Monday, October 10, 2011

Halloween in New Hampshire

            For the last twenty years I have ventured to New England at least once a year, most times in the fall for the great colors and cool air.  Each year I have taken a different route and tried to visit different places while sprinkling in a few, well-liked waypoints.  Some years I concentrate on the craggy coast of Maine and the scenic Route 1 that winds its way from Portland to Bar Harbor and beyond to the eastern-most part of the country.  Other times, the route takes me into the green mountains of Vermont, and the markets filled with cheese, ice cream, and fresh farm fare.  As of late, as my family grows up, I have met in the middle, and travel to New Hampshire.  It is a blend of craggy, bald mountains that meet the coast and vibrant green pastures of farmland on the western side of the mountains.  It is rugged country, to be sure, and an outdoorsman's paradise.  For hikers, campers, hunters, mountain bikers, it is everything one could ask and more.  It is a motorcycle mecca, free of helmet laws and overflowing with twisting, turning backroads and roadside taverns.
             Most campgrounds, and alot of other tourist-based stores, close after Columbus Day.  Therefore, Halloween comes early for most theses places.  The campground we found several years ago, during a summer tour of several New England states, holds an Halloween Extravaganza complete with contests for decorated campsites and costumes, pumpkin carving, hayrides, and trick-or-treating.  Mountain Lake Campground is right on the border of the Great White Mountains and the Great North Woods.  The people are friendly.  The place is quiet, allowing for personal space and tranquility.  It allows for easy access to Mt. Washington and all the waterfall hiking and scenic charm the Presidential Range has to offer.  It is also a gateway to the Webster Highway, Moose Alley, and the wild hunting grounds of the Great North Woods.
             The area surrounding Mt. Washington, and the Auto Road (which needs to be visited at least once, if not for anything else but the old-school "This car climbed Mt. Washington" bumper sticker), has grown into a tourist magnet during all seasons, filled with outlet centers and major hotel chains.  Yet under that, still lies the granola-fueled hiker community that can not get enough of the endless miles of trails that criss-cross the mountain range.  This is a great starting point for anyone's first trip to New Hampshire, with "can't miss" sights such as the Auto Road, Kancamangus Highway (Rt 112, a biker's dream of twist-and-turns with plenty of turn-outs for pictures), and, for the kids, Monkey Trunks (a high ropes adventure course complete with ziplines, even for the smaller kids). 
             The Great North Woods is as wild as the name implies.  We spent the day exploring the backroads of this area and several of the lakes that dot the map.  We followed the Webster Highway, the road that leads into Canada, and turned back about a mile from the border at the Third Connecticut Lake, filled with lake trout.  Moose Alley did not give up any moose but it held tons of grouse.  We followed the bird hunters and recreational ATVers, who parked in the same lot as us,  to the Buck Rub Pizza Pub.  Filled with handmade tables and chairs hewn from rough-cut trees and a wonderfully rustic bar, the tavern served traditional pub fare in a cozy, wood stove-warmed atmosphere.  The food matched the atmosphere, warm, comforting, hearty.  The New England Clam Chowder was perfect.  We will be back to this region and to this bar, probably sooner then later.
            The kids threw on their costumes back at the campground and joined in all the Halloween festivities.  They enjoyed the stroll around the place gathering candy from all the decorated campers.  They were invited for an outdoor spooky movie at a neighboring campsite.  We all then hunkered down for one more night of mountain air before the journey home.  And a journey it was, overflowing with stops along the way.  From NYC, this is a six hour jaunt to the mountains, so stopping along the way has become mandatory for mostly reasons of sanity with children in the backseat.  Bathroom breaks used to be few and far between, usually when the gas ran out.  But over the years, destination determination has, for the most part, given way to journey enjoyment.  Don't get me wrong, we still need to carry "emergency snacks" for when the truck just refuses to find just the right restaurant, but those bouts of insanity have become less frequent.
            And so, with this six hour run in mind, along the way do not miss out on some of these roadside attractions:  Polly's Pancake Parlor (a long wait but worth it at least once, just plan ahead),  Yankee Candle (passing by in Massachusetts, just make sure there's only a few buses), Monkey Trunks (for kids of all ages, especially good to knock some of the hyper out of the backseat), the Cog Railway (if hiking or driving isn't your thing but pictures and scenery are paramount), the forest fire tower lookouts (if hiking is your thing) and Madison Brewing in Bennington, VT (the Irish Fries are awesome) if you take the long way, along RT.7, home.

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