Reeling with Family: New Hampshire's White Mountains
Family Fishing in NH: Casting Our Lines in the Mount Washington Valley
By Kate Hartshorne
Fishing has never been high on my list of priorities when I travel. In fact, I have never really understood the appeal of standing by and waiting for hours, casting and recasting, awaiting the perfect fish. My husband, on the other hand, wants nothing more from a family vacation then to do just that. This year for our family vacation I decided to give it a shot and try our luck fishing (and vacationing) in the Mount Washington Valley of New Hampshire.
For years I have been the one to choose where we go and what we do when on family vacations. I am a traveler by nature, whereas my husband Francisco tends to be more of a homebody. Occasionally it is time for me to surrender my usual domination of our family activities and lend some time to what he really wants to do, and there is nothing he wants to do more than fish.
Family Fun Any Time of Year
The Mount Washington Valley spans over 25 towns in both Maine and New Hampshire, surrounding the formidable Mt Washington. Boasting the worst weather in the world in the winter, this valley is a haven for tourists at all times of year simply due to the diversity of activities offered in any season.
Ski buffs will never tire of the massive summits and snowy white powder in the colder months. Alternatively, the summer weather offers a cooler, elevated respite for those seeking to beat the heat. We traveled to the White Mountains during a heatwave at the beginning of June, and found the ten degree drop in temperature to be a welcome reprieve from the muggy air of Massachusetts.
For families who may not be as enthusiastic about the idea of outdoor winter sports, towns like North Conway have a never ending line up of fun activities that can keep you entertained indoors all winter long. Driving down the streets of North Conway you are encouraged to try this hotel’s indoor water park, or another’s outlet shopping.
In the summer time, however, it is hard not to want to get out and enjoy the natural beauty at every turn. Looming mountains, sparkling green in the sunshine line the highways in the Mount Washington Valley, so the long drives to each destination seem like an adventure. This was Francisco’s first visit to the Mount Washington Valley, and he was blown away by the never-ending scenery as we rounded each bend.
A Peaceful Stay in West Ossipee
We bunked in West Ossipee for the first two nights of our journey at the privately owned “Cluck’s Cabin”, a quaint and tidy little cabin in the small aviation community of Windsock Village. Bring your own plane and fly in for a stay at this quiet community of pilots and their families. Our hosts, Jen and Tom Huckman, did everything to ensure a delightful stay.
Rental properties like Cluck’s Cabin are abundant in the Mount Washington Valley, and often very reasonably priced, making it a great destination for any family. Our cabin came with the use of a private association lake for fishing and swimming, and only 15 miles to the busy streets of North Conway Village. Staying in West Ossipee took us out of the immediate hustle and bustle, but kept us close enough to the action to fill our days with fun.
Nature’s Beauty at its Best
Our first morning in the Mount Washington Valley we headed up to North Conway and hiked up to Diana’s Baths, a succession of natural waterfalls flowing down from Attitash Mountain. The site of Diana’s baths was once the location of an old sawmill, and now has been preserved by the National Forest. Stemming from Lucy’s Brook, the waterfalls are a total of 75 feet in height, and start after an easy 0.6 mile hike. Our kids, ages 8 and 4, relished the cold mountain river water, and had a ball skipping rocks into the natural pools.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the sunshine, listening to the water rush all around us. Francisco brought his fishing pole but apparently fish aren’t flowing down waterfalls as easily as one might think, so nothing was caught, much to his dismay. After lunch we decided to try our fishing luck elsewhere, so we headed to the Purity Springs Resort
Boating on Purity Lake
A few miles down a winding road is the town of East Madison, New Hampshire. Traveling down Route 153 towards Purity Springs Resort, the road appears to be following one continuous lake. There are several lakes linked together that follow this road, and we stopped at the mile-long Purity Lake, inhabited by the lovely family-owned Purity Springs Resort.
“Resort” is perhaps overstating the relaxed charm of this vacation spot. Purity Springs is a family vacation destination that has several different lodging options for families, ranging from the smaller hotel room to the large three bedroom condo, as well as food and activities all along the lake.
The convenience of what Purity Springs offers means that many families return year after year to participate in the resort’s weekly lobster barbecues and breakfast cookouts. The cool tranquility of the lake coupled with the close proximity to dozens of mountain attractions make Purity Springs an attractive option for the active family.
Our time on Purity Lake was mostly devoted to boating and fishing. The resort offers several different types of boats to their guests, no sign up or hassle, just strap on your life jacket and paddle away. The kids got a huge kick out of paddling their own kayak (with Dad’s help) out through the mangroves into a silent pond of gorgeous lilly pads. I have always had an uneasy feeling about kayaks, or at least my ability to navigate one without capsizing, but on Purity Lake I found kayaking like gliding through a dream.
Francisco and Nathan tried out at least three different boats, and finally decided on casting out off the small swimming dock on the shallow side of the lake. After only pulling up minnows, we threw in the towel and headed for dinner at Traditions, the Purity Springs restaurant. Serving up huge plates of baby back ribs alongside strong cocktails, Traditions was a welcome end to a long sunny day.
Kids’ Fishing Day
The next morning we were invited to check out Kids’ Fishing Day at Wildcat Mountain, hosted by the national park service. A team of rangers, including Smokey the Bear himself, lined up to teach kids about the various aspects of fishing and then gave each child a chance to cast their lines into the stocked trout pond at the base of the enormous ski mountain.
Nathan reveled in the attention as the young rangers taught him how to tie knots and identify pond life, and Sofie came close to snagging her dad on a hook as she practiced casting. When it was finally time to cast out into the actual pond, they raced to the water’s edge and hurled the lines in with every effort, but alas, again, no fish to be had.
Some days they’re just not biting. With the startling green Wildcat Mountain looming overhead, and ten more gorgeous mountains in the distance, it was not a bad spot to sit and wait. I found myself thinking that perhaps I had been too hard on this fishing idea, I could certainly get used to the ambience.
The Highland Center
Our next destination in the White Mountains was up the long winding mountain highway 302 to Crawford Notch. Arriving in Crawford Notch, you feel as though you are being squeezed between two all encompassing green mountains. With ears popping from the altitude, we pulled into the driveway of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center.
The Highland Center is the most elegant hiker’s lodge imaginable. Built in 2003, the center has expanded from a place for hikers to use the restroom, to a full out hotel for those walking the Appalachian trail. The lodge is also frequented by individuals and families looking to get away from it all and spend some time exploring nature in the great White Mountains.
The AMC has several lodges spread out between Maine and New Hampshire, as well as eight “huts”, small bunk-style lodgings along the trail for hikers to use to get a hot meal and sleep out of their tents for a night or two. These huts have been around for 125 years, and appear to continue as popular as they were when they first arrived.
A comfortable night with a delicious breakfast included will run you about $120 per adult for non AMC members, and the good news is that kids stay free at many of the huts and lodges.
The Highland Center, and the nearby Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch, is a wonderful retreat for families or individuals to get away to enjoy nature in the White Mountains. Here you will find no television (although there is WIFI, much to my happy surprise), and no air conditioning, instead a cozy fireplace in the center of the common room, a crisp glass of wine, and a delicious home cooked meal made from fresh, local ingredients.
Cozy, unpretentious rooms lined up in hotel fashion with a panoramic view of the mountains, a cool mountain breeze through the window, comfortable beds, and fluffy towels make the center and extreme upgrade from the camping tents generally spotted along the trail.
The Center was designed with the environment in mind, and everything, down to the long family-style wooden tables in the dining room, were made from recycled hardwood. The Highland Center offers hypoallergenic rooms with no hint of chemicals for their allergic guests, leaving almost no detail untouched when this place was designed.
One spectacular feature of the Highland Center is their LL Bean gear room, a room stocked with every type of gear you could imagine, ready to loan out to guests, free of charge. We felt like a game of bocci on the lawn, and imagine that, they had a set! Need a raincoat and forgot to pack yours? No problem, they have every size and style imaginable. This type of accommodation to guests is such a rare find for most hotels and hostels of today.
Exploring Nature at the Center
Waking up at the Highland Center was like summer camp, birds chirping and the sun just peeking through the shades. We filed down to the dining room for a delicious, home cooked, buffet breakfast of pancakes and eggs. After having our fill it was time to sign up for the various activities happening in and around the Center. They offer everything from day-long and overnight hikes, to lectures, lawn games, and movie nights. The guests can have their fill and sign up free of charge to whatever suits their fancy.
We chose to have a guided hike around Ammonoosuc Lake, an easy romp directly behind the Center. Our guide, Sarah, was friendly and extremely knowledgeable about the area, fascinating our usual grumpy child hikers with her facts about the plants, and pointing out ducklings swimming about in hidden corners of the lake.
There are endless unguided hiking options in the White Mountains, but having a guide show us the area helped us to notice many beautiful aspects of the trail that we might otherwise have passed by without a second thought. This was an unexpected gem for a family of novice hikers.
Although our fishing weekend didn’t reel in the big one, it certainly allowed us to reel in some much needed quality time together, which is far better than any fish I can imagine. The Mount Washington Valley is a family fun paradise just waiting for your next venture to the great outdoors.
For more information about the Highland Center or any of the lodges and huts look on The Appalacian Mountain Club website.
Find information about Purity Springs Resort
Get more information about visiting the Mount Washington Valley
To rent Cluck’s Cabin in West Ossipee, NH
Kate Hartshorne is an expert on families: she helps create them! A maternity nurse who lives in Northfield, MA with her family of eight, Kate is also an expert on family travel and she shares her insights with our readers on GoNOMAD.com. Kate strives to give you the biggest bang for your buck on a family vacation, she scouts out the best without breaking the bank.