January Road Trip: Leafless Peeping
With so many attractions, historical houses and local museums closed up tight for the season, northern New Hampshire seems entirely devoted to skiing and other snow and ice sports. But without leaves on the trees, views open up, and they are especially spectacular when our White Mountains stand out snow-white against a rich blue winter sky. So choose a glorious crisp day and revel in New Hampshire’s beautiful mountain and lake vistas – with or without your skis.
Begin in Ashland, at Exit 24 off I-93, following Route 3 east to Holderness. Check ahead for winter activities at the Science Center of New Hampshire, where there are nature hikes on snowshoes and other events. Follow Route 113 along Squam Lake to pretty Center Sandwich. Speaking of food, Corner House Inn, in the center of the village, serves brunch on Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In North Sandwich, go left onto Route 113A, through Wonalancet, where there are good views of Mt. Whiteface, and into Tamworth. On some winter weekends, the Remick Country Doctor Farm & Museum has special events, such as ice cutting, sleigh rides and cooking demonstrations, and it is open weekdays all winter.
Rejoin Route 113 in Tamworth and follow it to Chocorua, turning north (left) on Route 16. From the top of the hill is a sneak preview of New Hampshire’s most famous image, Mt. Chocorua, but for a less fleeting view that you can appreciate at leisure, turn left at the bottom of the hill to see the scene framed in tall Red Pines at the shore of Lake Chocorua.
Route 16 continues north into Conway. Before turning left onto Route 112, a detour leads on to North Conway’s outlet stores and to an opportunity to learn ice climbing at Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing School. Winter brings after-Christmas sales that make the outlets an even better source of bargains on clothing for the whole family, household goods and outdoor equipment. Learn about winter weather at the top of Mt. Washington at the Mount Washington Observatory’s Weather Discovery Center, a hands-on, interactive science museum open weekends through the winter and weekdays the last two weeks in February.
Return to Conway to follow Route 112, the Kancamagus Highway west, as it crosses the only true pass in the White Mountains. On the eastern side of the Kancamagus Pass the road parallels the Swift River, whose Lower Falls are partially frozen and ice-covered by freezing spray. With leaves off the trees, mountain vistas open up on both sides of the 2,860-foot summit.
Route 112 snakes down the western side of the pass to Loon Mountain, a ski resort that expanded last year with the addition of South Peak and continues to grow with Loon’s first double-black diamond trail, Rip Saw. Ski it if you dare, but don’t say you weren’t warned. The resort’s Adventure Center, located opposite the main parking areas, has a cross-country center and skating rink, with rentals of skates, skis and snowshoes.
In Lincoln, just past the ski area, rent snowmobiles and join guided tours of the snow-covered mountains with Sled Ventures. The Common Man is best known for its prime rib and its crab cakes, served in a relaxed setting. Gypsy Café, in the center of Lincoln, serves dishes inspired by cuisines from all over the world.
Route 112 meets I-93 at North Woodstock, where you can return via the highway or if you’re shun-piking, follow Route 3 south to Woodstock, then the smaller Route 175 back to Ashland. Both routes weave their way south alongside the Pemigewasset River and the highway, through Thornton and Campton. Look for three covered bridges near Route 175.
Length of trip: About 90 miles