East Coast US, New England, Northeastern US

Exploring the White Mountains

My mom always enjoys telling the story of how this White Mountains trip came to fruition. The short version is this: a couple days after making the campground reservation, I FaceTimed her to discuss a gift I wanted for my birthday. The camping and our plan to climb Mount Washington came up in conversation and, an hour later, she’d found a great deal on a plane ticket so she could summit Mount Washington with us.

(She’s mastered the art of inviting herself along on Pat and my vacations; but that’s okay, we don’t mind at all.)

Our summit attempt was the topic of last week’s (very long) post. The other four days of our trip – the ones we didn’t spend huffing and puffing our way up that monster of a mountain – were filled with shorter, less strenuous hikes in the White Mountains.

Our home base for our explorations was Dry River Campground in Crawford Notch State Park, located a few miles southwest of Mount Washington. Dry River Campground is small and quiet, with a resident wild turkey, and it’s a 2 minute walk from the shallow waters of the Dry River. There are about 25 regular sites, a few lean-tos, and a few platform tent sites. The facilities were clean and up to date and showers were a very reasonable $0.25 for 3 minutes, a fact that was very welcome after long days of hiking.

We weren’t in the best site, thanks to the fact that we made reservations only a month in advance. All the sites are spacious and wooded, but ours backed up to the highway, which made for quite a bit of road noise. It wasn’t loud enough to wake us up at night, but it was annoying as we were trying to fall asleep. However, that’s my only complaint about this campground.


Dry River

Crawford Notch is cut by the Saco River, and the walls of the Notch are home to many beautiful waterfalls. We hiked to multiple waterfalls and also some viewpoints during our three days of exploring.

On day 1, we arrived late in the afternoon but had just enough time between thunderstorms to climb Elephant Head for some views of the Notch from the northern end.

Saco Lake
Crawford Notch

Day 2 was surprisingly free of thunderstorms, despite the weather forecast. Forecasts here are very inaccurate, we discovered. We hiked a 4-mile (6.4 km) loop trail that leads past Bemis and Coliseum Falls on the way to Arethusa Falls, the tallest waterfall in New Hampshire (176 feet/54 m).

Coliseum Falls

From Arethusa Falls, the trail continues up and around to Frankenstein Cliff, with a short but steep offshoot to Falcon Cliff. The view from Falcon Cliff isn’t nearly as good as from Frankenstein Cliff; it wasn’t worth the effort, in my opinion.

Frankenstein Cliff

DSCN2513-1Day 3 began with a 1 mile (1.6 km) round-trip hike to Ripley Cascade, which is the second tallest waterfall in New Hampshire (about 100 feet/30 m).

From there, we headed a short distance up the road to the Willey House Historic Site. Today, a visitor info center and camp store sit next to the former site of the Willey family cabin; it was here that we learned some of this family’s history.

The Willey family lived in Crawford Notch back in the early 1800s. One night in 1826, a huge storm rolled in, dumping enough rain to raise the level of the Saco River by 20 feet (6 m) and triggering a rash of landslides. The family fled up the hill to the shelter that the father had built. They never made it and were never seen again but, in a tragic twist of fate, a field of giant boulders diverted the landslide and their cabin survived the storm fully intact.


After learning about the Willey family and walking a short trail along the edge of Willey Pond, we headed up the Kedron Flume trail behind the Willey House. This was a fairly steep trail that climbed up the hillside and eventually crossed the flume in the middle of a series of cascades.


We arrived back at the trailhead just in time to get caught in a rain storm – one of many during our explorations. I loved the hiking and the scenery, but the weather on this trip left much to be desired. A lot of rain, a few thunderstorms, and a remarkable lack of sunshine. In fact, we didn’t put on sunscreen once during this entire trip. We just didn’t need it.

Day 4 was Mount Washington day, which you’ve already read all about!

And day 5 was the day we headed back home, but not before stopping to check out the grand and elegant (and very expensive) Omni Mount Washington Hotel.


The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: Crawford Notch State Park is located on Highway 302, about 8 miles (13 km) north of Hart’s Location, New Hampshire
  • Fees and passes: entry is $4/person; waived if camping in the park
  • Camping: Dry River Campground – 36 sites, showers and running water, $25/night; reservations accepted
  • Hiking: there are many trails in the park, ranging from short, flat walks to steep climbs
  • Other: Be prepared for wind, rain, and thunderstorms (and, as a result, muddy trails) at any time, even in the summer. We were here for 5 days and hardly saw the sun.

3 thoughts on “Exploring the White Mountains”

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