Road Trip: Cool It
Summer is the time to enjoy the White Mountains, to play in the playground and treat the kids (and ourselves) to parks and attractions on our “we should do that sometime” lists. So we depart from this page’s usual plan to avoid red-line roads like the plague, and this month use them to connect some scenic and remote roads that we might shun when snow closes or covers them, and access to some of their attractions is closed. Instead of a day’s drive, this path could provide enough activities to fill a long weekend or even a week’s vacation.
Begin in North Conway, with a stop at the grand railway station to see the vintage rolling stock, and perhaps time to enjoy vistas of the Mt. Washington Valley from the Conway Scenic Railroad. Not far north of the station, opposite the white Episcopal Church, turn left, then right shortly after crossing the river. This road bypasses busy Rte. 16 and passes Cathedral Ledge, where a diversion to the left climbs to the top for sweeping views. Shortly beyond on the left is the trailhead for Diana’s Bath, a short walk to a pretty waterfall and pool. When the road ends at Rte 302, turn right, then rejoin Rte. 16 (left) in Glen.
Here, at Storyland, is a magic world that all ages can enjoy, with rides in a pumpkin coach, swan boats to steer, a pirate ship and clever thrill rides. Beyond is Jackson, where a right through the covered bridge leads through the village. A right at The Wentworth climbs past Jackson Falls – a series of stairsteps in the river that forms a perfect picnic site – and Eagle Mountain House, whose bistro brings a thoroughly modern touch to this venerable landmark hotel. A right across the bridge, then another right circles back down to Jackson and Rte. 16.
As the road climbs into Pinkham Notch, Glen Ellis Falls is a short walk (parking to the left), and another waterfall is a short climb behind the Appalachian Mountain Club. At Wildcat the Gondola takes you to an eye-to-eye view of Tuckerman’s Ravine and the eastern side of Mt. Washington. At Great Glen Trails is an outdoor sports center and the entrance to the Mt. Washington Auto Road, which you can drive yourself or ride in a sightseeing van to the summit.
A left beyond Great Glen Trails leads over the side of Pine Mountain to Randolph, where a left onto Rte. 2 leads to Jefferson and another place kids love – year-round Christmas at Santa’s Village. Backtrack a few yards to a right on Rte. 116, past Cherry Ponds natural area, to Rte. 3 in Whitefield. To the left is Twin Mountain, where another left on Rte. 302 brings views of the western side of Mt Washington.
At Fabyans go left to the Cog Railway, a one-of-a-kind train ride to the top of Mt. Washington. Both top and base stations have cafés, and even if you didn’t reserve seats on the train, it’s fun to watch them puff and chug their way up and down the mountain. A little museum tells the Cog’s history.
Leaving the Base Station, look for a left onto an unpaved road that leads over Jefferson Notch, possibly the least known of the state’s notches that has a road through it. The road rejoins Rte. 302 at the head of Crawford Notch, where The Highland Center offers outdoor activities and equipment, nature programs, lodging (family rooms, doubles and hikers’ bunks) and economical dining. Rte 302 leads through Crawford Notch, past Attitash (where there is a waterslide if it’s a hot day) and back to North Conway.
Length of trip: About 75 miles