Keene, found in the Monadnock Region of NH, is a quintessential small New England town. As the seat of Cheshire County, it’s home to both Keene State College and Antioch University New England. Its picturesque downtown also boasts of being the 1994 filming site for various Jumanji movie scenes with Robin Williams.
There’s so much charm and fun to be found in Keene; some of which has to do with the vibrant energy the colleges bring to it, as well as the wonderful downtown, cute nearby towns, and beautiful outdoor gems. The town manages to feel safe and timeless, while also feeling youthful and lively! From serene rail trails to spirited Keene State sports games, you’ll find a little bit of everything here.
So if you’re ready to explore what makes this town and the surrounding area so special, check out our list of 16 things to do in Keene NH!
Hike Mount Monadnock
Mount Monadnock, a 3,615-foot mountain located in Jaffrey and Dublin, is the tallest mountain in Southern NH. It’s also been credited as the second-most hiked mountain of all time, with 125,000 hikers a year – second only to Mt. Fuji in Japan.
Monadnock is a beloved New England hiking destination, and not just because Ralph Waldo Emerson waxed poetic about its majesty. Since it is the tallest mountain in the region, and the summit is bald, you get vast, unimpeded 360-degree views of the region. It also has a surprising variety of well-maintained trail levels and lengths. From the steep, intense White Dot Trail, to the long, meandering Pumpelly Trail, you can scale it at your own pace.
Bring your kids to Cheshire Children’s Museum
Found right downtown, Cheshire Children’s Museum is a magical, hands-on and inspiring place for your children to fall in love with learning. With interactive exhibits that integrate so many subjects, from art to math to science and literature, kids will really enjoy this playful and curious museum. It encourages their creativity, and the adults are given permission to take a backseat to the interests of their kids. They can learn about transportation, the Monadnock region, New Hampshire, and the world!
Explore downtown Keene
Keene has an unforgettable downtown, with everything that makes small New England towns so special: a bustling Main Street with local shops, a park, a white church, a historical theater, restaurants and cafes.
Central Square is the perfect spot for a stroll, with its cute gazebo, fountain, and grassy area where you can sometimes catch live music. Then pop into Toadstool Bookshop or Life Is Sweet Candy Store for a book or sweet treat. If you’re still hungry, Luca’s Mediterranean Cafe offers a rare opportunity to dine on French, Italian, and Spanish cuisine.
Don’t forget, a downtown is only as good as its best coffee shop; Prime Roast Coffee Co. has been selling their own freshly roasted coffee in town since 1993, so you have to stop in for a cup during your visit. (May I recommend the O’McGauley? One of the tastiest things ever, if you like sweet coffee drinks). Then walk off all that delicious food on the Ashuelot Rail Trail, which you can connect to via Emerald Street.
Catch a Keene State Owls home game
If you’re a fan of college sports, catching a Keene State Owls game on campus is a must. From basketball, baseball, soccer, lacrosse, to volleyball, there are a lot of opportunities for some athletic enjoyment. Spaulding Auditorium on campus has been hosting varsity basketball and volleyball games since 1968, so join in the legacy and cheer on the Owls!
Try organic milk at Stonewall Farm.
Stonewall Farm is an organic dairy farm and educational center in Keene. They host so many fun events, charity runs, plant sales and farm tours, with the mission of promoting regenerative farming and education on food security and a healthy planet. You can visit to buy their organic dairy or produce, go on a hayride, and see the animal barns with horses, cows, and goats. The grounds themselves are lovely to explore on a nice day.
Explore the cute neighboring town of Peterborough
Peterborough, just a 30-minute drive from Keene, is one of New Hampshire’s oldest established towns. Its quaint, charming energy even gives Keene a run for its money! This serene and safe spot was originally a mill town, but is now known for its art galleries, delicious hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and antique shops. It’s hip, artsy, and perfect for outdoor adventures. One of the best ways to spend your time in Peterborough is by exploring Depot Square, a collection of 14 different local shops and eateries. Try Waterhouse Restaurant, or go antiquing at Bowerbird & Friends.
Discover the castle ruins in Madame Sherri Forest
Madame Sherri, known as the “New England queen of scandal,” was a Parisian costume designer who threw parties for the rich and famous in the Roaring 20s. She had an elegant castle built in the forest of Chesterfield, NH, as a party destination for the elite of Boston and New York. Today, only the castle’s foundation and iconic “stairway to nowhere” remain. Visiting Madame Sherri Forest in Chesterfield, you can take a short hike to the location of the ruins, and enjoy the mystery and oddity of this castle and the legendary woman behind it.
Drink craft beer at Branch and Blade Brewing
Branch and Blade Brewing Company in Keene is a newer brewery and restaurant that has quickly become a popular locale. Started by two homebrewers in 2018, Branch and Blade Brewing offers a long list of various locally crafted beers. Enjoy one paired with their food plates, almost all of which are made from scratch. Burgers and sandwiches, salads, tacos, and even dessert alongside quality beer? Sign us up. There’s even talk of an amazing food truck that pops up on occasion.
Take a walk on a serene rail trail.
The Monadnock region of NH is covered in some amazing rail trails, some of which you can connect to right from downtown Keene. The Ashuelot Rail Trail in Keene – which spans 21 miles – is the perfect option for convenience, scenery and history. You can connect to it via Emerald Street downtown then walk, bike, or jog down this wooded trail past covered bridges, old mills, and rivers. Another option is the Cheshire Rail Trail, which extends for over 32 miles, 1 mile of which is Keene’s Industrial Heritage Trail.
Visit Horatio Colony House Museum and Nature Preserve
To get closer to nature and connect with the natural history of Keene and the Colony family, take a trip to the Horatio Colony House Museum and Nature Preserve. Established to preserve the 1806 Federal House, Colony Family history, and to protect the area’s 645-acre natural landscape, the museum and preserve offer nature-walk trails, exhibits, tours, and lectures. You can learn so much about the history and nature in and around Keene, and the prominent Colony family that once occupied the grounds.
See a college performance at the Redfern Arts Center.
Are you a fan of the performing arts? Look no further than Keene State College’s Redfern Arts Center. You can catch a lot of great shows, produced by both students and visiting performers, in this artfully designed theater at the heart of Keene. The center has served up a community space for the arts for 39 years now, and is still going strong. So come to watch a main stage play, a modern dance recital, or listen to a choir concert.
Go for a swim at Otter Brook Lake Beach.
Otter Brook State Park, found right in Keene, is a beautiful lake spot for water bugs and beach loungers. There is a large sandy beach with a swim area and boat ramp, where you can enjoy motorboating, kayaking, or just floating around in the summer. The picnic tables and grills are awesome for throwing group barbeques and picnics. You can even camp in one of the park’s various shelters. But you don’t have to love swimming to take advantage of Otter Brook. Many people use the land for runs, leisurely walks, and hikes.
Get something handmade at Hannah Grimes Marketplace.
Hannah Grimes Marketplace on Main Street in Keene is a remarkable shop, with the noble mission of providing a market for local, handmade crafts and goods. The shop features a cool variety of products made by over 250 local artisans, from everything to syrups and soaps, to paintings and hand blown glassware. Think of this market as Etsy in real life. By supporting Hannah Grimes, you are supporting the small businesses and artists of NH!
Go on an outdoor adventure at Pisgah State Park.
Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Keene is Pisgah State Park in Winchester. This 13,300-acre public recreation park is roughly forested for those who prefer less curated state parks. It encompasses a watershed and has several ponds, highland ridges, and wetlands. There are ample opportunities for outdoor adventures. The year-round trailheads can lead you on foot, mountain bike, ATV, or snowmobile into the backcountry. The park is also pet-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry friend along on a long hike or run.
Catch a show at the historical Colonial Theatre
The Colonial Theatre in downtown Keene is an iconic landmark theatre. It has hosted various performing arts shows and events for the community for over 95 years! The interior’s ornate details will transport you back to the 1920s, its heyday, but the performance offerings are fresh and innovative. One of the coolest things about the Colonial is that it has niche film showings! From dancing to musicals to concerts, the Colonial is definitely the premier arts space for the Keene and Monadnock community.
Go on a Swanzey covered bridge tour
Everyone has their own thing. Some people are drawn to antique shops. Some people are drawn to cafes or bookstores. And then there are the people who can’t get enough of covered bridges! We can see the appeal. They’re picturesque, reminiscent of the good ol’ days, and they evoke that classic New England charm more than almost anything (except for white steepled churches).
For a place as small as Swanzey, there sure are a lot of covered bridges to see! A total of four can be found in this tiny Monadnock town – Sawyers Crossing, Slate Covered Bridge, Carleton Covered Bridge, and Denman Thompson Bridge. It’s easy to hit them all in one drive. Each unique in their own way, the covered bridges of Swanzey are truly picture-perfect.
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Amy is the founder of New England with love. A proud Vermonter, she hopes to share her love of New England and help you find the best adventures in the region. Amy is also blogger/founder at Two Drifters, where she writes alongside her husband about romantic and couples travel, relationships, honeymoons, and more. When not working on websites, Amy is probably reading, cuddling with her husband, son, and cats, & drinking a maple latte.