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White Mountains, Northern

White Mountains, Northern
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North Conway, Jackson, Dixville Notch, Bethlehem, NH
Website: www.newengland.com/itins/itin.nh.whitemtnorth.html

White Mountains, NH Itinerary

If you’re willing to abide a sometimes spooky remoteness, the North Country of New Hampshire serves up rural New England in big doses. This itinerary starts near the outlet shopping mecca that has transformed North Conway, but it soon leaves the 20th century far behind.

It’s hard to believe that North Conway was once the rustic gateway to the wilds of the White Mountains. But that’s how it seemed to travelers in the mid-1800s. Today the “town” that bends along Route 16 has more places to find off-price skirts and blouses than hardware or groceries. That said, there’s great outlet shopping to be found, from Banana Republic to Dansk to L.L. Bean.

Or escape the masses (and the car traffic) by riding the Conway Scenic Railroad (admission $; Rte. 16; 603-356-5251 or 800-232-5251), a one-hour trip of splendid vistas. Just up the street from the railroad’s Victorian station is Zeb’s (800-676-9294), a self-styled general store that stocks only goods made in New England.

Head north on Route 16 to Jackson. It’s reached by a small covered bridge that heralds the town’s rural flavor. Make yourself comfortable for the night at the over-the-top Victorian Nestlenook Farm (double room rates Moderate to Deluxe; Dinsmore Rd.; 603-383-9443 or 800-659-9443) or the village landmark Wildcat Inn & Tavern (Inexpensive to Moderate; Rte. 16A; 603-383-4245). Two relics from the grand hotel days are Eagle Mountain Resort (Inexpensive to Moderate; Carter Notch Rd.; 603-383-9111) and the gingerbread Wentworth Resort Hotel (Inexpensive; 603-383-9700 or 800-637-0013). Dinner at the Inn at Thorn Hill ($$$$; Thorn Hill Rd.; 603-383-4242 or 800-289-8990) is elegant and sophisticated; or go for the Italian menu at the Wildcat Tavern ($$-$$$).

Eat a hearty breakfast: We’re heading for the mountains. Drive north on Route 16, through the shoulders of the White Mountains. Towns and diversions are sparse up here where, off to your left, Mount Washington looms at 6,288 feet.

At Gorham Route 16 is joined by the Androscoggin River, which weaves along the road, presenting marsh and river views all the way to its source at Lake Umbagog. In the one-horse town of Errol, stop at the Errol Restaurant for one of their famous homemade doughnuts.

Heading northwest on Route 26, you’ll soon arrive at civilization: the legendary Balsams (Deluxe, including all meals and activities; Dixville Notch; 800-255-0600). Think of the Balsams as a little bit of Europe exiled to one of the most remote corners of the lower 48. This grand lodge of 215 graceful rooms overlooks Lake Gloriette and in turn is overlooked by the craggy peaks of Dixville Notch.

What’s to do? Plenty. Start with swimming, golf, and hiking on its 15,000 acres. And then there’s dinner, which the Balsams has elevated to a sort of elegant, gourmet cult ritual, performed in exquisite slow motion.

It could take years to explore all of the Balsams, but devote at least one day. You might start by leaving good vibes for your candidate in the Ballot Room, where the first votes of the 1996 Presidential election will be cast in November. Even if you don’t play golf, at least plan for lunch in the aptly named Panorama Clubhouse. Kids have their own activities and supervisors — you can be left to your own supervision.

Set out on Route 26 again, heading west toward the Connecticut River and the unassuming town of Colebrook. Stop by the Colebrook Fish Hatchery (603-237-4459) just east of town on Fish Hatchery Road. Then take busy Route 3 heading south. At North Stratford, cross the Connecticut River into Vermont for a more pleasant drive along twisting Route 102. Cross back into New Hampshire at Lancaster.

Between Lancaster and Whitefield you’ll come upon the entrance to Weeks State Park (603-788-4004). Turn here and ascend the narrow 1.5-mile paved drive to the top of Mount Prospect (2,059 feet) for a stunning look at the North Country. There’s a stone fire tower you can climb next to the former manor house of John W. Weeks, a former U.S. Secretary of War.

Continue south through the many-spired town of Whitefield, situated around an irregular green in a stately river valley. Turn onto Route 116, then Route 142 to arrive in the turn-of-the-century resort town Bethlehem. Check into Adair (Moderate to Expensive; Rte. 302; 603-444-2600), an elegant retreat built as a wedding present in 1927. Another option is the family-run Mulburn Inn (Inexpensive; Main St.; 603-869-3389), a seven-room bed-and-breakfast.

Once settled, take a sunset stroll along the gentle trails at The Rocks, a magnificent estate of meadows, woodlands, and shingled barns now managed by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. (The well-marked entrance is two miles west of Bethlehem on Rte. 302.) For dinner, head to Tim-Bir Alley ($$-$$$; Old Littleton Rd.; 603-444-6142), a restaurant run by Tim and Biruta Carr (get the name?) who started their culinary adventure in an alley storefront that seated fewer people than a minivan. They’ve upgraded considerably, but still wow guests with their inventive regional cuisine.

After all that hiking around, you deserve a fine meal — and an early bedtime.

— Wayne Curtis

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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