Travel this season is going to look much different than it would during a typical summer. The streets of popular tourist destinations are filled (I use this term lightly: Congestion is lighter than usual in many places) with families exhibiting and restaurants bearing storefront signs with the words “outdoor seating only.”
According to a survey conducted by MMGY Travel Intelligence and the U.S. Travel Association in April, 47 percent of Americans are likely to opt out of air travel this summer, instead hitting the open road for a more pandemic-friendly travel option. And participants also say they feel most comfortable heading to outdoor-centered destinations, which New Hampshire has no shortage of.
Of course, with many people being hesitant to venture too far from home, this summer likely will be the summer of day trips. Luckily for New Englanders, there are plenty of popular and lesser-known destinations to discover throughout the region within a day’s drive.
Mount Washington Auto Road
The Mount Washington Auto Road, which opened in 1861, is North America’s first man-made attraction and can be credited to putting North Conway and the Mount Washington Valley on the map as a tourist destination.
While it was originally a bridal path to the summit, visitors today embark on self-guided driving tours, stopping at viewpoints and listening to fun facts about the changing and fragile ecosystems along the way.
Insider tip: For those looking to earn some late-season turns, the summit snowfields and a few of the surrounding gullies are often skiable in June and sometimes July (August and September turns aren’t unheard of, but you may not link many). Pack the skis, buy a pass and take some laps!
At 165 vertical feet, Arethusa Falls is arguably New Hampshire’s tallest single-drop waterfall (Dryad Falls, in the Mahoosuc Range, is technically taller, but is often reduced to a soggy cliff during the drier months).
Each summer, tourists hit the 2.8-mile out-and-back trail to see the falls, cool off and relax. The trailhead is located on Route 302 in Bartlett, just south of Crawford Notch.
Insider tip: A slightly more challenging and less-crowded loop can be completed by linking the Arethusa Falls and Frankenstein Cliff trails.
While driving through Franconia Notch, it can sometimes be a challenge to remember you’re on the East Coast — it almost feels like a miniature Yosemite. On the west side of the parkway — which meanders between the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ridges — Cannon Cliff protrudes 1,000 vertical feet from ground level, creating an alpine playground for rock climbers. But for those who prefer to keep their feet on horizontal ground, the views themselves are worth the trip. The Notch is home to a variety of other attractions and hiking trails, like Flume Gorge, Cannon’s aerial tram (yes, at the ski resort) and the New England Ski Museum.
Mount Washington Hotel
If you’ve ever seen a postcard from New Hampshire, you’ve seen photos of the Mount Washington Hotel, with the impressive Presidential Ridge and Mount Washington towering in the background. While the hotel is still in normal operation today, its historical significance is not lost on tourists or locals.
Completed in 1902 in Crawford Notch, the Grand Hotel welcomed visitors taking the train from Boston, New York and Philadelphia, to experience the most innovative and luxurious hotel of its time. Today, guests continue heading to the Omni Mount Washington Resort to escape daily life in exchange for a lavish weekend. Guests marvel at its Spanish Renaissance-style architecture, enjoy cocktails and sweeping views from the wraparound porches and savor golf at the on-property golf course. The Cave, located in the basement of the hotel, is a bar with a more casual atmosphere, enjoyed by guests and locals alike.
During the day (or times when the hotel is closed due to, say, a pandemic), drive up the road leading to the Cog Railway, searching the headwaters of the Ammonoosuc River for native trout and swimming holes.
While it is a significant part of the “Live Free or Die” state, outdoor recreation isn’t the only thing New Hampshire has to offer its visitors. The city of Portsmouth, which is a historic seaport town just north of the Massachusetts border, is a popular summer destination due largely in part to its walkability, location, restaurants and attractions. The city’s quaint downtown streets are lined with renowned restaurants, shops and galleries — all of which are within walking-distance of each other. And although some of the city’s annual events — like the Prescott Park Arts Festival, in which popular artists perform for free — have been canceled for 2020, simply strolling the streets and taking in the harbor views makes for a worthwhile visit.
Insider tip: Beer lovers should check out Earth Eagle Brewings, which has a full food menu and an outdoor beer garden. The beer list is often eclectic, featuring brews ranging from a white stout with coconut and rum-soaked oak to a kettle sour with plum and sea salt.
As the wildflowers begin to bloom in late spring and early summer, Sugar Hill becomes a vibrant playground known for its lupine population. The small town, located just north of Franconia, has a few small restaurants, shops and inns to explore, including Polly’s Pancake Parlor, which obtained notoriety in 2006 when it was named a James Beard Foundation Award American Classic.
Lost River Gorge
Located in Kinsman Notch, the Lost River Gorge is an impressive, narrow gorge carved over 300 million years ago by glaciers. Granite boulders form a network of caves, many of which can be accessed and explored via a network of hiking trails. There is a fee required to visit the gorge, and there are a variety of educational tours available.
Insider tip: The Lost River Gorge easily can be combined with Franconia Notch in a day, as they are located just 25 minutes from each other. Sugar Hill also is nearby, so you combine any of these three attractions to make a full-day trip.
Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge
New Hampshire is home to quite a few historic covered bridges. But at 450 feet, the Cornish-Windsor covered bridge is the longest in the country and most well-known in the region. In fact, it’s the longest two-span covered bridge in the world. The original bridge was built in 1796, although it has since been destroyed by floods and rebuilt numerous times. Still, the bridge, which spans the Connecticut River between New Hampshire and Vermont, is as impressive as ever.
Castle in the Clouds
Located in the state’s lakes region, Castle in the Clouds is a historic estate dating back to the early 20th century. The original 6,300-acre property, which was owned and developed by Tom Plant, was home to stables, a golf course and a boathouse on Lake Winnipesaukee, among other features.
Today, the estate is a major destination, with a week’s worth of activities to keep guests busy. Visitors are welcome to take tours of the mansion, walk along the network of hiking trails, learn about the estate through exhibits, go on a horseback ride and have a snack at the Cafe in the Clouds.
With less than 19 miles of coastline (or 13, depending on who you ask), New Hampshire often isn’t thought of as a coastal destination. But its short coastline packs a punch.
While many head to the popular Hampton Beach, this summer might be the perfect summer for getting off the beaten path and finding something new. And Jenness Beach, located in Rye, might be the perfect spot to do so. With only a few coastal destinations to choose from, it’s no surprise that you won’t find yourself alone on this sand beach during hot summer weekends, but it is typically less crowded than Hampton Beach.
Insider tip: Visit during the early morning or evening hours to avoid the crowds. But make sure to acknowledge and stay clear of surfers.