White Mountains, NH Review
A weekend trip in Northern New England to escape the city and get in touch with your green side. Cell phone addicts beware! Here's my review and report.
Overview Of The White Mountains
The White Mountains has been a vacation resort/getaway area since the early days of leisure. There's been a hotel at Mt. Washington since 1902. Something tells me the there were a lot less North Face jackets up there then, though. Now Mt. Washington, if you don't know, is the highest peak in the North East at more than 6,000 feet. I realize that's not exactly Mt. Everest, but for this old, glacier worn region of the world, that's pretty high!
The White Mountains region has two faces to it (it used to have three, with the Old Man in the Mountain, who has since fallen to it's demise; RIP friend) - the winter and the non-winter. Not surprisingly with all these mountains, it's a popular skiing resort area in the winter. Loon Mountain being one of them. Then, in the summer it comes alive. There are cabins and the usual American motels that you see in movies and around national parks, but also condo rentals now (these appear to be pretty new in terms of my experience up there) and houses to rent. Most importantly for me, it's a camping heaven.
And camping is what I did. I wasn't going to head all that way from Brooklyn to sit in a new condo near the woods. I was going to be IN the woods. And I was going to be loving it.
This is my White Mountains, NH weekend report and review.
What To Do In The White Mountains
Since we're focusing on the non-winter side of things, I'm going to tout the many benefits of this lovely region sans snow. Camping, and hiking galore. There are many classic campgrounds up here, and after living abroad for a few years, I got to realize that maybe (I can't speak for everywhere) the style of camping done here is very North American. Everyone gets a plot of land, can park their car there, has enough room for 2 or 3 tents, gets a full size picnic table, and of course a fire pit. A nice big one. This seemed to be lacking in Old England from what I could tell. It's what I grew up on however, and I want to cook on an open fire when I camp!
Beyond the camping bit, the White Mountains are loaded with hiking trails, and they come in all levels. From easy ones for the non experienced or kids, to the hard ones that the grizzled hiking veterans tackle. Further, this is one of the final stages of the Appalachian Trail as you near it's end in Maine, so you're going to find big sections of that glorious hiking trail here.
The best part about this, is that the trails are well maintained and well mapped out. You can find maps of the region's trails in books, apps, etc. I have a few recommendations for you, but also I'd recommend that you go out and Google a few guides, because there are some wonderful local websites cataloging all the trails, and giving great information about their levels of difficulty, etc.
For families or the casual woodland creature, I'd recommend heading to Flume Gorge, or taking the hike up to Franconia Falls from Lincoln Woods. The latter is one of my old favorites, and I take anyone here that's not really into major hikes. It's mostly flat, an old logging trail I think (or something of that nature) and its entirety is along the river. That bright mushroom was shot on this trail. At the end, is the old Franconia Falls area which is a magnificent grouping of rocks smoothed out by glaciers LONG ago. So smooth in fact, it's full of people using them as water slides in the summer.
If you're ready to do more of an actual hike up a mountain, I had targeted the Mt. Pemigewasset trail. A medium level hike that takes you up to a nice summit view of the surrounding area. However due to weather, we were not able to do this on the day we had free. Considering my habit for research, I feel like you'll not be disappointed with this one if you do it. The other one I've done a couple times in my life, is the Lonesome Lake Trail. A steep incline and a lot of switch-backs on this one reward you with a lovely hidden lake in a small mountain depression. It's really cool. There's a lodge up here for real hikers, to stop as they thru-hike. This one starts right in Lafayette Campground.
There are of course many more, too many to list. But, the grand-daddy of them all I'd say is hiking up Mt. Washington. I don't know if many people consider this trail to be THAT hard - but it's not for the inexperienced or out of shape that's for sure. Frankly, I'd say that for most real hikes. Mountain weather changes QUICKLY - and you don't want to be unprepared, or be foolish about the environment. So make sure you're sticking to the proper level for you. You can expect this hike to take 5 hours each way, so it's a long day. The top of the mountain has a rewarding view, and a visitors center and hiking lodge. It's worth a trip up, but this isn't the only way to get up there as you'll see next.
Now about those other ways to get to the top of ol' Mt. Washington? Well, there's a road for one. A lot of people make this trip. It's a great drive I hear for the non-faint of heart, and a bit nerve wracking for those that don't like tight, steep inclines. On the way down, it's also really hard on your breaks. So keep that in mind. Many a car has burned their breaks out on this road. I'm not kidding.
The other way to get up, and my recommended way, is the old Cog Railway! While this is without a doubt a touristy thing to do, it's one of those "for a reason" things. It's great. It's the first Cog railway in the world, and it's still going strong. There's a steam operated and bio-diesel train. It's a railway car, that has some magic machinery underneath that basically helps to pull it up the hill. It's a bit hokey, but I think it's worth it. I've been coming to the White Mountains my whole life, and never done it until I took my GF up this October. Was a really cool thing to do with someone not from New England. Very old-timey. It's 72.00 round trip, so keep that in mind if you have a family and there is a budget. I have to say, whether it's by feet, car, or railway, definitely go up Mt. Washington. The views are incredible and really worth it.
Now beyond these, there are many other things to do up here. There are all sorts of places set up for you to stop. There's the Cannon Mountain tram, there's a water park for the summer for the kids, and a lot of one-off stores to stop in along the way. I liked the Purple Tomato for some local produce (when in season) but also because they had a lot of local products in general. Things like honey, jams, fudge, etc. I like to pick up local honey whenever I wander, but stop in and see if there's something that piques your interest.
What To Eat In The White Mountains
I wouldn't consider this area to be a culinary destination, that's not most people's goal when they come up here. That said, there are still some good local spots to get certain fixes if you need. And of course, as with everywhere else, there's a Mickey D's if you are in a pinch. We were in Lincoln, so I'll focus here as it's one of the main developed areas. Also, don't eat the thing in this picture. It's not for eating. Thanks for making me say that, Internet.
We wanted to do our eating from our fire, so we cooked our first night and it was great. Stopped at the super market on the way up, got ingredients, and loaded up my travel cooler (REI collapsible cooler, it's amazing, by the way).
BUT - because when nature tripping you're always at the mercy of Mother Nature - we got rained out our second night. Luckily, there's an old stand by in town, Gordy's Steak and Fish Restaurant. This is one of those classic American (maybe even North Eastern) places with Italian, Steak, and Fish on the menu. We had some great calamari, my GF had some good spicy pasta, and I had the prime rib. All solid plates of food, in a great lodge-style setting. Another place we did not go, but was packed, was the Black Mtn. Burger Company. I'm not much into restaurant burgers, but if you are, this looks like a good place. Well reviewed and again, was heaving when we went past it.
Where To Stay The White Mountains
As noted in my intro, there are quite a few places to stay up here of the usual type. Rentals, motels, etc. But for me, I like to camp when I'm up here. I've got a few recommendations for campgrounds, and most of them now should have online reservations so you can reserve in advance to make sure your spot is safe. Gone are the days when you had to leave work a little early on Friday and hope to get up to the mountains in time to A) not have it be pitch black when you were building your tents and B) make sure you got a camp site! And really, this is a great thing. Reserve at the US Gov site, it's really easy. (www.recreation.gov)
As a home base, I targeted Lincoln, NH as it's kind of a halfway point to most areas up there, and is pretty well developed if needed. Now that means it's basically got a main road with everything on it, but it's there if you need it. I think this is a good area for you to focus.
This past time we stayed at Russell Pond Campground. It's directly in the White Mountains National Forest, and I have nothing but good things to say about it. The managers were nice to us, had firewood for sale, the sites were big, and the facilities were really nice. Keep in mind the showers here are pay only, but it's worth it! I found it also to be very quiet.
Another favorite of mine that I've stayed at more than once over the years, is Lafayette Campground. This has all the same you'd expect, though I don't recall if it's pay-only showers. Check before you go. This one has the benefit of also being the trail head for the Lonesome Lake hike. Lastly, Jigger Johnson is another site I used in my younger days when I'd go up with my friends (I used to live in NH).
If you're looking for high end, I'd recommend the RiverWalk Resort.
A luckily timed shot at Russell Pond - happened to wander down right at sunset.
Final Thoughts On My White Mountains Review
The truth is, this isn't a new wander for me. I'm from New England, as you might have read in one of my other pieces, and I've been coming to this area since I was a little kid. Though, the company changes over time. The good news is that there are still new things for me, even after all these years. Every region in the US has it's great camp sites, and everyone has their favorite areas. Well, this is mine. It's a wonderful part of the world to unwind, relax, and waste the night away with those close to you and a warm fire under the stars. Note to the tech addicted: Even today, cell phone coverage is spotty up here. In the National Forest itself, it's pretty much gone. So keep that in mind. Plan a stop or two if you need service to check work stuff, keep in touch with family, etc., as your campsite might not have reception.
Make your way up here. If you're lucky like us, you can even go in early October when the New England leaves are in full color! Just remember to bring some layers :). Happy wandering, everyone.
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