Take a Hike in Bretton Woods
Hiking in the White Mountains
Driving through Glen on our way north, we remember how good the après-ski pizzas were at The Shannon Door in Jackson last winter, so we detour for a dinner of thin-crust "Loaded" pizzas – loaded indeed, with sausage, mushrooms and pepperoni.
As soon as we arrived at the AMC Highland Center, overlooking the gateway to Crawford Notch, the girls spied the list of Saturday's activities and had us all signed up for a full day before we'd even gotten to our room.
They were out of their bunk beds in plenty of time for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage and pancakes in the sunny dining room before it was time to meet for the guided First Tracks nature walk. Both were hopeful of seeing a moose, but there was scant chance of that with the chatter of excited little voices in our group of three families. But June is the right month to find delicate woodland wildflowers and they did see fresh moose tracks near the pond.
Back at the Highland Center, we outfitted the girls in hiking boots and cushy socks at the L.L. Bean Gear Room before our 9 a.m. hike. All the equipment is free for AMC guests' use, and includes clothing, packs and tools for serious hikers and climbers, as well as fishing and other outdoor gear. The morning hike was to Arethusa Falls in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire's highest waterfall at just under 200 feet. We were lucky that it rained the past couple of days, so the falls were spectacular (I'd seen them in mid-summer with barely a trickle). A tiny detour trail on the way led us past two other very small but lovely waterfalls. Having eaten breakfast so early, we were glad we'd tucked some snacks in our pack to enjoy as we admired the falls.
Back at the Highland Center, we picked up the trail lunches we'd ordered the night before and carried them up the short trail across the road, to the granite forehead of Elephant's Head, where we ate overlooking Crawford Notch. As we ate, the engine of the Conway Scenic Railroad's Notch Train rounded the turn below us and slowed to a stop at the Victorian Crawford Station.
The girls still had energy enough for "Map & Compass 101" at the Highland Center, while we learned how the AMC has incorporated solar and other energy sources on a Green Technology Tour, before we all drove along Route 302 to investigate the Bretton Woods Canopy Tour. Both girls were too young (the minimum age is 12), so we drove on to Lower Ammonoosuc Falls, which requires no hiking, just a short path off Cherry Mountain Road. These are the same low stair-step cascades that I splashed in as a kid, where the icy waters coming off Mt. Washington are warmed by the sun.
Dinner at Highland Center
With all this fresh air, everyone was so ready for an early dinner that we quickly devoured slices of the fresh-baked grainy bread with our salads while waiting for the main course. Luckily it was served family style because I couldn't choose between the pork roast with apricot-walnut chutney and the vegetarian entrée of roasted Italian vegetables with polenta.
After a short program called Skins and Skulls, where the girls got to handle bones and pelts of local wild animals, the evening program featured a local biologist talking about moose. The girls were encouraged to hear that moose are all around us, and learned to look for them in low marshy places along the roadsides.
They tried again for a glimpse of moose on the early morning walk, but no luck. We checked out early and headed for one of my favorite short hikes, to Zealand Falls AMC Hut. Like the one to Arethusa Falls, this trail is easy, with no steep places until the long final climb beside Zealand Falls to the hut itself. We bought cold drinks at the hut and ate our trail lunches early as we savored the view of Zealand Notch from the porch. This is one of the finest views in the White Mountains, and it's reserved just for hikers.
As we drove down Zealand Road after the hike, we saw Mount Washington straight ahead of us, every building on its summit standing out in the unusually clear day. It was irresistible, so we rested our legs on what still has to be the best tourist experience in the Whites – a trip up Mount Washington on the Cog Railway. The view from the summit went on forever, and the girls were sure they could see all the way to their hometown range, the Belknap Mountains. On that clear June day, they were probably right.