The Uniqueness of the White Mountains

General stores, snowy peaks, and tons of maple syrup to pour on award-winning pancakes

State nicknames say a lot about a place and when it comes to New England, nature reigns supreme. Maine is the Pine Tree State, Massachusetts is the Bay State, Vermont is the Green Mountain State. Although New Hampshire’s is known as the Granite State, a lesser-known but equally as important moniker is the White Mountain State. The latter speaks to its arguably most visit-worthy area.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The White Mountains—home to Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast—offers up the staples that travelers come to New England for: general stores, maple syrup, rolling landscapes.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head to Mount Washington for a scenic ride aboard a legendary cog railway followed by general store hopping to stock up on local cheese, fudge, and booze. Whatever you choose to do during your time in the White Mountains, you’ll always be surrounded by glorious peaks that give the region its name.

Hot tip: New Hampshire has no sales tax, so stop at the various NH Liquor and Wine Outlets hugging the highway. When in New Hampshire!

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ride up Mount Washington

Sure, seeing the mountain with the tallest peak in the Northeast is cool, but stepping foot on it? Bragging rights granted.

Mount Washington is one of 13 mountains that makes up the Presidential Range with more than half its peaks named after US presidents. Being the tallest of them all, Mount Washington is equipped with a cog railway built in 1868 that brings passengers up the mountain. While the summit isn’t reachable in the winter due to weather conditions, a train can get you to Waumbek Station, located at an elevation of 4,000 feet (about two-thirds up the way).

Related: 10 Amazing Places to RV in August

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you prefer to drive, Marshfield Station is a fully accessible stop that stays open to visitors all year round, situated at an elevation of 2,700 feet. You’ll still get some pretty snappable views, plus you can pop into the Cog Railway Museum for a quick history lesson and refreshing bevvy.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the opposite (Pinkham Notch) side of the mountain, you can drive up the six-and-a-quarter-mile-long Mount Washington Auto Road or ride a van operated from Great Glen Trails. Climbers have the choice of several trails but should be aware of the mountain’s unpredictable and sudden weather changes.

Nothing feels better than getting to the entrance of a general store knowing that on the other side, shelves of jarred jams, homemade fudge, maple sweets, and every trinket you could imagine await you. That’s exactly what you’ll get at Zeb’s General Store in North Conway where maple syrup greets you at the door.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Speaking of maple syrup, Fadden’s General Store and Maple Warehouse in North Woodstock makes the good stuff in their very own backyard. Harman’s Cheese & Country Store in Sugar Hill produces their own cheese including their famous “really-aged cheddar” that, as the name suggests, has been aged for a really long time: more than two years. Locals eat this stuff up.

And remember, no *clap* sales *clap* tax.

White Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat award-winning pancakes, syrup, and other goodies. The syrup talk is not over, my friends (it never is when you’re in New Hampshire), especially when there’s still pancakes to discuss—and in the White Mountains, that means Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill. This spot isn’t just good: Polly’s won a James Beard Foundation Award in 2006. Go big with a fluffy stack of pancakes drizzled in maple syrup and don’t forget a dollop of their homemade maple spread.

White Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another place to get your breakfast fix: Benton’s Sugar Shack in Thornton which serves the perfect plate of face-sized pancakes and crispy bacon alongside their homemade maple syrup (so you can buy your syrup and eat it, too).

Related: 10 Amazing Places to RV in July

Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Switching forms of sugar, the next stop is Chutters in Littleton, home to the world’s longest candy counter of 112 feet with over 500 varieties to choose from.

And, if you’re making your way to Lincoln, pop by Moon Café & Bakery for some of their warm, gooey brownies that pair perfectly with a cup of hot cocoa.

Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the Omni Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods is tucked away from the main drag, it’s almost impossible to miss it with Mount Washington hovering over like a halo. Once you walk into the lobby, you’re transported back to 1902 when the hotel first opened. It’s even rumored that the owner’s wife, Carolyn, still lives in the hotel (don’t worry, a friendly tenant), and ghost aficionados jump at the opportunity to book her old quarters in Room 314.

Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For unwinding, there are two heated pools (one indoor, one outdoor), hot tubs, a spa, and outdoor fire pits for s’more-making. Grab dinner at the Main Dining Room which underwent renovations last year. And when you’re starting to itch for adventure again, you can book an onsite activity like a canopy zip line.

Castle in the Clouds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seventy miles south of Bretton Woods, Castle in the Clouds is home to Lucknow, an Arts and Crafts-style 16-room mansion built in the Ossipee Mountains in 1914. The 135-acre estate provides one of the most stunning views of Lake Winnipesauke, surrounding mountains, and over 5,500 acres of conserved land.

Castle in the Clouds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy self-guided tours of the mansion and guided tours of its basement. The on-site Carriage House offers dining in its highly-acclaimed restaurant in vintage horse stalls and amidst panoramic lakeside views on the terrace. You can also spend time walking or hiking along 28 miles of trail managed by the Lakes Region Conservation Trust taking in the beauty while weaving along brooks and streams and exploring seven different waterfalls. For those that prefer horseback, Riding in the Clouds offers trail rides, carriage rides, and pony rides.

Lake Winnipesaukee Cruise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest lake in New Hampshire, Lake Winnipesaukee is the focal point of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region which also includes nearby—and far less developed—Squam Lake and Newfound Lake. Winnipesaukee is a beehive of summer activity surrounded by water parks, beaches, fast food, and family-oriented attractions.

Weirs Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The west side of the lake is the most developed especially around kid-friendly Weirs Beach and more trendy Meredith while the eastern resort town of Wolfeboro is quieter. Water sports are abundant with sailboats, kayaks, and motorboats vying for water space with the historic cruise boat, M/S Mount Washington.

Related: Ultimate Checklist: 20 Summer Experiences

Loon Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Loon Center and Markus Wildlife Sanctuary in Moultonborough protects breeding waters of these treasured birds and offers visitors a chance to learn about them. Nature and wildlife is also the focus of Squam Lakes Natural Science Center which operates nature cruises on this well-protected lake that was the setting for On Golden Pond.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

4 Epic Places to Watch the Leaves Change

Leaf-peeping season is coming

All the leaves are changing, the temperature is falling, and the sky is gray… well, not yet. I’m just mentally preparing for fall. I love the crispness in the air perhaps because it triggers a snowbird response in me that tells me it’s time to start packing the RV for travel to warmer climes. Georgia O’Keefe said, “I have done nothing all summer but wait for myself to be myself again,” and while that’s not really the whole story of what I did this summer (I’m guessing Georgia O’Keefe wasn’t dealing with back-to-back years of a COVID pandemic), it’s pretty close!

Cooler weather is around the corner and with it comes the changing of the seasons and the changing of the leaves. Here are four epic places you can usher in autumn and her sea of color.

Omni Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

The Omni Mount Washington Resort is the quintessential New England four-season luxury resort. Plan a fall foliage visit where you will be wrapped in the White Mountains red, orange, and yellow canvas. The resort offers a number of outdoor activities where you can experience the best White Mountain vistas.

Omni Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The resort is set amidst nearly 800,000 acres of White Mountain National Forest offering the opportunity to enjoy any number of outdoor activities including mountain biking, horseback riding, disc golf, hiking/walking, fly-fishing, rock climbing, and just plain exploring.

The Omni’s Donald Ross-designed course offers golfers spectacular mountain views that are particularly gorgeous during the fall foliage display. Enjoy a scenic ride on the Bretton Woods Skyway Gondola for breathtaking views of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range. The 12-minute ride up takes you to the new Rosebrook Lodge. For the adventure seekers, a Bretton Woods Canopy Tour can literally immerse you in the gorgeous autumn foliage.

Omni Mount Washington Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whatever road you choose to travel in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, you’ll find easy driving, fabulous scenery, and a wealth of recreation. Nearby scenic attractions include Mount Washington Cog Railway, Crawford Notch State Park, Franconia Notch State Parkway, and Mount Washington Auto Road.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina and Tennessee

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The name “Cherohala” comes from the names of the two National Forests: “Chero” from the Cherokee and “hala” from the Nantahala. The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is a beautiful time of year on the Cherohala Skyway. Cool weather arrives and the changing leaves are spectacular. The leaves begin changing color as early as September in the higher elevations and continue through mid-November in lower elevations. The dogwoods, poplars, and sourwoods are some of the first to transform. The red oaks, hickories, and white oaks change later and often hold their leaves until late fall.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several spectacular scenic vistas on the Tennessee side. Brushy Ridge and Turkey Creek overlooks are good picnic spots. You’ll pass the turn-off for Indian Boundary Waters which offers great camping and back road dual sport/jeep explorations.

On the North Carolina side, Huckleberry Knob (near MP 8) is one of the favorite stops for visitors. At 5,560 feet, it’s the highest peak in the Unicoi Mountains. It’s an easy 2.4-mile roundtrip hike in the Nantahala National Forest with only a 400-foot elevation gain along a former forest service road.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brasstown Bald. Northeast Georgia Mountains

Brasstown Bald is Georgia’s highest peak, so take note to visit early. The colors will change sooner on this peak than in other places in the Georgia Mountains. The Brasstown Bald Visitors Center sits atop Georgia’s highest mountain at 4,784 feet above sea level. Surrounded by the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, its cloud-level observation deck offers stunning 360-degree views of the Southern Appalachian Mountains and valleys. On a clear day, one can see four states.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The unique circular building is home to an 8,000 sq. ft. museum featuring interactive cultural and natural history exhibits. A short film about the dramatic weather and changing seasons at Brasstown Bald plays regularly in the mountain top theater. The summit can be accessed from the parking lot by shuttle service or hiking the half-mile Summit Trail. Additional hiking trails are also available. A gift shop offers forest-related merchandise including locally made goods. A small fee is required for park entry and the shuttle bus. Enjoy picnicking, hiking, and scenic views.

Additionally, the surrounding areas of Blairsville offer Vogel State Park and several fun waterfalls.

Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Boston in the Fall

It’s leaf-peeping time in New England and you don’t have to go any further than Boston Common to see fall colors. Boston is at its most beautiful in the fall. As the leaves turn, Boston’s parks put on an unforgettable show complementing the historic architecture. While you’re there, walk the Freedom Trail to explore some of the city’s historic sites—walk the 2.5-mile red line leading to 16 nationally significant historic sites. 

Freedom Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two centuries separate the creation of the Boston Common and the Public Garden and what a difference that period made. In 1634 the Common was created as America’s first public park; it was practical and pastoral with walkways built for crosstown travel. In contrast, the Public Garden was the first public botanical garden in America. It was decorative and flowery from its inception featuring meandering pathways for strolling.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant