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You don't have to be "Mountain Family Robinson" to enjoy New Hampshire's great outdoors. Adventures in the scenic White Mountains can be as rugged -- or laid back -- as you like.
There's hiking, biking, river paddling, and trekking up Mt. Washington, the granddaddy of the Presidential Range. And when little feet need a break, head to Santa's Village, Story Land, or any number of local theme parks sure to keep spirits soaring.
The first order of business? Checking out the amazing view from atop Mt. Washington, the northeast's highest peak (6,288 feet). On a clear day, you can see the Atlantic, the Adirondacks in upstate New York, and the Canadian province of Quebec. There are four ways to get to the summit. Pick the one that matches your family's stamina and attention span:
Climbing to the top of Mt. Washington is by no means the only hiking adventure in town.The White Mountains National Forest has more than 1,200 miles of trails, 350 of which are maintained by the AMC. Several family-friendly routes start at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, where the AMC offers nature talks, adventure programs, and workshops on family hiking, backpacking, and camping basics. Here are a few of the easiest trails:
You don't have to be an "extreme" athlete to mountain bike here. The "Green Trails" at Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center (at the base of Mt. Washington) are ideal for families -- smooth, wide, and not too hilly. Nearly 25 miles of scenic trails (ski trails in winter) loop through fields, woodlands, beaver bogs, and streams. Mt. Washington and the Presidential Mountain Range are almost always in view, too. Lessons and mountain bike rentals are available.
Need some lolling-around time? Head for the crystal-clear, shallow waters of the Saco River. This wide, calm, sandy-bottom river has dozens of places to stop for picnic lunches and refreshing swims. It's also a great place for canoeing and kayaking. Saco Bound's 7-mile day trip works well for most families -- not too long, not too short, and all the paddling is downstream.
Okay, as awesome as your days in the "wilderness" may be, at some point, someone's going to want to switch gears. That's when the theme parks and family attractions come in handy. Most of the following popular attractions are located in Mt. Washington Valley, less than 20 minutes from North Conway, the area's tourist town:
If the little ones can visit theme parks, why can't the grownups go outlet shopping? Between the Settlers' Green Outlet Village Plus and three Tanger Factory Outlet Centers, there are more than 75 nationally recognized off-price stores in North Conway. Happy bargain hunting!
Type of trip: Outdoor adventure, theme parks, shopping
Best ages: 8 and up for challenging outdoor fun; 4 and up if nature trails and theme parks are more your family's speed
Ideal trip length: 4-5 days
Distance: Portland, Maine (70 miles); Boston (150 miles); Hartford (235 miles); New York City (325 miles)
Best time to go: June, July, and August for warmest weather and attractions in full operation. Stay away in May -- it's black fly season. For the best leaf-peeping, go in September and October.
Weather: 76/55 degrees June through August. Temperatures at the summits are 20-30 degrees cooler than in the valleys. Always pack sweatshirts and windbreakers. Mt. Washington is known for extreme weather. Check forecasts before heading up for a hike, drive, or train ride.
Lodging: Mt. Washington Valley has campgrounds, inns, B&Bs, motor inns, lodges, and resorts.
Squirm Factor: Some
Mt. Washington Auto Road at Great Glen Route 16, Pinkham Notch in the town of Gorham Phone: 603-466-3988
Mt. Washington Cog Railway Route 302, Bretton Woods Phone: 603-278-5404
Mt. Washington Summit Museum Mt. Washington summit Phone: 603-466-3388
Appalachian Mountain Club Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, Route 16, Gorham Phone: 603-466-2721
Great Glen Outdoor Center Route 16, Gorham Phone: 603-466-2333
Saco Bound on the Saco River Route 302, Center Conway Phone: 603-447-2177 Canoes are for two people. Kayaks are for one person. A family of four needs two canoes.
Story Land Route 15, Glen Phone: 603-383-4186
Santa's Village Route 2, Jefferson Phone: 603-586-4445
Attitash Bear Peak Route 302, Bartlett Phone: 603-374-2368
Heritage New Hampshire Route 16, Glen Phone: 603-383-4186
Weather Discovery Center North Village Commons, 2936 Main St. (Route 16), North Conway Phone: 603-356-2137
Settlers Green Outlet Village Plus Route 16, North Conway Phone: 603-356-7031
Tanger Factory Outlet Centers Three locations on Route 16, North Conway Phone: 207-439-6822
Contact: Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce Phone: 800-367-3364
Conway Village Area Chamber of Commerce Phone: 603-447-2639
White Mountain National Forest Phone: 603-528-8721
New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development Phone: 800-386-4664
Favorite local spot: The Trading Post AMC's Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, Route 16, Gorham Phone: 603-466-2721 This rustic dining hall serves up hearty family-style suppers (buffet on Fridays) and soup-salad-and-sandwich buffet lunches. Try the popovers and double-chocolate brownies. Meals are served at specific times of day. Call ahead for menu and time.
Local foods: Rainbow trout, maple candy, and bumbleberry pie.
Best souvenir: A souvenir photo of you and the kids riding in Cinderella's coach at Story Land. A junior ranger patch for kids completing the Appalachian Mountain Club's junior ranger program -- can only be earned, never bought.
Traffic alert: Route 16 between Conway and North Conway is the area's primary north-south road -- with all the outlet shops, restaurants, hotels, and attractions -- and can get quite snarly. Be prepared for stops and starts. The only bypass is West Side Road in Conway to River Road and back onto Route 16 or Route 302 further north. This 10-minute detour can save you 30 minutes in traffic.
If you plan to drive up the Mt. Washington Auto Road, use low gear both ways. Get your car's overall condition checked, especially the brakes, before you go.Seasonal events:
Mount Washington Valley Band Concerts North Conway Village gazebo, Sundays at 6:30, July through Labor Day Phone: 603-447-2639
Mt. Washington Auto Road Birthday August Phone: 603-466-3988
Mt. Washington Auto Road Bike Climb August Phone: 603-447-6991
Don't miss two of New Hampshire's most famous "natural wonder" landmarks, located in Franconia Notch State Park:
Getting to Franconia Notch from Conway is part of the fun. Take the Kankamagus Highway, a 35-mile-long scenic drive that cuts right through White Mountains National Forest and the 2,860-foot Kankamagus Pass. Mountains and forests surround you. Stop and say "wow" at any of the scenic overlooks.
Once you get to Franconia Notch State Park, consider another fun ride, this time on the Cannon Mountain Tramway. You'll get a grand and glorious view of 4,180-foot Mt. Cannon. Franconia Notch Parkway off I-93, 603-823-8800.
Reviewed April 2004.