The One Thing You Can't Miss: New Hampshire

Exploring the majesty and mystery of the underrated New England state's lakes and mountain ranges
November 23, 2016Words by Katherine OakesPhotos by Katherine Oakes

Beneath the tough-guy, “Don’t Tread On Me” image, the vast and wild terrain of New Hampshire is home to sparkling blue lakes, an impressive display of autumnal foliage, and over ten different mountain ranges just begging to be tread on. Of all the peaks that this New England locale has to offer the avid backpacker, the one most deserving of the oft-uttered phrase “wicked awesome” is the historic Mount Washington.

Since 1849, there have been over 150 fatalities despite fair conditions — which just goes to show that on Mount Washington, timing is everything.

Sitting pretty at the highest point of the Presidential Range, Mount Washington is 6,288 feet high, which may seem small-ish if 14ers are your usual digs, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. This is not a spot to saunter on to unprepared. Positioned at the juncture of a narrow current of strong wind and weather known as the jet stream, Washington’s climate can go from heavenly to harrowing in moments, especially if you aren’t careful or ready for what’s on offer. Since 1849, there have been over 150 fatalities despite fair conditions — which just goes to show that on Mount Washington, timing is everything. 

Still, on this mountain big risks bring big rewards, like stunning vista points, gorges, valleys, waterfalls and mystifying mountain ranges that seem to disappear into the horizon. Be sure to get your last licks in during the summer or in early to mid-fall, before the weather turns. 

Before you go, a word about the summit: It is also happens to be a very popular tourist destination because of the very famous and very cool observatory built there. Up at the tippy-tippy-top (yes, that’s a technical term) way back in 1934, the Mount Washington Observatory recorded the highest wind velocity ever to be measured by humans — at 231 mph. Because of this, there is not only a paved road but a train that shuttles visitors up and down the mountain in a leisurely fashion. You know …  just to check it out. Somehow this makes it even more fun to huff and puff your way up to the top where you’ll have some enjoyable conversations with folks gripping bumper stickers that say, “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington”, ‘cause #NeverForget.

Make the most of by staying overnight on the eastern slopes in the Hermit Lakes Shelter Area where you can camp in tents or wooden lean-tos.

So, if you’re not one for crampons, ice picks or even microspikes, hightail it over to New Hampshire while you still can and take the scenic Tuckerman Ravine Trail all the way up for a satisfying combination of hiking and some solid scrambling above the tree line. If the weather permits, make the most of your time there by staying overnight on the eastern slopes in the Hermit Lakes Shelter Area, where you can camp as one, two or a few in tents or wooden lean-tos. Checking in and out of the Caretaker Cabin is a requirement for those spending the night as it helps to ensure every hiker’s safety, so plan to stop in.

However you choose to do it, whether with your own two feet or up and down the Auto Road (or both — hey, it’s a free country) experiencing Mount Washington is a truly worthwhile excursion. As a kid, I remember being captivated by the misty summit and excited by the stories of Washington’s bravest and most adventurous explorers. Every time I return, the exhilaration of what might be a potentially unscripted adventure looms overhead — in the best way, of course. There’s no better feeling in the world than resting your tired, worn out body under the stars as you breathe in the fresh, pine-scented air and feel so glad that you didn’t sit this one out. [H]

What Else to Do and See in New Hampshire

A drive down the scenic Kancamagus Highway offers generous views of (and access to) the White Mountains, Swift River, Sabbaday Falls, Rocky Gorge and more. Plus, the most spectacular show of autumnal foliage in the country. Leaf peeping, anyone?

The folks at Polly's Pancake Parlor have been flipping flapjacks in Sugar Hill for over 75 years. Dig in to a stack of made-from-scratch oatmeal buttermilk pancakes smothered in New Hampshire maple syrup, with the White Mountains as your backdrop — and don't forget the flannel. 

Lake Winnipesaukee offers 71 square miles of sparkling blue water, 288 miles of pine-dotted shoreline, and panoramic mountain views that make it New Hampshire's largest lake paradise, found. Lake Lovers, this one's for you.

Smuttynose Brewery is a New England brewery that has it all: great local beer, farm fresh food and a quick drive to the coastline. Did I mention really great beer? 

For all the lob-stah and craft beer you can consume, swing by rustic Portsmouth. Whether you arrive by land or by sea, Portsmouth has all the charm, history and good eats you could want in a seaside town.

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