Hey y’all, remember when I did my Salem post and I said “this is going to be the only travel post this year”?
This little excursion came up very last minute, but it was so fun and frankly so scenic, I just had to share it with everyone. A pair of friends who we hadn’t seen since pre-COVID asked us if we’d interested in scenic train ride in North Conway, NH. After digging deep to learn about their COVID-awareness and the company’s activity and accommodations, etc., we said a tentative yes and prepared ourselves for a small excursion into familiar territory.
I was raised in New Hampshire. There are a lot of different things I could say about the people of that state – both good and bad. I’ve had some feelings about people whose reactions and responses to the pandemic have been very disappointing, and it’s made me a bit hesitant overall. But whatever you think about the people of New Hampshire and its overall culture, it cannot be denied that the White Mountains are beautiful.
We met our friends just outside the train station in North Conway. We had A++ excellent tickets and were seated in a private domed car with great views and also really good COVID prep. The cars were enclosed in their own boxes, masks were required, and there were no interaction between parties. Basically, we got to go in our own bubble. Neat!
In fact, the only COVID complaint I had the entire trip was at the train station itself. Because our party had the Super Fancy Tickets, we got to wait with just our group in a separate area. Unfortunately, even though there were clear social distancing guidelines and signs, people were just crowding and it was *sigh*. It didn’t affect me, because in our group we were very much separate from the hullabaloo, but I wanted a bit to lecture these people, you know? Oy.
BUT. On board the train, the compartments were completely blocked off from one another on all sides and the craftsmanship was great and we felt very safe. I don’t have any pictures to prove it, but I promise, it was very well done!
If you’re an outdoorsy person, I recommend the White Mountain during autumn. We came about a week late and many of the most beautiful colors had started to fade to brown already. Beyond the foliage, though, there’s good hiking in the White Mountains and trails for all sorts of different experience levels. There are trails for experienced hikers but also for families with children that are not too taxing on little legs.
That said, though, if you’re not a hiking person, this train ride was really neat. I’m not big on hiking (very very not big). Like, I can do a whimsical wander in the woods. In fact, I love those. But load me out with gear and a full day of walking and it is not my cup of tea unless the destination is very cool. This train ride was, for me, a really good way of indulging in autumn in New England, without getting too up close and personal with it.
The White Mountains of New Hampshire bring tourists in droves every year because of the stunning foliage. This year was no different – in fact, possibly more so. Growing up in the state, we came to the mountains a lot and hiked many of the easier trails. While I’m not an outdoorsy sort, I deeply appreciate the beauty of this place. I was looking forward to some good pictures, too!
For folks not from New England, and not from the United States, New Hampshire is one of those states that tends to be classified by only its motto “Live Free or Die”. In fact, when I went to college in New York, someone memorably asked me if New Hampshire was in the suburbs of Boston. So yeah. “Leaf Peeping”, as this is called, is one of its only tourist attractions. My experience living in this state was a mixture of charm at the rural towns and a whole lot of struggling to survive. Perhaps this isn’t true of the whole state, but my experience was that most people had to commute to Massachusetts or one of New Hampshire’s major cities to make anything near a livable wage. This small pocket of the tourist industry is so important to many’s survival.
Fortunately for New Hampshire’s tourist industry, if you’re feeling a bit stuck and want an adventure, outdoors is exactly where to go! Since it’s more COVID-friendly than a lot of other activities, I’m glad it is still thriving (though, likely anywhere, I wish the general populous was more sensible in group settings). On this train ride, we saw loads of hikers! And because there’s so much space, I don’t believe we saw more than one group together at a time on the trails. There is, literally, room to breathe out here.
We were up in North Conway, right in the heart of the White Mountains. The New Hampshire towns that do get tourism need it desperately, even in non-COVID years. I’m so grateful that I live in a place where the foliage is so bright and beautiful (we’re in Massachusetts now, about three hours southwest of North Conway). Even though these may not be the most challenging trails, they do reward hikers with hidden waterfalls and beautiful landscapes. I really do recommend New Hampshire for any outdoorsy folk out there.
Our train stopped at a couple different stations just for a break. The overall train ride was five and a half hours, so it was really nice to get off every once and a while and stretch our legs. One of the stops was at Crawford Notch. This is a hugely popular location in the mountains, with over 5000 acres of trails, fishing, camping, and general outdoorsy goodness.
We only stopped for about fifteen minutes in Crawford Notch, but it was just enough time to take a quick hike around the lake near the station. Almost nobody was hiking the small trails (most of our fellow passengers flocked the gift shop?) but it was absolutely beautiful and I only wish I’d been cleverer about my choice of shoes for the day. 🙂
One of the sights along the way is the Mount Washington Hotel. This hotel features in just about every piece of travel literature about the Mountains. Mount Washington itself is quite popular, too. I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of the country (probably not in the rest of the world, though), but there are SO MANY cars out there with an “I climbed Mount Washington!” bumper sticker. So many. One out of every five, probably.
Mount Washington (also: Agiocochook) is 6288.2 feet high and the highest mountain in the northeastern United States. It is part of the Appalachian Trail, and one of the most difficult hikes on the route… not necessarily due to its terrain, but actually because of the weather. Mount Washington held the world record for strongest winds from 1934 to 1996 at 231 mph. Definitely not my cup of tea, but I do have friends who have hiked and absolutely loved the journey.
All in all, it was a really nice day. The mountains are truly beautiful and for myself, it was really nice to get out of the house and see people we haven’t seen, but do deeply trust in a controlled and protected environment. While I haven’t been on this train ride before, I thought it was stunning and I’d certainly go on it again. It sells out really early for this time of year, and so we were super lucky that our friends had a couple tickets free up for us.
However, if anyone out there found themselves in New Hampshire and were interested in the Conway Scenic Railroad (we were on the Mountaineer tour), I really don’t think this would have been as enjoyable a trip if we didn’t have the prime seats. We really were in a glass bubble with an excellent view, but any lower on the train and we would have just been looking at tree trunks most the time. So that’s something to keep in mind!
For real this time, this is the last travel post of 2020. With a little luck and a lot of science, I’m hoping to have some adventure in 2021. We’ve already scheduled some major trips with the funds from this year’s cancellations, so crossing my fingers I’ll be able to take y’all out of New England next year.
And, if not, there’s a bunch of beautiful things to find here as well.
Do you enjoy foliage changes or hiking outdoors? What is your favorite activity when you want to get out in nature? Share your preferred pastimes in the comments!