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Exploring New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest

A journey through one of the Northeast's most scenic landscapes provides a little bit of everything.

white mountains

Cathedral Ledge, White Mountains New Hampshire

Stretching across New Hampshire and into Maine, White Mountain National Forest’s 800,000 acres of wilderness are like Valhalla to an avid nature lover. The slopes and trails in the park’s mountains and forests draw skiers, hikers, campers and virtually anyone who is eager to revel in scenic views and explore historic sites.

Whether you’re ready to venture out on foot or on skis, it all starts with a road trip through White Mountain National Park. Check out the best places to schuss, slalom and experience nature with a bit of history.

Hiking

If you like hiking, then expect to find bliss on the 1,200 miles of hiking trails — including a section of the legendary Appalachian Trail — with layover towns like Gorham, New Hampshire, at the foot of the mountains. The Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which begins in Pinkham Notch, is a popular — although challenging — way for experienced hikers to reach the 6,288-foot summit of Mount Washington for some excellent views.

The Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail Loop is also regarded as a difficult hike, while the Sabbaday Falls Trail is easier and leads to one of the state’s most popular waterfalls. Moderate trails include Champney Brook Trail and Boulder Loop Trail, both off Kancamagus Highway. Three Ponds Trail is a combination of easy and moderate hikes and leads to a scenic pond. Moose, black bears, beavers, minks, bobcats and coyotes are among the wildlife you might spot on one of these hikes.

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Skiing

If you love winter sports like skiing, snowmobiling and snowboarding, you certainly won’t be disappointed by the options in White Mountain National Park. It’s home to six ski touring areas, four alpine ski areas and 400 glorious miles of snowmobile trails. If you prefer to enjoy the winter wonderland scenery at a slower pace, opt for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing through the forest.

Popular skiing and snowboarding areas include Hermit Lake Shelters, Wildcat Mountain Ski Resort, Loon Mountain Ski Resort, Waterville Valley Ski Area, Attitash Ski Area, Black Mountain Ski Trailhead and Double Head Trailhead. At Loon Mountain, you can take to the slopes on three peaks rising up to 2,100 vertical feet. In Mount Washington Valley, the Attitash Ski Area’s two mountains, Attitash and Bear Peak, are consistently rated top ski resorts. Wildcat Mountain in Pinkham Notch offers long trails and spectacular views of Mount Washington. During the spring, Tuckerman Ravine is popular with skiers who enjoy testing themselves, an experience made even more challenging by the lack of ski lifts and need to carry your own equipment.

Top snowshoeing trails include Echo Lake Trail and Peaked Mountain Trail near Conway and Arethusa Falls Trail in Crawford Notch. Greeley Ponds Trail is ideal for backcountry cross-country skiing, and Bretton Woods Nordic Center boasts a 62-mile trail network, complete with a cabin and a yurt where skiers can stop and warm up.

Snowmobilers can rev up with self-guided snowmobile rentals and make tracks on the Meadow Brook Snowmobile and Biking Trailhead on Bear Notch Road. The Sawyer River Road Snowmobile Trailhead connects to Meadowbrook Trail and Bear Notch Road to create a loop of 25 to 30 miles.

white mountains

(White Mountains New Hampshire)

Kancamagus Scenic Byway

Your time on the road means colorful scenery, especially during fall leaf-peeping season. Take in the view from the comfort of your car along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway, also known as New Hampshire’s Route 112. As the northeast’s highest roadway — and one of the best places to view the area’s spectacular fall foliage — the 34.5-mile drive weaves through the forest before reaching an altitude of 2,900 feet on Mount Kancamagus. The byway takes you by quaint covered bridges, stunning scenic overlooks, rivers, dramatic gorges and mountains, and cascading waterfalls.

Historic Sites

On the historical side, you can explore remnants of stone walls, mills and logging camps throughout White Mountain National Forest. On the Kancamagus Highway in Albany, New Hampshire, one historic structure, Russell-Colbath Homestead, still stands and is open to the public. The 19th-century farmhouse gives you a chance to view historic artifacts and learn about the region’s history.

Near Bretton Woods, the Fabyan Guard Station, built in 1923 for $75 on Old Cherry Mountain Road near the Fabyan train station, is one of the eastern U.S.’s oldest remaining guard stations. Guards were posted in the one-room, 16-by-20-foot, red spruce log cabin to protect the forest.

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Originally published on Hertz.com.

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