White Mountains in New Hampshire draw travelers from around the world to their soaring peaks and lush valleys. Six million visitors per year flock to the area to take advantage of 1200 miles of hiking trails, numerous campgrounds, and Nordic and alpine ski areas. This is where you will find famous Mount Washington, Kancamagus Highway, and the historic Cog Railway. Favorite activities include hiking, camping, skiing, and canoeing, and of course fantastic leaf-peeping during the fall. The area is a year-round mecca for nature lovers and a superb playground for family vacations. Here is the travel guide to what to do and see in the White Mountains.
People flock to White Mountains for spectacular fall foliage.
WHITE MOUNTAINS IN NEW HAMPSHIRE – TRAVEL GUIDE
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For me, New Hampshire brings back fond memories of down to earth family adventures. Each visit, we camped along the Saco River and spent our days hiking, canoeing, and swimming. Nights were by the fire with marshmallows, talking, and lots of laughter. I am a firm believer that camping is the best way to bond with your children. They will thank you for that.
Where did the name White Mountains come from?
It is not clear where the name came from. One theory is that it derived from snow-capped peaks, another one suggests that it was inspired by granite summits appearing white. I see a third possibility, white clouds covering the mountains.
Where are White Mountains Located?
White Mountains is a chain of the Appalachian Mountains extending for 87 miles (140 km) across north-central New Hampshire and slightly into western Maine. They contain the highest elevations in the northeastern United States. They can be reached from Boston in about 2 hours and from New York in 6 hours.
The highest peaks, between 5,000 and 6,000 feet (1,500 and 1,800 meters), are named for US presidents and make up the Presidential Range. The highest point – 6,288 feet (1,917 meters) Mount Washington – can be reached by a highway, cog railway, or on foot.
Mount Washington – the most popular attraction in White Mountains
At 6288 feet, Mount Washington is the highest mountain in northeastern North America. Its summit, occupied by Mount Washington State Park, receives over a quarter of a million visitors per year from all over the world. On a clear day, is possible to see into five states – New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, and even into Canada.
Mount Washington Weather
Whenever you visit the summit, be sure to bring extra clothing! The weather there is unpredictable and can be dangerous. The summit is famed for its weather extremes. The highest surface wind speed ever observed by man – 231 miles per hour, was recorded there on April 12, 1934, by the Mount Washington Observatory.
Founded in 1932, the non-profit Mount Washington Observatory continues its weather monitoring and research to this day. Be sure to visit the Mount Washington Museum, a human and natural history museum located on the summit and operated by the Mount Washington Observatory.
The highest temperature ever recorded on the summit was 72°F, the lowest, a frigid -47°F- and that’s without factoring in the wind chill! Summer visitors find the summit a welcome retreat from the warmer temperatures below; in July, the temperature averages 49°F.
Ways to visit Mount Washington
1. Mount Washington Cog Railway (the Cog)
If you want to take the easy and scenic way up, riding the Mt. Washington Cog Railway, also known as the Cog, is the best way to do it. The Cog is the world’s first mountain-climbing cog railway and the second steepest rack railway in the world, with an average grade of more than 25 percent and a maximum grade of 37.41 percent.
This scenic ride starts in Bretton Woods, NH and lets you travel with peace of mind. It takes 3 hours round trip. The train departs daily from May through November. The railway is approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) long. Reservations are highly recommended.
2. Mount Washington Auto Road
Driving Mount Washinton Auto Road
There is a reason why so many cars in the Northeast have a bumper sticker that says, “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington.” Getting to the top is an accomplishment! Confidence in your driving skills and a good vehicle is a must if you consider taking this route.
Located 25 minutes north of North Conway on scenic NH Route 16 in Pinkham Notch, the Mt. Washington Auto Road is a nerve-wracking adventure. With an average grade of 12 percent and a single mile of hard-packed gravel road mid-mountain, this drive is not for the faint of heart.
Guided van tour
Available seasonally from May through October, this tour is an excellent option for those who prefer to reach Mt. Washington without driving themselves. Guided Tours, lead by experienced guides, offer a unique opportunity to learn the history of Mt. Washington and the Auto Road.
Views are absolutely spectacular from Mount Washington Auto Road.
Hiking Mount Washington
The summit has been a destination for hikers since the mid-19th Century, but keep in mind Mt. Washington is one of the most dangerous hikes in North America. Pay close attention to the weather before you start your climb. Even on a clear sunny day, the temperature can drop 20 degrees at the summit.
You can also encounter fog, clouds or rain, so make sure you have suitable clothes and bring extras with you. In good conditions, Mount Washington is doable for an average hiker, but that means you need to be a true hiker! Here is What to Pack for Mt. Washington Day Hike.
My favorite way of getting to the top of Mount Washington was a van tour. The views are better than from the Cog in my opinion. Also, with an experienced driver behind the wheel, I was able to relax and enjoy the ride.
Hiking the Presidential Range
Presidential Traverse Trail is a 20.4 mile moderately trafficked point-to-point trail located near Randolph, New Hampshire. The trail offers several activity options and is best used from May until September. Mt. Washington is the highest point of the White Mountain part of the Appalachian Trail.
If you have no more experience than day hiking, you don’t belong on Presidential Range. People die there, most often from exposure. Weather can change there in a matter of minutes.
I have to admit, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I took this hike. To my excuse, these were the day before the internet and travel blogging.
White Mountains National Forest
White Mountain National Forest contains approximately 148,000 acres of congressionally-designated wilderness, including the Wild River Wilderness and an extension to the Sandwich Range Wilderness. Some of the most visited areas require a self-serve pay pass. Make sure to have cash with you! Online payment is also available.
Kancamagus Highway – the most scenic part of White Mountains National Forest
Hotels in White Mountains, NH
Red Jacket Mountain View Hotel in North Conway
I recommend this hotel if you travel with kids. The hotel offers Kahuna Laguna, a 4,716 sq yard water park, which features a wave pool, waterslides, and more. Champney’s Restaurant serves New England style cuisine. For light fare and local specialties, guests can visit the resort’s Palmer’s Red Ridge Grille.
Residence Inn by Marriott North Conway
This hotel is located on the edge of White Mountain National Forest. It offers studios and suites with full kitchens. The kitchen area has a refrigerator, stovetop, microwave, dishwasher, and coffee machine. Each room includes a flat-screen cable TV and free Wi-Fi.
The North Conway Residence Inn has a heated indoor pool, hot tub, and well-equipped fitness center. A continental breakfast is served every morning. Attitash Mountain Resort is 12 miles from the hotel. Storyland Amusement Park is 8 miles away.