Why the New Hampshire White Mountains Is Like an Over-Stuffed Cookie Jar...
A popular playground and vacation spot for over a hundred years, the White Mountains is unlimited fun and enjoyment for everybody, as you’ll discover in this guide.
Ready to try a few cookies from that jar with me?
The White Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain system that covers the Eastern United States.
But even though the national forest area is popular, it’s big enough you’ll still find solitude, and your own spot to enjoy.
There’s just no shortage of things to do and see in the White Mountains.
In fact my challenge is keeping this short enough so you can read it in a few minutes, yet appreciate it’s just a few crumbs from an over-stuffed cookie jar.
Let’s get going then…
But first, if you’re going to explore the White Mountains with me then there’s some native lingo you just gotta know, and it’ll take only a few seconds to explain…
What's a New Hampshire Notch?
As the settlers moved inland from the coast, they discovered in the mountains, openings or narrow passages, shaped like the notches in the logs of their cabins.
Since those early days, the term Notch has been used in New Hampshire – and other parts of New England – where first trails, then roads, passed through narrow openings in the mountains.
In other mountainous parts of the U.S. these same notches are called a “pass” or “gap.” Three of the most well known notches in the White Mountains are Crawford Notch, Franconia Notch, and Pinkham Notch.
Okay, that’s enough about notches. How do you get to them, or the White Mountains that is?
The White Mountain National Forest is about 150 miles north of Boston, or 230 miles north of Providence, R.I. If you arrive at Manchester, N.H. to begin your trip, then you can be in the heart of the mountain area within 2 hours of picking up your rental car.
And here’s a real neat way to get orientated…
A trip along New England’s most scenic 100 miles…
One of the best ways of getting acclimatized to the area is the White Mountains Trail. It’s touted – and rightly so – as one of New England’s most scenic 100 miles.
Here’s what it looks like on paper…
You can drive the trail in a day.
And then spend the rest of your vacation exploring the attractions and areas that interested you the most as you went by them. Sort of like doing a city bus tour and going back to the places you wanted to spend more time.
Most people begin the drive from the White Mountains Visitor Center in North Woodstock on route 112 and head out on route 3N to the Franconia Notch area.
If you’re traveling with kids then you’ll want to pencil dates back in this area at the Clark’s Trading Post, and The Whale’s Tale attractions – both in Lincoln on route 3N.
At Clark’s you can see Bears, ride a steam train, climb towers, and generally keep the young ones happy. The Whale’s Tale is a water park, which my kids all love. It seems all I’ve got to do is put my kids near water and they’re just happy all day long.
The park has a wave pool, picnic areas, changing areas, and live entertainment.
If your kids have too much energy after the touring and scenic stuff, then these are perfect places to take them so they can scream and shout and not make you embarrassed.
Yeh, I know the feeling.
But back on the road towards Franconia Notch…
This is a good stretch of road to have your camera at the ready. I can’t list all the stops you can make, but I’ll mention just two of my favorites in this area of the White Mountains.
The Flume Gorge was formed over 200 million years ago when the White Mountains were molten rock.
It just so happens in this area when it cooled quickly, softer material was forced into the fractures that formed.
These fractures wore down with natural erosion much quicker that the surrounding granite rock – leaving the gorge.
And so now you get to enjoy a geological wonder at the base of beautiful Mount Liberty.
The Gorge has a visitor center where your tour starts and ends. And don’t forget to check out the covered bridge which crosses the Pemigewasset River – it’s one of the oldest in the New Hampshire White Mountains region.
Now for something a little – em, different?
Here’s a famous historic attraction you can’t see anymore...
You’re probably thinking why would I mention something you can’t see anymore? Well, the truth is… you can see some of it… but you’ll have to imagine the rest.
The Old Man of the Mountain was a jagged rock profile formed over 10,000 years ago during the last Ice Age.
On May 3, 2003, admirers of the White Mountains region around the world were devastated, when this world famous monument to nature crumbled and crashed to the bottom of Cannon Mountain.
How could this be everybody asked? Aren’t rocks and mountains… forever?
Well, this incident proves they aren’t.
Despite years of gargantuan efforts by many people to preserve it, centuries of the harsh winter climate found in the White Mountains, finally took its toll.
It’s worth a stop as you journey on the White Mountains Trail to look and wonder at what once was.
To me it’s a reminder that nature doesn’t play favorites – and like the Grand Canyon one day – everything has its brief moment in history… and then disappears.
Moving right along and still on route 3 you head towards…
The roof of the New Hampshire White Mountains...
Well, now we’re approaching the roof of the White Mountain National Forest, and an area you’ll want to come back and plan to explore, to get the most out of it.
When you do then I recommend as your guide, you take one of the mountain sky rides or hikes, that offer breathtaking views of the presidential range, and it’s many 4,000 foot and 5,000 foot plus mountains.
Here’s some of what you’ll see…
And of course the majestic roof top itself of Mount Washington at 6,288 feet. Read on to discover how to learn more about this amazing mountain.
You can get gorgeous views of the White Mountains by taking Gondola’s and Aerial Tramways. If I were you, and had a week for vacation, I’d plan to do both of the following sky rides…
The Cannon 80-passenger Aerial Tramway takes you above timberline to the 4,200-foot summit of Cannon Mountain. The area has walking paths, the “Old Man of the Mountain” and the New England Ski Museums… and you can swim and picnic at Echo Lake.
The Wildcat Mountain Gondola offers my favorite views of Mount Washington, and this area of the White Mountains. During the ride you can peer into world-famous Tuckerman ravine, and then at the top enjoy a picnic, do a spot of trout fishing, and walk along part of the Appalachian Trail.
They’re always holding special events and programs on the mountain throughout the summer and fall months. Oh, and did I mention you can get ice cream at the restaurant there as well?
Wildcat is at Pinkham Notch on route 16. Take route 302 through Bretton Woods and Bartlett and pick up route 16 at Glen.
Now it’s time to head towards North Conway back on route 302S, and one of my favorite towns in the White Mountains…
But wait a minute? Didn’t I just scoot pass one of the biggest attractions of the New Hampshire White Mountains?
Aren’t I going to say anything about Mount Washington?
Well, yes I will. But not here, because there’s just too much to cover. So I wrote a special article on Mount Washington. To go check out now my special Mount Washington page.
But stay with me just a little longer on the White Mountains Trail as we enter North Conway and serve you up a real treat.
Here's another great way to see The White Mountains...
If you’re looking for a town to stay and use as a base for the White Mountain area then the town of North Conway is a great choice.
And here’s just one reason why…
Schedule enough time to take the scenic train, which you board in North Conway. The station is an authentic Victorian style – so you can’t miss it in the town center.
The train rides are rambles and chugs along the scenic valleys and Notches in the surrounding area.
And as you wind through the rolling valleys and squeeze through the Notches under the gentle clatter of steel against steel, consider that once this was the main form of transportation to the area, from Boston.
Most of the trains they run are diesel locomotives now, but on special weekends and during fall they use their popular steam locomotive.
The valley train is a 55-minute roundtrip, and the Notch train is 5 hours. Both have a first-class car if you want to have a different experience. The notch train has a dome car as well, where you get magnificent views of the steep ravines and sheer bluffs.
I’m not sure my kids have the patience for a 5-hour train ride so we’ve always taken the shorter excursion. But as I love trains – especially steam trains – one day…
The trains usually run from mid-June until mid-October.
These scenic trains are very popular throughout the season and they accept advanced reservations for the notch train and dinning cars on both trains.
If you decide to do the longer notch excursion then you’re strongly recommended to reserve to avoid disappointment.
Writing all this stuff about trains has got me excited. I can’t wait to get up to North Conway, and board that train again!
This area of the White Mountains also has plenty for the kids to do.
Story Land and Heritage-New Hampshire, are right next to each other on route 16 in Glen – hey, you probably saw it on your way to Wildcat!
You and the kids will enjoy themed rides, live shows, play areas, and meeting storyboard characters.
It’s another one of those days for the kids to release that pent up energy accumulated during all that ooohing and arhhhhing of the scenic lookouts.
And if you’re willing to travel a bit further north to the Jefferson area on route 2, then there’s Santa’s Village and Six Gun City. Both these places cater for kids with water parks, rides, and shows.
Let’s finish up our White Mountains Trail tour by joining back up with route 112 at Conway and driving back to the White Mountains Visitor Center.
This part of the trail is known as the Kancamagus highway. There are just numerous photo shoot opportunities along this highway. In fact, your challenge is having enough daylight left in this trip so you can take pictures.
But you can always come back tomorrow, right?
No prizes for doing and seeing everything in one day. You are booking for at least a week… aren’t you?
White Mountains Lodging:
The White Mountains extend over a large area and the accommodation ranges from budget hotel and inns in the mountain towns to world-class mountain resorts such as the Mount Washington Hotel and The Balsams further north.
To discover where to stay deals, and compare rates and amenities with a trusted and professional travel organization then Use the resource below to find a place best for you:
For Bretton Woods lodging and accommodations click here.
For Jackson lodging and accommodations click here.
For Lincoln lodging and accommodations click here.
For Littleton lodging and accommodations click here.