Explore Like a Local: The Outdoor Mecca of North Conway, NH

For those seeking the perfect launching pad for outdoor activities, look no further than North Conway, NH. Located at the edge of the White Mountains, the town is surrounded by a wealth of natural wonders and offers visitors terrific après adventure options.

NEARBY ACTIVITIES:

Rock Climbing

Situated just a few minutes from the end of the main drag, Cathedral Ledge and White Horse Ledge loom over the surrounding area. They offer some of the best climbing on the East Coast, from beginner level (a 5.3-rated climb at White Horse Ledge) to advanced (a 5.14a-rated climb on The Mordor Wall at Cathedral Ledge). Take a class with the certified pros at the EMS Climbing School (learn more here), and send famous routes like Thin Air, Fun House, and Toe Crack.

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Leaf-Peeping

Every year from late September until the end of October, tourists from around the world drive the famous Kancamagus Highway (Rt. 112) for its breathtaking vistas and unparalleled fall foliage. The 36-mile stretch from Conway (just south of North Conway, as you might expect) to Lincoln, NH, traces the Swift River and offers many spots to pull off the road. Caves, waterfalls, mountain vistas, and hiking trails (and, of course, the foliage) are just a few of the abutting attractions.

Hiking

Trails abound in the vicinity of North Conway. The Appalachian Trail passes just north of the town along the Presidential Range, encompassing nearby Mount Washington. If you are traveling by car, you can head up the Auto Road (read more about Mt. Washington below), and park in a small lot where the AT intersects with your route. From here, take the Madison Gulf Trail (part of the AT) a mere 0.2 miles to the Lowe’s Bald Spot side trail (0.1 miles) for terrific vistas from atop the Bald Spot, a group of rocks overlooking the Great Gulf Wilderness. For more accessible options, head to the Kancamagus Highway, and select one of the many trailheads along the scenic road.
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Trail Running

Many of the hiking trails serve well for trail runs. A particularly appealing option is Boulder Loop Trail, along the Kancamagus. It’s a 3.5-mile loop of moderate difficulty that leads to terrific views of the surrounding mountains. As an added bonus, there’s a historic covered bridge leading to the trailhead.
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Paddling

The Saco River runs parallel to White Mountain Highway, which serves as the town’s Main Street, and offers easy access to paddling adventures. Whether you are kayaking, tubing, canoeing, or paddleboarding, the Saco is a terrific option, given its average three-foot depth, meandering path, scenic views, sandy beaches, and rope swings along the way.

Camping

Not surprisingly (we work for EMS, after all), we highly recommend camping in the vicinity of North Conway. There are many wonderful spots, but Fourth Iron Campground is a particularly appealing option. Open year-round on a first-come, first-serve basis, it’s a walk-in tent site near where the Saco meets the Sawyer River. With parking nearby, the campground features eight sites, each with its own bear box.

Another good choice is Barnes Field Group Campsite. As its name implies, this is a larger site well-suited for groups. It’s situated north of town at the foot of Mount Washington and has easy access to hiking and cross-country skiing trails. Keep in mind there’s a fee mid-May through mid-October, and reservations are recommended. By winter, the site remains open on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Mount Washington

A trip to the top of Mt. Washington is an unforgettable experience. Whether you take the Auto Road in warmer months, ride the old-fashioned Cog Railway, or hike to the summit, the subarctic environment and incredible winds at the peak are something you’ve got to see at least once.
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The EMS-sponsored Mt. Washington Observatory sits at the top (a 6,288-foot peak) and conducts climate research year-round in what is acclaimed as the world’s worst weather. The fastest wind speed of all time (231 MPH) was recorded at the summit, and the average daily wind speed is a brisk 34 MPH. Visibility can extend to 130 miles on a clear day.

With these factors in mind, be prepared for cold weather when you get to the top, regardless of the month. The local EMS store in North Conway can outfit you with everything you need to be comfortable.

Mountain Biking

The proprietor of the local ice cream shop (see below) told us that he moved to North Conway for the excellent mountain biking, accessible from downtown. The East Side Trails are a network of bike trails with easy, moderate, and difficult options. West of town, there are other easier routes that are informally known as the Marshall Preserve trails.

Skiing

If you’re visiting in the winter months, be sure to try out a few of the seven ski resorts surrounding North Conway. Attitash, Cranmore, Wildcat, Bretton Woods, Pine Mountain, Black Mountain, and Loon are all nearby.

Ice Climbing

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced ice climber, the EMS Climbing School offers personalized instruction to fit your needs. Available seven days a week, our guides will take you to an appropriate site, such as Cathedral Ledge or Frankenstein Cliffs in nearby Crawford Notch State Park.

Conway Scenic Railroad

Nursing an injury? Sore from too many outdoor adventures? See the White Mountains from the comfort of a scenic rail trip. Tours ranging from approximately one to five hours depart daily from the town’s center. A dining car is available on select outings.

DINING

Speaking of dining, start your day at Peach’s on Main Street, a terrific spot for breakfast, brunch, or lunch. Think family home converted into a restaurant: Dining tables are spread throughout the small rooms, and the back of the house looks out over woods. And the food! An EMS colleague summed up the experience well when he said, “Man, these pancakes are LEGIT.” The same could be said of everything else we ordered.

Skip lunch. Instead, go straight for ice cream at #PieWholeStuffer (aka 18°C) right in the center of town on White Mountain Highway. Made out of simple ingredients and spun right on the premises, it’s absolutely the best ice cream I have ever tasted. The selection changes daily, depending on what’s in season, so I would recommend covering your eyes and pointing randomly at the display case. You can’t go wrong.

For the ultimate in après adventure dining, I would recommend firing up your JetBoil MiniMo at the campsite and enjoying Good To-Go’s dehydrated Pad Thai (you need those if you don’t have them).

But, if beer on tap is an important consideration for you, then spend an evening at the Red Parka Steakhouse & Pub in nearby Glen (just a few minutes north of North Conway). The steaks and ribs are excellent, but the main attraction is the pub itself. The old-school ski theme sets just the right mood for reliving the activities of the day. The Red Parka isn’t the only game in town, though. Horsefeathers, Moat Mountain, and the Muddy Moose are just a few of the local spots that will take care of you after a long, active day.
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SHOPPING

Eastern Mountain Sports is located right on White Mountain Highway, and there are some other stores in the area (hey, I’m biased).
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LODGING

Choose from the Velocity, Refugio, or Big Easy series of EMS brand tents. Very comfortable. Oh, there are plenty of fine hotels in the area, but this is North Conway: Do it up in style, and camp like you know you want to!