Meredith -- Meredith's attractive, though now largely bypassed, Main Street ascends a hill from Route 3 at an elbow in the middle of town. A handful of shops, galleries, and boutiques offer low-key browsing. The creative re-adaptation of an early mill at the Mill Falls Marketplace has about 20 shops, including a well-stocked bookstore, pizzeria, ice-cream shop, and art gallery. It's connected to The Inns at Mill Falls, at the intersection of Route 3 and Route 25.
An excellent fair-weather trip is an excursion to 112-acre Stonedam Island, one of the largest protected islands in the lake. (You need a boat, canoe, or kayak to get there, obviously.) Owned by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust (tel. 603/279-3246), the island has a trail that winds through wetlands and forest. About 2 1/2 miles southeast of downtown Meredith, it's an ideal destination for a picnic.
Rent a canoe or kayak for a half-day, day, or week at Wild Meadow Canoes & Kayaks, 6 Whittier Hwy., Center Harbor, NH 03226 (tel. 800/427-7536 or 603/253-7536; www.wildmeadowcanoes.com), in Center Harbor. The shop, open daily, is less than 5 miles from Meredith, the next town north on Route 25 (the route tracing the bay).
Wolfeboro -- Wolfeboro has a vibrant, homey downtown, easily explored on foot. Park near Depot Square and the Victorian-style train station, and stock up on brochures and maps at the Chamber of Commerce office. Behind the station, a trail runs along the old tracks past Back Bay to a set of small cascades.
To help you see the lake from a Wolfeboro base, several boat tours depart from the docks just behind the shops on Main Street. One of the most fun is the wind-in-your-face, zippy half-hour tour aboard the Millie B. (tel. 603/569-1080), a 28-foot mahogany speedboat constructed by HackerCraft. (Ticket prices have zoomed in recent years, too: The ride costs $20 per adults, $10 for children ages 4 to 12.)
For more conventional travelers, the impressive MS Mount Washington (tel. 888/843-6686 or 630/366-5531; www.cruisenh.com) is a handsome, 230-foot-long vessel that sails out of Weirs Beach daily in summer and calls at Wolfeboro's docks several times per week -- check at the docks for a current schedule. Day cruises (2-3 hr. each) cost $25 to $40 for adults, less for children.
Alternately, you could arrange a chartered excursions on the Winnipesaukee Belle (tel. 603/569-3796), a faux 65-foot steamship with a canopied upper deck operated by the Wolfeboro Inn -- though the charters start at about $800 for a 2-hour cruise. Needless to say, if you're paying that much, bring lots of friends (it holds up to 150 passengers), plus good camera and video equipment.
For a much cheaper, self-propelled afternoon, kayak rentals and guided tours are available from Winnipesaukee Kayak, 17 Bay St., at the Back Bay Marina (tel. 603/569-9926). On a relatively windless day, few activities beat exploring by paddle from Wolfeboro Bay to the cluster of islands just to the south. (Watch for recreational boaters, who occasionally get out of hand and too close to small craft.)
Quiet lake swimming is available at Wentworth State Park (tel. 603/271-3556), which has a nice beach and a shady picnic area. The park is 5 miles east of Wolfeboro on Rte. 109. It's open daily mid-June to Labor Day. The entrance fee is $3 per adult, $1 per child ages 6 to 11. No pets are allowed into this park.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.