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Don’t Let Summer Get Away Without Checking Off Some of These Top- 10 Summer “Bucket List” Adventures in New Hampshire’s White Mountains

Woodstock, NH--Labor Day is just one more flip of the calendar page away, but there’s still time to check items off your summer bucket list. “It seemed like summer just got a late start this year,” says Jayne O’Connor of the White Mountains Visitor Bureau, “so visitors were late making their summer plans. But once people started arriving, the summer really came together."

The U.S. Travel Association has been encouraging Americans to use all of their vacation days, and O’Connor feels it is working. “The campaign points out that American workers lose millions of vacation days each year,” she said, “and that affects relationships and family spirits.”

O’Connor says the attractions and activities have all had a respectable summer season, with business spreading out according to whatever the weather was at the moment. “I think families expect a certain amount of summer fun and weekends in the mountains and are just determined to get it.” 

Waterparks and theme parks with water features have seen increases during the hot summer weather, as did the mountain summits. Mount Washington, accessible by hiking, autos or train, has been averaging a sweet 60 degrees this month, quite a difference from most cities in August. Zip lines, forest canopy tours and river tubing are also popular ways to stay cool. Visitors looking for waterfalls are pleased the cascades got some mid-season refilling and are now at their picture-perfect best. Trains, shopping and restaurants are also enjoying a good summer season, especially the popular breweries in North Conway, Bethlehem, North Woodstock and Littleton.

O’Connor suggests the following ideas to check off items on the family summer bucket list:

Summit Mount Washington

Go right to the top! The White Mountains are home to the Northeast’s highest peak, Mount Washington, at 6,288 feet.  There are hiking trails, of course, but there are also options like The Cog Railway, the world’s first mountain climbing cog railway - that has been operating since 1869, and the Mt. Washington Auto Road, which can be driven in a personal car or as a passenger in a comfortable van with narrated tour. New this year, visitors can conveniently reserve their van ride on-line. Once at the top, there are expansive vistas of multiple states and Canada. Be sure to visit the Tip Top House museum, the observation deck, and the famous Mount Washington Weather Observatory museum – named "Extreme Mount Washington."

Explore Caves and Gorges

Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves offers a raised boardwalk through an ancient gorge with waterfalls, and optional detours to follow the river through granite boulder caves.  Of particular interest is Paradise Falls, which plunges 35 feet into a forest pool, and the new Giant Bird’s nest, large enough for people to view the surrounding mountains from a bird’s eye view. There is also a very popular nighttime Lantern Tour of the caves. Kids will enjoy panning for gems and rocks at the mining sluice, available both at Lost River and at nearby Polar Caves Park. The boardwalks at the Polar Caves bring visitors around gigantic boulders and through caves to the top of cliff with an extensive view of the Baker River Valley. Beyond the boardwalk, there is a granite climbing wall at the base of the cliff, red deer to feed, and exotic birds to view. While in the area, be sure to stop in Franconia Notch at The Flume Gorge, where visitors marvel at the 90-foot-tall walls, the waterfalls and two historic covered bridges. There is also the Bear’s Cave, the Wolf’s Den and many scenic vistas to enjoy. The tour starts at the Visitor Center, which has a short video about the natural and historical scenery of the Franconia Notch region.

Feel Like a Kid Again

Clark’s Trading Post has been captivating families since 1928, so this is the 90th anniversary of this family-owned theme park.  Their trained bear shows have delighted generations, who have watched peer groups of black bears and family members grow up and learn to perform together.   Along with the talented Bears, Clark’s offers historic train rides which are visited by The Wolfman. There is also fascinating Americana, and enough rides and activities to satisfy all ages. 

Splash the day away at the Whale’s Tale Waterpark, an award-winning park surrounded by mountain views. There are multiple water rides, a giant wave pool, a lazy river, and now a surf simulator offering plenty of water adventure for every member of the family.

Parents and grandparents may remember visiting these two popular parks in the White Mountains:  Story Land is a storybook themed amusement park that first opened in the 1950’s and offers more than 30 whimsical rides, attractions, and musical shows to delight children and parents alike. Santa’s Village stands by its slogan “Pure JOY, Family Style” in offering visitors access to Santa and his reindeer all summer long and during the holidays. While there, feed the reindeer, give Santa your “List” and visit the Ho Ho Ho H2O water park. 

 Take a Train Ride

Train rides along the river and through the mountains bring back nostalgic memories at The Hobo Railroad in Lincoln and the Conway Scenic Railroad in North Conway. The Hobo Railroad offers 90 minute day trips along the Pemigewasset River, while the Conway Scenic Railroad offers several daytime options with river and mountain scenery. Both offer extraordinary evening dinner trains. A train ride through the mountains is sure to please any family members.

Go Airborne

Visitor to the mountains really should find a way to the top – and back down. There are many ways to do that in the White Mountains, with gondolas at Loon Mountain and Wildcat Mountain, an aerial tramway at Cannon Mountain, and chairlifts at Cranmore Mountain and Attitash Mountain all offering roundtrip rides to the summit and back with expansive views and little effort.

For a different way down the mountain, there are high adventure zip lines at Attitash Mountain and Alpine Adventures, the mid-level Zip-Rider at Wildcat Mountain, the easier EagleRider at Cranmore or the short-but-scenic zip line across the river at Loon Mountain. And you can continue the above ground adventure on canopy tours, and aerial parks at Alpine Adventures, Cranmore Mountain and Loon Mountain.

Camp Out under the stars

Amazing memories are made over s’mores and a campfire at a perfectly selected campsite.  Get a good night’s sleep under the stars while camping in the White Mountain National Forest or at dozens of amenity-filled privately-owned campgrounds in the mountains. Some have evening programs around the campfires, and fun for groups of all sizes.

Bag a Peak or Two (Or Three)

From a simple stroll in the woods to working on your list of 4,000 footers, there are trails for all levels of hikers in the White Mountains. There are 1,200 miles of hiking trails in the White Mountains, so you’ll find something to get the blood pumping or to see that amazing view you’ve been waiting for. These are three good ones with little chance of crowds and plenty of views.

-Potash Mountain - This 2,700’ peak is on the list “52 With a View”, and offers sweeping 360° views. The trailhead can be accessed from the Kancamagus Highway.

-Mount Osceola - Offering stunning views of the Sandwich Range Wilderness, this 4,315’ peak can be accessed either from the Kancamagus Highway or off Tripoli Road in Waterville Valley. 

-Mount Moosilauke – This expert hike begins at the Beaver Brook Trailhead on Route 112 west of N. Woodstock and is approximately 7.6 miles roundtrip.  It stands at 4,802 feet and has 360° views of Franconia Ridge and the Kinsman Range from its summit above the tree line.

Spend the Day in the Water

The great rivers of the White Mountains offer clear cool water, swimming holes, kayaking and floating through the villages and wilds of the mountains. Relax on the Saco, Pemigewasset,  Androscoggin,  and the Ammonoosuc. Or swim in the easily accessible Echo Lakes (there’s one in Conway and one in Franconia Notch).

Pan For Gold

Yes, you can pan for gold on your summer vacation. For hundreds of years, gold has been discovered in the White Mountains, primarily in the waters of the Pemigewasset, Baker, Ammonoosuc and Wild Ammonoosuc Rivers. The White Mountain National Forest has information about it (search their website) and local businesses sell pans and equipment (including the Twin River Campground near the Wild Ammonoosuc River.) A quick search online will show you some techniques, then start searching for your own precious flakes and nuggets.

Find your favorite covered bridge or waterfall

With nearly thirty of each to choose from, you can spend some time choosing your favorites from Plymouth all the way north to the Canadian border. Options include the train bridge at Clark’s Trading Post with a steam vent all along the top, or one in Bartlett with a gift shop inside, or one built atop a fallen tree at the Flume Gorge! Download the list from the VisitWhiteMountains.com website, or grab a copy of the Covered Bridges and Waterfalls brochure from a local lodge or info center.

You’ll find more information on these and other suggestions at https://www.visitwhitemountains.com.

About the White Mountains Visitor Center:

The White Mountains Visitor Center is operated by the White Mountains Attractions Association. Founded in 1958,the White Mountains Attractions Association is the destination marketing organization for the region and the 17 attractions within the White Mountains, including Alpine Adventures; Attitash Mountain Resort; Cannon Mountain; Clark's Trading Post; Conway Scenic Railroad; Cranmore Mountain Resort; Flume Gorge; Hobo Railroad, Loon Mountain, Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves;  Mount Washington Auto Road; Mount Washington Cog Railway;  Polar Caves Park; Santa's Village; Story Land; Whale's Tale Water Park and Wildcat Mountain.


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