Head north for a safe-cation
Don't forgo the family outing this summer. We had a fun (and safe) three-day weekend in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
(Editor’s Note: ParentingNH contributing writer Krysten Maddocks put her COVID-19 fears aside to venture out on a short family vacation in early August. Here’s her travel blog from her three-day weekend.)
Like many parents, we weren’t sure what kind of a vacation we’d be able to swing this summer.
Between limited finances and some apprehension about our safety, we wanted to stay close to home and stick to a leaner budget.
After some trepidation, we decided to keep our dollars in-state and chose a location that offered wide open spaces and plenty to keep our five-year-old busy.
We’d been to the White Mountains before and knew that the beauty of the area and natural attractions would not only offer entertainment, but also appeal to our coronavirus comfort level.
Here are some tips that can make traveling to the White Mountains during a pandemic a little smoother for your family.
We were fortunate to have booked our condo in early June — as soon as lodging restrictions in New Hampshire were lifted.
We stayed at The Inn at Pollard Brook, an InnSeason Resort, which did require patrons to wear a mask in common areas, hallways, and in elevators.
Because our condo had its own entrance from the outside, a full kitchen, and a balcony, we felt confident that could space from others and reduce the number of times we’d have to visit the lobby or other restaurants.
The sparkling, uncrowded outdoor pool was open with no restrictions, and families could also opt to use the indoor pool which did have a capacity requirement. We also enjoyed the small playground and marshmallows at the fire pit. Other guests had fun using the tennis and basketball courts. The indoor gym was open, with every other piece of equipment taped off, but the jacuzzi was not filled. Only one family member at a time was able to check in or out with a mask. For the most part, we could easily socially distance from other families and still enjoy the bulk of the facilities.
Not quite ready to stay in a hotel? New Hampshire oversees 20 state parks with camping facilities.
For those of you who prefer camping, the new Hampshire State Parks Department still requires you to book ahead by using their reservation system, found here: https://www.nhstateparks.org/activities/camping/campgrounds.
Depending on where you want to tent, cabin, or park your RV, it will be difficult this summer to plan a spontaneous vacation. However, private campgrounds are open, too, and you might try your luck looking at a variety of options. Make sure you bring your mask and sanitizer, whatever type of lodging you choose.
You should also expect some facilities — including playgrounds and bathrooms — to include their own sets of restrictions. It’s best to check online or call ahead to get the most up-to-date information on amenities and reservation requirements.
Mother Nature graced us with fairly good weather during our three-night trip. The first day sizzled at 90 degrees, but thankfully, most of the restaurants in the area planned well for both scorching heat and raindrops. With plenty of umbrellas and tents, you could easily find outdoor dining at a number of establishments.
We ate our first meal outdoors at One Love Brewery in Lincoln, smack in the middle of downtown. For craft beers, delicious burgers, and a place where your dog will feel right at home, this restaurant checks all of the boxes. On a Saturday afternoon, we experienced a 20-minute wait, but the adjacent lawn provided enough good people watching to keep our son entertained.
If you like outdoor music, you’d be remiss to skip the Woodstock Inn Brewery in North Woodstock. We dug into some amazing nachos while we listened to a musician play some great covers of Steely Dan, Billy Joel and Elton John on a leisurely Sunday afternoon. I loved my fish tacos and my son devoured his quesadilla kid’s meal. My husband sipped on local beer and picked up a logo sweatshirt for our son. The raindrops were masked by our oversized umbrella, and the wait staff smiled behind their masks and seemed genuinely happy to serve us.
My 46th birthday and 17th wedding anniversary—both on August 2—coincided with our third day up North. We splurged and decided to celebrate our anniversary meal (with our son in tow, of course) back in Lincoln at La Vista Italian Restaurant, in the Riverwalk Resort at Loon Mountain. We slid in without a reservation on a Monday at 5 p.m., but reservations are suggested.
With the choices of thin-crust pizza, steak, and seafood, we still found a spaghetti and meatball dish for our son on the kid’s menu. Our table, overlooking the mountains and the pool, offered al fresco dining out of the sun and a 360-degree mountain view.
Some popular locations – such as Lost River—are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Each attraction clearly lists changes to operating hours, concessions, and rides on its websites. For each, it’s important to make online reservations ahead of time and bring your mask, as the state’s capacity requirements for attractions don’t allow for spontaneous visits.
We pre-booked our reservation at The Flume Gorge to get our hiking steps in and truly enjoyed having lots of extra space and time to explore the trail. Like other New Hampshire State Parks attractions, you must book online ahead of time to get a reservation for the day and time you wish to visit. We did see families turned away who were not aware of this new requirement.
For those of you unfamiliar with the wonders of the Flume, it’s a natural gorge that extends 800 feet at the base of Mount Liberty. The Flume Trail is now a one-way, 2-mile loop that takes approximately 1.5 hours to finish. It includes plenty of uphill walking and lots of stairs that allow you to get a close look at the falls.
Pre-COVID, the trail could get crowded and you often had to wait to ascend the stairs to the top of the flume. Or, you’d be over-run by families trying to snap the same vista or covered bridge. We spent about 2 hours on the trail and at times were the only family in sight.
To get in a little history, we visited The Old Man of the Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park. For those of you who’ve been around for a while, you might remember that the Old Man actually had a profile until his face crumbled on May 3, 2003.
Off of Exit 34B on Route 93, there is a park dedicated to the Old Man known as The Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza. This site was created through donations from members of The Old Man of the Mountain Legacy Fund, a private, nonprofit organization that grew out of the task force after the collapse of the Old Man of the Mountain.
Dedicated in June 2011, the plaza includes seven steel “profilers” of the Old Man’s profile that you can look through to recreate his image. We visited Profile Plaza after dinner when the visitor’s center was closed to capture my favorite picture on the trip.
Again, we saw no one except one other couple and their dog at around 7 p.m.—allowing us to explore at our leisure and take tons of pictures. It’s important to note that the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, which rises above Profile Lake in the park to the summit of Cannon Mountain, did not open this summer due to COVID-19.
Finally, if you are looking for free fun that requires no reservations, head over to Cascade Park in North Woodstock. Parking is free, and for $5, you can rent a tube at a gas station across the street that takes you down some small rapids. Bring a chair, towel, and some snacks, and you can enjoy this watering hole for as long as you’d like. There are no bathrooms, but an adjacent parking lot offers a couple of portable toilets. Because we brought our own raft, we joked it was the cheapest fun we experienced the whole time. We arrived at 9 a.m. and spent about two hours here before the crowds started drifting in.
Navigating a family trip during COVID-19 can be a little tricky, and it can be hard to keep track of state rules, closings, and changes. If you are thinking about heading to the White Mountains, the New Hampshire Department of Travel and Tourism does a good job summarizing what you need to know before you go. For our family, it was worth the extra planning to change our scenery and enjoy the natural wonders of the area.
Krysten Godfrey Maddocks is a frequent contributor to ParentingNH.