Originally we were going to do a combination trip of New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts but due to COVID rules at the time, we decided to just do the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but split our stay between two campgrounds. The White Mountains were a lot bigger then I expected, and drive times could be an hour + depending on where you want to go. Next time I would consider splitting our stays between the Conway side and the Franconia side for easier access.
Jellystone Glen Ellis
We started our stay with 5 nights at Glen Ellis Jellystone. When we originally booked our stay, it was not a Jellystone and after Jellystone bought it out, our original price of $50/night was honored. Jellystone has done some updates, adding mini golf and a jumping pillow and has plans to add a waterpark (there is a small pool right now). The activity schedule was also typical of most Jellystones, with non stop activities for the kids including tiedye, Bingo, and movie nights under the pavilion. The price has increased accordingly.
Our site was right across the street from the river, where you could tube. The campground provided tube rentals for $25 a day, but we saw people using all sorts of things to tube (including an air mattress!) You had to walk your tube to one end of the river, tube down, and then there was a spot to get out. There were some small rapids on the river.
There was also a swimming beach area at the top of the tube launch. The water didn’t move as fast here, but I would still watch small children as there was a strong current. The bottom is also very rocky, so I would suggest water shoes. The level of the water and strength of the current changed drastically while we were there due to rainfall, so be careful if the area receives rain.
Mount Washington Auto Road
We stayed over night in Connecticut at a hotel on the way to the White Mountains, so we arrived mid-day. We decided after we set up to drive to Mount Washington Auto Road. The cost was $35 for the car and driver, plus an extra $10 per adult and $7 per kid. It is a 7.6 mile drive up to the summit and 6,288 feet of elevation gain. The road has lots of twists and turns and it can feel like you are close to the side of the cliff, but we found it manageable. Tours are available if you don’t want to drive yourself, or you can take the Mt. Washington Cog to the Summit. The temperature decreases drastically as you drive up so be prepared!
Glen Ellis Falls
After the auto road, we stopped at nearby Glen Ellis Falls. Glen Ellis Falls is one of the easier falls to get to, with only a .4 mile round trip hike. Its a gorgeous hike along a stream to the 64 foot waterfall. There are a good amount of steps at the end. We went later in the day and had the entire hike to ourselves. I would imagine because its a short hike parking turnover would be high even if it was a busier time.
We woke up in the morning to rain, rain, rain. In general we have found that the best thing to do on a rainy day is visit waterfalls! Often the rain makes the Falls even more beautiful because the water flows faster and there is more of it! Also you don’t have to worry about the rain blocking scenic views.
We started the day at Arethusa Falls. This is a 3 mile round trip out and back hike to a stunning waterfall. The trail offered a lot of cover from the rain. On the way to Arethusa Falls, the trail splits. If you go left towards the Bemis Brook Trail, you will see some smaller waterfalls and brooks. I definitely think this detour is worth it (adds about .3 miles) and it will reconnect with the main Arethusa Falls trail. There is one extremely steep section where Bemis reconnects with Arethusa. Most of the trail is an uphill climb. Arethusa Falls is 140 feet and the most spectacular waterfall we saw on our trip.
Ripley Falls was our next stop. Its a 1.1 mile round trip hike, climbing mostly uphill on the way there with a gain of about 800 feet. Ripley Falls itself is an 100 foot drop. This trail is definitely easier then Arethusa if you are looking for a quicker hike.
Cathedral Ledge Lookout
We started our day with a visit to Cathedral Ledge Lookout. Normally you can drive the mile long road to the top, but due to COVID the road was closed to cars. You could still hike to the top by parking at the bottom which is what we decided to do. It was a very steep mile walk to the top (700 feet of elevation gain in a mile) Once you get to the top the views from all sides are incredible!
Cranmore Mountain Resort
Next we decided to take the lift to the top of Cranmore Mountain Resort. At the top was a cafe serving icecream, snacks, and drinks. I felt like the cost was a bit high considering all the views in the area you can see for free. There is also a restaurant at the bottom that serves lunch and drinks and has a great outdoor patio if you want to enjoy the views without going up the mountain. Other options like the mountain coaster and ropes course are also available.
Saco River Tubing
We booked a tubing trip in advance through Saco River Tubing. Due to the high water levels from all the rain, our original trip of Redstone Rapids was cancelled, and we rebooked on the Covered Bridge Float. This was a relaxing 3 mile scenic float with plenty of beaches and a rope swing to get off and relax. The tube rental was $25 and included a shuttle to the start, from which you floated back to the car. The tubes were comfortable with cup holders and a backrest.
On the way back to the campsite we decided to try Dianas Baths. We had tried to stop after we visited Cathedral Ledge lookout, but mid morning the line of cars waiting to park was over 20. We got lucky with an afternoon parking spot this time. Dianas Baths is a 1.3 mile out and back trail, and it is heavily used. Unfortunately people don’t seem to clean up after themselves, as we found a ton of trash and even dirty diapers. The Baths themselves are beautiful! There are lots of little pools and small waterfalls for kids to explore. It goes pretty far back, so don’t stop at the first spot where it tends to be more crowded.
North and Middle Sugarloaf
For our last day staying at Jellystone Glen Ellis, we decided to hike the North and Middle Sugarloafs. On the way, we drove highway 302, where we discovered this waterfall (Silver Cascade) right along the road. There is a small parking area to pull off and see it. If you are looking to see a waterfall without walking, this is your spot.
This is a great hike, with spectacular views (especially on top of Middle!) If you go to both overlooks (which I suggest) its 3.3 miles. Just Middle is 2.6 miles. It starts out pretty easy, but then turns into a steep climb. Once you get to the top you can go right for North or Left for Middle.
Once we got to the top, we elected to go right first to North Sugarloaf. The views are incredible and there wasn’t anyone else at the summit!
Then we backtracked and headed left to Middle Sugarloaf. This is the more scenic of the two spots, and has almost 360 degree views.
There is so much to do in the area, this is far from comprehensive. Conway is a cute town with lots of shops, restaurants, and icrecream. We did not eat out much due to Corona, but we did stop in for icecream. Conway Scenic Railroad is another idea if you are a train lover. Echo Lake State Park is located nearby (just be careful there are two locations) and offers kayak rentals and a great spot to swim.
The next day, we headed to our second campground, Chocurua KOA. To read more about the second part of our trip, visit the blog post https://campingwiththekennedys.com/2020/10/21/new-hampshire-white-mountains-part-2/ (includes Franconia Notch Trail, Flume Gorge, Sabbaday Falls, West Rattlesnake trail and more!