New Hampshire: An Outdoor Mecca

Skiing in New Hampshire's White Mountains.

New Hampshire ’s peaks are alive with awe and adventure. There are easy family treks to mountaintops with fire towers and picnic-friendly ledges. Hike to some, drive to others. Those looking for challenges can scale all 48 of the state’s lofty 4,000-plus foot peaks in the White Mountains. Make it a day, or walk in the footsteps of backpackers traversing some of New Hampshire ’s fabled footpaths such as the Cohos Trail in the Great North Woods, portions of the famed Appalachian Trail, or the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway.  

Mount Washington

New Hampshire ’s mightiest mountain, Mount Washington, stands at 6,288 feet. The storied peak has a dubious moniker of: “home of the world’s worst weather.”  The strongest wind ever recorded on the planet whipped across the summit in 1934 at 231 miles per hour.

Its sometimes Arctic-like weather is both a climber’s training ground for those venturing to Mount Everest and fascinating to those who drive up to the topside Mount Washington Observatory, a weather research facility. The summit hosts a state park with an eatery overlooking a fascinating landscape.  

Mount Monadnock

This peak may be only 3,165 feet tall, but it is a familiar New England landmark that unveils a horizon of tiny towns, cities, rugged mountains and pristine countryside. Convenient to much of New England, Mount Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey is a popular spot to begin the hike to the summit. (The state’s oldest park, Miller State Park, is also well-hiked, with its paved road to the summit of 2,290-foot Pack Monadnock in Peterborough.)  

Felling Lifted

Chair lifts aren’t just for skiers and snowboarders. During the carefree days of summer and the glorious days of autumn, hop on a lift at several ski areas and be whisked to an alpine summit for a look around. Have a picnic. Peer through binoculars. Take in some history. You can even hike up, and take the lift down. Or do it the other way. Each lift has its own story, whether it’s a modern, high-speed detachable quad, enclosed gondola or European-style tram.  

Winter Wonderland

Winter in the Granite State has its own splendid rewards: the stark, hushed beauty of the landscape, the solitude and peace of snowy woods, the smoky smell of a log fire, the adrenaline rush and excitement of cold-weather sports. And, now more than ever, enjoying winter is easy to do, with the availability of better equipment and clothing, and a slew of activities, such as sking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, sledding and sleigh rides at your doorstep.

Head for a wintry weekend getaway in the White Mountains. Hop aboard the nine-passenger (heated!) SnowCoach for a trip up the historic mountain road. The ride ends above tree line, where you will have sweeping views of the Great Gulf Wilderness area and the snow-covered peaks of the Northern Presidential Range.

You could take the comfy SnowCoach back down the mountain, but instead, step into snowshoes for the downhill trek to the bottom of the slope, with plenty of photo-taking stops along the way.

The untrammeled wilderness of New Hampshire ’s Great North Woods is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Keep your eyes peeled for moose and wintering bald eagles as you follow the icy banks of the Androscoggin River. The lakes and rivers in the North Country are popular with ice anglers and the dense woods are zigzagged with hundreds of miles of trails.

But the top sport here is snowmobiling; the region boasts more miles of snow machine trails than state highways! Pick up trail maps and rent snowmobiles from a local outfitter for an exhilarating ride through the northern woods.

North Conway is also chockfull of winter fun. There are alpine and Nordic ski resorts, tubing, snowshoeing, sleigh rides and more. You can head to Attitash Ski Resort, home to two mountain peaks and 75 alpine trails. Or opt to leap out of your comfort zone and try ice climbing. Climbers from around the world come to New Hampshire to tackle some of its legendary vertical ice. Novice climbers can try their hand with an ice axe, too, at workshops run by the International Mountain Climbing School.

Another great North Country trek? An authentic dogsled ride through the woods. Mush ! You’ll be off on a classic dogsled ride through the white-carpeted woods, with stunning views of the snow-capped Presidential Mountain range.  

The Dirt on Biking

Those New Hampshire peaks aren’t just for hiking. Mountain roads and select trails are made for bicyclists too. In New Hampshire, mountain passes are called notches and the roads that lead through these coveted pieces of alpine real estate are loaded with scenery around every bend, over the crest of hills and down those spectacular stretches on the other side. They can be challenging, but think of the personal rewards for preparing and then achieving. Nearby mountain bike trails are wide enough to pedal side by side or narrow enough for sweet singletrack.  

Dartmouth/Lake Sunapee Region: Ease over covered bridges along the 10 miles of the Sugar River Trail or the 20-plus miles of the riverside Northern Rail Trail. Lakes and a river are showcased on the 25-mile Rockingham Recreational Trail, a link between Merrimack Valley ’s Lake Massabesic and the Seacoast. Farms dominate the scene from Keene ’s 21-mile Ashuelot Rail Trail.  

Biking in New Hampshire’s state parks: Mountain bikers love Allentown ’s Bear Brook State Park outside Concord with its varied terrain for all abilities. The incredible Franconia Notch State Park Bicycle Path is eight miles of mountain splendor that’s on the harder side of easy. The White Mountains teem with mountain biking hubs like North Conway (expert Red Tail Trail), Bartlett (intermediate Lower Nanamocomuck Trail), and Lincoln (easy Lincoln Woods Trail).  

Ski areas: Roll along at select ski areas (www.skinh.com). Attitash, Bretton Woods and Waterville Valley provide lift-access mountain biking. Ride cross-country ski trails at Great Glen Trails, the Balsams, Gunstock and Loon.  

The state recognizes bicyclists’ needs and has free maps from each region showing rider-friendly road and mountain bike routes available. Get them at www.nh.gov/dot/nhbikeped.       

Hiking is More than a Walk in the Woods  

Monadnock Region: In the state’s southwest corner, the easy hike up to the Pitcher Mountain Fire Tower in Stoddard is short, sweet and under a mile (45 minutes). Mount Monadnock is a grand jewel with its sweeping summit vistas. The four-mile, four-hour moderate White Dot/White Cross circuit from Monadnock State Park in Jaffrey is a popular loop.   Lakes Region: Tower over stunning Lake Winnipesaukee while on 1,786-foot Mount Major.

The Lakes Region mountain affords stellar views on a moderate, four-mile, three-hour loop utilizing the Mount Major, Brook and Belknap Range Trails. Squam Lake vistas from West Rattlesnake are enchanting along the Old Bridle Path in Sandwich. Easily follow an old cart road for the 1.8-mile roundtrip hike (90 minutes).  

The Seacoast: The salty sea breeze is a constant companion on the gentle Odiorne Point State Park trails in Rye. Pathways provide a glimpse of the coast.  

The White Mountains: The White Mountains host the lion’s share of New Hampshire hiking. Well-placed benches, a wide berth and tumbling cascades highlight the one-mile roundtrip (40 minutes) stroll to North Conway’s Diana’s Baths along the Moat Mountain Trail. Grab a bird’s-eye view of the cliffs and peaks in Crawford Notch from an overlook off the easy Mount Willard Trail, a two-hour, 3.2-mile roundtrip hike. The lovely ledges along the 4.4-mile, moderate Welch-Dickey Loop in Waterville Valley  is also a fine half-day outing.

Experience commanding views of Franconia Notch State Park by doing an easier 1.5-mile (90 minutes) circuit along Bald Mountain and Artist’s Bluff. In the shadow of Mount Chocorua, the Champney and Pitcher Falls loop off the Kancamagus Highway is an easy 3.2-mile roundtrip (2 hours) waterfall hike.  

Keep Climbing

Craggy cliffs invite rock climbers with their massive collection of ropes, helmets, talc for grip, harnesses, specialty shoes and carabiners to explore. Talk about hanging out! The state is filled with crags, cracks and slabs that climbers crave from urban hot spots outside Manchester in Pawtuckaway State Park to the heart of the White Mountains in North Conway.  

Learning the Ropes

Another off-the-beaten-path adventure taps your inner Indiana Jones: zipline riding. Far from the jungles but not the forest, you can safely fly across the treetops year ’round in a harness attached to a steel cable, soaring like a bird hundreds of feet above the ground. Confidence building and fun combine in a little treetop-flying in Lincoln and Pinkham Notch. Alpine Adventures in Lincoln (888-745-1919) takes the intrepid to a zipline canopy course featuring rope bridges and tree platforms high in the sky. Wildcat Mountain in Pinkham Notch serves as a jumping off place for zip riders soaring above the ski slopes.