Photo Credit : New Hampshire Division of Travel & Tourism
Long famed as the gateway to the White Mountains, North Conway, New Hampshire, is the kind of place that shines in all four seasons. There’s in-town skiing, canoe and kayak outfitters, moose tours, plentiful hiking options, an indoor water park, and shopping year-round at the Settlers Green outlets and in the charming downtown. And all of it is set amid truly spectacular scenery, with the Presidential Range — crowned by mighty Mount Washington, New England’s highest peak— just a stone’s throw away.
That said, autumn is a particularly appealing time to visit North Conway, which makes a terrific base for all kinds of fall activities in the region. Just to the south is Conway, a jumping-off point for New Hampshire’s ultimate fall foliage drive, the Kancamagus Highway. To the north is Crawford Notch State Park, whose dramatic vistas and popular hikes (including Arethusa Falls) are taken to the next level by autumn color. You could easily spend a week or more exploring this picturesque mountain town and its surroundings. But if you have just a day or two, here are the five best things to do in North Conway, New Hampshire.
5 Best Things to Do in North Conway, New Hampshire
Passengers audibly gasp when this railway’s Mountaineer Train crosses Frankenstein Trestle and riders are suspended above the White Mountain forests. Dome-car seats offer the ultimate views, but on this five-hour-plus granddaddy of New England train rides, which treks through the Mount Washington Valley and over Crawford Notch, you may prefer to savor three courses in the plush dining car instead. Want to combine railroading and sightseeing on a smaller scale? Rides on the Conway Valley Train and Bartlett-Sawyer Excursion Train — 55 minutes to Conway or less than two hours to Bartlett — also depart from the 1874 station in North Conway.
When your moniker is “the Granite State,” you’re allowed to boast about the numerous walls of stone that play host to rock climbers. Cathedral Ledge doesn’t disappoint, with its many face and crack-and-corner climbs drawing enthusiasts from far and wide. But for those not into scrambling up cliff faces, a visit to North Conway’s Echo Lake State Park is in order. A scenic trail around the lake provides great views of the ledge, while the moderately difficult 2.8 mile out-and-back trail to Cathedral Ledge itself provides stunning views of North Conway and the White Mountains.
With more than 60 retail and outlet stores in which to bargain-hunt (including Timberland, Columbia, and Craghoppers), Settlers Green/Settlers Crossing is the shopping experience in northern New Hampshire. Among the newest arrivals is a nearly 25,000-square-foot REI Co-op: As REI’s first-ever outdoor experience center, it offers a wide array of gear rentals, high-end equipment demos, and guided outdoor experiences. Just a few minutes’ drive from North Conway Village, this retail hub also has more than a dozen restaurants that offer fuel for shopping the day away.
Meanwhile, local retail spots abound in downtown North Conway, most notably Zeb’s General Store, where you can maneuver your way around antique fixtures, indulge at the candy counter, and browse a sprawling collection of New England–made specialty foods. The Toy Chest beckons kids with dolls, games, wooden railroad sets, and more, while adults will appreciate the artistic offerings at the League of N.H. Craftsmen gallery, filled with locally made pottery, glassware, prints, textiles, furniture, and jewelry.
Even when there’s no snow on the slopes, this popular North Conway destination offers all manner of ways of getting up and getting back down. Tackle the climbing wall, bounce high on the bungee trampoline, hit the curves at maximum speed on the mountain coaster, or try your hand at lift-serviced, downhill mountain biking. And in autumn, there may be no more stunning way to soak up fall foliage than from the air: At Cranmore, you can take a scenic chairlift ride to the summit, where views of Mount Washington and other peaks await (as do refreshments at the historic Meister Hut restaurant).
Skiing played an essential role in shaping this region of New Hampshire, and much of that history is colorfully told at this museum, which is a satellite location of the original New England Ski Museum in Franconia. A small museum shouldn’t be this good: Walking through it, you follow skiing’s wild evolution via a trove of early videos, posters, ski equipment, and clothing — but it also delves into the personal stories of the men and women who built America’s early skiing industry, including the so-called father of modern skiing, Austrian native Hannes Schneider, who landed in New Hampshire after imprisonment by the Nazis and who oversaw the development of Cranmore.