I lived on the East Coast for about 9 years, and my favorite place to get away from it all–hands down– was the White Mountains in New Hampshire. I’ve skied, hiked, and camped in these mountains–I even saw a wild moose!
The White Mountains National Forrest is located in northern New Hampshire, about two and a half hours from Boston. The park headquarters are located in Lincoln, NH; you can visit the forestry service and pickup trail maps and campground information. Most of the campgrounds in the area are run by the US Forestry Department; they are paid on the honor-system (or at least they were when I went a few years ago). I mostly tent-camped; the campsites are rugged but nice.
My first visit to the White Mountains was a solo backpacking and camping trip. I stayed at a campsite off of the Kancamagus Highway, a 56 mile highway that winds through the mountains with tons of trails and campgrounds. Gas stations and other niceties are scare on the highway, so fill up before you arrive.
One of my favorite locations in the White Mountains is Cannon Mountain, a 4,000 foot peak known for both its ice and rock climbing. The drive along I-93 to reach the peak is very scenic, and there are a lot of picnic and day-use areas along the way. If you’re into skiing, Cannon Mountain Ski Area offers intermediate and advanced skiing near the peak. I skied there a couple times, but it was a little advanced for me. Nearby Loon Mountain is more my speed–it’s a little bigger, and more family-oriented.
Also nearby is the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway. This 80-passenger tram car takes you all the way to the top of Cannon Mountain, giving you spectacular views of New Hampshire and Vermont. Be warned–there is quite a temperature difference up at the summit, so bring your jacket!
Another favorite is the Flume Gorge, also known as Franconia Notch. which is it’s own NH State Park. Franconia Notch used to be home to the rock formation the Old Man of the Mountain, which collapsed in 2003. Franconia Notch is a natural rock canyon gorge with water flume, and was immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Daniel Webster. The hiking trails up to the gorge and beyond are incredibly scenic, taking you over covered bridges and waterfalls and through the gorge itself.
The towns nearest the parks are Lincoln and Franconia; both towns are picturesque and quaint, and offer hotels and restaurants if you need a break from camping. Lincoln is a bit bigger and is a outdoor-sporting hub that has a few more amenities than Franconia does. Both towns are nestled in the mountains; we had a great breakfast at a diner in Franconia while looking out at the snow-covered peaks.
The White Mountains really capture the feel of New England. I love the fall colors on the trees, and the way the fog wraps itself around the mountains after a rain. We visited a few restaurants up here, and the food is excellent home-cooking with plenty of great micro-brews if your into that sort of thing. It’s incredible how much there is to see and do, and everything is located pretty close together. I would definitely recommend the White Mountains; young or old, adventurous or not, there is something for everyone’s taste up here!