18 Sep Lakes, Mountains, Whales and Forests – Visiting New Hampshire
After experiencing city life in Boston, we picked up our rental car and headed to New Hampshire, a thick forested state speckled with sparkling lakes and jagged mountains. As we turned off the interstate through woodland roads, a country channel spluttered to life on the radio and we passed a “Guns, Ammo and Knives” store. We shared the roads with trucks carrying timber, 4x4s and the occasional noisy big motorcycles, all bearing the New Hampshire state motto on their registration plates: “Live Free or Die.”
*Update: you can read our complete 2016 New England Fall Foliage Guide here. This includes tips on where and when to see the best foliage, what to eat, which festivals to visit, how much our fall trip to New England cost and our favourite destinations in New England.*
The Lakes of New Hampshire
We stayed with Wendy, a fantastic Airbnb host who lives in a secluded, blue-wooden house in the forest, near the tiny town of Effingham. When we arrived Wendy was sorting her wood pile and preparing a camp fire for the evening; she recommended that we spend the rest of the afternoon in nearby Wolfeboro, which sits on the edge of the largest lake in the state, Winnipesaukee.
Wolfeboro was everything I’d been longing for in a New England town, with its white-picket, pastel houses and smattering of independent shops selling toys, penny candy, clothes and souvenirs; the book store had a sign in the window advertising the weekly book club. Ice cream parlours and restaurants lined the lakeside and we wandered along snapping pictures as families out to enjoy the last of the summery weather lazed in their boats or rowed along in kayaks.
We were never far from a lake in New Hampshire; another tip-off from Wendy sent us to Squam Lake, where the 80’s film “On Golden Pond”, starring Henry Fonda was set. We hiked through woods up the shady Bridal Trail, emerging to an incredible view overlooking the lake with hazy mountains in the distance.
That afternoon, with some difficulty, we strapped Wendy’s two-seater kayak to the roof of our car and headed to Crystal Lake, a small, still pond. As the afternoon sun started to fade we slid off into the water and paddled, alone, into the middle of the lake, marvelling at the perfect tree reflections on the water’s surface as bugs buzzed around us and ducks floated by.
The White Mountains
The main attraction in New Hampshire is the White Mountains, which cover around a quarter of the state and are part of the Appalachian mountain range. You could spend months exploring the region, which is popular for hiking and in the winter, skiing. With limited time, we chose to drive the most scenic section of the White Mountain road loop, the Kancamagus Highway.
I love the fact that there are real park rangers in America who wear green and khaki uniforms and reside in log cabin-like buildings, waiting with a stack of maps to give you useful information about where to visit. Following a ranger’s advice, we set our odometer to zero and set off along the famous stretch of road, stopping at designated spots along the way; an old covered bridge from the days when horse-drawn carts used to traverse the mountain roads, a waterfall, lake and stretch of rocky river.
Although summer is stubbornly refusing to retreat at the moment, we still saw hints of autumn in sparks of red, orange and yellow leaves in the tall trees which line the highway and carpet the entire state. Everywhere we looked the White Mountains surrounded us, huge tree-covered mounds stretching up towards the sky and we passed through tiny, touristy ski towns like Lincoln and Woodstock.
Although we didn’t attempt any mountain hiking ourselves, we did venture up the steep auto road to the top of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast of America. The drive up there was reminiscent of hair-raising bus journeys we took in the Philippines and Laos; all windy corners and sharp turns with steep unforgiving drops and no guard rails.
The summit of Mount Washington sits at 6,289 feet and is home to the worst weather ever recorded, with winds reaching up to 231MPH. It was definitely the windiest place I’ve ever been and the air was viciously Arctic, even in the warm sunshine. The views from the top of Mount Washington were more than worth the pummelling wind and hairy drive though; we were lucky to visit on a clear day and we could see for miles around.
Whale Watching in Gloucester
One of our days in New Hampshire was actually spent in Gloucester, Massachusetts, on a pre-booked whale watching trip. Setting sail from the industrial harbour town we zipped our coats against the cold; our trip happened to fall on the one bad day of weather we’ve experienced so far and the leaden sky gave way to occasional icy showers as we sped off into the ocean.
After an hour or so of exhilarating, rocky sailing that had some people throwing up their lunch, the Captain stopped at Geoffrey’s Ledge, a well-known feeding ground for whales. As we all shivered and grasped the handrails as the boat rocked violently from side-to-side, the black arcs of three Humpback Whales rose out of the sea, snorts of hot air blasted from their blow holes and we all watched in awe as the whales flipped up their tails to reveal unique white markings before diving down into the depths below.
We were extremely lucky to see another two humpbacks as well as a couple of Minke Whales and a Fin Whale – the second largest animal in the world after the Blue Whale. On the way back to Gloucester a pod of around 50 Atlantic White-Sided dolphins chased alongside us, playing in the boat’s wake and leaping through the waves. We couldn’t have asked for a more incredible end to the day.
Pin Me For Later!
All too quickly, our time in New Hampshire is up and we’re off to explore Connecticut, home of prestigious Yale and beautiful seaside towns.