Playing in the Snow
January is the month to revel in winter, to enjoy the snow-covered mountain views and play in the snow. Skis are not a requirement since New Hampshire offers plenty of other outdoor pleasures in the winter. What better time to head north?
Begin at Interstate exit 34C in Franconia Notch, right under the slopes of Cannon Mountain. Skiers may get no further than this, but on a clear day non-skiers can ride the Aerial Tramway for glorious views. Head north on Route 18 into Franconia, where there is cross-country skiing at the Franconia Inn, a short detour left on Route 116.
Go right on Route 142 under the Interstate and uphill steadily (look back for great views of Cannon Mountain) before dropping just as precipitously into Bethlehem. Just to the left on Main Street, Cold Mountain Café serves warming daily soups and hearty lunch plates, and next door Local Works Marketplace at WREN's sparkling gallery is filled with fine crafts and works by local artists.
Follow Main Street (Route 10) to the Rocks
Estate, where you can ride through the quiet maple groves and Christmas tree plantations behind a team of Muddy Paw sled dogs (reserve ahead for day or night rides, Wednesday through Sunday).
Return to the intersection and continue on Route 142 to Whitefield. If you're making this an overnight or longer trip, The Mountain View Grand is a good base, with its own ice rink (and rental skates), evening bonfires complete with marshmallows and winter packages that can include luxuriating in the spa, ski passes and sleigh rides. Not to mention the views that earned this historic hotel its name.
Route 116 leads from Whitefield to Jefferson, where you can get a more hands-on experience with dogsledding at Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel. Rides as long as three hours can include interaction with the dogs, involvement in harnessing and hook-up and learning commands, not to mention sweeping views of the Presidential Range. Or schedule a clinic, with instructions on handling sled dogs and a chance to mush a team yourself - the ultimate outdoor winter experience.
Follow Route 2 east for more views of the Presidential Range, and into Gorham. The legendary Libby's Bistro now offers lunch and dinner in the Saalt Pub, in the basement below, with hearty warming pub food and a casual vibe that won a 2010 "Best of New Hampshire." Follow Route 2 into Shelburne to see the famed Shelburne Birches in a snow-covered landscape. In their midst, awake to views of the highest peak in the Northeast, along with a breakfast worthy of a winter morning, at the Mt. Washington Bed & Breakfast.
Backtrack to Gorham and follow Route 16 south into Pinkham Notch, past Great Glen Trails. At this treasure-house of winter activities you can snowshoe, cross-country ski, go snow tubing or ride 4.5 miles up the frozen slopes of Mt. Washington on the specially built SnowCoach. Here, far above the timber line, the views are breathtaking (and so is the wind, if you choose to get out and snowshoe, Telemark or cross-country ski down!)
Farther into the notch is Wildcat Mountain, whose upper ski slopes and eye-to-eye view of Mt. Washington's summit are reached by cozy gondola cars. Winter hiking and snowshoeing are favorites at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Joe Dodge Lodge, where winter programs and naturalist-led walks are also scheduled. South, in Jackson, is cross-country skiers' Nirvana, on the 150+ km of scenic trails at Jackson Ski Touring.
Where Route 16 meets Route 302 in Glen, there are two choices for getting back to I-93. You can turn right and head north through Crawford Notch, following Route 3 back to Franconia, or turn left through North Conway and climb over the Kancamagus Pass to rejoin the Interstate at Lincoln.