Article and photography by Iris Fischer-McMorrow
New Hampshire is home to a great après-ski culture. What better way to end a good day on the slopes than sharing a toast with friends? It seems a little unfair, though, that this practice gets attention during the winter, especially when the beautiful state of New Hampshire has so many year-round outdoor activities.
In the fall, deep reds, vibrant oranges, and bright yellows paint the hillsides. It is a perfect time to hike, and New Hampshire is home to many mountain trails with stunning views. Even better, some trails are located only a short distance from small New Hampshire towns with great options for an “après-hike” celebration, especially if a good microbrew is appealing.
Whether you are traveling to Southern New Hampshire, or plan to head up to the heart of the White Mountains, there are countless options. Here are four favorite accessible mountain hikes with great views, and easy stops nearby to share a congratulatory toast after a beautiful fall day outdoors.
1. Southern New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region
Close to the Southwest corner of New Hampshire is Mount Monadnock, a popular mountain for hiking (rumored to be the second most traversed mountain in the United States). However, New Englanders also have a few favorite trails on Pack Monadnock, a neighboring mountain, with great views across to Mount Monadnock and the Wapack Range.
The Pack Monadnock trails leave from Miller State Park, and all trails are fairly equal in difficulty (moderate uphill climbs, but short: about 1.5-2 miles each way). The summit can be a bit crowded at times, but the views from the top more than make up for the crowds. On a clear day, you can even glimpse the Boston skyline in the distance.
Only five miles away from the Pack Monadnock trails is Peterborough, a small town filled with artist’s studios and a few cozy places to sit and enjoy a local IPA or that New Hampshire favorite: pumpkin ale.
Harlow’s Pub is a local institution, a place where musicians and artists gather to enjoy good food and beer with local music. The feel is eclectic; from the British phone booth decorating the corner to the 70’and 80’s memorabilia filling the walls. It is no doubt a unique spot to unwind after a good hike. If it’s a sunny day, the outdoor patio is a great place to sit back and rest after a day on the mountain.
2. Central New Hampshire’s Sunapee Region
Don’t ignore the middle of this amazing state. The lakes here are famous, and when surrounded by fall foliage, this part of New Hampshire is filled with striking views.
Mount Kearsarge is one of the oldest mountains in the state. The summit offers beautiful views of Mount Cardigan and Sunapee, and on a clear day, you can see the White Mountains. Easy trails right to the summit are accessible from Rollins State Park but don’t cheat. Instead, start from a different location and hike a trail that winds up the side of Kearsage. To do so, leave from Winslow State Park, and take the Barlow Trail for a 1.7-mile hike each way. Along the trail, you will catch beautiful views of Mount Cardigan and Ragged Mountain.
A longer hike means a reward, after all. New London is just minutes away from Winslow State Park and well worth the trip. This college town offers views of the Mount Sunapee Ski Resort, as well as great stops for coffee, sandwiches, or a good local brew. The Flying Goose Brew Pub brews beer on site. They have a Saison called “Death of a Beer Geek” that is pretty intriguing. The Goose is a favorite pit stop for outdoor enthusiasts year round.
3. The White Mountains: Pinkham Notch
Northern New Hampshire is home to jaw-dropping vistas and terrain. This is the real drama. It’s Mount Washington, after all, the highest peak in the Northeast. The other peaks of the Presidential Range surround Mount Washington, and the area is famous for intense changes in weather and climbing conditions.
Don’t be intimidated. The Appalachian Mountain Club has a visiting center in Pinkham Notch, and the folks there can help you choose safe, accessible day hikes that offer breathtaking views right out back.
It is a popular pastime to hike up to Tuckerman’s Ravine. However, if a quiet fall hike with fewer people – but still filled with beautiful views – is appealing, there are great loop trails off of Old Jackson Road, just behind the visitor’s center. Trails are about 2.5-3 miles in length round trip, with a moderately difficult ascent at times, but the reward is a private view across to Tuckerman’s Ravine, Wildcat Mountain, and the other peaks around Pinkham Notch.
A toast with a good local beer should follow all of this hard work. Jackson and North Conway are two New England towns within a short driving distance of Pinkham Notch, and between the two towns are some great pit stops for a pint and a snack.
The bar at the Red Parka Pub is a local favorite and is regularly packed to the gills. The outdoor seating area, surrounded by a fence of alpine skis, is a great place to relax. Equally popular is a local brewery’s restaurant, the Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Company. Celebrate the season with Opa’s Oktoberfest German-style lager along with a plate of Bavarian pretzels and beer cheese. Or better yet, a plate of nachos covered in smoked brisket. Remember: the hike was a calorie burn, after all.
4. The White Mountains: Crawford Notch
Crawford Notch, a gorge in the White Mountains, is a hikers dream. The notch is filled with wildlife, waterfalls and dramatic views. The Appalachian Mountain Club operates a visitor’s center here as well, a great destination for information about the park and its numerous trails. There is no shortage of day hikes all along the Crawford Notch’s nearly 6,000 acres, but a favorite is Mount Willard, a moderately difficult, but short (3.2 miles round-trip) hike to some of the most spectacular views in the area.
In this part of the White Mountains, there is a special location to enjoy a real reward after a hike. You will find it at The Mount Washington Resort. This historic hotel tucked just below Mount Washington, sits outside of Crawford Notch State Park. Breathtaking views of the White Mountains are visible from every corner of the hotel. Yes, there are restaurants here with white tablecloths and waiters with bowties. But, believe it or not, you can be a dusty hiker with muddy boots, especially if you want to enjoy the pub downstairs.
For the real reward, though, I recommend heading out to the porch on a warmer fall day. Maybe splurge and enjoy a cocktail. Kick back in one of the comfy chairs and raise a glass to the day’s work. Take a well-deserved sip while you gaze out at the mountains, grateful for a day in New Hampshire’s wilderness.