You Haven’t Done Childhood in New Hampshire Until You’ve Made the Journey to Squam Lakes Science Center

The entrance to Squam Lakes Science Center is as captivating as the exhibits. Copyright: The Invisible Trendsetter.

When I was an undergrad, I studied Environmental Science and Biology. Up until my last semester of college, my dream job was to become an environmental educator – then I took a required course in public health and realized that my passion was actually environmental health. While that’s all water under the bridge now, it’s fair to say that I’ve spent more time than the average American in nature centers. I even spent a summer as an intern at a nature center in Upstate New York! While it was lovely, and I have fond memories of my days there, it didn’t hold a candle in the wind to Squam Lakes Science Center.

It is hard to convey in words how special Squam Lakes Science Center is. The best thousand-foot elevation overview I can give is this: it’s like the Discovery Museum of outdoor education combined with an accredited (and thoughtfully planned) zoo. The imagination, engineering, and budget required to pull this off is nothing short of magnificent. So without giving away too many of their secrets, I’ll do my best to divulge just enough to push nudge you into a visit.

Let’s go!


Address 23 Science Center Road; Holderness, NH 03245
Admission: Kids / Adults / Seniors$18* / $24 / $22
Membership (1, 2, 4, 6, 8 people)$60 / $75 / $120 / $150 / $180
ParkingFree / Lot
AccessibleYes, read about it here
Stroller FriendlyYes
Picnic FriendlyYes
Clean Bathrooms / Changing AreasYes / Yes
Water Bottle FillerYes
Best AgesAll
*Kids under 3 are free.

Squam Lakes Science Center Layout

Squam Lakes Science Center consists of three hiking trails, the live animal exhibit trail, Kirkwood Gardens, and a gift shop. For a separate fee, you can also book an educational cruise on Squam Lake. For the sake of this post, we’re going to focus on the live animal exhibit trail, which is the one I am most familiar.

Squam Lakes Science Center Exhibits

Squam Lakes Exhibits are pretty incredible. In a nutshell, the Squam Lakes live animal exhibit trail is home to New England native critters that, for one reason or another, cannot be released into the wild. The exhibits are designed around each of their habitats.

Mom’s Favorite: The Water Matters Pavilion

One of my favorite stops along the wildlife trail is the Water Matters Pavilion. There, you’ll find fish, turtles and information about loons, alongside some really fun interactive exhibits. One of our favorites during our last trip was an exhibit that housed kinetic sand and was overlayed with a projector which projected a terrain map below. The light in the projector responded to the height of the sand. As you rearranged the sand and built “mountains” and “valleys,” the colors changed to match. When we held our hands above the “terrain,” it simulated rainfall and the rainfall would run down our created “mountains” and into the “watersheds” below.

It’s hard to convey how creative and thoughtful I find the Water Matters Pavilion. Before our most recent trip, I was absolutely in love with the Beaver Dam exhibit, and couldn’t get over how thoughtfully designed the turtle exhibits were.

Kids’ Favorite: “The Animals”

I asked my kids what their favorite exhibit was. They said “the animals,” and I took this to mean the mammals. Squam Lakes is home to mountain lions, bears, whitetail deer, fox, coyote, and otters to name a few. Each exhibit has seriously fun ways for kids to wiggle an explore.

At the deer exhibit, kids can watch deer in their native habitat, then head to the accompanying building and compare how tall they are to a deer and moose, build a deer skeleton and investigate ticks under a child-friendly microscope.

Squam Lakes Deer Exhibit. Copyright The Invisible Trendsetter.

Husband’s Favorite: The Raptors & Zipline

My husband’s favorite exhibit is the zipline at the end, which is located across from the raptors.

Squam Lakes raptor exhibit. Copyright The Invisible Trendsetter.

Honorable Mention: Gordon Children’s Center & Interactive Playscape

I am both stunned and perplexed that no one mentioned the playground or the children’s center. We seem to spend a lot of time at both each time we go. In the children’s center, my kiddoes absolutely love the spider exhibit. The kids climb up the “spider web” and into a little tunnel to imitate how a spider sees (it’s very dark), and then out and down a little slide. Upstairs, there is an underground tunnel to explore life as a chipmunk. I’m not kidding when I say we have to pull them away from this section of the trail.

Biological Functions

Of course with all this playing, kids will naturally need refreshments and a potty break.

The picnic area is at the beginning of the trailhead. You can’t miss it when you’re walking into the animal exhibit trail. Due to Squam Lakes being home to wild animals, food is not permitted on the trails. The trail is only .75 miles, so a quick hike for a picnic is not really a huge deal. Bring a stroller, wagon or kiddo hiking pack. There is a water-bottle refiller near Kirkwood Garden, just before the River Otter exhibit.

The bathroom situation at Squam Lakes is adequate. There is a bathroom located just beyond the gift shop upon entry, and one on the hillside inside the Webster Education Building (at the jumping off point to the Animal Exhibit trail). If I remember correctly from about two or three trips prior, there is also a bathroom located around the back of Kirkwood Gardens, just after the deer exhibit. The bathrooms are male/female, with no companion restrooms. The changing tables are located within the handicap stalls, and there is plenty of room for more than one child plus an adult.

Squam Lakes is so jam packed with conservation goodness, that they even have an exhibit dedicated to how their waste removal system differs from more familiar methods outside the “main” bathroom right beyond the entrance. This exhibit is right outside the bathroom, so if you have a large party and / or are waiting on someone, you’ve got something to occupy your time other than awkward people watching.

Learning where toilet water goes. Copyright The Invisible Trendsetter.

My only real critique of this place is similar to that of the Discovery Museum – it does not appear they are using an EWG verified soap (like Attitude) in the bathrooms. I’d really love to see that change. Too many soaps on the market have icky ingredients like endocrine disruptors and / or are persistent in the environment. No, thanks.

Ways to Save

Squam Lakes Science Center recognizes the importance of natural education for all families, regardless of their financial situation. They offer a plethora of ways to visit at a discounted rate including library membership passes, ASA reciprocal discount, ANCA reciprocal discount, Museums for All discount, Family Access Membership and Blue Star Museums. I’ve linked their programs here so you can see which program works best for your family.

Make it Happen

Obviously, I can’t post every exhibit, nor do each exhibit justice. My family has been to Squam Lakes at least four times now (and purchased a membership). Each time we go, we find something we love even more. The animal trail is open May through late October, but Squam Lakes offers homeschool programs in the cold-weather months. Whether Squam Lakes has been on your radar for a few minutes or longer than you care to admit, it’s a very special place in New Hampshire and I beg encourage you to get your family there as soon as you can!

Happy adventuring!

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