Last summer, my elderly mother decided to take a month off from her Florida retirement to spend time with my family in New Hampshire. It was a great idea – but in practice, what could I possibly offer her to fill her time? She wouldn’t be able to keep up with us on our hiking and backpacking in the White Mountains, and we had no interest in watching Jeopardy with her every night. I needn’t have worried. When she arrived, she brought the solution with her: her trusty metal detector. For years, she’d combed the beaches with it, and now we had a chance to learn about New Hampshire together – with a metal detector!
It helped immensely that my mom loves to read and research, while we like to hike and explore. When we combined forces on a month of New Hampshire metal detecting, we were an impressive team. Between research and metal detecting expeditions, I learned more about the state in one month than I had the previous 12 months living in New Hampshire. For example, most of the hiking trails and remote wilderness areas I love so much would not be accessible today, if it wasn’t for logging operations and the extensive networks of mostly temporary railroads built to serve them. Ever hiked the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire? You’re benefitting from an old railroad bed.
So, if you’re interested in metal detecting in New Hampshire, here are our top 15 metal detecting locations:
Abandoned Towns, Settlements and Mines
When looking out at some vantage point over New Hampshire’s White Mountains, they’re forested, thick and green. The idea of calling them “white” seems very inapt. Though there are references to the “White Mountains” or “White Hills” in Colonial documents, no actual historical record exists of how the White Mountains were named. The accepted theory is that the name goes back to the first view of the area by white explorers, possibly even in the 1500s. When viewed from the sea, the peaks of the mountains were often snow-capped, even at times when the rest of the landscape was green. Hence, the White Mountains.
Over the course of New Hampshire’s logging history, 19 railroads were built in the state or farther north to move supplies in and product out. The majority of the railroads and accompanying logging settlements are now completely abandoned. Some are commemorated with signs, parks or museums, but most are virtually forgotten. Most of these sites are located in White Mountains National Forest. Technically, you’re not permitted to metal detect at historic sites, so use these suggestions as a jumping-off point in your search but not where you do your actual metal detecting.
When metal detecting for historical items, the goal is discovery and documentation, not possession. You’re not allowed to keep anything over 100 years or of historical significance, but are supposed to report it – to a park manager or state archaeologist, depending on the type of land.
Rules for metal detecting in New Hampshire National Forests: No permit required. No digging allowed, just surface searching. No removal of historical artifacts.
1. Thornton Gore Farming Settlement (via Tripoli Road).
The history of Thornton Gore is slightly different than other abandoned logging settlements: It was an agricultural village before timber became the dominant industry, as opposed to a slipshod temporary settlement built for loggers. When timber companies took over, their goal was the regrowth of the forest for future harvests with no interest in the buildings, so they simply left former homes and the school undisturbed, to be swallowed up by the forest.
The White Mountain Historical Society captures the poignant process well: “The effect of decades of decay was inevitable; the buildings fell to the ground, their timbers decomposed, and the forest reclaimed the land. In some cases, farm equipment was left to rust in the fields and some remains today. Only stonewalls, cellar holes and cemeteries are left to tell the stories of the once thriving towns.” To learn more about the history of the area go HERE.
2. Passaconaway Settlement
Passaconaway Settlement may be one of the largest of New Hampshire’s abandoned logging towns, once home to as many as 1,200 people, two schools, a store, a post office, boarding houses and homes. Today, you’ll find a Forest Service Visitor Center, but only the cemetery is readily visible.
3. Village of Livermore via the Sawyer River Trail
A former logging settlement, Livermore once claimed 200 residents at its peak but was completely abandoned by the 1950s.
4. Zealand logging settlement ruins (via Zealand Falls Trail)
(Map: ). Even if you come up empty-handed, you won’t regret this stop. The hike is only 2.5 miles, easy and scenic. Keep your eyes open for the ruins of the ill-fated Zealand logging company, which was done in by, not one, but two wildfires before closing its operations here.
5. Make your own discovery
During the heyday of New Hampshire logging, logging camps popped up haphazardly, with little planning, documentation or thorough removal. Many camps and artifacts remain, unrecorded, nearly invisible, awaiting discovery – or complete absorption into the forest. Along the abandoned Swift River Railroad in the Swift River Valley, just as one example, nearly 20 logging camps have been documented for the first time by outdoor recreationists! Dozens of logging railroad lines lay abandoned in New England’s bountiful forests – many on National Forest land – and along each one are untold numbers of abandoned logging settlements. A few railroads with sections that meet these criteria are the Zealand Railroad, the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad, the Swift River Railroad and Gordon Pond Railroad. So, do some research and become an amateur anthropologist!
For our family’s metal detecting hunts, most of these sites required extensive walking, often off-trail and weren’t appropriate for my mother’s level of fitness. So keep in mind the level of exertion you’re interested in when choosing your metal detecting locations. No matter what, bring a backpack with plenty of water, snacks, clothing for adverse weather and anything else you’d prudently carry on a remote outdoor activity.
Metal detecting tip: Pile all the removed sand/dirt into an upside-down Frisbee so that when you finish digging you can refill the hole with minimal effort and minimal impact on the area outside the hole.
At the foot of the White Mountains, in the Lakes Region, you’ll find numerous – you guessed it! – lakes. With only 13 miles of coastal shoreline, most beaches in New Hampshire are on lakes. You can pretty much pick any beach, whether lake or ocean, and it’s a prime spot for metal detecting. Personal items that are easily dropped are then, just as easily, buried by the sand. Moreover, metal detecting is almost universally permitted at public beaches, unless otherwise posted. While New Hampshire’s ocean beaches have an entrance fee, most of my lake beach metal detecting suggestions are free.
General beach detecting guidelines include: Avoid metal detecting during crowded times and avoid interfering with other recreational activities. Fill in any holes you make.
6. Bartlett Beach, Lake Winnisquam:
Small but pleasant. Check the picnic area in addition to the beach.
7. Brewster Beach – Wolfeboro Public beach, Lake Winnipesaukee
Bustling with activity all summer long. Kids’ swimming activity make mid-day too crowded for detecting. Like many beaches, recommend early morning for metal detecting.
8. Weirs Beach Endicott Park, Lake Winnipesaukee
We’ve had a lot of luck detecting at this popular beach.
9. 19 Mile Bay Beach, Lake Winnipesaukee
Oft-forgotten, this is a good beach to visit when others might be too crowded to pull out a metal detector.
10. Ellacoya State Park, Lake Winnipesaukee
This is a gorgeous and popular beach, a very good bet for a detectorist. Consider the campground areas, parking lots and other frequently-traveled areas that may permit metal detecting.
11. Sunapee State Beach, Sunapee Lake
Tip: check out boat launch area. You’d be surprised how much goes overboard here.
12. Wellington State Park, Newfound Lake.
The largest freshwater beach in the state, it’s no surprise that this beach can get very crowded, especially on weekends and holidays.
13. White Lake State Park, White Lake.
A scenic gem, tucked away and usually less crowded. If you come with a family or enjoy other hobbies – like canoeing or camping – in addition to metal detecting, you might want to make a weekend visit.
Bring your bathing suit and towel because the crisp, blue water and a sunny day may distract you from your metal detecting mission and entice you in!
Metal detecting tip: If it’s the monetary value of your finds that excites you, research any old coins you find. Out of everything you find (and are permitted to keep), rare, older coins will bring in the most money. If you know what they’re worth.
Finally, we put my mom’s metal detector to use in its native habitat: an ocean beach. This was the type of metal detecting my mother had been doing in Florida for years, and she was a pro. She gladly shared her techniques and years of experience with us beach-combing newbies.
When metal detecting at beaches, your goal is almost always modern-day finds. Lost watches, coins, phones. This may or may not excite you much, but an industrious detectorist can make a pretty rewarding endeavor of returning lost items to their owners or find that a summer’s worth of assorted coins adds up to a decent sum of money. If this type of metal detecting doesn’t get you jazzed up, you’re not alone: skip the beaches! But if you are targeting beaches: think “high traffic.” Parking lots, entrance and exit points to the beach, the most crowded beach spots…those should be your targets. However, you’ll want to do your actual metal detecting during less crowded times. Also, check the calendars for major events! The day after a triathlon or a beach concert are strategic times to go metal detecting.
Some of my mother’s fellow detectorists in Florida have made a veritable business out of their detecting hobbies, setting up “lost and found” websites or social media pages specifically to return items found while metal detecting (with a “tip” or reward gladly accepted). They also check for flyers and other notices requesting help finding lost phones or wedding rings and respond accordingly.
14. Hampton Beach (Seashell, South Beach and North Beach)
The biggest and most popular beach in a state with admittedly few ocean beaches. Since you’ll be going during quieter times, you may not have any trouble finding parking in one of the metered spots on Ocean Boulevard. But you can also find private lots on Ashworth Avenue, which will let you avoid gridlock during peak traffic. To park in the parking lot at South Beach is $15 per vehicle.
15. Wallis Sands State Beach, Rye
Smaller and less crowded than Hampton Beach, it’s nevertheless very popular with beach-lovers, and a promising site for beach metal detecting at low tide. Parking fee of $15 per vehicle.
Research Is Your Friend: Before and After the Hunt
Regardless of what triggered your interest in metal detecting, most of us end up spending quite a bit of time doing some form of research. If you’re particularly interested in historical finds, you’ll probably become frustrated by the regulations on public land that require you to avoid historically significant sites. You want to find some historically-significant areas you where you are allowed to metal detect. So, how do you do that?
State and local historical societies are great informational resources, as is the local library and county clerk’s office where land plats are archived.
Learn to cross-reference historic maps and modern maps to pinpoint the location you want to metal detect. Google Maps and Historic Aerials (https://www.historicaerials.com/) are indispensable tools available online. For New Hampshire-specific resources, you’ll find some great maps and other information at Whitemountainhistory.org (http://whitemountainhistory.org/White_Mountain_Maps.html).
Even if you’re not particularly historically-minded in targeting your search, you’ll inevitably find something, someday, during your metal detecting that makes you scratch your head and say “what in heaven’s name is this thing?” Take pictures from every angle. Make notes about it, including the location around it and any knowledge you have of the historical background of the area. Then, you’ll have to return home and…get to researching! Numerous chat boards – on metal detecting forums, metal detecting Facebook groups, Reddit, allow you to post pictures and pick the brains of others who may (or may not) have more knowledge of historical artifacts than you. Getting hooked up with a local metal detecting club (see below) is also beneficial – and fun.
But my point is, don’t be scared of the research. It’s almost inevitable if you pursue your metal detecting hobby. And you may find that having more historical context for your hunts makes them more interesting and more satisfying.
Metal Detecting Laws in New Hampshire
On state-owned land, metal detecting is permitted in the following places (unless otherwise posted):
(b) Athletic fields;
(c) School grounds;
(d) Perimeters of cemeteries;
(e) Unpaved roads;
(f) Within 25 feet of picnic tables and park pavilions; and
(g) Currently used dumps.
New Hampshire State Parks:
State Park regulations on metal detecting are a little hazy. You are permitted to use metal detectors but not “in or around known or undiscovered cultural or historic sites in order to protect our valuable, non-renewable historical resources.” A great option for metal detecting in State Parks – especially if you’re new to the hobby and/or looking for opportunities to learn about archaeology – is the Passport In Time Program. “Passport In Time (PIT) is a national program inviting the public to work with agency archaeologists on historic preservation projects. We have done numerous projects through PIT in cooperation with metal detecting clubs and individuals. The cooperation has been beneficial for both the detectorists and agency’s archaeologists. Locating archaeological sites becomes a joint endeavor and we learn a great deal. If you would like more information on this program, call 1-800-281-9176 or visit www.passportintime.com (http://www.passportintime.com/).”
National Parks: It’s illegal to metal detect in National Parks, National Recreation Areas and National Monuments.
City & County Parks: Regulations for city and county parks and other public lands will vary from place to place, so be sure to check with the appropriate agency to determine if metal detecting is allowed.
Private Land: Metal detecting is permitted on private land with the property owner’s written permission. Do some historical research to choose a promising location, then contact the property owner. Don’t be disheartened by rejection, though! Just move on to the next site on your list and don’t take it personally.
National Laws: Remember, when metal detecting anywhere in the US, regardless of local regulations, we’re bound by both the Antiquities Act of 1906, the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the Archaeological Resources Preservation Act (ARPA). These national laws mean that you can’t remove anything you believe is 100 years old or more. These potential archaeological artifact should be reported to the State Archaeologist or the governing body of the park/land where you make the find.
New Hampshire Metal Detecting Clubs
If you’re new to the metal detecting hobby and overwhelmed by how much you have to learn, or want to share the excitement with other passionate metal detectorists, get involved with a local club. Clubs/forums are a great source of information on metal detecting regulations, tricks of the technology, identifying finds and more. Here are a few I found, but I’m sure there are many more in New Hampshire:
- Granite State Treasure Hunters Club for Historic Preservation, Auburn, NH (https://www.gsthc.org/)
- North East Metal Detecting Forum, online (http://www.northeastmetaldetectingforum.com/index.php)
- Capital Mineral Club, Clinton, NH (http://www.capitalmineralclub.org/)
- Professional Treasure Hunters Historical Society (also Streeter’s Metal Detecting shop), Marlborough, NH (https://www.streeter.org/)
Favorite Metal Detecting Shops in New Hampshire
- Streeter’s Newspaper, Treasure Hunting and Prospecting Supplies, Marlborough, NH (https://www.streeter.org/)
- Sea Coast Coin & Jewelry, Hampton, NH (http://seacoastcoin.com/)
- Kittery Trading Post, Kittery, ME (https://www.kitterytradingpost.com/)
Treasure Finds and Metal Detecting News
“Massachusetts woman reunited with wedding ring 10 days after losing it in the ocean at Hampton Beach” (https://www.masslive.com/news/2019/08/massachusetts-woman-reunited-with-wedding-ring-10-days-after-losing-it-in-the-ocean-at-hampton-beach.html)
“Silver Madonna Sends Detectors on Decades-long Search” (https://www.vnews.com/Area-treasure-hunters-seek-silver-Madonna-from-1700s-4943253)
“A group of hikers in New Hampshire used a metal detector to find a wedding ring lost on a snowy mountain” (https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/28/us/new-hampshire-lost-ring-mountain-trnd/index.html)
“Treasure Hunters of the Contoocook River Park” (https://www.nhmagazine.com/treasure-hunters-of-the-contoocook-river-park/) “Wentworth Buried Treasure Tales” (http://www.seacoastnh.com/wentworth-buried-treasure-tales/)