New England trails, waterfalls offer scenic highs


New England trails, waterfalls offer scenic highs

By: Todd Salen

By: Todd Salen

By: Todd Salen

Vacations aren't exactly my specialty. I take a day or two a year and attend a convention or workshop somewhere in the United States or Mexico. I'm good at attending and participating in travel plans other people make.

Planning my own trips tends to be a little more frantic. Real vacations with no meetings to attend or workshops to facilitate are few and far between.

When I finally commit to stepping back and enjoying life, I tend to overplan, as was the case for my most recent excursion. I planned a 2,700-mile car trip to Owensboro, Ky., via North Conway, N.H., not necessarily the most direct route, but it worked out just fine.

Seasoned vacationers know New England in the fall is a spectacular visual experience. The variety and magnitude of the seasonal changes are overwhelming in their beauty.

However, New England vacations lend themselves to every season of the year. We chose late summer, when it's warm enough to enjoy all of the outdoor activities offered and late enough to enjoy reduced rates and smaller crowds.

North Conway was our destination, and we stayed at the Cranmore Mountain Lodge, 859 Kearsarge Road. The lodge is tucked back into the forest and has basketball and tennis courts, ski slopes, swimming, fishing ponds and picnic areas for guests. Breakfast is included in the rates and features a French chef preparing omelets, pancakes, homemade sausage and French toast. Babe Ruth stayed frequently at the Cranmore, and his pictures adorn the comfortable sitting rooms.

Plan to stay in North Conway several days and stroll the downtown streets lined with more than 200 shops featuring arts, crafts, locally made clothing and even a few old-fashioned general stores. It is easy to spend a day or more enjoying the wares of the local merchants. As an added bonus, there was a local art fair with artists lining the streets the weekend we arrived.

There are more outdoor activities than you can possibly take part in during one vacation. Between the Saco River meandering throughout the North Country and the White Mountains, you can enjoy kayaking, canoeing, hiking, mountain climbing, biking, fishing and camping.

At least 50 well-maintained hiking trails are spread throughout the area, with maps leading you to starting points for each one. Trails range from ½ mile to 7 miles and are challenging and yet manageable by even the most novice climber.

We chose the Arethusa Falls hike in the Crawford Notch State Park, 1.4 miles leading to a 200-foot waterfall. The slope was steep at first and then ascended through open hardwoods and mountain streams.

Many climbers bring picnic lunches, their families and even their dogs on the trip. Arethusa Falls is spectacular and worth every bead of sweat shed.

Another outdoor spectacle is the Swift River's Lower Falls. About 15 minutes from North Conway, Lower Falls features gradual drop-offs of the lower mountain streams. Kids can slide down the falls and swim in the pools at the base. There are plenty of picnic areas nearby with changing rooms and pavilions. The Albany Covered Bridge is just a short ride down the river from the falls.

The focal point of the White Mountains is Mount Washington. The summit of Mount Washington should be experienced by every traveler. You have several choices for reaching the summit – hiking, driving or riding on a train or shuttle bus. Not an easy climb at 6,288 feet, the peak is the highest point on the East Coast.

The brave at heart can drive their cars up the narrow path. You can also ride the Conway Scenic Railroad train to the top or, if you prefer to have someone else do the driving, there are van tours that leave from the lodge every 20 minutes. We took the van and were glad we did! The tour guide explained the history of the area and the mountain.

The summit is cold, more than 40 degrees colder than ground level. Fortunately, there is a cafe and souvenir stand at the top with hot chocolate and long-sleeved shirts.

The highest recorded wind speed in America, 231 mph, occurred at the top of Mount Washington, which is easy to believe as the winds were over 50 mph the day we were there. This is a must-see site with views of the ocean to the east and the Great Lakes to the west. Sunrises are glorious, and sunsets, which we saw, are spectacular.

Todd Salen is a real estate agent from Champaign.