“Live Free or Die” is the official motto of NEW HAMPSHIRE, summing up a deeply held belief in rugged individualism and independence that goes back to colonial times. The state boasts densely forested mountains, whitewater rivers and challenging ski resorts, making it the premier state in the region for outdoor activities

New Hampshire’s short Atlantic coastline is a stretch of mellow, sun-drenched beaches capped by Portsmouth, a well-preserved colonial town with a crop of excellent restaurants and stylish inns. Inland, there are more than 1300 lakes; the largest, Lake Winnipesaukee, is ringed with both tourist resorts and quiet villages. The magnificent White Mountains spread across northern New Hampshire, culminating in the highest peak in New England, formidable Mount Washington.

The White Mountains

Thanks to their accessibility from both Montréal and Boston, the enchanting WHITE MOUNTAINS have become a year-round tourist destination. It’s a commercialized region, with quite a lot of development flanking the main highways, but the great granite massifs retain much of their majesty. Mount Washington, at 6288ft the highest peak in the entire Northeast, claims some of the most severe weather in the world. Much of the region is protected within the White Mountains National Forest, established in 1918 and covering almost 1250 square miles today.

Piercing the range are a few high passes, called “notches”, and the roads through these gaps, such as the Kancamagus Highway between Lincoln and Conway, make for enjoyably scenic routes. However, you won’t really have made the most of the White Mountains unless you also set off on foot, bike or skis across the long expanses of thick evergreen forest that encircles them.

AMC lodges

The Appalachian Mountain Club (617 523 0655, outdoors.org) operates eight delightfully remote mountain huts in New Hampshire along a 56-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail, each about a day’s hike apart. Generally offering full service in season (June to mid-Oct, exceptions noted here), including mixed bunkrooms (blankets but no sheets), toilets, cold water and two hot meals per day for $106–141, they are a fairly popular choice – reservations are required (call 603 466 2727). Carter Notch, Lonesome Lake and Zealand Falls huts are open out of season (without heat, running water or food) for $30.

Hiking, skiing and cycling in the White Mountains

Hiking in the White Mountains is coordinated by the Appalachian Mountain Club or “AMC” (outdoors.org), whose chain of information centres, hostels and huts along the Appalachian Trail, traversing the region from northeast to southwest, is detailed here. Call t 603 466 2721 for trail and weather information before you attempt any serious expedition.

Downhill and cross-country skiers can choose from several resorts that double up as summertime activity centres. The Waterville Valley Resort (603 236 8311, waterville.com) and Loon Mountain (603 745 8111, loonmtn.com), both just east of I-93, are good for downhill, while Jackson (603 383 9355, jacksonxc.org), about fifteen miles north of Conway on Rte-16, has some of the finest cross-country skiing trails in the northeast. General information on the skiing centres is available from Ski NH (603 745 9396, skinh.com).

In the summer, the cross-country skiing trails can make for strenuous but exhilarating biking (you can take lifts up the slopes and ride back down). Both Waterville and Loon have bikes for rent on site for around $34 per day; Loon also runs a zip-line ($26).

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Andy Turner
10/2/2020
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