The summer is winding down and you’ve probably started shopping for school supplies (or at least seriously thinking about it). If visions of backpacks and lunchboxes are a little too much for you right now, you might want to consider one last hurrah before the warm days of summer vacation disappear for another 10 months. And the White Mountains offer the perfect opportunity to pack a big dose of old-fashioned family fun into just a few days.
1. Adventure into Flume Gorge
The highlight of this two-mile walk is the network of stairs and boardwalks built directly into the sheer granite walls of a natural gorge run through by breathtaking waterfalls. But the entire hike is a wonderful immersion in the natural history of the region, from the 300-ton glacial boulders to the flat expanse of Table Rock. Kids especially love scrambling through the tight, twisty tunnel of the Wolf Den. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made online.
2. Waterfall hunt
Once the Flume has whetted your appetite for cataracts, spend an afternoon seeking out more of the copious waterfalls scattered throughout the White Mountains. Sabbaday Falls in an easy hike off the Kancamagus Highway, Lower Falls offers a chance to swim among a series of smaller cascades, and Glen Ellis falls plunges 64 feet into a deep green pool. And that’s just for starters: Plenty more waterfalls await those who seek them.
3. Check out the view from the skies
The snow is gone, but many ski resorts keep their lifts running in the summer, offering scenic rides up the mountainside. At Cannon Mountain, the aerial tramway brings visitors to the 4,080-foot summit where they can see as far away as Canada. Wildcat Mountain, near Mt. Washington, runs a classic ski lift to its 4,000-foot peak. At Cranmore, ride the ski lift to the summit, then enjoy a brief scenic hike atop the mountain.
4. Story Land vs. Santa’s Village
The White Mountain region boasts two iconic amusement parks aimed at younger kids. Decide for yourself which reigns supreme by spending a day at each. Visit Story Land in Glen to ride a pumpkin coach to Cinderella’s castle, have a prehistoric adventure on the Roar-O-Saurus Coaster, and catch a glimpse of the Three Little Pigs. Further north, at Santa’s Village, you can feed reindeer, pilot a flying sleigh, and meet the big guy himself.
5. Summit Mt. Washington
At 6,288 feet, Mount Washington is the highest peak in the northeastern United States. The road to the top is eight slow, sometimes dizzying miles, but the drive rewards you with truly stunning vistas as far as 130 miles across the White Mountains. If you’d rather not drive yourself, you can book a guided van tour or ride the historic Cog Railway to the summit.
6. Swim at the base of a mountain
Echo Lake itself is a modest body of water, but the sheer granite face of Cathedral Ledge looming above the lake make it hard to find a more scenic or dramatic place for a relaxing few hours of swimming and picnicking. The beach is small and charming, and there are plenty of picnic tables under the pines. Reservations are encouraged, but there is often room for walk-ins, especially in the afternoons.
7. Float away
The rivers that criss-cross the region never fail to captivate. For a truly – and literally – immersive experience, try river tubing. With a little research you can find popular stretches of river, then park a car on either end, and float your way down. Or, even for an even easier adventure, services like Saco River Tubing will provide the tube and a ride upriver, then all you have to do is go with the flow, floating, swimming, and splashing your way back to where you started.
8. Take to the tracks
The White Mountains offer several options for kids to enjoy the old-fashioned joy of a train ride adventure while parents bask in the wonder of gorgeous scenery and not having to drive. Beyond the Cog Railway and White Mountain Central Railroad at Clark’s Bears (see below) you can choose an 80-minute jaunt along the Pemigewassett River on the Hobo Railroad or perhaps a longer expedition on the Conway Scenic Railroad’s Mountaineer trip over Crawford Notch. All aboard!
9. Polar Caves
As the name suggests, the caves are the highlight here: a network of passageways, caverns, and tunnels created during the last Ice Age, connected by boardwalks and stairs to allow more access and adventure. But there’s plenty more to enjoy at the Polar Caves as well, including an animal farm, picnic area, and gift shop.
10. Unbearable fun at Clark’s
A popular attraction for nearly 100 years, this eclectic fun emporium is best known for the antics of its trained bears. But after the bear show, stick around for the Anaconda Escape water slide, climbing tower, water blaster boats, or acrobatic performances. Take a 25-minute train ride and meet the resident Wolfman, stroll one of five on-site museums, shop for souvenirs, stock up on maple candy, and relax with an ice cream cone.