Even in the spring, New Hampshire’s Mount Washington is a cool adventure
By K.D. Norris Special to the Times Union
Published 12:01 a.m., Sunday, May 1, 2011
The Mount Washington area of New Hampshire is famous for its winter skiing, its summer escapes and its fall color; and justifiably so. But springtime, on and around the still snow-covered mountain, has its own cool adventures to be found.
Spring hiking — especially the stunning views of The Mountain from Pinkham Notch and the Tuckerman Ravine trail area — is an adventurous experience few avail themselves of. The towns surrounding the mountain, especially North Conway, are free of the usual crush of tourist season crowds. And the jewel of the mountain, the historic Mount Washington Hotel — now properly called the Omni Mount Washington Resort — has some great deals to be had.
The drive to Mount Washington from Albany, about five hours give or take, makes it more than a day trip, but a long weekend can give you two great nights and a full day of exploring.
Jewel of The Mountain
There are multiple lodgings to stay the weekend along the loop around Mt. Washington and the Presidential Mountain Range — state routes 2 on the north, 16 on the east and 302 on the west and south — but if you are only going to the area once, stay at the Mount Washington Resort’s grand hotel.
The focal point of the resort, the thoroughly revitalized hotel, dates from 1902, and has classic old world hotel history, elegant charm and superior service — and the accompanying price. But, as they say, when it comes to real estate and resorts, the key is location, location … and view.
Not only does the resort offer the perfect view of The Mountain, it is a great entry point into the Mount Washington loop — and it offers all the resort amenities needed to keep your non-hiker companion happily occupied during your outdoor adventure. The resort has a full-service spa attached to the hotel, an afternoon high tea, plenty of open or enclosed seating areas perfect for a glass of wine and a good book, and a wide selection of in-house dining options during the day. But save the grand dining room for a superb dinner experience for you both in the evening.
The resort also has family friendly activities. There is a family friendly nine-hole Mount Pleasant Course golf course — and the challenging 18-hole Mount Washington Course, restored to its original 1915 design.
The resort’s superior red clay tennis courts are available, as is the equestrian stables, offering group and private trail rides for beginner and advanced riders, and carriage rides for the family or the romantic. Everything should be open by mid-May, but check ahead for weather and availability.
Available year-round, and sure to please the teens, is the canopy tour course, comprised of 10 zip lines, two suspension bridges, hiking and rappelling in the forests of Bretton Woods ski center. With snow or without, the ski area is the place for youth or young at heart to hang out. Depending on the weather, spring also offers mountain biking and ski lift rides.
Get out and explore
If giving that someone a shopping experience is the key to getting you some hours on a hiking trail, a scenic 30-minute drive will get you to North Conway, a quaint, funky-hip area with more than enough shopping and amusements to keep anyone busy while you are happily hiking.
Lunch options include The Met Coffee House and Art Gallery, and Horse Feathers, a local “pub and grub” hangout that gets loud at night but is family friendly during the day. On a warm afternoon, sit outside at Wine Thyme and enjoy upscale tapas and wine.
If you want to get a taste for the Mount Washington Observatory — which will likely still be closed in May — you can also check out the Weather Discovery Center in North Conway. Another family place around the mountain is the Tin Mountain Conservation center, in nearby Albany, N.H.
But if you are in for a real spring adventure, find a hike in nearly 800,000 acres of White Mountain National Forest — what has thawed out and been opened, anyway — either as a self-guided hike or using a resort-approved guide — both the International Mountain Climbing School and the Appalachian Mountain Club are available for hire.
If you are looking for the ultimate spring adventure — a spring hike in the Pinkham Notch area and, specifically, into Tuckerman Ravine — you will need to get in touch with, if not hire, a local adventure professional.
A friend of friend, long experienced with the hiking adventures of the area, Casey Taylor, who used to work at the Mount Washington Observatory, says hiking is “open” in Pinkham Notch year-round, although the Forest Service does usually close one trail (the top portion climbing out of Tuckerman Ravine) for a period every spring, because of avalanche danger. “There are other trails to take, Lion’s Head, when that is the case,” she advises.
Although it varies by year, early to mid-spring, roughly until mid-May, is regarded as “mud season,” and some trails can be a little difficult, mostly due to changing conditions with changing elevation. Sheltered ravines may still have fairly deep snow, and the exposed summits can be very icy.
“Depending on your hike, you may need snowshoes as well as crampons, and an ice axe if conditions warrant it,” said Taylor. “Folks at the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) and the Pinkham Notch visitor center can provide you with the best and most up-to-date information on specific trails.”
Hiking the area gets more simple as May turns to June, as spring turns to summer, but it will be more crowded — and if you make it up in May, you may well still catch view of the gonzo spring skiers flying down slopes of the notch, or you hit the spring alpine flower time with nobody else around; How cool would that be?
K.D. Norris is a freelance travel writer based in Southern Vermont.
If you go
How to get there/getting around
Albany to Mount Washington, N.H., is about five hours by MapQuest; take your choice on how to get to Interstate 91, on the Vermont-New Hampshire border. From there, you fly at freeway speeds into view of Mount Washington.
Where to stay
The Mount Washington Hotel at the Omni Mount Washington Resort has some spring deals at omnimountwashingtonresort.com. Dogs seem to be allowed at the resort’s Bretton Arms Inn B&B. There are a ton of other places around The Mountain; check out northconwayvillage.net for some. If you are the real outdoors type, try to stay at Joe Dodge Lodge at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center, run by the Appalachian Mountain Club — Google it; the link is huge.
Where to eat
If you’re staying at the resort, the food bill adds up quickly — but a dinner at the grand dining room is a must, for the great menu and experience. Nearby the hotel, and part of the resort, more reasonable dining is available at a family friendly old train station, Fabyan’s. Or just take a drive and 20 minutes either way will give you several non-resort options.
The one thing you have to do at The Mountain
Get to North Conway, have a light breakfast and strong caffeine at The Met Coffee House, stock up for next winter by shopping for outdoor clothes one of the many non-chain stores, then find somewhere, anywhere, to get your boots dirty. Then brag that you hiked Mt. Washington.