Sometimes there are special places that become a part of us over time. We don’t live there but the journey back seems as familiar as the back of our hand, the well-traveled paths are paths of memories, the seasons are our family stories. For me, this place has always been the White Mountains, especially the quintessential mountain town of North Conway, N.H. A general store, ice cream shop and railway all await for the kids — making this the ideal place for some Norman Rockwell-like fun. Summer vacations with Mom and Dad became college canoeing trips, as we meandered down the Saco River and set up tents at camps like Fiddlehead.
Recently, as we’ve entered our 30s, my girlfriends and I expanded our families and continued making memories in a place so special to us. Rather than evenings out in the city loaded with martinis and necklaces featuring plastic beads in raunchy shapes, we’ve opted for both summer and winter bachelorette parties. Whether you’re traveling with friends or your family, here’s how to enjoy the best the region has to offer — at any season.
The summertime current on the Saco will depend on snowfall during the winter, so you can either tube if it’s faster or build a few muscles as you tote along some sandwiches and beer for a riverbank picnic (remember to call ahead and reserve in the high season!). Those feeling a bit more like lazing should hit up Diana’s Bath, an amazing series of small waterfalls with smooth, flat rocks that offer shady pools for the kids and sunny spots for tanning. It’s easy to spend a whole day here with snacks and drinks, but save some room for dinner at White Mountain Cider Company. Much more than the name implies, you’re going to find creative cocktails and upscale cuisine here, and for groups of up to 10, there’s a neat “hidden” space in the loft of the barn, complete with jungle-print chairs for your BFF’s Instagram shots. Close out the night at Club 550, with pool, darts and music from a DJ, complete with one of the area’s only dance floors.
For families looking for more tame daytime fun, the club isn’t too far from Pirate’s Cove adventure mini golf, or the slides at indoor water park Kahuna Laguna at the Red Jacket Mountain View Resort (with family accommodations for quads). Rates typically include breakfast but all ages will love the huge pancakes and brunch at Glen Junction Family Restaurant, with its own locomotive track running the span of the space. It’s right down the road from StoryLand, which re-creates some of the world’s most beloved fairy tales with costumed characters and rides, and Santa’s Village. It’s better to opt for the seasonal former and head back at the holidays to sit on the Big Guy’s knee. You can close out the weekend with a trip onboard the Conway Scenic Railway, vintage passenger cars departing from a quaint 1874 train station in the center of the town (also offering meals and a nice foliage trip in the fall); or grab a souvenir at Zeb’s General Store, like walking back in time for all the penny candy and pine-scented soap you could ever ask for.
Whether it’s back to school shopping or sweater season, there are great deals for girlfriends and families on a treasure hunt at Settlers Green outlet mall (New Hampshire is sales tax-free, too!). After a bit of walking around, toast your tootsies at the SoakingPot Infusion Spa on the premises, where tea, herbal infusions and soft music offer up an oasis in a winter sports mecca. Skiing, boarding and snowtubing are all in abundance here at spots like Cranmore Mountain Resort, or opt for something a little bit outside of the box like dog-sledding (also at Cranmore) or sleigh rides. If slow and steady wins your race, snowshoeing may be your best option, especially in a group. Great Glen Trails Outdoors Center makes it easy for even novices to head out on your own, but you can also opt for guided treks on Saturday and nighttime owl adventures. Rest up with the Jacuzzi or year-round outdoor heated pool at the White Mountain Hotel & Resort, with accommodations friendly for both families and groups. With a full bar, stunning mountain views and fireplace, you don’t even need to leave for a tipple unless people-watching is in order. Moat Mountain Smoke House is a laid-back brew pub with a wraparound bar where almost all of the 174 seats are filled no matter what time of year.