There is no better place to “Live Free” than New Hampshire’s
White Mountains, with soaring mountain ranges, glacier-carved valleys, lakes
and rivers, and natural attractions galore. This is the “best of the best” of New Hampshire!
We visited two of the beautiful “notches” (deep narrow valleys through the mountain ranges) in this area, Crawford Notch and Franconia Notch.
“Live Free or Die” is a curious state motto. It kinda applies to our adventures, altered slightly: “Live Freely, Before We Die.” But back to New Hampshire’s usage of the phrase: why exactly …..?
“The motto was part of a volunteer toast which General Stark sent to his wartime comrades, in which he declined an invitation to head up a 32nd anniversary reunion of the 1777 Battle of Bennington. The toast said in full: “Live Free Or Die; Death Is Not The Worst of Evils.”
First up, we drove the legendary Mt. Washington Auto Road, the first and oldest man-made attraction in the USA, opened in 1861! It’s an 8 mile journey to the highest point in the Northeast at 6,288 feet … with a 12% grade straight up up up, on narrow roads with steep drop-offs and no side railings! Eeeeeek!
It’s so steep that then entire journey down must be done in first gear, and you are given a full page of small-font-print instructions and warnings before you head up. It is, depending on your outlook, either extremely exciting or completely terrifying.
The top of Mount Washington has the dubious honor of having “the worst weather in America,” and our visit was no exception. Down below, sunshine and blue skies…
… but at the top: thick fog, black clouds, low temperatures, and whipping winds!
A variety of auto, foot and bicycle races have taken place
going up this road over the decades, as well as people wanting to be the first
to do it in wacky ways, like on stilts, or on a unicycle, or backwards, or
pushing a wheelbarrow with a 100 pound bag of sugar in it. You can also hike to the top, like these hardy souls with all their gear.
The chains anchoring this building aren’t just for show … it’s the place
where the still-standing world record wind gust of 231 MPH was recorded in
You can also take a cog railway ride to the top. “The Cog” is not only the world’s first mountain-climbing train, but also the second-steepest in the world.
Hiking to Arethusa Falls, New Hampshire’s highest waterfall
at 140 feet, revealed a fantail stunner spilling over a pool of granite rocks
below. See the tiny person in red at the bottom left?
The hike was up … up … up … but using the forest’s natural steps … thick roots!
Along the way, dense forests
smelling of earth and moss and pine, and a series of minor waterfalls.
Leaving Crawford Notch, we stopped in to take a wide-eyed gander of the gorgeous Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods. See, you don’t need an RV or a tent to visit this area! (But a high credit card limit would be helpful.) It greatly reminded us on the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, but with about 90% fewer people.
Moving from one Notch (Crawford) to the next (Franconia)
Notch, you’ll find a spectacular mountain pass with a popular Scenic Parkway and
a large number of scenic attractions right down the middle.
The popular Flume Gorge is a natural chasm at the base
of Mount Liberty, with a 2-mile boardwalk trail including spectacular rock
formations, rushing waterfalls, covered bridges and serene pools.
Flume Covered Bridge is one of the most photographed of the 55 wooden bridges in the state.
The Basin is a gorgeous, deep granite pothole at the foot of
Boise Rock is where an unexpected blizzard came through in the early 1800’s. A local dude named Thomas Boise sought refuge under this very rock, and killed his horse to wrap himself in its hide to survive. When searchers found him, they had to cut away the hide as it had frozen solid around him! Was this the inspiration for the similar scene in “The Revenant”? Perhaps!
The 8.7-mile Franconia Notch Bike Path traverses the length of
the Notch and provides access to all of the Park’s natural features and is
completely separate from the road.
Bonus: it’s all downhill! AND, there is a shuttle-for-hire from Thoma Sports to take you
back to the top, so you don’t have to huff and puff on the return trip!
There are many, many ski resorts in this area.
Cannon Mountain (4,080 ft. summit) is the location of lots of “firsts” …
First-ever passenger aerial tramway in North America (1938)
First-ever paid professional ski patrol in North America (1938)
First-ever plank by Philip A. Miller (2019)
Our unusual campsite was right at the base of the Cannon Mountain ski runs, and at the entrance to a gorgeous public sand beach. See the seven tiny RV’s lodged in the bottom right of this photo! Yup — we’re one of those! We swam in that lake one afternoon, just cuz it was right there! But … brrrr!
The Cafe Lafayette Dinner Train experience is held in a restored vintage 1950’s rail car.
A five-course dinner is served during a 2-hour roll through the New Hampshire countryside.
Seating is traditional to train travel, meaning you are seated with another couple. We lucked out with Sean and Fran, a fun and interesting couple who kept us entertained with information all about New Hampshire and lots of funny stories. Meeting new people is one of the best parts of the RV Life!
Afterwards, we were invited to tour the train, including the kitchen car, where the chefs showed us how they brace themselves against the countertops while using sharp knives, to guard against the relentless chugga-chugga and possible bodily dismemberment.
A restored 1924 train car was not currently in use, but you could feel the glamour of the train travels of yesterday as you stepped through its doors. At almost 100 years old, she wears her age well!
Back on the Franconia Parkway, the Old Man of the Mountain Historic Site was a moving
memorial to something that no longer exists, since it crumbled to dust sometime during the night in 2003.
Here’s a picture of it back in the day. Long the trademark of New Hampshire, it’s rugged and manly profile was further immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 short-story, “The Great Stone Face.”
Somebody cleverly figured out how to make you feeeeeel like you’re looking at the (now non-existent) Old Man of the Mountain.
1. Stand on the feet marks that most closely correlate to your height.
2. Look up at the top bar of the pole, toward the mountain edge where the Old Man used to be.
3. Presto!!! You’ll see (kinda, sorta) a likeness of the Old Man in his prior natural habitat!
It was pretty cool! In any event, his visage kinda looks like this handsome fella, don’tcha think?
It was Smokey The Bear’s 75th Birthday, and of course that calls for a party!
Old Smokey doesn’t look a day over 30 now, does he!
Who remembers his pal Woodsey Owl? And why wasn’t he at the party? Did they have a spat?
In the New Hampshire version of Smokey’s B-Day Party, it includes hot air balloon rides!
Sadly, the “Die” of “Live Free Or Die” was reflected in a horrific accident a few months ago, when a 23-year-old trucker (whose license should have been suspended) plowed into a group of seven motorcyclists out enjoying this gorgeous area. The roadside memorial brought goose bumps to our skin and tears to our eyes.
As we drive the Lucky Charm from place to place, there are lots of interesting and amusing things
out our windshield, that we aren’t able to snap a picture of justttt fast enough. For example, many businesses in this area have big carved moose statues out front, but the
moose in front of the local police department is wearing jail stripes! Hah! Or, how
about the local bar, whose roadside sign reads:
A gorgeous end to a day in the Notch reminds us that Arizona is not the only place with gorgeous sunsets. Next, we’re heading to the Finger Lakes Region of New York State.
Looking out the Lucky Charm windshield, the fall leaves are just beginning to turn. Wow — we’ve been on this trip since spring, and now we’re heading into fall! Will we even know how to live in a regular house when we return home seven weeks from now?