By scenic rail or by car, it's still an amazing trip.
Home to Mt. Washington, the highest peak in northeastern United States, an impressive beacon that measures an elevation of 6,288 feet, and the White Mountains, the most rugged mountain range in New England, it’s no wonder that this part of New Hampshire serves as an epicenter of outdoor activities year-round.
The Appalachian Trail cuts clear through the summit, so you’ll encounter lots of hikers and backpackers here, many weary, especially if they’ve picked up this renowned trail down south in Georgia.
The White Mountain National Forest is dense in these parts until you break through toward the top of Mt. Washington where the terrain is more like tundra and the vegetation is sparse. Know that the weather can be pretty wild up there, which depending on where you find yourself, can add a whole lot to the excitement. Whether you’re hiking, driving up on the Mt. Washington Auto Road or chugging along on the Mount Washington Cog Railway, be prepared and bring lots of layers, enough to keep you warm and dry even if you head out on your adventure on a hot summer’s day. (Note that at that elevation, the wind can blow in some nasty weather pretty darn fast.)
If you’ve never taken a cog railway, the Cog–as it’s known here–is a must. It’s the first of its kind in the world and it is also the steepest rack railway that exists, excepting the Pilatus Railway in Switzerland. (Their mountains are much higher!) Get this:its biodiesel engine powers it up the mountain twice as fast as a steam locomotive would; it only takes about a half hour to ascend.
You can pick up the Cog on the western side of Mt. Washington and on the eastern flank you can embark upon a different type of adventure on the Mount Washington Auto Road. It’s a 7.6- mile toll road that measures an average gradient of 11.6%–that’s quite the climb! Can you believe it was opened to the public in 1861? Indeed, there’s a long history of tourism on Mt. Washington and at one point there were even two hotels at the top. You can either drive up yourself or take a guided tour in vans, which are also called stages. It’s a pretty hairy drive, so much so, in fact, that this climb is steeper than all of the epic mountain stages in the world-famous Tour de France bike race. (Know that you cannot pedal up here unless it’s during an organized race of which their are a few–mostly for professional cyclists however.)
Like many people vacationing here, you’ll likely have your own bike (s) in tow. Know that if you need any kind of repairs or perhaps a cool jersey with local flavor, go to The Bike Shop in Conway. You’ll also find places to rent bikes within the area.
All of the shops and tourism offices are helpful with setting you on your way for both pedaling along on a bike path or tackling a more challenging mountain bike trail. Consult your Discovery Map to find out where the covered bridges are located in the area and then plan a scenic ride to them. There’s nothing like that good ‘ole New England feel. The same map highlights the many waterfalls in the area that you might want to hike to–or perhaps pedal up to to reach the trailhead. Check out the New Hampshire State Parks website for details.
Rock climbing is also big in the area, especially at Cathedral Ledge in Echo Lake State Park. Back up on Mt. Washington, more adventuresome types set out glider flying and/or backcountry skiing. Wow!
Did you know that New Hampshire is moose country? You can see one–or at least hope to spot one–on a moose tour with companies such as Raft NH Moose Tours or Outdoor Escapes New Hampshire. Whether you see a moose or not, each tour is an adventure and you always encounter wildlife such as deer and osprey.
Have North Conway serve as your base for outdoor activities no matter the season. From horseback riding to snowshoeing to fishing to kayaking, canoeing, rafting and more, there’s an outfitter that can either lead you on your adventure or set you up to go on your own. During the fair weather season, mini golfs, water parks and zip lines round out the low and high adrenaline scene. And if you’re into golf, you’ll be delighted in the many courses you can play on throughout Mt. Washington Valley.
So whether you climb a mountain or just marvel at its beauty from a far, there’s something for everyone in this super picturesque part of the Northeast.