October — those idyllic few weeks we New Englanders call foliage season — is the perfect time to visit New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The weather is at its best and while New Hampshire’s foliage usually begins to turn to bright hues in mid September, in 2016 it is lagging behind and is just now beginning its transformation.
While the change is still in its earlier stages in the southern part of the state it is now reaching it glorious peak in the White Mountains, the perfect time to head north for a break before winter. Local residents and visitors relish this season, maintaining a lively buzz and keeping the popular summer attractions open, but the No Vacancy signs have not yet sprouted in front of resorts and B&Bs. You can usually walk unannounced into the region’s top dining rooms and get a table.
White Mountain Attractions, many still open
Most of the White Mountain Attractions are open until mid-October and several are open later, depending on the weather. A weekend in North Conway can easily include a share of these, plus other experiences. Begin at the Weather Discovery Center, part of the educational outreach efforts of the Mount Washington Observatory. Here you and the kids will get a free interactive hands-on view of the summit of Mount Washington and how they forecast wind and weather.
Board the Conway Scenic Railroad for an hour-long ride through the valley to Conway or an hour and a half trip north into Bartlett and back. It’s open until January 1. Stop to look at the history exhibits and model railroad at North Conway’s historic Victorian railway station before tucking into lunch in downtown North Conway. Just outside of town, take a hike to Diana’s Bath off the West Side Road. An alternative railroad ride opportunity is the Hobo Railroad in North Woodstock off I-93 near Lincoln.
Getting to the top of the mountains
Another great option is to “climb” Mount Washington in your car on the Mount Washington Auto Road, you must have seen the bumper stickers, “This car climbed Mt Washingon” and your car can sport one, too. Leave the driving to someone else and ride on the Mount Washington Cog Railway, which has been climbing to the summit since the 1860s. Or get a spectacular view of New Hampshire’s king of mountains by riding the gondola up Wildcat Mountain, where you can see the rocky summit of Mt Washington almost eye-to-eye. On the other side of the range, the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway is another top-of-the-world experience
To get a feel of the mountains and how they were formed and how they formed the landscape go to Lost River Gorge and/or Polar Caves, where the power of the forces of the glaciers that once covered the White Mountains are still visible. Polar Caves is located west of Plymouth off I-93 on Route 25 in the town of Rumney. Lost River Gorge is on Route 112 west in North Woodstock.
If you are staying at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway, return in time to enjoy the indoor Water Park, the exclusive domain of guests at this family-friendly resort. The Water Park is open until 10PM on weekends, so you can eat and return to let the kids work off some energy after dinner has settled.
Another option for lodging is the Green Granite Inn which has long been a favorite for families vacationing in North Conway. In addition to offering family rooms it has good fitness facilities and indoor and outdoor pools. It is on the east end of town close to the Settlers Green Shopping Center and other outlets.
There’s still time to get up to those mountains, enjoy the fresh air, the fall weather and the spectacular foliage.