Plan a Summer Weekend in North Conway, NH
North Conway means skiing to us, the place we spend February vacation playing in the snow. We decided it was about time to see it in the summer.
After checking in at The Kearsarge Inn, we walked around the corner for dinner at the casual Horsefeathers Restaurant. While we read the menu we ordered a couple of local microbrews — Tuckerman Pale Ale, made in Conway, and a smooth brown ale by Moat Mountain, located just down the road. We settled on the Friday night special fisherman’s platter and a half-pound sirloin burger with applewood- smoked bacon and Vermont cheddar cheese. Instead of ordering dessert, we adjourned to Spoons, the old-fashioned ice cream parlor downstairs, where we bought cones — how could we resist ice cream with a name like LL Bean Muddy Bean Boots? — and crossed the street to stroll around Schouler Park.
On our return to The Kearsarge Inn, we delved into the enormous gift basket on the coffee table in front of our fireplace. In this complimentary amenity that’s part of every room package, we found penny candies, mustard dip, a big bag of gourmet trail mix, cheese, maple syrup, chocolate-covered pretzels and more, all from the shelves of Zeb’s General Store, around the corner on Main Street.
Our room at The Kearsarge Inn was the penthouse suite, filling the whole top floor of the 19th-century village home and decorated with original art and framed historic memorabilia of the White Mountains and the Civil War sloop Kearsarge. As the inn is not a B&B, it doesn’t serve breakfast, but it’s surrounded by plenty of good options. We chose the closest, Old Village Bakery located almost next door, and after some time deciding from the selection, we brought back scones and pecan sticky buns to enjoy on the front porch, with mugs of hot tea and coffee from the inn’s parlor.
We were in town the weekend when Art in the Park, sponsored by the Mount Washington Valley Arts Association, brings 60 artisans and artists to Schouler Park, so we headed there after breakfast to admire their work.
Behind the park is North Conway’s centerpiece, the beautifully restored Victorian station that’s home to Conway Scenic Railroad and to a small museum of White Mountain rail artifacts, as well as a collection of rolling stock in the railyard. We’d reserved seats for lunch in the elegant 1929
Dining Car Chocorua as the train made its way up the scenic valley to Bartlett and back. After appetizers of fresh fruit, we divided our attention between the scenery and our main courses: a crab cake sandwich with lemon caper sauce on a ciabatta roll, and a BLT chicken salad plate filled with greens, chicken, bacon, tomatoes and red onion.
Since our lunch views had been from the valley floor, we decided to get the view from the top, so we headed to Echo Lake State Park to walk the trail around the lake for close-up views of the 700-foot Cathedral Ledge and to climb Bryce Path to its top for views across the Saco River Valley and White Mountains. It’s always fun to watch the rock climbers scaling the cliff face, though neither of us was tempted to join them. A short drive led us from the park to the trailhead for Diana’s Baths, where Lucy Brook drops from Big Attitash Mountain in a 75-foot series of cascades and waterfalls.
After soaking in our big whirlpool tub and changing clothes, we strolled along Main Street, where several shops were still open. At Toy Chest we found all kinds of games and toys, along with costumes and craft kits. We could have spent hours at Zeb’s General Store, packed with made-in-New-England foods and souvenirs of the North Country, from sensible clothes and country décor to balsam pillows and stuffed moose.
A Conway Scenic Railroad train approaches North Conway Station.
By Stillman Rogers
Dinner at Oxford House Inn
Although our downtown inn put us within an easy walk of several dining options, we couldn’t resist the short excursion just over the border to sample the summer menu at Oxford House Inn in Fryeburg. The cornmeal-fried oysters we remembered from a snowy winter evening there were not on the menu, but crispy Maine crab cakes were, and came with chive aioli and a salad of grapefruit and shaved fennel. Risotto croquettes with a melting of four cheeses inside were served with warm tomato jam. My entrée of tortilla-crusted pork loin was juicy and flavorful, served with a plantain-sweet potato bread pudding and roasted tomatillo chimichurri. Sea scallops were seared to perfection, served with Champagne-lemon butter and a risotto of NH King mushrooms, asparagus and lobster.
After a breakfast of cooked-to-order ham-and-cheese crêpes and Arabica coffee at Met Coffee House, named Best Coffee House in The North Country by this magazine in 2012, we crossed the street to North Conway 5 & 10 Cent Store, the town’s oldest continually operating retail store. Along with a big book section, dollhouse furniture, wind-up toys, snow globes, Russian nesting dolls and fudge (they estimate that they’ve sold nearly 20 tons), we found beautiful handmade ship models (for sale) and oldtime store fixtures (when is the last time you saw an oilcloth crimper?). Before returning to the inn, we stopped next door at Essence of Art, a charming shop filled with handweaving, whimsical pottery, jewelry and other crafts supporting a program for artists with disabilities.
We swung past Big Dave’s Bagels & Deli for sandwiches to go: we knew from experience that one of these would be enough for both of us, but we couldn’t decide between the ham and the rare roast beef, so left with one of each. Never have we tried to get our mouths over so much meat in a sandwich — the meat measures thicker than the bulky roll that holds it. Then we headed for the shallow, meandering Saco River for an afternoon in our kayaks. The current is gentle, so whether we paddle upstream or down, it’s easy to get back to our put-in. We brought our own, but we could have rented from the local experts, Saco Bound, who also lead guided excursions and overnight camping/kayak trip.