Hampshire, and most of them are in the southern part of the state. New Hampshire’s state capital is the city of Concord, which is near the state’s geographical center.

As you learn more about New Hampshire geography, think about the following questions:
  • What physical and human characteristics define New Hampshire?
  • How did New Hampshire’s boundaries and regions come to be the way they are today?
  • How has the way people explored and represented New Hampshire changed over time?
  • How does where you live impact how you live?
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New Hampshire's Physical Characteristics

What gave the land of New Hampshire its features?

Millions of years ago, New Hampshire was covered with ice, as was most of the world. This period was called the ice age. When the ice receded, it left behind mountains, rivers, lakes, and valleys. These physical features are major landmarks that have shaped the way people have lived in New Hampshire for thousands of years.

New Hampshire's Mountains

The glaciers left behind many mountains in New Hampshire. Most of them are located in the middle of the state in a mountain range known as the White Mountains. The name was used by the early English colonists in New Hampshire, who could see the mountains from where they had settled along the coast. From that distance, the tops of the mountains always looked white, either because they were covered with snow or because of the rock that lies at the summit of each peak. The colonists started calling them the White Mountains or just "The Whites."

The White Mountain range covers one-third of the state. The mountain range has more than 48 mountains that are taller than 4,000 feet. The tallest is Mount Washington, which is 6,288 feet high and the tallest mountain in northeastern America.

In addition to these very tall mountains, there are also many other mountains in New Hampshire. In fact, there are almost 300 mountains in the state that are between 1,000 feet and 4,000 feet high. Many of them are in the White Mountains, but others are spread out around the state. For example, Mount Monadnock is a major landmark in the southeastern part of New Hampshire, and Mount Kearsarge to the north is just as important to the people who live in that area. The twin peaks of the Uncanoonucs near the Merrimack River in Goffstown are the tallest mountains in that part of the state.

New Hampshire Mountains
Mason's Fun Fact
Meredith in the Fall
Mason's Fun Fact

New Hampshire's Waterways

New Hampshire has many lakes and rivers.

There are more than 1,300 lakes and ponds in the state. Many of these lakes are centered in the Lakes Region, including the state's largest lake, Lake Winnipesaukee. But there are many lakes and ponds all over the state, such as Lake Sunapee in the western part of the state and Pawtuckaway Lake near the seacoast. Tourists often came to New Hampshire to visit the state's beautiful lakes.

In addition, there are more than 40,000 miles of rivers and streams in New Hampshire, including several major rivers like the Connecticut, the Merrimack, and the Saco, all of which flow into other New England states. In fact, New Hampshire is sometimes called the "Mother of Rivers" since these three important New England rivers begin in the Granite State.

The Granite State

The glaciers of the last ice age also left all over the area large deposits of granite, for which New Hampshire later became famous.

Granite is a type of rock that is very hard, harder than other kinds of rocks. Although granite can be found in many states, New Hampshire’s granite is famous because there is so much of it in the state. New Hampshire granite has been used in many of the country’s most impressive buildings. That is why New Hampshire is known as the Granite State.
Stone Quarries, New Hampshire
Soon after the ice age ended, plants like grasses, bushes, and trees began to grow. The plants provided food and shelter for animals, and animal life began to flourish too. New Hampshire had become a land rich in natural resources.
Crawford Notch

New Hampshire's Borders

Where is New Hampshire, and what are its borders?

The borders of New Hampshire have not always been the same as they are today. In fact, there were no borders at all until the end of the 1600s. The Abenaki Native Americans lived in what is today Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and northern Massachusetts and did not have strict borders for their land.

Even the first English settlers did not define borders for New Hampshire. Instead, they lived in four towns that were near the seacoast. In 1679, people tried to make clear borders for New Hampshire, but they had lots of arguments with people in Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont about where their borders were. Most of these arguments were settled by 1740. By then New Hampshire’s borders were more or less the same as they are today.
New Hampshire Welcome Sign

New Hampshire's Counties

In 1769, New Hampshire divided the land into counties, which are units of government that are larger than a town but smaller than a state. There were originally five counties, all in the southern part of New Hampshire, which was the only area that had already been settled by the English.

The counties were called Cheshire, Grafton, Hillsborough, Rockingham, and Strafford. They were all named after people or places in Great Britain because New Hampshire was a British colony at the time, ruled by the British king. As more of New Hampshire was settled over the years, new counties in other parts of the state were added: Coos in 1805; Merrimack in 1823; Sullivan in 1827; Belknap in 1841, and Carroll in 1841.
New Hampshire's Counties & County Seats

New Hampshire's Towns and Cities

Within each county are towns and cities.

New Hampshire has 221 towns. Most of the people in the state live in them, and towns, not cities, were the earliest colonial settlements. From the 17th century to the 19th century, towns were founded throughout the state. Sometimes when towns became too big, they split into two towns. For example, the Town of Londonderry was founded in 1722. It grew so big that the communities of Derry and Windham broke off to form their own towns.

Other times large towns became cities. The townspeople have to vote to turn their town into a city. When a town becomes a city it gets a new form of government. New Hampshire has 13 cities spread out around the state. Every county in New Hampshire has at least one city, except Carroll County.

The state capital of New Hampshire is Concord, which is located in the geographical center of the state. But Concord is not at the center of the state’s population. Most of the people in New Hampshire live in the southern part of the state.
City of Manchester

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The End of the Ice Age

Glaciers created many of New Hampshire's physical features. When the last ice age ended, plant and animal life started to come back to the land we call New Hampshire.

NH's Natural Resources

New Hampshire has many natural resources, and the land has been shaped by its mountains, lakes, and rivers. The state is best known for a type of stone called granite that can be found all over New Hampshire.

The Creation of NH's Borders

New Hampshire's borders changed during the colonial period. The borders it has today were set by 1740. Some of the borders are determined by physical features, like rivers and the ocean.

NH's Counties, Cities, and Towns

New Hampshire has 10 counties, 13 cities, and 221 towns. Most of the population lives in the southern portion of the state.
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New Hampshire's Climate

What is New Hampshire’s climate like?

An area’s climate describes the expected weather conditions over a long period of time. How cold does it usually get in January in New Hampshire? How much rain does New Hampshire typically get in the spring? How many sunny days does New Hampshire normally have in the summer? These are questions about the state’s climate.

The climate and the weather are not the same thing, although they are closely related. The weather describes what the conditions were on a specific day. For example, knowing if it rained yesterday is part of an area’s weather. But knowing how many inches of rain an area gets on average every year is part of its climate.

One way to look at it is that climate is understanding the conditions you should expect based on the time of year (sunny, cloudy, snow, etc.), but weather is what kind of conditions you actually get on any given day (today is breezy and warm).
New Hampshire Lakes

Wind on Mount Washington

Mason Presents: Wind on Mount Washington
New Hampshire has a temperate climate, which means it is not too hot or too cold. It doesn’t always feel that way to the people who live here, though! The winters can be very cold, and the summers can be very hot. But compared to other parts of the world, New Hampshire’s climate is considered a comfortable one for people.
Asquam Lake
Four Seasons

New Hampshire's Four Seasons

There are four seasons in New Hampshire: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Many people joke that the four seasons in New Hampshire are winter, still winter, summer, and almost winter. Others say that New Hampshire's four seasons are winter, mud season, road construction season, and leaf-peeper season. No matter how you refer to New Hampshire's four seasons, they certainly can bring some wild weather to the Granite State.

Winter

In winter, New Hampshire experiences cold temperatures, snow, ice, and high winds. Much of the state's wild weather comes during the winter in blizzards, nor’easters, and ice storms.

On average, New Hampshire gets 64 inches of snow every year. It is common to have snow on the ground all winter long. Snow sports, such as skiing, snowshoeing, and snow-mobiling, are very popular in New Hampshire. The state is crisscrossed with trails for these activities. Ice fishing is popular in New Hampshire as well, and it is a common sight in winter to see small shacks on frozen lakes that provide some shelter for ice fishermen.

Traveling in snow presents real challenges. People used to get around in winter on sleighs since the wheels on wagons or carriages couldn't move over snow. When cars were invented in the early 1900s, they were built to swap out the tires and install skis in their place in the winter months. Can you imagine a car on skis? At about this same time, towns started using giant rollers, pulled by horses, to flatten the snow so that sleighs and cars (with skis) could get around more easily. It was not until the late 1920s that towns began to plow snow off the roads so that cars could keep their tires on all year.

The White Mountains draw thousands of tourists and Granite Staters every winter, as they tend to get more snow than the rest of the state and have colder temperatures. Many of the downhill ski resorts are located in this region of the state. There is no skiing on Mount Washington, but it usually gets 260 inches of snow a year!
Horse-drawn Snow Roller
New Hampshire's State Flower, Lilacs

Maple Syrup

Mason Presents: Maple Syrup

Spring

Spring is sometimes known as “mud season,” because the melting snow makes the ground wet and muddy. Spring can be almost as cold as winter, or it can be as hot as summer. There’s an old saying about spring in New Hampshire: if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes because it will change! People never know what to expect with the weather during New Hampshire springs, although there are always lots of bugs, especially black flies.

Although it rains in spring, summer, and fall in New Hampshire, most of the state's precipitation comes in the spring. On average, New Hampshire gets 37 inches of rain a year, spread out over several rainfalls. Spring is when New Hampshire is most likely to have floods. New Hampshire is the 20th wettest state in America, which means it gets more precipitation than 30 other states!

In early spring, people in New Hampshire tap maple trees and collect sap to make maple syrup, which is available in pancake houses around the state.

Late spring brings out beautiful purple flowers called lilacs, which are the New Hampshire state flower. Lilacs grow in large bushes and appear all over the state, although mostly in the southern part of New Hampshire. There is a governor's commission, formed in 1984, to promote the growing of lilacs in New Hampshire, and every spring, the historic Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion in Portsmouth holds a lilac festival in late May.

Summer

Summers tend to be hot and humid in New Hampshire, but it is great weather to enjoy the outdoors in the Granite State, especially by visiting its many lakes and rivers. There are 93 state parks in New Hampshire, offering swimming, boating, hiking, camping, fishing, bird-watching, and all sorts of outdoor activities.

Berry-picking is also popular in the state in the summer. New Hampshire is also well-known for its ice cream, especially flavors like maple walnut.

Many tourists come to New Hampshire for vacation during the summer, and lots of people in Massachusetts and New York have summer homes here. Children have been going to summer camps in New Hampshire since the 1880s. People from other states all over the country send their children to New Hampshire for the summer so they can swim, fish, hike, and enjoy all the fun of living near the state’s lakes and mountains.
Enjoying A Day at the Beach
Mason's Fun Fact
Fall in New Hampshire
Mason's Fun Fact

Fall

Fall, also called autumn, is the favorite season of many people in New Hampshire. The state is known for the beautiful colors of its trees during this time.
Why does New Hampshire have such gorgeous falls? The state is full ofdeciduous trees. This kind of tree drops its leaves every fall and grows them back in the spring. The shorter days of fall cause the pigments in the trees’ leaves to change, making the leaves turn from green to yellow, orange, or red. Birch, maple, hickory, and ash are all deciduous trees. When there’s less sunlight in the fall because of the shorter days, the leaves of New Hampshire’s trees turn brilliant colors.

Thousands of people visit New Hampshire to see the leaves change color every year. They are called “leaf peepers,” and their arrival in the Granite State every fall makes the fall one of New Hampshire’s best tourist seasons. The visitors stay in inns and hotels, eat in restaurants, visit tourist attractions, and buy souvenirs.

Farms in New Hampshire are also busy spots in the fall. Apple-picking and pumpkin patches are some of the most popular Granite State attractions every September and October.

Elevation in New Hampshire

Even though the state is small, it has a varied climate, mainly because of the White Mountains, which are very tall. The tallest peak in the White Mountains is Mount Washington, which reaches more than 1 mile into the sky. Mount Washington has its own climate, and conditions on the summit are often very different from conditions at the base of the mountain.

The climate in these mountains is much cooler than it is in the rest of the state because the mountains are so high. That means that even though the mountains have the four seasons like the rest of the state, the summers and the winters are both cooler than in other places in New Hampshire. At high elevations, the wind speeds up, which cools down the air and can make it rain or snow. That’s why it can be cold in the White Mountains on the same day it is hot on New Hampshire’s coast.
Mount Washington Weather Board

Mount Washington

Mason Presents: Mount Washington
Mason's Fun Fact
Planet Earth

Climate Change

Over the past several decades, the climate of New Hampshire—and the world—has been changing too quickly. Most of this change is due to things that people do, especially activities that burn a lot of fuel, like powering factories and driving cars. Because of these activities, the earth is warming up faster than it should, which is called global warming. If the world gets even a few degrees warmer, it can have a big impact on plant and animal life. It can also lead to geological change, like the melting of the glaciers that are the world’s polar ice caps, which would affect the climate here in New Hampshire and everywhere else.

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What are the big ideas in this section?

Climate vs. Weather

Climate refers to the expected conditions in an area (summers are usually hot). Weather refers to the conditions that actually occur (yesterday was hot).

NH's Four Seasons

New Hampshire has four distinct seasons: winter, spring, summer, and fall. Each season has typical weather conditions, and Granite Staters have developed different traditions that are associated with each season.

NH's Mountains

There are many tall mountains in New Hampshire, including 48 mountains that are over 4,000 feet. These mountains bring a big change in elevation to the state.

Climate Change

New Hampshire's climate, like the rest of the world's, is heating up too fast. This is called climate change, and it can cause all sorts of problems for the people, plants, and animals that live here.
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New Hampshire's Weather

What is New Hampshire’s weather like?

New Hampshire’s four seasons, and its weather, are determined by its climate. Although each season has typical weather, sometimes the state’s weather can get a little wild. New Hampshire has had all kinds of weather throughout its history, even major weather events like floods, hurricanes, ice storms, and blizzards (sometimes called nor’easters).
Weather in New Hampshire