Thursday, May 12, 2022

Spring Family Weekend in the White Mountains

 Spring in the White Mountains is a shoulder season.  While the cherry blossoms and tulips are blooming in southern New England, northern New Hampshire is just beginning to thaw.  As a result, tourists keep their distance until late June and it's a quiet place to visit.  That said, this can be a perfect time to take advantage of low-season accommodations, quiet trails, and an awakening of life in the mountains.  Here's a rundown of my spring family weekend in the White Mountains.


Early May to late June are off-season in the White Mountains.  If you go when we did, the first weekend in May (Mother's Day weekend), you'll likely beat the black flies, see some great wildflowers, experience rushing waterfalls, and find empty trailheads.  The downside is, trees are usually still bare and trail conditions are unpredictable - with possible mud and even snow.


We LOVED our vacation rental.  This was the second time this year I booked a stay with Bretton Woods Vacations.  This family-owned business manages multiple homes in the White Mountains.  We stayed at Owls Roost - a beautiful cabin on 32 acres - complete with easy trails, mountain views, a river beach and a swimming hole.  It's also pet friendly so we brought Summit!  The house had three bedrooms, kitchen, loft playroom, living room, fire pit, and deck.

Our rental cabin Owls Roost by Bretton Woods Vacations

We ate all our meals at the rental


Bretton Woods is located just north of Crawford Notch State Park in the White Mountain wilderness.  It's one of my favorite hiking locations.  This is because it is home to my favorite 4000 footer, New Hampshire's tallest waterfall, and a hike that has the best bang for your buck in the Whites. For this trip, I wanted to take advantage of Crawford Notch's easier hikes that my kids would enjoy but still have some awesome views.  Here were our excursions:

Kid-Friendly Hikes

Ripley Falls: Ripley Falls is a 1.2 mile out-and-back hike that climbs about 400 feet in elevation to a tall slabby waterfall.  The hike is moderately difficult - with one narrow part along a gorge that made me nervous with the little kids.  My four and six year old managed the hike totally fine with a couple snack breaks.  They loved climbing the boulders at the base of the falls and feeling the spray.  It was a perfect morning hike.  New Hampshire State Parks charges $5 to an iron ranger for parking at the trailhead.  The AllTrails link to the trailhead is here.

Ripley Falls in Crawford Notch State Park

Elephant Head: Elephant Head is a short 0.6 mile out-and-back up to a cliff in Crawford Notch.  The view is a ton of bang for your buck and a great place if you're short on time and want a view.  The trail climbs up rocks and roots on a moderately difficult trail.  Because of the short distance, my four and six year old handled it fine.  The most challenging parts for my four year old was the prevalence of decaying bog bridges that was a balancing act to traverse.  At the cliff, enjoy views of the notch both ways.  You can even see the red roofs of the iconic Mount Washington Hotel to the north.  If you have a little more time, also tag on the Around The Lake trail that's right next to it!

On Elephant Head in
Crawford Notch State Park

Ammonoosuc River:  Our rental at Bretton Woods Vacations had an easy trail system that took us to beaches and a swimming hole on the Ammonoosuc River.  This trail system is only available to those who rent one of three properties on their Moose Lodge and Cabins properties.  However, even if you aren't staying there, you can enjoy this river and it's short. Try the Ammonoosuc River Loop - a 2 mile, easy trail that grants views and access to the river.

Playing on the sandy beach at the
Ammonoosuc River at our rental property

AMC Highland Center Playscape

One of my kids favorite parts of the trip was playing at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Highland Center Playscape.  The Highland Center is a large lodge for dining, overnight accommodations, and guided trips.  It is a prominent feature in the northern edge of Crawford Notch State Park and the main hub for multiple highly trafficked hikes.  Free to use- the center has a large wood, stone, and rope play structure that blends with the natural landscape.  My children love traversing the suspension bridge, crawling in caves, and climbing the ropes.  This free attraction is perfect for age 4-10.  Plus, there's access to bathrooms, food, and gear store in the center.  Parking is limited in the high season, but May is relatively empty.

AMC Highland Center playscape is free and fun

Pros and Cons of Bretton Woods Location

I'm frequently asked where to stay in the White Mountains region.  It really depends on what you're looking for.  If you want a bustling town with proximity to restaurants, parks, museums, and shopping - stay in North Conway - you'll get the town experience and will be close to hikes.  If you'd like quiet, nature, and don't need town - Bretton Woods is an awesome choice.  We made our own meals at the cabin, had s'mores in the fire pit, listened to the peeper frogs and saw the stars.  It was a perfect weekend for what we where looking for.  

Bretton Woods is perfect if you want to
getaway from town and into the mountains
Crawford Notch offers some great kid-friendly hiking

For more images of my spring family weekend in the White Mountains, visit my instagram for video and photos.  Happy Hiking!

You might also enjoy these posts:

5 Best Family Hikes in the Whites
24 Hour Bretton Woods Getaway
3 Great Spring Mountain Hikes in New England