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Recreation Facilities/Activities

The park offers 1,194 acres of land and water for fun, relaxation and enjoyment of nature. Facilities include picnic tables and grills, horseshoe pits, a swimming beach (no lifeguards, swim at your own risk), hiking trails, a boat ramp, and two picnic shelters which can be reserved in advance for a fee (unreserved shelters are available for use on a first come, first served basis during the recreation season).

Many of the facilities at the lake are accessible to persons with disabilities. Edward MacDowell Lake is open daylight hours only.

You are invited to hike, snowshoe or cross-country ski on trails that wander through woodlands and wetlands surrounding the lake. The many diverse habitats offer exciting opportunities to view wildlife and the scenic beauty of nature. Bring your binoculars, cameras and camcorders for some spectacular sites and scenery.

The lake attracts many people both recreationists and naturalists to explore the waterways by canoe or by kayak. Fishermen with small electric powered boats enjoy fishing for largemouth bass, pickerel, perch, and horned pout. Access to the water is available by using the boat launch located in the back area of the reservoir.

The public is welcome to enjoy hunting and fishing in accordance with state and local laws. A wide variety of game species including deer, red fox, raccoon, pheasant, grouse, and waterfowl can be found at Edward MacDowell Lake.  Largemouth bass, pickerel, yellow perch, horned put challenge anglers. Trapping is permitted through the State of New Hampshire's trapping permit lottery system.

Please note we require that all pets are leashed and in control at all times, and that the users carry out what they carry into the park.

Flood Risk Management

Congress authorized the construction of the "West Peterborough Dam" on June 22, 1936, through the Flood Control Act of 1936. Many floods and natural disasters hit New England and the rest of the country destroying residential and industrial properties. Congress enacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to design and construct the dam between March 1948 and March 1950 at a cost of $2.01 million.

On July 28, 1950, the dam was officially dedicated as the "Edward MacDowell Dam" in honor of this significant figure in the history of American music.

Edward MacDowell Dam is located on Nubanusit Brook. The dam protects Peterborough and other communities downstream and is part of five flood control dams in the Merrimack River Basin. The Dam has prevented an estimated $9.3 million in flood damages to date.

The dam has a 4.2 billion gallon capacity. If this capacity is exceeded during a major flood event, the water will go over the spillway located 4 miles upstream. The flood waters then flow through Ferguson Brook into the Contoocook River, by-passing Peterborough. Since construction of the dam in 1950 this has occurred only once, during the record high water in April 1987.

Hydrologists and engineers in the Reservoir Control Center (RCC) in Concord, Massachusetts, make flood control decisions for all of New England based on data collected from many sources, including USACE Park Rangers and the National Weather Service. The highly sophisticated "Automated Data Collection System", relays lake and river levels and weather conditions to the RCC computer system via the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite.

Water flow is regulated through the dam by opening and closing the steel gates in the gatehouse. MacDowell Dam has three gates each weighing 4 tons. The project staff lower the gates to hold back flood waters behind the dam when the Contoocook River and the Merrimack River reach high levels. When these two rivers return to normal flows, the gates are raised enough to allow the water behind the dam to return to its normal pool elevation.

Fees and Reservations

Two picnic shelters are available at Edward MacDowell Lake that may be reserved for a fee:

Lake Overlook, Shelter #2 (SH2)*:

  • Weekend /  Holiday Reservation Fee:  $60/day.
  • Weekday Reservation Fee:  $30/day.
  • Capacity:  80 - 100 people
  • Accessible to persons with disabilities
  • Amenities:  Cooking grills, water, restroom, horseshoe pits, volleyball court nearby, ample parking
  • Beautiful view of reservoir and Skatutakee Mountain Range
*Please note that electricity is no longer available


Dam Overlook, Shelter #1 (SH1):

  • Weekend / Holiday Reservation Fee:   $40.00
  • Weekday Reservation Fee:  $20.00
  • Capacity:  35 - 40 people
  • Amenities:  Cooking grills, water, restroom, ample parking
  • Views of Dam and Nubanusit Brook


Note: Shelter reservations are made through the National Recreation Reservation Service at 1-877-444-6777 or online at www.recreation.gov.

Interpretive Programs

A special program can be one that the Park Ranger has prepared, such as Water Safety, the Water Cycle, The History of the Corps of Engineers, Flood Control or Junior Project Manager. Rangers can also prepare a program that deals with the Corps of Engineers and it's missions, water resources or natural resources and tailor it to your needs. Our Rangers can set up a program for your group to visit the Dam or you can take advantage of our Rangers coming to your school or group for these programs. Please call or email to schedule a program for your school or group.

Interpretive Programs are also offered every weekend throughout the recreation season.

Natural Resources

Corps Rangers are responsible for the management of the natural resources at Edward MacDowell Lake. Ecosystem management techniques are applied to promote a healthy forest, enhance wildlife habitat and provide outdoor recreational opportunities for future generations.

Forest management practices include thinning, pruning, selective cutting, and planting of trees to improve timber quality. Pine, birch, poplar, maple, oak, beech, hemlock, and alder are some of the common trees found in this area.

Wildlife management helps to insure food, cover, and nesting habitat for a variety of species. Whitetail deer, moose, beaver, fisher, muskrat, otter, and many other mammals make their homes around the lake. Bird watchers may observe many species including osprey, hawks, owls, great blue herons, woodpeckers, waterfowl, and songbirds.


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Edward MacDowell Lake
75 Wilder Street
Peterborough, NH 03458
Phone: (603) 924-3431
Fax: (603) 924-6172
Edward MacDowell Lake Directions