It’s summer, and unless you’re like me and live in the mountains, chances are you won’t be visiting your favorite ski town til the snow flies. If that’s the case, you’re making a big mistake. I spent a fantastic few days in probably one of the most quintessential ski towns in New England — North Conway, NH— and during the summer, it’s the place to be.
Why? The surroundings are beautiful, there’s tons to do, and you can stay and eat in fantastic places. A village with a year round population of just over 2,000, North Conway was ranked 5th in Lonely Planet‘s 2015 Top 10 Best U.S. Destinations and named one of the Top 25 Ski Towns in the World by National Geographic in 2014.
If you ski in New Hampshire, then you’re probably already familiar with North Conway, since it’s close to Cranmore, Attitash, Wildcat, Black Mountain, and King Pine. But even if you don’t plan to go there during the summer, keep on reading. Because there’s some great advice below on where to sleep and eat during ski season, too.
Things to do
New England Ski Museum: A must stop for any self respecting Ski Diva, the New England Ski Museum is an adjunct facility to the bigger location in Franconia. Still, despite the smaller space, there’s a lot going on: exhibits relating to the surrounding ski areas, vintage skis and clothing, and tributes to ski industry icons with roots in New England.
Hiking: The hiking doesn’t get much better than it is in the White Mountains. You’ll find a number of state parks and dozens of trailheads throughout the vicinity. I’d recommend doing some research to find trails that meet your ability and length expectations. The photo at the top of this piece was taken at the top of Cathedral Ledge, which attracts rock climbers from throughout New England. If you’re into rock climbing, come. You won’t find much better in the east.
Conway Scenic Railway: An institution in the North Conway area since the 1970’s, the Conway Scenic Railway offers scenic trips throughout the Valley on vintage pullman cars. It serves food, too.
Diana’s Baths: Diana’s Baths are a series of descending pools connected to one another by waterfalls of varying sizes. It’s more of a wading than swimming destination, but a beautiful and cool place to be on a summer’s day. A word of warning, though: parking is limited, so get there early.
Tons of shopping: Downtown North Conway has loads of unique shops, so it’s definitely worth a stroll. If shopping is really your thing, then you need to check out the Settler’s Green Outlet Mall, just a few miles south of town.
Ziplining at Attitash Mountain: Let me get this right out front: I have a thing about heights. Strangely enough, however, this doesn’t seem to extend to zip lining. Maybe because you’re so harnessed in, maybe because it goes so fast, maybe because I was just so focused on getting through it. Who knows. But I found it exhilarating rather than scary. At one mile in length, The zipline at Attitash is the longest east of the Mississippi. And it’s plenty high, too — waaaaay above the trees. You hit speeds of between 60 and 65 mph, so you really move. Don’t worry if you’ve never ziplined — everyone gets the instruction they need before you even start.
Here’s a video to give you an idea what it’s like:
Arts Jubilee Concert Series: Held on six Thursday evenings throughout the summer at Cranmore Ski Area, the Concert Series attracts talent from all over the place. Bring your lawn chairs and a picnic or grab something to eat at one of the food trucks. Then sit back, relax, and enjoy music under the stars.
Places to stay and eat:
The North Conway area has tons of accommodations every variety: inns, B&B’s, motels, resorts, condos. Here are a few I either enjoyed or checked out during my stay.
Adventure Suites: If you’re looking for something really different, then the Adventure Suites would be hard to beat. This is no ordinary hotel. There are 19 suites, each done in a different theme with meticulous care: Ancient Rome, the Cave, the Treehouse, to name a few. The owner, Kathy Brassill-Doucet, travels all over the world collecting items that are incorporated into each suite, and it’s truly a labor of love. The impression you get from the road belies the interior. Trust me, this place has to be experienced to be believed. We stayed in two of the suites — the Roman Room and the Cave Room — and I was totally blown away (each, by the way, has a $5,000 toilet from Japan that automatically opens and closes for you). We also had a tour of the Haunted Castle, a three-story five-level suite that sleeps 18, and truly, it gives Disney a run for its money. Since my pictures can’t do the place justice, I’ll just present the hotel’s own video (which by the way, doesn’t do it justice, either):
Bernerhof Inn: If a real ghost is more your style, then be sure to check out The Bernerhof Inn. Located in nearby Glen and a few miles from Attitash Mountain Resort, the Bernerhof is reputedly haunted by one of its former owners, Clair Zumstein. We didn’t see her during our stay, although I hear she’s friendly. The Inn, built in 1883, features 12 immaculate, well cared for rooms on three levels. We stayed in the Jackson Room (#7), which has one of the nicest tubs I’ve ever seen. The Bernerhof also features a spa where you can pamper yourself during your stay, and hosts murder mystery and cooking class weekends throughout the year. You also get a terrific breakfast included in your stay.
Eastern Slope Inn: Like the Mount Washington Hotel 30 miles away, the Eastern Slopes Inn is in the National Historic Register. It’s the grand dame of town, with a white pillared facade and an elegant, old school lobby. This is a complete resort, with pool, tennis court, fitness center, and spa. It also has an on-site playhouse: a small, intimate theater with performances throughout the summer.
Attitash Mountain Village Suites: Directly across the road from Attitash Mountain Resort, the AMVS is a great location for skiers during the winter. And while the Mountain offers everything from zip lining to mountain biking to water slides, the Village Suites has plenty to do, too. With around 400 units, the AMVS is perhaps the largest resort in New Hampshire. Many of its units are Vacation Shares, but you can rent anything from a studio to a three bedroom townhome for your entire family to enjoy.
Kearsarge Inn: A great in-town find, the Kearsarge Inn has a great location just off North Conway’s main drag, so you’re literally steps away from a wide variety of shops and restaurants. Rooms are available in both the main building and in a few smaller buildings on the property. All are furnished with antiques and beautifully decorated, with the quiet elegance you’ll find in a small luxury hotel. You’ll find accommodations ranging from rooms with queen size beds and gas fireplaces, to suites with huge bathrooms, jetted tubs, gas fireplaces and spacious living rooms. Quiet, well appointed, and simply lovely.
Wildcat Inn & Tavern: North Conway has tons of places to eat. But one of the best isn’t in North Conway at all, but in the tiny village of Jackson, a few miles north. Not far from Wildcat Mountain Ski Area, the Inn features amazing food and drinks in a friendly, inviting atmosphere. There’s both a pub and an extensive dining room — which, by the way, has a ski museum’s worth of vintage ski photos and memorabilia — but if you go, be sure to hit it on a Tuesday night. That’s when they have Hoot Night, their long running open mic. Don’t be put off by the term “open mic.” This place attracts some fantastic musical talent, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the performers who showed up the night we were here. The Inn also has rooms, so you can stay there, too.
Snowvillage Inn: I can’t think of a more idyllic setting than the Snowvillage Inn. Tucked into a hillside in tiny Eaton, NH, Snowvillage is off the beaten path but with easy access to the area’s many other activities. I was captivated by the inn’s lovely screened-in porch, the gorgeous flowers, and the sweeping lawn that offered unparalleled views of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range. First built as a private residence in 1916, Snowvillage has been operating as a country inn since the 1940’s and under its current ownership since 2012. During the winter, you can cross country ski or snowshoe on the property. The main inn has 5 rooms (3 with mountain views), with two other buildings offering additional rooms around a central gathering area. Max’s restaurant has terrific food in a lovely, relaxed atmosphere, so even if you don’t stay on site, be sure to stop in for dinner. It’s like taking a mini-vacation on your vacation.
Barley & Salt and Black Cap Grill: The locations for both of these restaurants can be deceiving. Sure, they’re each in the proximity of the Settler’s Green Outlet Mall, but don’t think food court or restaurant chain. Both are owned by Ben Williams, a mainstay of the the North Conway restaurant scene. The decor for each is sleek and sophisticated and the food amazing. Barley & Salt has an extensive, ever-changing menu of beer and a wide range of specialty drinks. And Black Cap Grill is known for its fine dining. A great respite from North Conway shopping, or from a day hiking or skiing.