It’s easy to get bamboozled in the United States.
With a summer long weekend up your sleeve, where do you go? The options seem endless!
Perhaps you are looking for a place where you can climb mountains in the morning and swim in the ocean in the evening? Or perhaps it’s close to home - an easy drive from Boston? Whatever your reason for choosing New Hampshire it’s easy to get inspired with the weekend getaway we enjoyed.
We set out on a Monday and departed on a Thursday, but this 3-day summer family vacation itinerary can fit into any long weekend. All the hard work and planning has been done for you.
Get ready to find your next adventure against the beautiful backdrop of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
Perhaps it’s a Friday evening (but any day will do), you leave work and drive straight to the airport to catch a flight into Boston, Massachusetts or Manchester, New Hampshire.
After picking our car rental at the airport, we hit the road with one destination in mind - the White Mountains.
You are going to need a fun, family-friendly hotel while staying in New Hampshire. We chose Red Jacket Mountain View Resort in North Conway as our base (map). It was close to the activities we were squeezing into our 3-night stay plus it had a waterpark. Bonus!
We checked into a family loft suite, featuring 2 kids beds upstairs and 2 double beds for the adults downstairs. The room decor was a little dated but the space was very comfortable.
Perhaps enjoy a quick drink at the local pub or, like us, go straight to bed so you’re ready for a full day of mountain adventures tomorrow.
We started the day with a hearty buffet breakfast at Champney’s (the hotel’s onsite restaurant) to maximise our time. With full tummies we jumped into the car ready for hiking and outdoor fun.
10am – 11am
After a short, flat 0.6-mile hike through shady forests, we spotted the beautiful waterfalls surrounded by natural rock pools. The kids loved this spot so much they didn’t want to leave. This unique location encourages a sense of exploration, climbing over rocks, wading in shallow icy cold knee-deep water, and standing under refreshing waterfalls.
Tip: We used our National Parks annual pass for free access (normally US$3).
12pm – 12:30pm
Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway
This cable car up Cannon Mountain was high on our list of things to do today, but the sunny skies suddenly transformed into dark clouds and pouring rain. Fighting low visibility, we tried waiting it out, enjoying a teensy picnic in the car, before deciding to skip it and move onto our next stop.
The ride to the summit only takes about 8 minutes. This is one of the oldest continually running aerial tramways in North America (since 1938), and on a clear day offers breathtaking 360-degree panoramic views. Located just over 1-hour drive west of Red Jacket, it was also on the way to Flume Gorge so we didn’t have to go out of the way.
Tip: If you also have time, stop at The Basin afterwards, located 6-minutes drive south
12:45pm – 2:15pm
This lush, scenic hike will take about 1 to 1.5 hours. If you want to cut your time in half you can take a shuttle bus (included in the price) that runs every 10 minutes. Also very handy for tired little feet.
After we disembarked the bus the trail lead through the bottom of a steep gorge, lined with bright green moss and lichens. The sound of running water passed beneath us, and the gentle roar of waterfalls filled the air. Supremely tranquil. We counted 138 steps each way, so bring comfortable walking shoes and a bottle of water. And the wooden boardwalk got a little slippery at times, so watch your step.
2:30pm – 4pm
Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves
Only 17 minutes south of Flume Gorge is this exceptional attraction (map). It was the highlight of our day, unanimously voted by our kids. It took roughly 1.5 hours to complete the trail. So since the gates close at 5pm, I recommend starting by 3:30pm at the latest.
We trekked over 1000 wooden steps through the Lost River Gorge, but what makes this gorge so unique is over a dozen boulder caves spread out along the track. With so many secret mysterious caves the kids never noticed how long the hike was.
Some of the caves had warnings that children under 12 needed an adult, however I found adults had a bit of trouble fitting in those caves! “These caves are perfect for kids,” proclaimed my 6-year-old. Despite the warning, my 6 & 7-year-old completed all the caves easily without any help for us.
Lemon Squeezer was the toughest cave, but also our kid’s favourite. Neither Josh and I could get in, which I think makes it even more exciting for the kids! See trail map.
4:15pm – 5pm
Ice Cream Stop
After a full day of vigorous hiking and promises of ice cream, the time finally came. Even though dinner was upon us, being the superstar parents we are, dessert was first.
5pm – 6pm
After ice cream no one was starving so we made a quick stop at GH Pizza, just a minute down the road from Udderly Delicious (map). Our kids enjoyed a pizza, while Josh and I shared a gyro and Greek salad. A cute, little budget-friendly mom-n-pop shop, but the food was good.
6pm – 7:30pm
While the drive back to North Conway is only about 1 hour and 10 minutes, we added another half an hour for the multiple scenic stops along Highway 112 (also known as Kancamagus Highway). We caught the sunset over Falls Pond at the Rocky Gorge Scenic Area (map) – a must-see!
7:30pm – 8pm
Back at the Red Jacket friendly staff were helping kids roast marshmallows over an open fire, while sipping lemonade. We made a short stop here with our sleepy children. If your kids have enough energy also check out the very cool playground or the fun lawn games.
Having clocked up over 17,000 steps yesterday on my FitBit, today we just wanted to take it down a notch and rest our tired legs.
After another buffet breakfast at Red Jacket’s Champney’s with made to order eggs, we took a short drive to our first stop.
10am – 1pm
Saco River Tubing
Saco Canoe Rental Company gets busy during summer. 10am was a smart time to start, since when we returned at 1pm the place was packed. At 10am we had no problems finding a parking space and enjoyed a relatively quiet, relaxing river ride.
Wear sunscreen. And lots of it. Josh’s beet-red stomach is all the warning you need. Simply leave any valuables at the hotel, arrive in your swimmers, and hire a tube. Easy!
We rented 4 tubes plus a cooler carrier (tray). The tray is designed to carry your gear, tethered to your tube. You could pack a picnic and enjoy it on the river or stop along the way, or be adventurous like us and take your camera gear! It’s okay, we also hired a dry bag… just in case.
Tip: Arrive at least 15 minutes before your planned departure to allow time for filling in paperwork and finalising your gear hire.
There are several river tubing destinations to choose from, but 2 of them are for over 10-year-olds so that left us with the 1.5 mile Saco River adventure. Once we had our life vests and tubes, a shuttle bus took us for a short ride upriver. We entered on a small beach and floated our way downstream until we arrived back at the Saco Canoe Rental office that we parked at.
It’s a beautiful, calming journey. The water was a chilly 65°F/18°C, while the hot sun was about 86°F/30°C. A great combination. While the river was slightly on the chilly side for swimming, it was just right for dangling your butt in the water.
We floated for several hours and could have taken as much time as we wanted – there was no rush. Just make sure you reapply your sunscreen. We found no shortage of opportunities to stop along the way including pebbly beaches, sandy beaches and even rope swings hanging from trees… or just float in a zen-like state and let the world pass you by.
We relished the opportunity to soak up the natural beauty of the White Mountains… and even shared a Facebook Live video along the way:
1pm – 2pm
We packed snacks for river tubing, but by the time we were done everyone was famished. Since we had more fun plans for later in the day we made a quick stop in North Conway for Subway (map). But if you want more dining inspiration, check out this site.
2pm – 3pm
Quick shopping stop
But before we get to more fun, family-friendly activities, can we just squeeze in a little dose of retail therapy? Why not!
We popped into TJ Maxx (next door to Subway) as I had a function to attend later that week and really wanted a new dress.
Better yet? New Hampshire has no state sales tax!
Outfit purchased. Yes!
3pm – 5pm
We were going to hit the Red Jacket waterpark (called Kahuna Laguna) as soon as we got back, but the kids heard about a Pool Popsicle event happening by the outdoor swimming pool. So off we went to check it out. That ended up being 2 hours of fun pool games with DJ Dave.
The kids won several prizes for games ranging from hunting down poker chips at the bottom of the pool, to a hilarious scavenger hunt. But there were also opportunities for adults to win. Josh won a free buffet dinner from the hula hoop toss and I literally sang for my dinner, with my heartfelt rendition of “Don’t Stop Believing”.
5pm – 6pm
That was dinner sorted since we only had to pay for the kids buffet at Champney’s. The Taste of the Red Jacket Buffet was everything you love about American food – ribs, roast beef, corn on the cob, Caesar salad, fried chicken and some sinful desserts. But skip the potato gratin – it was more like potato wedges in cheese soup.
6pm – 9pm
Kahuna Laguna Waterpark
Fed and rested, next we hit the waterpark. Sure, it’s a bit pricey, but still a fun way to spend a chilly evening. And the towel hire and lockers are free.
You will find 2 tube slides, 2 body slides, as well as a wave pool, hot tub and kids water playground featuring a 175-gallon tipping bucket. We also enjoyed a game of family water basketball.
Phew! What a weekend! Depending on your flight home today you might check out of the hotel early or enjoy a little more of New Hampshire’s White Mountains.
Tip: At Red Jacket, your 1-day waterpark pass includes access from 9am – 10:30am the following day so you can spend some more time there or hit the games arcade.
On the drive back to Boston, we stopped at a rather quirky attraction, America’s Stonehenge (map). It is believed to be the oldest man-made structure in the United States at over 4000 years old. Shrouded by mystery and controversy – was it built by native Americans or sea-faring ancient Europeans? While it’s not directly related to Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, it’s still a fascinating archaeological site.
We watched a short introduction movie before venturing outside. The kids headed straight to the hands-on digging pit, searching for precious gems. So cute!
We walked along the nature trail and around the main site, following the numbered plaques and provided tour guide map. The degree of complexity in construction and knowledge (such as astronomical and seasonal alignments) was impressive. If you like history and archaeology, it’s a worthwhile road trip stop.
The Bottom Line
Wow! That sure was a brilliant long weekend. If you haven’t visited New Hampshire’s White Mountains yet, now there’s no excuses. I’ve given you a step-by-step guide with everything you need – where to stay, what to do and where to eat… and a little visual inspiration.
Having already visited over 40 US states on our #motherofallroadtrips, it’s safe to say there’s no place quite like New Hampshire. From its off-beat, defiant state slogan “Live Free or Die” to the relaxed natural ambiance, nothing about this state is ordinary.
Are you ready to Live Free in NH? Where’s your favourite places in New Hampshire? Share your stories in the comments below.