How to Spend One Day in the White Mountains


White Mountains viewpoint

I couldn’t believe it: I’d been in New Hampshire for under an hour and already my underwear was soaked.

I reached for my crotch as I took a step back.

“Oh! Don’t mind the dog, he’s a big softie really,” beamed the owner of my guesthouse before she spotted the enormous puddle of drool that had rapidly been deposited on my jeans.

I stared back at her in horror.

Oh no, oh no, oh no!” She had finally noticed my predicament and rushed to the kitchen to grab me a towel.

Dave exited the bathroom at that moment and looked me up and down. “Nice wet patch.”

I grimaced.

Let me say now that I essentially am in love with every dog that exists on the planet and I want to hold them all EXCEPT SLOBBERY DOGS. Sorry, slobbery dogs. I can’t handle your buckets of excess saliva.

As I attempted to dry myself off with a tea towel, the owner explained that we couldn’t yet check-in, so we’d have to find something to do for the next three hours instead.

We dropped our bags and I dragged Dave to a nearby laundrette.

Spruce Moose hotel in North Conway

It was at the laundrette when we discovered the detergent dispenser was out of order. Fortunately, a friendly local saved the day (and my damp crotch) and gave us some of his washing powder, not accepting anything but our thanks in exchange.

It had been a rollercoaster of a welcome to New Hampshire.

Still, we had several hours to kill and I couldn’t bear the thought of wasting our first day in the White Mountains staring at a room full of washing machines. I leapt on my phone to research the area surrounding North Conway, where we were staying, and was beckoning Dave out the door minutes later.

In the car, I directed him through Echo Lake State Park, up a nerve-wrackingly steep road, and into the car park at the top.

With the smell of burning transmission fluid swarming around us, I took Dave’s hand in mine and led him to Cathedral Ledge. Ahead of us lay a breathtaking view of unbroken wilderness.

Together, we sat down, and I took a photo of a guy taking a photo of his girlfriend pretending to take a photo.

Taking photos at Cathedral Lodge in New Hampshire

Under the warm autumn sun, this viewpoint felt as though it could hold its own against the thousands of others I’ve witnessed over six years of travel. And yet, Cathedral Ledge is by no means a popular or particularly well-known spot in this part of New Hampshire — in fact, it’s barely mentioned online.

I took this as a fairly obvious sign that we were going to wish we had a hell of a lot longer in the White Mountains.

White Mountains viewpoint

Cathedral Ledge views

Lauren in New Hampshire
Another fantastic attempt by me to take a photo of myself looking adventurous while travelling. Great pole. 

Back in North Conway, I was overjoyed to stumble upon the Flatbread Company later that evening: an Italian restaurant that was all about organic ingredients, free-range meats, and catering for those of us with food allergies or an overly-restrictive diet.

I haven’t had a single pizza since completing my Whole30 over a year ago, so to discover there were gluten- and dairy-free pizzas on offer just about made my year. When I discovered they were actually delicious? I just about died.

On top of that, they had a pumpkin spice whoopie pie that may have been one of my culinary highlights from my entire road trip.

It had been the perfect first day in New Hampshire.

new hampshire hike

In our room that night, Dave and I turned to our laptops and began to research how to spend a day in the White Mountains.

Yeah, I’ll hold up my hands and confess we left our research to the last minute. And I’ll also confess that while Dave actually researched what to do, I mostly googled how to tell if you have a broken kneecap.

The previous day, in Acadia National Park, I had managed to tumble down a boat ramp and land knee first on a sharp rock. I was now able to walk on it, but it still ached, and bending my knee put me in a lot of pain. I couldn’t help but wonder if an action-packed day of hiking was really what I needed right now.

It definitely wasn’t what I needed, but I also wasn’t about to spend my time in New Hampshire hanging around inside the guesthouse collecting saliva in my pants.

Fall colors in New Hampshire

The highlight of breakfast the following day was when the guesthouse owner asked how we’d like our eggs done, and the grumpy American guest answered “the white crispy and the yellow runny” — I thought I was the only person ignorant enough to have ever referred to the parts of an egg as the white and the yellow! It was so exciting I almost cried.

With mine and Dave’s stomachs full of white and yellow, we drove to the Local Grocer — a nearby health food store combined with cafe, deli, and yoga studio — to stock up on treats for the day.

Our destination for the morning was a difficult-rated climb to Arethusa Falls, which Dave had deduced from his research would be the perfect introduction to the White Mountains. Difficult? It sure was! The majority of the hour-long climb was uphill, and those final ten minutes, where we could hear the waterfall but felt doomed to never reach it, were a killer.

As always, though, the hike was worth the effort, and the 50-metre-high waterfall towered over the small group of people who were lazing on the rocks below. This hike wasn’t a popular one, due to its difficulty rating, which ended up being a huge bonus and when Dave and I eventually found ourselves with the waterfall all to ourselves.

Waterfall in White Mountains

Kneecap update! It was aching.

Our hike to the waterfall ended up sucking three hours out of our day, so by the time we were back down to ground level, we were ready for some protein.

Once we were back on the road, it didn’t take long for us to spot the perfect picnic stop, surrounded by more fall colours than we’d seen on the road trip so far. We’d managed to time our fall foliage road trip poorly — while we were in the region at a time that usually guarantees peak foliage, 2017 had been unseasonably warm and the colour change had been delayed. In New Hampshire, at higher altitudes, we were finally starting to see some of the oranges and reds I’d been dreaming off when planning this adventure.

Well, one of us was seeing them.

The other one of us was colourblind, which was something we somehow both forgot when planning a trip that was all about telling the difference between red and green.

Lake in the White Mountains

Our second hike of the day was the one I was most excited for: a climb to the top of Mount Willard, to a viewpoint that had looked incredible from the photos I’d seen online.

Like our hike to the waterfall, this was a trek that was mostly and continuously uphill, and when we were 15 minutes from the top, I swear I told Dave to go on without me because I didn’t think I could make it. My knee was throbbing, the climb was relentless, and I was now convinced it wouldn’t be worth pushing myself.

And just like every other hike I’ve been on, I pushed myself anyway and was rewarded with a sight that made all the pain fade away.

White Mountains viewpoint

As I stood above the valley, fall colours stretching out before me, all I could think about was, why does nobody talk about this place? New Hampshire is underrated as hell.

One of the greatest lessons that travel’s taught me over the years is that your biggest trip highlights will almost always surprise you.

Before arriving in New England, I expected the highlights of our road trip would be the autumn colours, the challenging hikes, and the beautiful landscapes.

Nope!

One of my biggest highlights was actually taking a nap in the White Mountains.

Kancamagus from above

White Mountains in New Hampshire

Because that’s precisely how I spent the next two hours.

And I’m not going to lie: dozing atop Mount Willard was wonderful.

And sure, if I was a good travel writer, I would have scrambled down the mountain and tried another hike on for size, or driven to the summit of Mount Washington or…

But instead, I threw out our plans for a third hike of the day, stretched out on one of the granite rocks beside Dave, and drifted off to sleep while he did exactly the same. Occasionally, we woke to snap photos of the view, as though it had somehow transformed into something even more spectacular while we were asleep. Sometimes I stared up at the bright blue sky, inhaled the fresh air and fragrant flowers that surrounded me, and listened to the birds sing.

Looking back, I have no regrets.

I’m thankful I took the time to listen to my body, to slow down, and to be present. Far too often, I shove my travel writer cap on and force myself to check out dozens of attractions so that I can ensure I’m recommending the absolute best.

Or I refuse to eat in the same restaurant twice in order to gain a better taste of the food scene.

Or I simply prevent myself from simply pausing, relaxing, and absorbing what’s in front of me.

Sometimes there’s so much to see and do that I want to write an invaluable travel guide to the area and burn myself out through over-exploration.

It felt good to sleep instead.

White Mountains train station

Remember my injured knee?

By the time I’d worked up the motivation to descend to the car park, I was hobbling and nothing I said would convince Dave that I was capable of tackling a third hike in the park.

Continuing on with our theme of listening to what our bodies were craving, we drove straight to a nearby pub for cocktails, blueberry ale, and a perfect view of the way we’d come.

We’d spent just a few hours in the White Mountains and I was already obsessed.

 

Have you spent time in the White Mountains?

Previous November 2017: Travel Summary and Statistics
Next 2017: My Year in Review

28 Comments

  1. Byron from _misfit_moves_
    December 19, 2017
    Reply

    Your poor knee! By the end of your travel career maybe they’ll have cybernetic implants that will enhance our abilities and you can robo-stride to the tops of overlooks.

    Seeing these pictures, I remain ever convinced that you’d love the Blue Ridge mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina. If you’re ever back in the states, let me know and I can help.

    • Lauren
      January 2, 2018
      Reply

      Oh, definitely! I have so many places still on my U.S. wishlist that I know I’ll need to spend the rest of my life regularly returning in order to see them all.

  2. Jub Bryant
    December 19, 2017
    Reply

    That sounded like you two had one of the best naps ever.Good onya for listening to ya body…not the easiest thing to do that’s for sure.

    And you still got to write a fun story with lots of your personality coming through, wooo.

    Can’t say I’d ever heard of the White Mountains, but they are something I’ll recognise now :D

    Have an awesome holiday season
    Jub

    • Lauren
      January 2, 2018
      Reply

      And you! :-)

  3. Natalie
    December 20, 2017
    Reply

    I also love dogs and I hate slobber! I’m massively amused by your dog saliva predicament (sorry).

    And I need to go to the restaurant you mentioned because I, too, need to eat GF (due to celiac) and I also need delicious pizza.

    Aaaaand, you weren’t at the Houston (Texas) airport last Saturday, were you? I may have see. Your doppelgänger.

  4. Clazz - An Orcadian Abroad
    December 20, 2017
    Reply

    Your photos are incredible, as always!! What’s crazy is I lived in New Hampshire for two months and never came here! But then I was 19 without a car, so I basically did what everyone else was doing. I did a couple of hikes around Lake Winnipesaukee but never ventured further north which seems crazy looking back. New England in autumn is DEFINITELY on my list, so I’ll have to make sure I make it here!

    • Lauren
      January 2, 2018
      Reply

      Oh yeah, I definitely wouldn’t have made it there if I hadn’t had a car. I’d love to see more of New Hampshire when I next make it back.

  5. Brooklyn Murtaugh
    December 21, 2017
    Reply

    Those colors are so beautiful! I’ve always wanted to go to New Hampshire, but you’re right, I never really hear about it.

    Napping with those views sounds perfect to me!

    • Lauren
      January 2, 2018
      Reply

      It’s so underrated!

  6. Sagres
    December 28, 2017
    Reply

    Can I just say how much I’ve enjoyed following your transformation into a lover of hiking. When I read your articles from 2011/2012, you sound like a different person!

    • Lauren
      January 2, 2018
      Reply

      Oh, yes! I used to hate hiking. I can’t quite believe that I’ve become such a fan of it in recent years. I definitely have Dave to thank for that, as hiking is now one of my favourite ways to explore a new place.

  7. Anne
    December 28, 2017
    Reply

    Napping with a view – now that sounds like my kind of nap. I usually rush around trying to see and do everything, but over the years I’ve realised that some of my best memories are of the times when I actually slowed down and gave myself chance to really take it all in. Now I try to build in time to just sit, have a coffee, read a book, people watch or even have a nap. It makes everywhere that little bit nicer.

    • Lauren
      January 2, 2018
      Reply

      Right? I’m exactly the same. It’s never the huge tourist sites that end up being a highlight, but the people I meet and the times I focus on relaxing and doing what I’m craving most. Especially in Europe, where my favourite thing to do is people-watch in cafes and bars all day.

  8. Ruby Eddings
    December 28, 2017
    Reply

    I love the White Mountains. I hope you make it back and go to the top of Mt. Washington next time. It’s beautiful if you manage to time it with a sunny day.

    • Lauren
      January 2, 2018
      Reply

      Ah yes, that was a regret of ours! We considered doing it, but decided we’d get a better feel of the area if we hiked instead. I’m hoping to go back to Maine in 2018, so hopefully I’ll be able to tack a side trip to the White Mountains onto it.

  9. Niyas
    December 29, 2017
    Reply

    Looks amazing Lauren. New Hampshire is the next state along for me so I’ve always had it on my radar. Looks like it’s time to pay the White Mountains a visit.

    • Lauren
      January 2, 2018
      Reply

      Yes! It’s totally worth making the effort to go :-)

  10. Photographie Pro
    January 7, 2018
    Reply

    This is the kind of landscape I really love to shoot. Thanks for sharing your experience in the White Mountains.

  11. quentin nguyen
    January 9, 2018
    Reply

    Those photo looks amazing Lauren. Have always planning to get on a trip to the White mountains. Definitely on my bucket list this time

    • Lauren
      January 9, 2018
      Reply

      Hope you make it there soon!

  12. Dubai City Bus Tour
    January 15, 2018
    Reply

    Beautiful pictures. Looks like an amazing place to visit.

    • Lauren
      January 17, 2018
      Reply

      Hope you make it there one day! :-)

  13. George Jr. M.
    February 6, 2018
    Reply

    As a traveller like you, I advice travel insurance to all travel lovers. Last year in Chile, when i was hiking, i had an accident. My insurance afford all the medical expenses. I was lucky, my accident is not fatal. But medical support costs to much.

    • Lauren
      February 25, 2018
      Reply

      I’m so glad to hear that you’re okay, George! That’s exactly why I always recommend travel insurance — I’ve heard too many horror stories to do insist my readers get it for every trip.

  14. Mark Jr. M.
    February 7, 2018
    Reply

    Dear Lauren,
    Fall is my favorite season. I love fall colours. I am effected your photos of the valley. These kind of photos, including fall all level of colours brown-yellow-green, are downloaded in my PC. Your photos feels me peace and serenity. I add this White Mountains to visit list.
    Thanks for beautiful photos, i except new places and photos :-)

    • Lauren
      February 25, 2018
      Reply

      Glad you enjoyed the post! :-)

  15. Mark Spencer
    June 2, 2018
    Reply

    Awesome blog post, Lauren! This place looks amazing in the pictures. Thanks for sharing it with us. Cheers, Mark.

    • Lauren
      June 6, 2018
      Reply

      Thanks for reading! I hope you make it to the White Mountains one day so that you can see it for yourself!

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