By Bob Starink
New Hampshire is a beautiful state all year round. However, autumn is the season when New Hampshire attracts most of its visitors to see the magnificent foliage colors.
Even though you hear horror stories about standing room only throughout all of the New England states at this time of year, there is a lot of land area to spread the crowds out and overpopulation is not really an issue. Of course, booking accommodation in the region does need to be made well in advance and prices are higher but not ridiculously so.
The White Mountains and near-lying areas are foliage magnet destinations. The 34-mile Kancamagus Highway joining Lincoln to Conway is a preferred route to navigate to appreciate the vivid reds and yellows the forests have to offer. Away from the car, there are numerous hikes to immerse yourself in the beauty.
Two other options are train and bike.
The Hobo Railroad and Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad offer varied train rides leaving from Meredith and Lincoln. We spent big ($130 each) for seats on the President’s Car for the four-hour tour from Meredith to Livermore Falls and back, which included a hot lunch at the Common Man Inn at Plymouth. This train is like a step back in time. A cheerful old attendant welcomes all on board and serves drinks and snacks as the train slowly moves along the historic track past blue lakes, across rivers and through farms and forests, all enhanced by the multi-colored landscape. Friendly locals wave as the train passes by. A man in the carriage playing a piano accordion completes the old-time scene. For more details and other tour options, check out www.foliagetrains.com.
The Adventure Center at Loon Mountain Resort, just east of Lincoln, offers the Franconia Notch Bike Tour for $36 per person. Once fitted up, you are driven to Echo Lake north of Lincoln and dropped off with a map to make your own way the 12 or so miles back to Loon. Half the journey is on a specially designed bike path while the rest is on local roads.
This is an extremely clever way to see the local attractions. The trail is mostly downhill so you don’t need to be super fit to take the tour. The route connects the major tourist spots along Route 3, including Cannon Mountain Cable Car, The Old Man of the Mountain, The Basin and The Flume.
The Old Man is the state symbol. It’s a giant rock face profile that looks like an old man (obviously). Unfortunately for New Hampshire, the Old Man collapsed seven years ago, so now it’s the very flat-faced Old Man. Imagine the horror of the local tourist authorities and the politicians when their number one state attraction and the symbol on all the road signs disappeared one night.
The joy of the bike ride is that you glide down the trail and stop wherever you want to shoot photos or take a hike and then continue on the bike. No traffic problems, no parking problems.
The Basin and The Flume are water-based features, with The Flume the more spectacular. A path winds its way along a creek in a narrow gorge where at its upper reaches, the creek falls in several cascades. The wooden walkway at one stage seems to have been built right over the top of one of the waterfalls. The track continues in a scenic circuit, including a covered pedestrian bridge over another rivulet looking down along a valley lined with colored foliage. The Flume is privately operated so there is a cost of $12 per person to do the walk.
While we were at The Flume — for over 90 minutes — we left our bikes in a bike rack in the parking area without locks. When we returned to them, they were still there. I doubt two unattended bikes here in Australia would be left unstolen or undamaged over that length of time.
The hired bikes are yours for the day so there is no rush to get back. This tour would be a highlight of any visit to the White Mountains.
And finally, when you’re finished leaf viewing, take some time to go to the Settler’s Green, an outlet mall in North Conway. New Hampshire has no state taxes, so the bargains which abound are an even better value.
If you go:
A rental car is the best way to get around. National has excellent rates, especially for one-way rentals. There are many good hotels in the region. We chose the economical Days Inn in Campton (about $120 per night). A great meal can be had at Fratello’s in Lincoln, an Italian restaurant with a big menu and delicious food. For more details on activities at Loon see www.loonmtn.com.
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