An ice-fishing derby with big cash at stake … A design-your-own sundae bar that makes ice-cream lovers salivate … A pre-NASCAR-race tailgate … A dinner-dance cruise … A Thanksgiving feast every night, if you choose … A peaceful hike to spy on nesting loons … A kid-pleasing stop at the world's largest arcade on a rainy afternoon. The Lakes Region is New Hampshire's play place, where the only stress is choosing which fun thing you'll do next.

With more than 250 distinct lakes and ponds, the Lakes Region lives up to its billing. This is New Hampshire's headquarters for boating, paddleboarding, fishing, and swimming.

Lake Winnipesaukee, with its squiggly 180-mile shore, is the largest—a big blue gem in the heart of it all—and each of Winni’s lakeside communities moves to its own beat. Weirs Beach beckons with its boardwalk, train rides, and family amusements. Meredith offers beaches, boat launches, and a boutique winery. In Moultonborough, tour Castle in the Clouds and go horseback riding on the estate's phenomenal grounds. Then hike the Loon Center's Loon Nest Trail, and find loon souvenirs among the eclectic wares at the nation's oldest store. Visit museums in Wolfeboro; then get out on the lake on a Jet Ski or paddleboard or with a diving tank.

Squam Lake is in second place when we rank New Hampshire lakes by size, but it's been golden since its star turn in the 1981 movie On Golden Pond. Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness offers wildlife-viewing lake cruises. And some of the Lakes Region's loveliest B&Bs are on or near Squam's shores.

But it's not just family attractions that lure travelers. The Lakes Region is a land of traditions, as well. Riders have returned year after year for more than nine decades for Laconia Motorcycle Week. The Barnstormers Theatre in Tamworth has been staging memorable performances each summer since 1931. The old-fashioned Sandwich Fair, first held in 1886, draws crowds each Columbus Day weekend. And the annual World Championship Sled Dog Derby makes a cold February weekend immensely entertaining.

Attractions aside, there's something about being on the water that eases your mind. So point your two-wheeled or four-wheeled vehicle toward New Hampshire's lakeshores when you want to feel the stress ebb away.