White Mountain National Forest
Hours: Open year round. Visitor’s centers open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Location: Northern New Hampshire
Activities: Biking, camping, hiking, fishing, shopping, skiing.
Contact: Forest Supervisor’s Office, 719 Main Street, Laconia, NH 03246, (603) 528-8721, (603) 528-8722 TTY
Web site: http://www.fs.fed.us/r9/white/
Without the Weeks Act of 1911, one of New Hampshire’s defining recreation destinations might not exist.
The act was passed after outcry over widespread and uncontrolled logging that had decimated northern New Hampshire and, for the first time, gave the federal government the authority to purchase private land east of the Mississippi River. From an initial purchase of 7,000 acres, the forest has grown to encompass more than 800,000 acres, including the famed Presidential Mountain Range, countless ski areas and mountain towns and, until 2003, the Old Man In The Mountain, which still adorns New Hampshire License plates even if it has slid from its perch overlooking Route 93.
Logging trucks are still a familiar sight, particularly in the northern reaches – enough wood is harvested each year to build 2,900 average-sized homes. But, with careful management by the Forest Service, logging is now done to enhance, not detract from, recreational opportunities.
With more than six million visitors annually, the forest is one of the most popular in the National Forest system. No visit is complete without a drive along the famed Kangamangus Highway; be sure to allow several hours for stops to take short hikes near the river from which the highway draws its name, as well as wading in the river itself.
If it’s not draped in clouds, the region’s most famous site is Mount Washington. At 6,288 feet tall, it is by no means the country’s tallest mountain, but situated as it is under the confluence of several weather streams, it is home to the world’s worst weather, with wind speeds of more than 200 m.p.h. having been recorded on its summit.
Your can hike to the summit, but keep in mind it’s a strenuous trek and not intended for novice hikers or for people who let their gym membership lapse (and lapse and lapse). You can also drive to the summit on the nine-mile Mount Washington Auto Road – a harrowing experience and, based on the wear the ride down does on your brakes, something best reserved for your buddy’s car – or you can ride the Cog Railway to the summit.
If you choose to ride to the top, don’t be surprised when hikers scoff at your inability to take the 4-6 hour uphill hike. You’ll be mingling with them in the summit buildings which house gift shops, snack bars and a year-round weather observatory (a note about the snack bar: it’s over-priced and not that good. Better to pack your own picnic if you want to nosh at the highest point in New England.)
Even though the area boasts every conceivable outdoor recreational activity – up to and including dog sledding – you won’t necessarily need to pitch a tent and rough it when it comes time to go to bed and rest up for another day. North Conway has all the comfort of any decent ski town, including hundreds of outlet stores, upscale restaurants and accommodations ranging from budget to budget-busting.
More information on all of the attractions in the region can be found at www.visitwhitemountains.com.