One Day in the White Mountains
I had the pleasure of spending a summer day in New Hampshire's famous White Mountains with my dear friend Hannah. She took it upon herself to create a day-long itinerary for us so that I could soak in the beauty of one of the many travel spots in New England. Let's keep it between you and I, but I think she just wanted to show me how beautiful the state is so that I cancel my plans to move back south! Regardless, I'll be sharing with you the eight (8) stops we made to help YOU plan your next day trip there.
What and where are the White Mountains?
The White Mountains are a series of, you guessed it, mountains, nestled in northern New Hampshire near the towns of Lincoln, Jackson, and Conway. Don't be disappointed though! There are more to the White Mountains than just mountains. If you're a person who loves hiking, swimming, site-seeing, photography, skiing, shopping, camping, history, and museums - then look no further. You can find all of these things here. I am very sad to say that in all of my 26 years of living in Massachusetts, this was my first time visiting the White Mountains. And let me tell you, I am definitely going back in the fall.
To find more information about the White Mountains, check out the official website here: https://www.visitwhitemountains.com/.
Now, I will warn you - taking a day trip to Lincoln, NH and making all of the stops that we did was NOT easy. Due to us arriving in the late morning, we had to keep track of time and rush a little bit. We also barely made it onto the Mount Washington Auto Road in time before it closed. To prevent becoming slackers like us, be there by 9AM to get the adventures rolling and plan to stay until the sun sets. Unless of course, you love the thrill of living on the edge (pun intended). Here are the eight (8) stops we made in order within a one-day visit:
1) The Old Man in the Mountain
2) The Basin
3) The Flume Gorge
4) Lower Falls
5) Albany Covered Bridge
6) Zeb's General Store
7) Diana's Baths
8) Mount Washington
First Stop: The Old Man in the Mountain
Almost everywhere you go in New Hampshire, you see pictures of the Old Man in the Mountain on posters, books, signs, post cards, T-shirts, magnets, and anything else you can think of. If you're from New Hampshire and you've never heard of it, I'm going to assume you've never stepped out of your house because your state decided to have it illustrated on its license plates. If you're from any of the surrounding states and you've never heard of it, I'll cut you a little more slack and assume that you were just too busy taking a Duck Tour in Boston or becoming a reclaimed hipster in Portland. But let's push these assumptions aside for a moment and talk about our first stop.
Just a short "hike" from the parking lot, (I put quotations around the word "hike" because it's a paved sidewalk that is relatively flat), the Old Man in the Mountain can be seen from quite a distance below at its memorial. Yes - MEMORIAL. That is because the Old Man in the Mountain has technically been "No Man in the Mountain" since 2003, when the edge of his face sadly fell off. However, that does not mean there is no site to see here! The beautiful mountainside still exists and there are "sculptures" for every height category that help you visualize what once was.
To prevent you all from making the same mistake that I did, the sculptures serve as a guide to show you how the Old Man in the Mountain used to look before the formation fell. You are supposed to find your height category and stand in the designated spot so that you can get a view like the picture I took above. I did not understand this at first, because I kept exclaiming to Hannah, who probably tuned me out, "The stupid pole is in the way! Why is it guiding me to stand right in front of the pole?! I'm just going to take a picture from my own viewpoint" (which is the first picture). Afterwards, we walked back up to the car, and I saw a sign that showed the one of the sculptures right in front of the mountain. It finally clicked. Hannah made me walk back down and take the picture again, resulting in the picture above.
Second Stop: The Basin
Our second stop at the Basin was a few minutes down the road and was also a very short hike through the lush forest. Although I appreciate the millions of years it took to form this small waterfall, it was very small. If you are looking for a very short hike and have some extra time to kill, then make a stop. If you're the kind of person who is only impressed by the most challenging hikes and the largest waterfalls (you're probably a one-upper), then move on.
Third Stop: The Flume Gorge
As my fellow photographers know, when you're visiting a place with beautiful scenery, you want to stop and take pictures of EVERYTHING. Luckily I had Drill Sargent Hannah warning me that we would be more efficient with our time if I took pictures once we arrived to the main attraction at each stop. At this stop however, I was snapping a bunch of photos on our way because the hike was essentially the main attraction.
Before I continue, I want to make you aware of the $16 admission fee you will have to pay (for those of you on a budget). If you are going to hike through the entire gorge, it's worth it in my opinion. Once you pay the fee, you will board a bus that takes you to the entrance of the gorge.
The gorge is beautiful. As you ascend the wooden steps, make sure to take in the fresh scents and lush scenery. There are a few waterfalls along the way that make the trek even more exciting. For a moment, I forgot that I was in New Hampshire because it felt more like a rain forest. We had to cut our hike short due to time constraints, but I recommend continuing the hike for those of you who have time. The Flume Gorge was definitely one of my favorite stops.
Fourth Stop: Lower Falls
Lower Falls is the place to be if you're looking to get some swimming into your itinerary. The parking lot to Lower Falls was full when we arrived in the early afternoon, and we had to wait for a spot to open up. This was not surprising since we were there in the middle of July on an 80 degree day. New Englanders think it's a "scorcher" and go nuts when the temperature is over 65 degrees.
Lo and behold, you'll find a vast amount of clear and pristine natural swimming pools surrounded by smooth rocks. Throughout Lower Falls you'll find a few natural water slides and mini waterfalls. For all of my astrology friends out there - this is a water sign's dream. I felt like a little kid again and wanted to explore all of the nooks and crannies. To my surprise, the water temperature was on the warmer side. But then again, you're talking to someone who goes swimming in Plum Island in June. Just jump in from one of the many rocks and you'll get used to it quickly, I promise!
Make sure to bring towels and obviously your bathing suit. The bathrooms provided are not the fanciest so please do not be surprised when you walk in and don't find running water or soap. I was unable to take pictures at this stop because my mission was to swim and not get my camera wet. I don't have a waterproof case so if anyone who is reading this blog wants to donate one for future adventures, I'm all for it.
Fifth Stop: Albany Covered Bridge
I've seen pictures of this bridge on post cards and magazines. The civil engineering nerd side of me has always wanted to see it in person and I finally got the chance that day. Since I love architecture, I got a few pictures highlighting the inside of the bridge, as well as building a cairn of my own to then take with the bridge as my background (lower right). I call it - killing two birds with one stone!
This stop is free of charge and you can even drive your vehicle through, as long as it fits. Once you drive through, there is a parking lot on the right hand side where you can leave your car and climb down to the river that the bridge crosses only a few hundred feet away. I'm curious to see what it looks like in the fall when all of the leaves are changing colors.
Sixth Stop: Zeb's General Store
Stop #6 was a detour located just outside of the White Mountains. Nestled in downtown North Conway, Zeb's General Store is a cute place to stop and grab some local treats. It reminded me of a quintessential New England store. They sell anything from candy, spices, and baking mixes to soap, antiques, and other small knick-knaks. My personal favorite is the local maple syrup and handcrafted soaps. It was generally (pun intended) crowded when we stopped there in the afternoon. Stop by if you're looking to purchase a souvenir for someone back home, or if you just want a taste of what downtown North Conway is like. I don't think you will be disappointed even if you are not a "shopper."
Seventh Stop: Diana's Baths
Diana's Baths was certainly a site to see. Again, we didn't have a lot of time to stay and explore here much, but if you do have the time, I recommended exploring thoroughly as there is so much to see. It is around a 15-20 minute leisurely walk through the woods to get to the beginning of the baths. Once you arrive, you will find yourself immersed in a number of small waterfalls and smooth stones. Continue to climb the path to see more waterfalls and places to sit and enjoy the surrounding greenery. Diana's Baths inspired me to try taking long exposure photos. It was my first time, so please go easy on me. I promise I'll get better. See below.
Eighth Stop: Mount Washington
While I was taking my time and playing with my camera to try and perfect some shots, Hannah called the staff at the Mount Washington Auto Road and discovered that the entrance would be closing in 30 minutes (it was 5:30 PM). That's when we started sprinting out of Diana's Baths and back into the car to drive towards the Auto Road. I did NOT travel all the way to the White Mountains to not be able to drive up Mount Washington. To Hannah's surprise (but not mine, because she's a crazy driver), we got there 10 minutes before the gate closed.
Admission is $31 for a passenger car and the driver, plus $9 per additional passenger (so for us it was a total of $40). We were also given an informational packet and a narrative CD to listen to while driving up and down the mountain. I know that seems pricey but trust me, it is worth it if you've never been before. It takes approximately 30 minutes to drive the Auto Road to reach the top. Make sure to follow the driving directions given to you because you can do some serious damage to your car if you don't. I will also warn my friends who are afraid of heights and become easily queasy - the drive is not for the faint of heart. There is no guardrail and the road is not wide enough for two cars at certain points. You might poop your pants.
Once you reach the top, take in the beautiful scenery. There are a number of lookout points that showcase different sides of the mountain. There are also a couple of museums to view, with the entrance fee included in the admission paid to enter the Auto Road. We were very lucky that day because the temperature was comfortable and the skies were clear. I was told by a number of people that it is very rare to experience clear skies there, even in the summer. Mount Washington is infamous for having the most dangerous weather in the world. As I learned in the museum, the weather could be sunny one minute and then drastically change to life threatening conditions the next minute. Luckily we did not experience that.
I was actually really happy that we arrived to the top of Mount Washington at the end of the day because the sun was close to setting and the lighting was great. It was eerily quiet and and very peaceful. I would have to say that this was my favorite stop out of the entire day.
And there you have it my friends - the White Mountains in one day. I can't wait to go back and visit during the fall. Until then, stay tuned for more adventures - both local and abroad.