A Tourist Guide to New Hampshire’s Eastern White Mountains
1. Appalachian Mountains:
Stretching almost 2,000 miles from Newfoundland, in Canada, to Alabama, in the US, the Appalachian Mountains-or the eastern counterpart to Rockies in the west-form a natural barrier between North America’s coastal plain and its interior lowlands. Subdivided into three northern, central, and southern physiographic regions, they encompass numerous ranges.
Consisting of metamorphic rock formed by catastrophic eruptions, intense heat, and crushing pressure during the Precambrian Period of between 1.1 billion and 540 million years ago, the Appalachians constitute some of the planet’s oldest mountains. Rising during terrestrial crust upheavals at the end of the Paleozoic Era (about 250 million years ago), they were formed when interior crumbling of inconceivable proportions exerted strains on subterranean rock, which then buckled, folded, faulted, and cracked, before being counteracted by uplifting-sometimes into parallel ridges. Secondary shaping and chiseling, by water, ice, and weather over the millennia, produced valleys and ravines, at a time when plants and most animal species had yet to exist.
When the earth’s forces had subsided, they had left the highest peak, of 6,684 feet, in today’s North Carolina in the form of Mount Mitchell.
2. White Mountains:
New Hampshire had hardly been neglected when it came to elevation superlatives. Indeed, its own section of the Appalachian chain, the White Mountains, poked the sky with 48 peaks considered “four thousand footers,” several at least 5,000 feet in height, and the crown of its kingdom, 6,288-foot Mount Washington, the tallest peak in all of the northeast.
Glaciation had formed deep mountain passes named “notches” by early settlers because they resembled the shapes they had made in wood with axes, while cirques had produced the heads of ravines, such as Mount Washington’s Tuckerman and Mount Adam’s King ravines.
Man had also had a hand-and sometimes a detrimental one-in the shaping of New Hampshire’s section of the Appalachians. Striped of their arboreal fashion by the logging concerns that had purchased most of the land and then reduced it to shreds with the 1,832 area sawmills before being hauled away by railroads, they were left bare until the Weeks Act was signed into law and permitted the 1914 reacquisition of the original 7,000 acres.
Subsequent purchases, coupled with logging prohibitions in designated wilderness areas, ensured the establishment of 800,000-acre White Mountain National Forest, which today totes the slogan, “Land of many uses.”
Prominent in the state is its Presidential Range, whose peaks, as their name implies, are named after presidents and other prominent Americans.
Its abundant wildlife ranges from deer to mouse, black bears, bobcats, gray fox, coyotes, beaver, porcupines, raccoons, and 184 species of birds, including Peregrine falcons.
Although its protected status restricts its use, this limitation does not apply to its enjoyment, whose opportunities are plentiful and vary according to the season.
Abundant snowfalls re-dimension the landscape into pristine postcards and sports paradises during the winter, for instance, luring sightseers, tourists, athletes, and enthusiasts, as the mountains lend their sides and summits to world class resorts that facilitate a range of activities, including alpine and cross country skiing, snow boarding, snow tubing, snow shoeing, ice skating, snowmobiling, sleigh riding, ice fishing, dog sledding, and even frozen waterfall climbing.
Ablaze with color, the region becomes a never-ending canvas of Impressionism paintings in the autumn, becoming a magnet for photographers, leaf peepers, and naturalists. Color peeking depends upon time, elevation, and tree type. Red maples, for example, pinnacle at low elevations in mid-September, while beech, sugar maples, and birches reach this level a month later below 2,000 feet. This peak occurs earlier, at the beginning of October, between 2,000 and 3,500 feet, and yellow birch, mountain maple, and mountain ash glow with color intensity in mid-September between 3,500 and 5,500 feet.
However, the area’s peaks reach their greatest heights during the summer tourist season when its some two dozen sights provide natural scenery, links to its railroad past, family-oriented theme parks, and outdoor activities.
New Hampshire’s White Mountains, located in the northern portion of the state, are easily accessible, with Route 16, Interstate 93, and Route 3 providing north-south travel, and Routes 2, 302, and 112 slicing the area in an easterly-westerly direction.
4. White Mountain Sights:
A. On Route 2:
Santa’s Village, located in Jefferson, New Hampshire, and open from May to December, is a Christmas-themed park and allows children to visit the bearded man in the red suit in July, feed his reindeer, and enjoy 19 different rides and activities, including antique cars, a yule log flume, a flying sleigh, a Jingle Bells Express train, a roller coaster, and a waterpark. Live, 3-D shows are presented in the Polar Theater, and the Burgermeister Food Court offers an array of items for lunch, including the opportunity to decorate gingerbread cookies.
Single-, two-day, and season passes permit unlimited use of the park’s rides, shows, and attractions.
Six Gun City and Fort Splash is another family-oriented theme park in Jefferson accessed by Route 2, but with a western focus. Open between May and September, it enables its visitors to “ride, slide, and play all day” on attractions that include go-carts, laser tag, water slides, bumper boats, sawmill rides, mechanical stage coaches, log boats, and a Gold Rush Runaway Train.
Kids can earn a deputy badge from the sheriff or step over to the other side of the law and have their pictures adorn wanted posters.
A transportation museum exhibits more than a hundred antique carriages and sleighs, including the oldest Concord Coach.
Children can down doubles (of soda) at the Six Gun Saloon or have lunch at Grabby’s Grub House, and cowboy-related clothes and gifts can be purchased at the Trading Post and in the General Store.
The Fort Jefferson Campground, with its own swimming pool, offers 100 sites, from tenting to full hookups.
B. On Route 302:
Challenging mankind to surmount its imposing, 6,288-foot peak, and counting Darby Field as the first to have successfully done so when he had climbed to the top in 1652 with the aid of two Indian guides, Mount Washington has never ceased to entice people to duplicate his success. However, the present-day tourist can do so far easier, quicker, and more comfortably with the Mount Washington Cog Railway.
When Sylvester Marsh, a Compton, New Hampshire native and Chicago meat-packing businessman had followed in Field’s footsteps some two hundred years later and became entrapped on the mountain by a life-threatening snowstorm, he vowed to devise a method which would eliminate the ascent’s inherent dangers and make it accessible to anyone.
Securing a charter for a mountain-climbing railroad, whose concept was initially met with laughter by the New Hampshire Legislature and accompanied by the now-famous words that he “might as well build a railway to the moon,” he invented technology that incorporated a small, geared, below-locomotive cogwheel that meshed with the rungs installed between a tiny track and permitted the engine to pull itself up inclines as steep as 37.41-percent.
Successfully reaching its lofty goal and elevation in 1869, it has been running ever since. A National Historic Landmark, it is the world’s second steepest rail system and the oldest still-operating one.
Accessed by the six-mile base road next to Fabyan’s Station from Route 302, the Mount Washington Cog Railway offers three-hour round-trips from its own Marshfield Station to the summit by both steam and bio-diesel locomotives between May and October and one-hour halfway trips in November and December. All trains consist of a pushing engine and a single passenger coach.
Aside from featuring a ticketing office; a self-service restaurant, Catalano’s at the Cog; and a gift shop, the station itself offers a glimpse into early cog railroad technology through its Cog Museum and outside displays, which include the first locomotive to climb the mountain.
Views from the rocky, windswept moonscape summit encompass the northern Presidential Range peaks, and riders can visit the Sherman Adams Summit Building; the Mount Washington Observatory; the Tip-Top House, a National Historic Landmark; and the Summit Stage Office, where the world’s highest wind velocity-of 231 mph-was recorded.
A short distance from the Mount Washington Cog Railway’s base road on Route 302 in Bretton Woods is yet another namesaked attraction, the Mount Washington Resort.
Rising from the forest green, and always within the shadow of the mountain itself, this white facaded, red-roofed mega-mansion, one of the area’s original grand hotels, was constructed between 1900 and 1902 by Joseph Stickney, a New Hampshire native who had amassed his wealth in the coal mining industry and with the Pennsylvania Railroad, in Spanish Renaissance Revival style.
Built 250 Italian craftsmen, who applied meticulous detail to its woodwork and masonry, it featured a rare steel framework and innovative heating, electric powerplant, plumbing, and private telephone systems, along with its still-existent post office, transforming forest into luxury in the form of the grandest of the grand hotels.
Staffed by 350, it opened its doors on July 28, 1902, catering to wealthy guests from the northeast, celebrities, and dignitaries, including Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, Joan Crawford, Princess Margaret, and three US presidents, who all had area access by up to 50 daily trains that served three local stations.
In 1944, it hosted the Bretton Woods International Monetary Conference, during which delegates from 44 nations established the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, setting the gold standard at $35.00 and designating the US dollar as the backbone of international exchange.
In 1978, the hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places and nine years later was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of Interior.
Echoing its century-old elegance are its 900-foot verandah and “Great Hall” lobby, which features high ceilings and rocky fireplaces.
Other opulent era echoes sound in the form of afternoon teas in its Princess Room, five-star meals in the Dining Room, lighter fare in Stickney’s Restaurant, cocktails in the Rosebrook Bar, Verandah, or rock-formed Cave, operator-attended elevator, and hose-drawn carriage tours of the grounds, which are surrounded by the White Mountain peaks and Crawford Notch.
A 25,000-square-foot spa, with 13 treatment rooms, and two golf courses round out the amenities, the latter of which include the nine-hole, Mount Pleasant Course opened in 1895, and the 18-hole Mount Washington Course, which was restored to its 1915 Donald Ross design.
The equally Omni-owned Bretton Arms Inn is a bed-and-breakfast.
Across Route 302 from the Fabyan’s Station Restaurant is the Bretton Woods Ski Resort at Mount Rosebrook. It features 433 acres of skiing and snow boarding, 101 alpine trails, 100 kilometers of Nordic trails, four terrain parks, night skiing, and a canopy tour with ten ziplines, two sky bridges, and three rappel stations.
Other than skiing itself, winter activities include dog sledding, sleigh riding, snow tubing, ice skating, snow shoeing, and ice climbing, while summer sports include hiking, bicycling, swimming, fly fishing, tennis, and trail and carriage riding.
Dining options include Lucy Crawford’s Food Court and the Slopeside Restaurant in the base lodge and the Top O’ Quad Restaurant on the summit.
Further east on Route 302 is Crawford Notch State Park.
Discovered in 1771 when Timothy Nash, a Lancaster hunter, discovered a gap while tracking a moose over Cherry Mountain, its lands was promised to him by Governor John Wentworth if he could both ride a horse and construct a road through it-feats he ultimately achieved, despite significant topographical obstacles.
The area itself was named after the Crawford family, its first settlers. Establishing inns for travelers and forging the first path up Mount Washington, they conducted climbing expeditions.
Thwarting the area’s excessive deforestation, the state of New Hampshire acquired most of the local land in 1913, designating it a state park. Its 5,775-acre area now encompasses the mountain summits that border the Saco River Valley.
Aside from picnicking, fishing, and hiking, it offers two short, easy hiking trails: the half-mile Pond Loop Trail leads to views of the pond itself, while the one-mile round-trip Sam Willey Trail follows the Saco River. Extensions and separate paths lead to Rippley and Arethusa falls.
Even further east, but still on Route 302, is Attitash Mountain Resort, whose peak rises to 2,350 feet. Aside from the standard winter sports offerings, it opened its doors to summer activities in 1976 with a more than one-mile-long, chairlift-accessed slide imported from Germany that features rolling slopes and S-turns.
Progressively added attractions now include the rail-mounted, two-person cars plying the 2,280-foot Nor’Easter Mountain Coaster, with 360-degree loops; a climbing wall; a trampoline; water slides; mountain bike riding; horseback riding; and 1,700-foot scenic chairlift rides.
Day, afternoon, and single-ride adult and child tickets allow visitors to optimize their experience.
At the foothills of 2,050-foot Bear Peak is the Attitash Grand Summit Hotel and Crawford’s Restaurant, while the Attitash Mountain Village is located across Route 302.
C. On Route 16:
While the Cog Railway provides west side access to the mountain’s summit, the Mount Washington Auto Road offers an east side, self-drive alternative.
Tracing its origins to the originally-designated Mount Washington Carriage Road, which was the country’s first man-made tourist attraction when it opened on August 8, 1861, it allows motorists to “take the high road,” as it advertises itself, by accessing it from Route 16 in Pinkham Notch.
The Great Glen Lodge, located at its base, offers a restaurant, and the adjacent Douglas A. Philbrook Red Barn Museum, the last of the horse and hay barns that had been integral to the Carriage Road’s staging process, features a collection of restored wagons, carriages, stagecoaches, and automobiles which once followed the summit surmounting path.
The basic fee to enter the Auto Road includes the car, its driver, an audio or CD cassette tour, and the famed, “This car climbed Mt. Washington:” bumper sticker, and vehicles ascend from 1,543 to 6,288 feet, with an enroute elevation gain of between 594 and 880 feet per mile, while traversing the 7.6-mile road. They have access to the same summit views and historic buildings as their rail passenger counterparts.
A short distance from the Auto Road on Route 16 is Wildcat Mountain, itself a sister attraction to Attitash. Its 49 trails and glades, reached by the most powerful quad chairlift in New England, include the 2.75-mile Polcat Trail for beginners, the 2,112-foot, vertically dropping Lynx Trail for intermediates, and the Wildcat Trail for experts.
Summer activities include the Wildcat Mountain Express Skyride. Silently ascending to the 4,062-foot summit of Wildcat Mountain during their 15-minute journey, the four-person gondolas initially move among, and ultimately above, the tsunami-towering waves of green encompassing the White Mountains and Tuckerman Ravine, Lion Head, Raymond Cataract, Mount Washington, and Huntington Ravine amid distant, but still-visible, sugar-dusted spots and specks of peak-clinging snow, even in the summer.
Seeming to brush the erectly-standing evergreens, which resemble arboreal, forest-guarding sentinels, as they approach the top, they open their doors and emit olfactory onslaughts of pine, as if the rider had been deposited in his local nursery for his annual Christmas tree spree. The air, thin and pure, is some ten degrees cooler than it is at the base.
“You are standing on part of the Appalachian Trail,” a sign immediately advises, “designated by Congress as a National Scenic Trail in 1968.” Stretching more than 2,140 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin, Maine, it crosses 14 states, eight national forests, six national park areas, and numerous state lands.
The short walk to the summit’s other edge affords views of the eastern slope of the White Mountain National Forest and the Kearsarge North, South Doublehead, and Black Mountain silhouettes directly ahead. Toward the east, in the foreground, is the Wild River Valley, while a series of smaller, rounded mountains formed during the last glacial period are visible beyond this area, along the New Hampshire-Maine state line. Clear days enable the Atlantic Ocean, 90 miles away, to be glimpsed.
The Appalachian Trail traverses the Presidential Range, Mount Washington, and the Great Gulf Wilderness to the west. The Mahoosuc Range and the towns of Berlin and Gorham lurk in the north, and Jackson, Bartlett, and the Conways are in the south.
Wildcat Mountain’s four-person Zip Rider, suspended from a cable 70 feet above the ground, descends 2,100 feet over trails, treetops, and the Peabody River at a 12-percent grade and at speeds of up to 45 mph, an experience it describes as “a high-speed cable ride with a sudden, abrupt landing.”
Hiking on The Way of the Wildcat Trail affords views, via a branch off, of Thompson Falls, and fishing can be enjoyed on the Peabody River.
Packages include such features as the gondola ride, lunch at the Mountainside Café, disc golf, and accommodations at the Attitash Grand Summit Hotel.
Further south on Route 16 is the Appalachian Mountain Club. Founded in Boston by Edward Pickering and 33 other outdoor enthusiasts for the later-defined purpose of “promot(ing) the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of the Appalachian region,” it forged its first hiking trail in Tuckerman Ravine in 1879 and presently maintains more than 1,500 miles of them, along with huts and lodges, within the 12-chapter system that stretches from Maine to Washington, D.C. The organization, with 450 seasonal and full-time staff and 16,000 volunteers, has 100,000 members.
Its New Hampshire chapter, at the base of Mount Washington on the east side, has been a hub for hiking, climbing, skiing, and snowshoeing since the 1920s, and today maintains the Joe Dodge Lodge, a cafeteria, a gift shop, and eight mountain trail huts, and offers lectures, workshops, and outdoor skills instructions.
The Pnkham Notch Visitor center is also located here.
Story Land, another family-oriented theme park “where fairy tales come to life,” is located further south, a quarter of a mile from the junction of Routes 16 and 302 in Glen.
Kids are served a buffet of rides and activities, including antique cars, Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage, park plying chew-chew trains, Dr. Geyser’s Remarkable Raft Ride, a Polar Coaster, Bamboo Chutes, a Whirling Whale Ride, a Crab Crawl, Oceans of Fun, Turtle Twist, Splash Battle, and Cinderella’s Castle.
Its entertainment, as indicated by its colorful titles, is equally youth-oriented: Duke’s Dance Party, Funsation Celebration, The Story-Bops, A Fairy Tale Fiasco, the Royal Hanneford Circus, and the Farm Follies Show.
Drinks, snacks, and meals can be purchased in several venues, including the Food Fair, the Pixie Kitchen, and the Sunny Day Farmstand.
The town of North Conway, located further south on Route 16 (also known as White Mountain Highway), is the area’s most significant tourist base.
Chartered by Colonel Governor Benning Wentworth in 1765, it owes its rise to its geography, topography, and transportation access. Named after Henry Seymour Conway, a 20-year-odl Parliamentary elected official, it took root-literally-in the form of sprouting farms, like many other New England villages, after the American Revolution.
Linked to the outside world in 1872 when the Portsmouth, Great Falls, and Conway Railroad laid its tracks, it hosted the increasing number of tourists who were attracted to the area’s winter sports and mountain scenery, the latter frequently captured in White Mountain Art paintings.
So identifying itself with the activities its topography fostered, it became known as “the birthplace of skiing” in 1832 and the railroad deposited up to 5,000 passenger into the town on weekends by means of its “Snow Trains.”
Today, despite its compact size, it offers a number and range of services and amenities normally associated with a town triple its size. Accommodation, for example, varies from historic hostelries (such as the Stonehurst Manor and Inn, the 1785 Inn, and the Eastern Slope Inn) to familiar chains (such as the Holiday Inn Express and Marriott’s Residence Inn). Restaurants run the gambit from fast food to a Bavarian Chocolate Haus, an authentic Italian eatery, and dining rooms in the historic inns themselves. Shops are just as multi-faceted-from kitchy gift shops to bookstores, the Settlers’ Green Outlet Village, and the North Conway Mall. Other town offerings include art galleries, a community center with live performances, a Weather Discovery Center, a model railroad museum, and an historic railroad station.
It is from this station that visitors can step back-and ride into-the area’s rich rail past.
The North Conway Scenic Railroad Station, once a transportation link to the rest of the country and currently an architectural one to the past, was the town’s nucleus and center of citizens’ lives, locally accessed by horse-drawn carts and wagons. Constructed in 1874 for the Portsmouth, Great Falls, and Conway and designed by Nathaniel J. Bradlee-a Boston architect of considerable notoriety-it was intended to serve the growing resort community.
The imposing, dual-towered depot, whose grandeur represents that of then-typical stations, sports a 136-year-old, attic-installed, brass and iron E. Howard clock, which seems ignorant of the track clack suspension and continues to sweep its hands 360 degrees, 365 days of the year.
Its interior, flanked on either side by winding, wooden, tower-accessing staircases, reflects its golden age with an original ticket and telegraph office, complete with vintage instruments, a passenger waiting area/museum (once the Women’s Waiting Room), the Brass Whistle Gift Shop (the former Men’s Waiting room), and a storage area (then the baggage room). It stands as testament to the town’s railroad past and is one of the country’s few remaining original and complete depots.
The 85-foot-long, compressed air motor-driven turntable, enabling a locomotive to be turned either for track alignment or 180-degree reciprocal orientation, accesses the four-stall roundhouse whose sub-track pits facilitate maintenance, repair, and servicing. Its out-of-town workers often bunk in the wheel-less baggage car next to it.
Along with the depot and the roundhouse with its turntable, the Freight House, constructed in the 1870s as a processing point for draymen-inspected cargo documents, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It presently houses the North Conway Model Railroad Club.
The Conway Scenic Railroad’s fleet consists of 13 steam and diesel electric locomotives, more than 40 cars and coaches, seven privately owned cabooses, and three privately owned snow flangers.
It offers several day tourist trains during the summer season. “Valley trains,” for example, either operate the one-hour, 11-mile round-trip to Conway or the one-hour, 45-minute, 21-mile return to Bartlett, while “Notch trains” penetrate Crawford Notch and make the 50-mile, five-and-a-half-hour excursion to Crawford Depot and Fabyan Station. These services use either steam or diesel electric motive power and passengers can book coach, first class, or premium/dome accommodations with three-course meals.
As befitting a town which serves winter sports enthusiasts, it features a ski resort, Mount Cranmore, in its very backyard, only a mile from the Route 16 artery which slices it.
Long associated with a unique mountain-ascending system, it had featured a fleet of 192 metal, rubber wheeled, and cable-pulled skimobiles that had climbed Mount Cranmore on a dual-section wooden trestle. Designed by George Morton, of Bartlett, New Hampshire, it had transported skies and sightseers alike, and had been the oldest operating ski lift system in North America when it ceased operations in 1989 after 51 years of continuous service.
Today, Mount Cranmore features ten lifts; 13 beginner, 25 intermediate, and 16 expert trials; and 1,200-foot vertical drops. Non-skiing attractions include an indoor Adventure Zone in its Base Lodge; a giant swing; a 3,700-foot Mountain Coaster; terrain parks; a ropes course; a four-station bungee trampoline; mountain Segway tours; a descending, 700-foot-long, dual-person zipline; and scenic chairlift rides.