Best State Park | Franconia Notch State Park, Franconia/Lincoln
Photo Credit : Kindra Clineff
Heading to the White Mountains of New Hampshire this year? Along with classics like driving the Kanc and taking the kids to Story Land or Santa’s Village, we’ve got the perfect roundup of what to see, do, and eat while you explore in our “Best of the White Mountains” collection.
This park is home to state treasures such as the Flume Gorge, the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, and the Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza and Historic Site. Each is worthy of a full day’s exploration. Prefer to relax? At the park’s Echo Lake, the beach boasts a direct view of spectacular Franconia Notch, and a serene stretch of sand meets crisp, clear water (with a roped-off area for kids). Rent a canoe, a kayak, or a pedal boat on the spot at Cannon Mountain’s Lakeside General Store, where you can also stock up on sunscreen and souvenirs. Find out why we consistently crown it the best state park in New Hampshire.
Although moose-spotting is a notoriously unpredictable pastime, the odds of seeing one of these magnificent beasts are heavily in your favor on these town-sponsored tours. With special permission from the state, Gorham Moose Tours’ buses are outfitted with lights that not only make moose easier to spot but also easier to photograph. The reported success rate is better than 90 percent, which offers a much more attractive prospect than prowling the roads in your car at dusk: Yes, you can spend hours sitting by the roadside along Moose Alley and hope, but it’s a better bet — and safer — to go with the pros. A 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Nature Experience.”
Carter Dome Loop
This 10-mile loop brings you up two high summits — Mount Hight and Carter Dome, which each approach 5,000 feet — and through Carter Notch, an impossibly beautiful mountain pass that’s home to two mirrored lakes and a secluded Appalachian Mountain Club hut serving up tasty soups and snacks. To be sure, the hike via the Nineteen-Mile Brook, Carter-Moriah, and Carter Dome trails is a rigorous one, but the varied terrain and breathtaking scenery are, as the kids say, #worthit. A 2019 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Day Hike.”
While options for scaling Mount Washington’s dizzying 6,288 feet include hiking and driving, thankfully there’s also the only Cog Railway east of the Rockies—a 19th-century feat of engineering that’s been clinging to the steep slopes for more than 150 years. A three-hour round trip affords plenty of time to ogle views of the classic Omni Mount Washington Hotel, Vermont’s Green Mountains, and New Hampshire’s Presidential Range. On the summit, you can explore the Extreme Mount Washington exhibit and historic 1853 Tiptop House. A 2014 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Adrenaline-Rush Train Ride” and 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Tourist Hot Spot.”
See More:The Mount Washington Cog Railway | Train Ride to the Top of Mount Washington
Wondering how to cross a river when there’s no bridge? Preparing to embark on a hike across a glacier? Learn these and other wilderness secrets and skills on professionally guided outdoor adventures in the White Mountains. Mount Washington and other rugged terrains are the year-round classroom for teaching mountaineering essentials such as backcountry camping and navigating with a map and compass. And here’s a tip for free-spirited lovebirds looking to tie the knot: You furnish the license, and they’ll furnish a justice of the peace who’s also a licensed guide.A2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Wilderness Expedition.”
This giant natural funhouse in Kinsman Notch tells a dramatic tale: Mile-deep glaciers melted into streams that rushed through cracks in the bedrock, eroding them into a gorge. Stones and gravel washed through, scouring and carving potholes and chutes. Then wind and winter freezing took over, tearing huge slabs from the granite walls that fell and covered the river. Today you can climb through the gorge they created, following the brook through caves and narrow passages to see it burst out in waterfalls and swirl in huge potholes, as your kids learn about glaciers and geology and even, for a small fee, pan for gemstones and fossils in the Lost River mining sluice. A2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Family Adventure.”
New England’s highest peak — 6,288 feet — Mount Washington claims some of the world’s worst weather and the second-highest wind speed ever recorded. The eight-mile drive to the top is a hair-raiser; drop-away vistas on fair-weather days are stupendous, with visibility up to 130 miles and views of New York and the Atlantic. Bonus: The summit’s Extreme Mount Washington museum at the Mount Washington Observatory explores the nitty-gritty of the mountain’s subzero, hurricane-force drama. Road open May to October, depending on weather. A 2015 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best White-Knuckle Vista.”
Attention, outdoorsy types: This lodge nestled in idyllic Crawford Notch is the perfect jumping-off point for all your White Mountain adventures. Choose from a private room—with or without en suite bathroom—or a bunk room, and enjoy the included meal service as well as free guided hikes and ranger programs. And before you hit the trail, stop by the L.L. Bean Gear Room, which is stocked with rental equipment and clothing (daypacks, rain pants, gaiters, etc.) that would make your most diehard thru-hiking pals envious. A 2019 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Mountain Getaway.”
Come for the view — a wall of windows in the lounge offers a Presidential Range panorama — and stay for the creature comforts at this new 68-room hotel at the base of Mount Washington. The fifth iteration of the Glen House and the first property on the site in more than 50 years, it features an outdoor deck with a fire pit perfect for aprés-ski lounging, an indoor saltwater pool, and the Notch Grille. Add in thoughtful design touches evoking the area’s history, such as clean Shaker lines, artifacts from the local Abenaki tribe, and granite accents, and there’s a new must-visit destination in the Whites. A 2019 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best New Hotel.”
With golf and tennis in the summer, hiking in the spring and fall, and skiing in the winter, this is indeed a resort for all seasons. From the moment you breathe in the fresh mountain air and enter the historic Great Hall, replete with soaring ceilings and stone fireplace, you’ll fall under the Omni Mount Washington’s spell. Especially magical is the 25,000-square-foot spa, featuring rooms with views of the surrounding peaks and a long menu of facials, wraps, and seasonal treatments — including the intriguing Mountain Mu-Xing Therapy, a deep-tissue massage administered with warm bamboo and rosewood tools. A 2019 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Wellness Retreat.”
One of the grandest of the grand hotels that still dot the landscape of northern New England, this Victorian-era retreat has been generously updated for the 21st century. Surrender to a hot-stone massage in the “tower spa” or chip away at that handicap on the hotel golf course. However you choose to amuse yourself during the day, when evening comes be sure to grab a well-deserved drink on the sprawling veranda. You’ll feel like so many of the A-listers before you who found refuge and relaxation at this special mountainside retreat. A2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Luxury Escape.”
For the full effect, arrive in the evening, when this stately home is aglow with lights, welcoming you and your significant other as warmly as its wealthy former owners once greeted their guests. Their antiques and collections still grace its rooms, which retain the intimacy of the original country home. The dining room offers some surprises, as the chef draws on occasional influences beyond New England for a sophisticated yet approachable dinner menu; breakfast begins with popovers fresh from the oven. Take a stroll in the romantic Olmsted gardens below the house, painstakingly restored by new owners. A2018 Yankee Editors’ Choice Pick for “Best Romantic Getaway.”
Built in 1869, the Wentworth sits in the heart of Jackson Village, surveying the scene, just a short drive from major ski resorts like Wildcat and Cranmore. Its rooms are divided among the elegant main building and a number of neighboring cottages that offer sleigh beds, hot tubs with mountain views, and fireplaces. Guests can dip into the hotel’s heated outdoor pool or sign up for a relaxing spa session; golfers tee up next door at the 18-hole Wentworth Golf Club. The award-winning dining room is the icing on the cake. A2017 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Country Hotel.”
Named after backwoods folk hero Dolly Copp and partly situated on the farmstead that she ran with her husband, Hayes, in the mid-to-late-1800s, this hallowed 177-site campground — the largest in the White Mountain National Forest — puts visitors at the doorstep of the Presidential and Carter-Moriah ranges, while the nearby Daniel Webster Scout Trail leads hikers straight to the northeast base of Mount Washington. For first-time visitors to the Whites, there’s no better outdoor stay. A2019 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Campground.”
When this northern New Hampshire brewery first opened in 2013 on the banks of the Ammonoosuc River, its continental European taps blew us away. And when it started pouring delicious American pale ales and double IPAs as part of a New World–focused side project, we wondered: Is there anything this brewery can’t do? As a testament to its success, Schilling unveiled a 7,500-square-foot expansion in 2018 housing a 20-barrel brewhouse, cellaring areas, and a shop, just steps away from the original gristmill brewpub. We can only hope this means more second-to-none Schilling suds out in the world. A 2019 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Brewery Experience.”
Sunny Day began life in 1958 as the shiny new Stoney’s Diner in Dover, where it was a local fixture into the 1980s. In 1988 it was moved to Lincoln, where it’s been serving breakfast and lunch ever since. Its red-and-gray-tile interior is filled with gleaming chrome, checked curtains, and lots of chatter from happy patrons. Eggs Benedict luxuriate in lemony house-made hollandaise, and you can forget about lunch after a stack of fluffy pancakes with real maple syrup and a pair of oversize sausage patties. A 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Diner.”
When Jeff and Kate Fournier left the Boston restaurant scene for the White Mountains, they were looking for more farm-to-table bona fides than a city plot could offer. Now, with a restaurant and farm on a 200-year-old homestead, they’ve helped turned Jackson into a legit dining destination. There’s a coziness to the menu, with its roasted chicken and artisanal cheese board, but plenty of surprises, too, and the house-made breads, sambals, pickles, and pastas showcase a broad mastery of global techniques. A 2018 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best New Restaurant.”
We’ll take any excuse to swing by the historic Omni Mount Washington Resort and marvel at its grandeur, dwarfed only by Mount Washington rising behind it. The hotel’s distinctive 1902 silhouette — a Spanish Renaissance ocean liner topped with red tile — took two years to build. Its veranda is legendary. But dig deeper and you’ll uncover the Cave, a “Prohibition-era speakeasy” oozing old-fashioned masculinity with vaulted brick ceilings and a gleaming wooden bar, hosting live entertainment and televised sports. The man cave every woman could love. A 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Classic Bar.”
Burgers topped with bratwurst or applewood-smoked bacon, chopped peanuts, and chipotle fluff—the lunch specials here are the work of a mad genius. Just bear in mind that they change daily, as do the Sunrise Shack’s must-have tater tots, which are tossed with everything from barbecue sauce and blue cheese to honey and truffle oil. All of the above washes down nicely with the thoughtfully chosen beer selection. A 2017 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Sandwiches.”
Pancakes, views, and most especially views of pancakes: You’ll be in blueberry buckwheat heaven at this family-owned institution, which has been flipping delectable discs since 1938. Polly’s has come a long way from its humble beginnings in a woodshed, and inaugurated a new building in 2015 to accommodate the 58,000 pilgrims who make the trek to tiny, aptly named Sugar Hill each year. A 2015 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Pancake and Maple Experience.”
See More:Polly’s Pancake Parlor | Breakfast in the White Mountains
Breakfast all day (there’s lunch, too) might include Maine lobster Benedict, pumpkin–pecan pancakes, or a “Bonzo Breakfast Burrito” with a side of homemade applesauce. The deck looks toward the White Mountains, but nothing’s as pretty as the “Vegetable Garden Scramble” that just arrived, or as comforting as this cozy nest buzzing with conversation and brimming with vintage décor. A 2016 Yankee Editors’ Pick for “Best Breakfast.”
What are your favorite things to do, see, and eat when visiting the White Mountains?
This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated. Selections originally appeared in the annual Yankee Magazine “Best of New England” Editors’ Choice Awards.