Pack up the little ones for one of New England's best kept secrets, the White Mountains.
This four-season vacation destination, described as the area between the central Lakes Region of New Hampshire and the Canadian border, offers a wide variety of activities for all ages and desires. From canoeing, hiking, golfing, rock climbing, biking, summer theater and a myriad of swimming spots to some of the best outlet shopping around and a wealth of family attractions, you’ll find it in the “Whites.”
Some of the most popular attractions of the White Mountains area are parks such as the Franconia Notch State Park (located on I-93, Franconia/Lincoln 03580, 603/745-8391) and Mt. Washington State Park (Off Route 16 at Pinkham Notch & Rte 302 north Crawford Notch 03589, 603/466-3347) as well as the White Mountain National Forest (719 N Main Street, Laconia 03246, 603/528-8721). Be sure to take the trail through the Flume Gorge (I-93 at exit 34A ) a spectacular natural chasm with covered bridges, waterfalls, and a scenic pool. The Visitor Center is on Route 3 in Franconia Notch.
Located nearby on I-93 is the Cannon Aerial Tramway (I-93 at exit 34B, 603/823-8800 ) which carries 80 passengers to the 4,200-foot summit for some outstanding views. Bike or stroll the eight-mile recreation path (rental bikes are available). Picnic, swim, and paddle on Echo Lake (Route 302, Conway 03818, 603/356-2672).
In summer, Mt. Washington State Park offers two choices of getting to the summit for its spectacular views above treeline. The old-fashioned way to the top is via the Mt. Washington Cog Railway (Base Road
Six miles off Route 302, Bretton Woods 03575, 800/922-8825) located off Route 302 in Bretton Woods. The three-hour round trip is made aboard an authentic coal-fired steam train that climbs one of the steepest tracks in the world. The other choice of ascent is the Mt. Washington Auto Road (Route 16 in Gorham, Pinkham Notch 03581, 603/466-3988). Drive your own car (a free audio tour on cassette or CD is included) or take the 1½-hour guided tour in an Auto Road van.
The Great Outdoors
Hiking and sightseeing are two of the main warm weather activities in the area. Trail maps and guide pamphlets are available at the various visitor centers. In addition, the area offers canoeing, white water rafting, kayaking, and biking. The most popular location for canoeing and rafting is the Saco River. Two outfitters that can supply equipment rentals, shuttle transportation and information or guides are Northern Extremes (Dunkin Donuts Plaza Route 16 & 302 North Conway 03860, 877/722-6748) in Uptown Glen, and Great Glen Trails (Route 16, Pinkham Notch 03581, 603/466-2333) on Route 16 in Gorham. Mountain biking, particularly on some of the many ski areas’ trail systems, is very popular. Bike rentals are available at such popular ski and snowboard areas as Attitash Bear Peak, Cranmore, Loon and Waterville Valley; in summer, chairlifts are open to help bikers uphill.
After all this strenuous activity your family will certainly want to relax and enjoy some swimming in the great outdoors. Here are some of the best swimming spots in the area: Lower Falls, near the eastern end of the Kancamagus Highway, which happens to be a federally-designated “National Scenic Byway” and one of the most scenic drives in the region; also on the Kanc, Frog Rock, a half-mile west of the Loon Mountain billboard on the east end.
Along Route 302 is Lower Falls on the Ammonoosuc River, just west of cherry Mt. Road: turn right, park and walk 500 feet to the falls. In the North Conway area are First Bridge and Diana’s Baths on West Side Road and Jackson Falls in Jackson. Each of these areas offers “natural” swimming spots of the different streams and rivers. There’s nothing like cooling off in the fresh mountain water under one of the many cascades and waterfalls. These are also perfect spots for picnicking.
The White Mountains are known for some great trout fishing in the clear, cold waters. Especially notable are the Swift River along the Kancamagus Highway, the East and West Branch of the Pemigewasset River, the Saco River, the Ellis and Wildcat Rivers, and the Ammonoosuc River.
More Fun for the Family
Despite the beauty of the many natural sites in the White Mountains, the kids are probably going to ask for some “fun” activities as well and there are plenty of attractions to choose from. Railroad buffs will enjoy the train rides offered by the Conway Scenic Railroad (Rt. 16, North Conway 03860, 800/232-5251) reminiscent of the Golden Age of railroading.
The whole family can have fun on the water slides, alpine slide, and climbing wall at Attitash Bear Peak (Route 302 Bartlett, 03812, 800/223-SNOW). Or visit the Fields of Attitash to take a guided horseback ride.
Other popular family attractions, especially fun for toddlers, include Whale’s Tale Waterpark (481 Daniel Webster Highway Lincoln 03251, 888/391-4222), Santa’s Village (528 Presidential Hwy, Jefferson 03583, 603/586-4445), Six Gun City & Fort Splash (1492 Presidential Highway on Rte. 2, 603/586-4592) and Story Land (Route 16 Glen 03838, 603/383-4186).
If golf is your game, then you won’t be disappointed. There are more than 20 courses throughout the White Mountain Region and most of them offer spectacular mountain scenery. Four courses within an hour’s drive of North Conway can challenge your skills. Eagle Mountain (Carter Notch Road, Jackson 03846, 800/966-5779) and Wentworth Golf Clubs (Route 16A Jackson 03846, 603/383-9641) in Jackson, Hale’s Location Country Club (86 Fairway Dr Hales Location, 03860, 603/356-2140) in North Conway, and the Mount Washington Golf Resort (Route 302, Bretton Woods 03575, 800/314-1752) in Bretton Woods offer some of the best mountain golfing in the country.
If the weather should turn bad, there are some great shopping opportunities in North Conway. Over 200 tax-free outlet shops await the bargain hunters. And if you’re a skier, the American Skiing Company conducts a huge tent sale, usually held in early August. Other rainy day activities include visits to the New England Ski Museum (Exit 34B, I-93/Franconia Notch Parkway 03580, 603/823-7177) in Franconia Notch and the Loon Center (183 Lees Mill Rd, Moultonborough 03254, 603/476-5666).
Where to stay can be an intriguing decision. From the grand elegance of the Mt. Washington Hotel (Route 302, Bretton Woods 03575, 800/314-1752), to the coziness of country inns and B&B’s, to the economy of the roadside motel, the choices are endless. One of the two places we tried was the Grand Summit Hotel (Route 302 Bartlett 03812, 888/554-1900) at Attitash Bear Peak, an upscale hotel at this ski resort’s base designed to bring back the grandeur of mountain hotels popular in the early 1900’s.
For a truly wonderful family vacation that emphasizes togetherness, try the Purity Spring Resort (1251 Eaton Road Rt. 153 Madison 03849, 800367-8897) in East Madison. For nearly a century the Hoyt family has maintained an atmosphere of tradition for families who return here year after year. More than two-thirds of the resort’s guests are repeats visitors and the atmosphere at the resort is so friendly that everyone feels like family.
Purity Spring Resort offers over 1000 acres and is accented by the 150-acre Purity Lake, one of the cleanest in the mountains. There is so much to do at the resort itself – water skiing, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, tennis, and a variety of planned and supervised activities, such as steak and lobster and breakfast cook-outs and off-resort activities – that you may never want to leave the resort to enjoy the White Mountains. Yet the resort is located just a short drive south of Conway and is in an excellent location to visit all the attractions of the White Mountain Region.
If you enjoy good food, then Purity Spring is a great choice. The food is simply the best home-style eating we have come across in any resort. The friendly atmosphere is best witnessed after dinner, when many guests will take coffee on the front porch and chat well into the evening.
For more information, contact www.VisitWhiteMountains.com (800/FIND-MTS) for a free travel guide and online information. Additionally, contact New Hampshire Division of Parks and Recreation for a wealth of information on recreational activities in the area.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.