The great outdoors have never been more in fashion thanks to these confusing times amid a worldwide pandemic, but finding a getaway with enough outdoor activities to keep everyone in tow happy and content can be challenging. For a unique escape from the norm, hightail it to North Conway in the heart of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. It is not an exaggeration to say the place is splendid any time of year, but in the winter, the area morphs into a scenic wonderland.
To understand the allure of North Conway, you simply have to experience it. Often described as the best small town in America for adventure, North Conway has beautifully restored historic buildings surrounded by 700,000 acres of protected White Mountain National Forest, and Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast. The area boasts more than 300 ski trails—from beginner-friendly to advanced—within 30 minutes of North Conway Village, including Wildcat Mountain, consistently ranked No. 1 for scenery in the East by SKI Magazine.
But wait. Thanks to dog sledding, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, snow tubing, horseback riding, adventurous moose tours through the White Mountain National Forest and historic railway trips on vintage cars, the cliché “something for everyone” feels appropriate. Solitude seekers will be happy, too. Several inns boast comfortable seating around massive wood-burning fireplaces where the only thing to do is read a book, binge on decadent snacks or sip a hot cocoa (or toddy).
Here’s the scoop on the area’s best bets. Topping the “to do” list is the family-friendly dog sledding experience at Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel, with trips ranging from 2-50 miles through the scenic White Mountains. It isn’t just about taking a dog sled ride either. Everyone pitches in and gets to meet the dogs to help prepare the team for the trail. Talk about photo ops!
Always dreamed of being a musher? Take a crash course in the fine art of mushing and learn the nuts and bolts of dog sledding before hitting the trails in a double-driver sled for a close-to-5-mile experience. What’s the first rule? NEVER LET GO! At the end of the trip, spend time with the sled dogs, reward them with treats, take photos and give lots of belly rubs to these hard-working dogs. dogslednh.com
For a less vigorous experience on the trails, it’s hard to resist a relaxing (and romantic) horse-drawn sleigh ride. Fill your lungs with non-recycled air, listen to the sound of sleigh bells and ogle storybook scenery on seventy scenic acres. It just may feel like a dream transformed into reality.
Take a gasp-inducing 8-mile drive on the ultra-narrow, winding, steep Mt. Washington Auto Road to the summit of the Northeast’s highest peak. It’s been a tourist attraction since the road opened in 1861, when the trip was made via horse and buggy. On a clear day, you may be able to see 130 miles away, which includes several states and the Atlantic Ocean! Not for the faint of heart, the road has no guard rails. (The average speed is 15 mph.) A sign warns acrophobics, “If you have a fear of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience.” Or, let someone else take the wheel with a guided tour.
In-the-know locals are proud of the 1874 train station in North Conway Village where, slowly and delightfully, guests can savor scenic excursions. Designed to recreate the experience of a post- World War II transcontinental train, the station uses vintage 1950s-era restored locomotives and passenger cars. Dining cars offer a first-class dining experience. northconwaynh.com/train-rides
When it’s time to put your head down, lodging choices include hotels, motels, vacation resorts, campgrounds and charming bed and breakfasts or inns. Here are a few standouts.
Where to Stay
Stonehurst Manor is a five-star historic inn in North Conway packed with authentic Victorian style. Secluded beneath towering pine trees on 33 acres, the Manor has doorstep access
to the only in-town Nordic network, offering 45km of trails to cross country ski or snowshoe. Half the trails are rated as easy and connect the Manor with North Conway Village. There, guests will find easy access to shopping, the Scenic Railroad or the Saco River, with breathtaking views of Mt. Washington. Each room blends modern comforts such as whirlpool baths with historic touches, including wood-burning fireplaces. The inn’s Wild Rose Restaurant is consistently ranked one of the best in New Hampshire, offering homemade wood-fired bread and pizza, plus classic grilled foods. The oversized wood-burning fireplace anchors the oak-paneled Library Lounge, a popular place for morning coffee, classic cheese fondue, a glass of wine or a cocktail. The only thing to do is take your time. stonehurstmanor.com
Super convenient for skiers and snowshoers, The Notchland Inn is about 20 minutes outside of North Conway. Situated in the White Mountain National Forest about halfway between two major ski areas are Attitash-Bear Peak and Bretton Woods, with Bear Notch Ski Touring, a 65-kilometer Nordic network, in between. All guest rooms have wood-burning fireplaces—a rare but wonderful perk. Order up a four-course dinner Wednesday through Sunday for sustenance, and seconds are offered for dessert. The dining room has a massive wood-burning fireplace plus floor-to-ceiling windows to bring the outdoors in. notchland.com
Awaken to commanding views of the majestic White Mountains of Jackson at The Wentworth, a grand hotel with European traditions that’s steeped in nostalgia. Its history reaches back a century to the golden age of New England resorts. Browse through historic books, documents and scrapbooks containing the history of its former and fascinating clientele. This stay is within close proximity to cross country skiing and an abundance of year-round outdoor activities. thewentworth.com
Where to Dine
Providing a one-of-a-kind dining experience, The Valley Originals is a network of 20-plus locally owned restaurants. Each restaurant works with local farmers to prepare fresh, creative selections daily. Plus, the group supports local charities and has donated more than $300,000 to help others. thevalleyoriginals.com
Apres-ski, locals’ favorites include Max’s at Snow Village Inn for wild game, oysters and a perfect Caesar salad. Cozy up to its roaring fireplace and enjoy your favorite libation. snowvillageinn.com
For Irish comfort food, try Shannon Door Pub in the heart of Jackson Village. shannondoor.com
Delaney’s Hole in the Wall is a classic ski and sports tavern offering New England favorites, as well as a sushi kitchen that prepares rolls in full view. delaneys.com
Where to Shop
Zeb’s is an old-fashioned general store in the heart of North Conway Village offering a collection of New England specialty foods and hard-to-find nostalgic items (think penny candy, Root Beer Barrels, Black Licorice Laces and homemade fudge). More than 5,000 products are creatively displayed in antique fixtures. zebs.com
Settlers Green Outlet Village offers tax-free shopping in more than 60 famous-name stores as well as local crafts, antiques and gifts.
Working together for a good cause, The White Mountain Independents is a network of more than 20 locally-owned retailers who joined together to promote the positive impact of buying local while raising money for area charities. northconwaynh.com