Sugar Hill is a small town with a population of under 600 year-round residents. It’s located high up in Grafton County, overlooking the White Mountain National Forest, with memorable views of several mountain ranges. Its name comes from the large groves of sugar maples in the area.
The town became a fashionable Victorian resort, with folks attracted by paintings from local artists. The wealthy arrived by train to escape the heat, humidity, and pollution of summers in big east-coast cities.
Poet Robert Frost had a place nearby, where he lived with his family from 1915 to 1920, and continued to spend his summers here for nearly twenty years. Actor Bette Davis also owned two different cottages in Sugar Hill starting from 1939, which she used as getaways from Hollywood.
THE LUPINE FESTIVAL
Good sunlight exposure, temperatures, and soil conditions have turned Sugar Hill into New Hampshire’s lupine capital. In June, many of the hills here are covered with a variety of vivid lupines.
The most famous annual event that occurs in Sugar Hill is the Fields of Lupine Festival held every June. Folks come from near and far to see the fields of lupines. They come to admire, photograph, and walk through the brilliant fields of lupines that often feature vibrant purples, pinks, blues, and whites.
BEST TIME TO PHOTOGRAPH
The lupines usually peak in early June, although it varies from year to year depending on seasonal weather fluctuations. In general, I find that June 10 or thereabouts is often a good time to check on the lupines.
The hours surrounding sunrise and sunset are the best times of day to photograph the flowers. The lupines can also be very photogenic on overcast days, when soft diffused light accentuates their color.
There are a number of classic locations to photograph the lupines. By far, the most popular morning destination is in the field below St. Matthew’s Chapel on Route 117. The lower field is usually brimming with purple, pink, blue, and white lupines, with the picturesque white chapel sitting on the hill overlooking the field.
There’s also a nice field about a quarter mile below St. Matthew’s Chapel (also on Route 117) that usually holds an abundance of beautiful lupines. Another popular field sits directly across the Sugar Hill Sampler on Sunset Hill Road, complete with groomed paths for the benefit of festival visitors. A bit further afield is Pearl Lake, off Pearl Lake Road, which usually has colorful flowers as well. But of course, I would encourage any photographer to branch off the beaten path to find and capture more unique lupine scenes.
For a map of the lupine fields and a guide to festival events around Sugar Hill, stop by Harman’s Cheese & Country Store and buy a copy.
Sugar Hill is only a few miles from I-93. Take I-93 to exit 38 in Franconia, and turn left on Wallace Hill Road at the end of the ramp. After clearing the overpass, turn right on Main Street (Route 116) and drive half a mile. Then, take a left onto Sugar Hill Road (Route 117) toward Sugar Hill.
While in Sugar Hill, be sure to stop by Polly’s Pancake Parlor for breakfast or lunch. The restaurant is famous for its delicious pancakes, but offers a wide variety of foods. Due to its outstanding ratings and great marketing, it’s now become so famous that the waiting line can be several hours long, especially on weekends during the Fields of Lupine Festival. So, if you decide to go, I suggest you make a reservation to avoid the crowds and waste time waiting in a very long line (but reservations are only accepted on weekdays).
Aside from the weekend crowds at Polly’s Pancake Parlor, there are few risks in coming to this remote section of New Hampshire. There is one important risk worth mentioning, however: ticks. This area is teeming with ticks, so be sure to take precautions both before and after visiting. Walking in a lupine field in close proximity to the plants puts you at risk, so be sure to spray and cover your skin as much as possible to avoid tick transfer.
The Sugar Hill lupines are the pride of New Hampshire. May you experience, enjoy and photograph!