The White Mountains of New Hampshire

Eagle Mountain House and Golf Course, Jackson, NH Credit Tom Caughey

Winter, spring, summer or fall, the White Mountains of New Hampshire has something for everyone. Nearly 800,000 acres make up the White Mountain National Forest in the Northeast part of the state. The boundaries are roughly from the town of Berlin to the North, Franconia to the West, Conway to the East and the southern edge is Rumney. The White Mountains

All year round the area offers a multitude of outdoor activities as well as attractions and entertainment, plus the opportunity to admire the gorgeous vistas. When I was a youngster, my mom’s parents, Granny and Papa, would frequently pack us kids into the car during the summer months and travel up to the White Mountains. I think Papa really loved the Whites (which they are nicknamed) because it reminded him of his home country of Scotland. He was a professional soccer player and immigrated to America in 1920. Sixty million years ago Scotland was joined to America and Greenland, and it separated when the North Atlantic began to form. Hence, the White Mountain region looks amazingly similar to parts of Scotland. Papa must have felt right at home. 

Polar Caves Credit Polar Caves Park

My most recent trip to the Whites afforded me the opportunity to revisit childhood memories, as well as make new ones. I stopped by Polar Caves located in Rumney, which we always went to first on our trips. There are nine granite caves that were formed during the last ice age, plus they have an animal park. As a kid I loved this place and I remember my favorite cave to push through was called The Lemon Squeeze, when I was a fraction of the size I am today. Well, having returned to Polar Caves as an adult, I have now renamed the Lemon Squeeze, the MRI. Still, it’s a great attraction and perfect for kids up to the age of maybe 10. Polar Caves

 

Presidential Range from Snow Village Credit Carrie Steeves

Traveling north you quickly reach the White Mountains. Folklore says that in 1524 a seafaring explorer on the Atlantic glancing towards the New Hampshire mountain range off in the far distance named them the White Mountains due to their snowcapped peaks. 

The White Mountains make up the Presidential range, which include Mount Madison, Jefferson, Adams, Clay, Monroe, Eisenhower, and the highest peak Mount Washington. The Whites are also part of the Appalachian Trail, offering 89.5 miles of phenomenal and diverse hiking and camping opportunities. Suggested months to hike the trails are May through October. There are easier ways to explore the range, in particular, Mount Washington. In 1861 the Mount Washington Auto Road opened up to the public. The route travels 4,618 feet from the base and reaches the highest point in the Northeast at 6,288 feet above sea level. You’re welcome to drive the route yourself or join a guided tour. Another way to discover the Mountain is aboard the Cog Railroad. Offering stunning views and operating from May – Oct, the trip is totally safe and exhilarating, if not a bit nail-biting. The views are utterly breathtaking. From November 1 to December 31 there are shortened one-hour trips to the Waumbeck Station. Cog Railroad

Cog Railroad Credit Mt Washington

The Cog Railroad is a three-hour round-trip excursion to the summit of Mount Washington. The excursion offers you more than enough time to explore the State Park facilities up top and to absorb the magnificent mountaintop panoramas. At times you’ll think you’re on the moon, but it always feels majestic. Seasonal and weather-related restrictions apply so always check their website to see what’s happening.

Cog Railroad Credit Mt Washington

A must do for every trip I make to the White Mountains is to travel along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, which extends from the town of Conway in the east to Lincoln in the west. Running parallel and snuggling up to the highway is the Swift River. There are 5 scenic lookouts/stops you can make along the gorgeous drive. There are trails, waterfalls, watering holes, covered bridges, and much more to explore. On the west end of the Kancamagus in the town of Liberty is another iconic natural attraction, The Flume Gorge. The experience here is spectacular and includes waterfalls, a covered bridge, glacial pools, and an 800-foot gorge that extends from the base of Mount Liberty. It’s a two-mile trek and worth every step of the way. Just south of Liberty, for adults who enjoy their wine, there is the Seven Birches Winery at Loon Mountain. Seven Birches blends handcrafted classic European grape varietals with locally-sourced fruits to create their wines of distinction. It’s a full production commercial winery with a tasting room located within the grand new Riverwalk Resort at Loon Mountain. For beer lovers there is Tuckerman Brewing Co. Owners Kirsten Neves and Nik Stanciu opened Tuckerman Brewing Co. in 1998 and it is now one of the longest-running owner-operated breweries in the state. 

The Whites are also an incredible location for birdwatchers. All Trails offers a terrific list of best bird watching trails. And there’s also great info from Audubon. An avid birder, photographer, and Jackson Village local, Tom Caughey, is my oldest friend. I asked him if there are areas that he finds himself gravitating to, for bird watching. Birding

Goldfinch Credit Tom Caughey
Eastern Bluebird Credit Tom Caughey

“I enjoy searching for unusual birds like the Indigo Bunting, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, and migrating ducks. New Hampshire offers great opportunities for bird watching just off the road in marshes and small ponds.” This prompted me to ask, “You may not want to disclose this info, but are there parts of the National Forrest that only you know and love, far from the obvious tourist attractions?” “I am attracted to the rivers and streams in the mountain valleys. You can find many waterfalls not listed in the travel books just by studying the terrain. A change in elevation can be an indicator of a pretty falls and sometimes a great opportunity to swim au natural in remote pools. Although usually brisk!”

Ellis Falls Credit Tom Caughey

One such natural wonder that is in the guidebooks is Glen Ellis Falls. The 64-foot-high cascade is a perfect example of how beautiful the falls are in the White Mountain area. There are many villages that make up the region, each one offering a slightly different energy, but all are charming and unique. Jackson is in the heart of the White Mountain Valley and is well-known as one of the most scenic towns with some of the best vistas in the White Mountains. 

Ellis River Covered Bridge Credit Tom Caughey

You cross the famous Honeymoon Covered Bridge spanning the Ellis River when you enter Jackson. It’s referred to as the Honeymoon Bridge because of an early tradition of lovers kissing inside of it for good luck. It’s one of only 53 covered bridges left in New Hampshire. For Leaf Peepers, the area is unparalleled and their rather short peak foliage season is approximately from the end of September through the second week of October. North Conway has been voted the best and prettiest New England town, time and time again.   Main Street is peppered with charming pubs, restaurants, art galleries, as well as B&Bs and inns. For those who love to shop for a bargain check out Settlers Green where there are over 70 factory outlet and boutique stores with no sales tax! 

Crawford Depot Credit Joseph Sohm

You’ll also discover The Conway Scenic Railroad in North Conway. The beautiful train depot was built in 1874 in the Russian-Victorian style and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. They have several types of excursions, including shorter ones stopping from town to town in a vintage 1920s train, to a longer trip up into the Crawford Notch region which is phenomenal during peak foliage season. 

Covered Bridge along the Kancamagus River Credit Joe Bilous

Eaton is a quieter, less populated area and is the quintessential New England town with its vintage country store and the often photographed steepled white church, all embracing the central attraction, Crystal Lake. Traveling through this small village you will definitely feel like you stepped back in time. 

Tuckerman Ravine Credit Tom Caughey

Although there are no ski resorts located on any of the Presidential mountains per se, there is skiing on Mount Washington. Tom and I have climbed Tuckerman Ravine, which is a glacial cirque nestled into the southeast face of Mt Washington. The trek up with ski equipment is quite a journey in itself, but skiing down the ravine is thrilling.  Tuckerman Ravine

The White Mountain Valley area does offer 12 ski resorts with over 237 miles of slopes for downhill skiing and snowboarding, but the mountains are not just for skiing. Spring, Summer and Fall, each resort offers endless opportunities to explore and enjoy what the mountains have to offer, from zip lining to disc golf and water parks. Some have tennis camps others have artist retreats. Click through each resort’s website and see everything they have to offer. All Combined, the resorts here have a total of 79 ski lifts. Wildcat Mountain offers one of the most unique resorts and the ski trails literally face Mount Washington. You’ll find some of the most challenging skiing at Wildcat as well as the Polecat Trail, a beginner route and the longest ski trail descending from the summit to the base that is often described as “two- and three-quarter miles of sheer pleasure.” For thrill-seekers, hop on their four-person ZipRider zip-line, which operates in the summer months.

On Loon Mountain, the skiing in winter is fantastic as are their mountain bike trails in the warmer months. They also have an 18-hole alpine disc golf course, but it’s their spectacular gondola ride in the fall during foliage season that attracts visitors from far and wide. Loon Mountain

Waterville Valley Credit Waterville Valley Resort

I must admit, my all-time favorite ski resort is Waterville Valley. Waterville Valley  As a teenager, Waterville was my go-to ski resort. I really enjoyed the range of trails it had to offer. Simple, open and wide paths, which allow you to feel like your gliding down the mountain, flying like a bird. But they also have extreme headwalls if you want to navigate down a deathdefying cliff. (Experienced skiers only, please.) Waterville also offers some beautiful accommodations. My dad would drive up with me for ski weekends. Although he didn’t ski, he was a voracious reader. All day long as I’d ski down the mountain as many times as I physically could, Dad would be devouring books fireside in the lodge. When the lifts would close for the day, we’d meet up for big steak dinners with overstuffed baked potatoes followed by cheesecake. It was actually a terrific bonding between father and son. One night, Tom and I were discussing best venues for apr├Ęs-ski cocktails and Wildcat Inn and Tavern turned up as number one. 

Goat Cheese Pillows at Wildcat Tavern Credit PQ Productions

Located in Jackson, it’s a homey country inn with its own tavern. Executive Chef Bryant Alden offers up an eclectic menu and the number one item that patrons are gobbling up are their Goat Cheese Pillows (phyllo dough wrapped goat cheese oven baked and drizzled with balsamic reduction served with blueberry compote). Caution: they are addictive. They also produce The Garden Stage Dinner Concert Series during the warmer months outside in their garden. On their website you can find their entertainment schedule throughout the year. Wildcat Tavern

When it comes to fine dining, The Wentworth Inn is at the top of the list. Also in Jackson, the stunning Wentworth is owned and operated by Ellie Koeppel. It has 51 elegant guest rooms and a charming dining room. Plus, they have easy access to 98 miles of cross-country ski trails in winter. The Wentworth can also accommodate weddings and meetings, and although it is a separate entity, there’s an exceptional 18-hole golf course, the Wentworth Golf Club. I had the pleasure of chatting with Ellie who immigrated to America from Ireland 31 years ago. I asked her what was so special about The White Mountain Area. “I simply just think we are so lucky to live in Jackson. In all the years that I have lived here, certainly there has been much change, but the sense of peace I feel as I enter through the covered bridge is always present.”

Wentworth Inn Credit Wentworth Inn

People travel from all over to dine at The Wentworth Inn and enjoy Chef Brian Gazda’s culinary creations. Ellie added, “Brian has been steadfast in his commitment to producing exceptional food and making The Wentworth the hotel that it is today.” And what she shared next, I think is just phenomenal. “Staffing continues to be our biggest challenge and annually I bring in young culinary interns from around the world to spend a year doing a culinary internship in our kitchen. I see them as they arrive, some with barely basic knife skills, and watch them develop through the year under Brian’s patient tutelage to become accomplished young chefs with bright futures ahead of them.” I had to ask her what was the most popular item was on the menu, and I was a pleasantly surprised at Ellie’s response. “The vegetarian dish, Crispy Italian Herb Eggplant which is served with a creole sauce, garlic spinach, on a bed of soft ricotta coulis and garnished with pine nuts, basil pesto and aged parmesan. I have guests that order two, one to enjoy that evening and one to take back home for lunch the following day.” The Wentworth

Another terrific restaurant and accommodation is Max’s Restaurant and Pub at Snow Village Inn, in Eaton. Speaking to events coordinator Carrie Steeves I discovered that people come from miles away to enjoy Chef Josh Burkett’s rack of lamb, pork dumplings, daily fresh fish, and short ribs. Snow Village Inn

New Zealand Rack of Lamb, Snow Village Inn Credit Carrie Steeves

I congratulated her on their breathtaking setting. “We truly have a spectacular location. Guests are mesmerized as they walk into the Main Inn. Our view of Mount Washington and the entire Presidential Mountain Range is unrivaled.”

Snow Village Inn Credit Carrie Steeves

Only a few of the Grand Resorts still exist and one of them is the Eagle Mountain House and Golf Club with a 9-hole course located in Jackson. Built in 1879, Eagle Mountain House has continuously welcomed generations of vacationers year-round for over a hundred years. Eagle Mountain House

Eagle Mountain House and Golf Course Credit Tom Caughey

The following day, I asked Tom if there were any gay bars in the White Mountain Valley area and he said, “All of the local pubs and taverns are very gay friendly, staffed by gay people usually. So, it’s not just a neighborhood where you’ll find a gay bar. It’s too mainstream to need a gay bar.” On that note, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that 3 successful Inns: Notchland Inn, Cranmore Inn, and Inn at Crystal Lake, are all gay owned and operated.

Notchland Inn Credit Will Zimmerman

The owners of the Notchland Inn are Ed Butler and Les Schoof. I asked them what it was about the White Mountain Region that they were drawn to. Ed replied, “In our explorations of the Mount Washington Valley, before becoming residents, we felt comfortable and welcomed.” When searching for the right Inn, the men said, “Notchland ‘sang to us’ as we drove up the drive!” Ed continued, “We wanted a structure with land around it. Notchland, when we bought it, had over 300 acres! It is in the smallest town in New Hampshire, Hart’s Location, with current census of 46 residents. And we are in the middle of Crawford Notch State Park and the National Forest. So, the goal of having space around us was achieved! And Les has used some of that space to create wonderful gardens.” Notchland Inn

Notchland Inn Credit Cheryl Kerr

Eddie Bennett and Christopher Bellis are the innkeepers of the Cranmore Inn in North Conway. Along with their children, David and Sherie, they have a passion for travel, food, and people. I asked them where their travels have taken them. “We do love to travel and often mix up our travel destinations from visiting family in Napa, CA, Seattle, WA, South Florida and Austria to exploring new and familiar areas. In Europe; London, Paris, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic, Barcelona, and also relaxing in the sun at Caribbean locations including Grand Cayman, St. Maarten, Puerto Rico, Mexico, plus others.” The Cranmore Inn

Cranmore Inn Credit Cranmore Inn

I mentioned to Christopher that I was surprised at how gay friendly the White Mountain area is. “Yes, it is and I am President of the local Pride group, White Mountains Pride, and continue to work to promote the area as an inclusive place to live, work, and play not only for LGBTQIA+ people, but all people.”

Inn At Crystal Lake Credit Tim Shellmer

When I stayed at the Inn at Crystal Lake in Eaton, it was challenging to fall asleep the first night because it was so quiet. Bobby Barker and Tim Ostendorf have been owners of the 11-room Inn since 2001. Bobby is the chef for the main dining room and their Palmer Pub, and Tim is bartender and sous chef. As Tim says, “We’re very hands on.” Tim is a classically trained singer and on designated nights they offer Opera/Musical dinners. Concert style shows are accompanied by four course dinners tailored to the show that evening. When talking to the couple they shared a rather moving story about their gay pride flag. “When we first moved in we promptly put out our rainbow flag, but after a few years it got quite tattered and worn, so we took it down and didn’t replace it right away.  Inn at Crystal Lake

Inn at Crystal Lake Credit Inn at Crystal Lake

A wonderful older Eaton resident called up to ask where the rainbow flag went; she was concerned that perhaps we weren’t feeling welcomed. We assured her that we didn’t take it down as any sort of statement, it simply got worn out. Unfortunately, during the pandemic when things were heightened, and emotions running high, a local man started flying the Confederate Flag. Another local man tried to off-set that by handing out as many rainbow flags as he could and he subsequently confronted the man flying the Confederate Flag explaining the offensiveness of that flag. His response was he wasn’t taking down the flag until all the “fag flags” came down. So, we went even further by hanging a 12’x18′ rainbow flag from the front balcony. It almost touched the ground!! I don’t want to give a bad impression of Eaton, though. Overall people have been extremely supportive, but maybe it’s a good reminder that the fight against discrimination is far from over.”

Whether it’s an exhilarating winter day of downhill skiing, a gorgeous spring morning of birdwatching, a warm summer day of hiking, a stunning afternoon of fall leaf peeping, or maybe an evening of fine dining and live entertainment, the White Mountains of New Hampshire has it all.  

View of The Presidential Range from Snow Village Inn Credit Carrie Steeves




       

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