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Of all the New England states, New Hampshire seems the most intent on keeping a low profile. Let Vermont and Massachusetts attract the hordes of “Leaf Peepers” who appear each autumn. Let Rhode Island and Maine attract folks for their maritime history and picturesque coastal towns. All the better for “the Granite State”, and for you, too. New Hampshire is chock-full of hidden adventures and unique treasures. You just gotta know where to look.
One way to explore New Hampshire is by touring the White Mountains, a 770,000-acre expanse that defines the northern half of the state. Let’s start in the town of Littleton, a quaint little hamlet that will be your “base camp” for exploring the White Mountain National Forest, located just a few miles down the road. In nearby Bethlehem, you’ll find the forest’s ranger station where you can load up on all the info and ideas you need to really get the most out of exploring the forest.
From Littleton, let’s head south along I-93 for just a few miles to get a taste of bucolic New Hampshire at Franconia Notch State Park. Once covered by glaciers, this spectacular setting benefits from wonderful vistas and great hiking trails left in the wake of its own personal ice age. Here, of course, lie the remains of the “Old Man of the Mountain”, a rocky outcropping that, until recently, resembled the profile of a man’s face. Over the years, the “Old Man” became a New Hampshire icon and it even appears on the New Hampshire issue of the U.S. quarter. Sadly, the “Old Man” finally gave in to old age and was destroyed several years ago when the rock formation collapsed from the side of the mountain.
Keep heading south along I-93 and pick up Hwy 3, a lazier, gentler way to enjoy road-tripping New Hampshire-style. By the time you hit North Woodstock, you’ll be in the heart of the White Mountain National Forest. While in town, treat yourself to a visit at Clark’s Trading Post; part general store and part amusement park, reminiscent of South Dakota’s famed Wall Drug.
Stay on Hwy 3 south until reaching the town of Plymouth, nestled in at the southern border of the forest. Be sure to visit the Smith Bridge, which spans the Baker River, and/or the Polar Caves Park, which showcases the work of Mother Nature from when the glaciers receded from the area some 50,000 years ago.
From Plymouth, lets head east along Hwy 113. You might try a pleasant side trip from here southward to Lake Winnipesaukee, an adventure unto itself, with nearly 300 miles of shoreline and easy New England roads to follow. Otherwise, we recommend cutting a path northeast back along Hwy 113 to the end of our White Mountain getaway in town of North Conway, a busy little New England hideaway loaded with great shopping for those fortunate enough to make it this way. One way to sit back and enjoy these environs is on the Conway Scenic Railway, an 11-mile round trip that meanders through the lush area around the national forest. You might also consider signing up with one of the many outfitters to kayak or canoe the scenic Saco River. We think you can’t go wrong either way.
Heading down the road a pace, you will find the town of Sandwich, nestled between the majestic White Mountains and the sparkling lakes. Take a hike up Sandwich Mountain to soak it all in with a scenic view. Or maybe visit Squam Lakes Natural Science Center to learn about the local landscape. At the center, you can also take a moose tour, to experience the wildlife up close and personal.
Hiding away in our route is the tiny village of Whittier, named after the poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, who would frequent this spot often. Once you stop, you can see why. Whittier is a peaceful, idyllic New England town, that lends itself to quiet inspiration. It is here that you can see the historic Whittier Bridge, one of the oldest, enclosed, wood bridges in the country.
If your trip needs a little pop, head over to West Ossipee, and Mt. Madness, where there are 750 acres of open land dedicated to extreme sports. Here you can snow-broad, ride motorcycles or ATVs, play a round of paintball, and go rappelling. Bumps, bruises, and serious adrenaline rushes guaranteed. However, West Ossipee has a tamer side as well. You can learn to kayak at White Lake State Park, shop the abundance of antique stores that are around every corner, or simply take a stroll down a winding road, lined with graceful New England foliage.