Foliage from the Top
Via Chairlift and Gondola
The Sunapee Express Chairlift offers rides just over a mile long, climbing 1,402 vertical feet to Mount Sunapee’s summit. From there you can see Lake Sunapee reflecting its bright leafy shore, and views across New Hampshire to Vermont’s Green Mountains. In Bartlett, the Attitash Scenic Sky Ride makes excursions to the summit, where you can climb the 30-foot White Mountain Observation Tower for a full wraparound view of the White Mountains and the Mount Washington Valley.
Snow’s Mountain, at Waterville, and Gunstock Mountain also operate chairlifts to the summit, and the view from the latter is a knock-out, with the irregular shoreline of Lake Winnipesaukee in shades of orange and red contrasting with the blue water.
For leaf peepers, an advantage of chairlifts over enclosed rides is the wide-open visibility, especially on the return trip, when chairs face the downhill views. But the state’s two gondola ski lifts offer experiences of their own. Not only do views from the observation tower await passengers alighting from Loon Mountain’s four-passenger gondolas, but the summit lunchroom overlooks a little lake, tucked into a depression surrounded by dark green fir trees, and a trail leads into a wondrous tumble of glacial boulders.
New Hampshire’s highest gondola skyride, the four-passenger Wildcat Express, climbs Wildcat in a vertiginous 12 minutes, and on a clear day you can see to the Atlantic Ocean.
From the 4,062-foot summit of Wildcat Mountain you are face-to-face with Mt. Washington’s eastern slopes, shaped by the deep glacial scours of Tuckerman’s and Huntington’s Ravine. The upper slopes of the mountain are so close across the narrow valley that you can follow the progress of climbers making their way up the trails.
Via Tramway or Cog Railway
The two most venerable mountain-climbing conveyances, each one holding a place in mountain history, are the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway and the Cog Railway. The first passenger aerial tramway to operate in North America, Cannon Mountain’s has been airlifting skiers, hikers and leaf-peepers since 1938.
For those who care about the engineering, the car’s operator explained it to us: “The tramway is a funicular, first cousin to an elevator. Although they look like giant gondolas, the seven-ton cars are on two stationary track cables. They alternate, going up and down the mountain drawn by a center pull cable on a continuous loop.”
The Rim Trail circles the top, a 15-minute walk along the brink of Franconia Notch. At the very top a wooden tower gives a 360-degree panorama of mountains, with Mt. Washington, Vermont’s Green Mountains and Canada all in sight.
You can also drive to the top of Mt Washington. The Mt. Washington Auto Road winds up along the northeastern shoulders from Pinkham Notch. If your car isn’t whining for a “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” bumper sticker, you can save it a lot of stress by taking the van that shuttles back and forth to the top.
Via Hot Air Balloon
Since 1975, Morningside Flight Park in Charlestown has taught hang gliding and paragliding, and is known as one of the nation’s premier flight centers. Whatever your level of expertise or interest, Morningside can get you into the air. For a thrilling sightseeing ride and a new perspective on the fall colors along the Connecticut River, opt for a Tandem Aerotow, a two-person hang glider. With an instructor beside you, you can just go along for the ride as the glider is towed into the air behind an ultralight to a 2500-foot altitude. On release, you’ll have a scenic glide over the Connecticut River Valley, lasting from 10 to 20 minutes. Another flight-seeing option is a scenic instructional ride in a motorized ultralight glider. Morningside also offers full courses and introductory paragliding and hang gliding courses. It’s really not hard, once you get the hang of it.
Morningside Flight Park, Charlestown; 542-4416, www.flymorningside.com.
Sunapee Express Chairlift, weekends through October 15, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; www.mountsunapee.com.
Attitash Scenic Sky Ride, weekends to October 9, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; www.attitash.com.
Waterville’s Snow’s Mountain lift, weekends through October 9, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; www.waterville.com.
Gunstock Mountain High Speed Panorama operates the weekend of October 7 during the annual Oktoberfest; www.gunstock.com.
Loon Mountain Gondola, daily through October 9, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; www.loonmtn.com.
Wildcat Express Gondola, daily through October 15, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; www.skiwildcat.com.
The Cog Railway, daily through October, with hourly departures until October 23, when they drop to twice daily; www.thecog.com.
Mt. Washington Auto Road, daily until late October, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (until 4 p.m. after October 15); www.mountwashingtonautoroad.com.
High 5 Ballooning, year round by advance reservation, all rides weather-permitting;