Northern New Hampshire: Where the Arts & Outdoor Attractions Meet

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The region’s beautiful mountain views and pastoral vistas first drew artists to the White Mountains and the northern reaches of the state in the early years of the 19th century, drawn here by a dramatic landscape of towering peaks, rushing rivers and stately forests, and capturing them forever on canvas. These 19th century artists gave rise to both the iconic Hudson River School and White Mountain School styles of painting.

Some artists, like Frank Shapleigh, had an affiliation with one or more of the Grand Hotels of the time. Visitors to Shapleigh’s studio at the Crawford House could observe him at work and purchase a painting to take home as a souvenir of their time in the mountains. These early artists were instrumental in promoting the region to visitors, with their gorgeous paintings serving much the same purpose as today’s brochures and websites for inspiring people to travel to northern New Hampshire to experience its natural splendors and other attractions.

Architecturally grand buildings, artful offerings, and musical and stage performances highlight the many cultural activities to be found today in New Hampshire’s Grand North. Round out your visit to the northern reaches of the Granite State with an arts-based itinerary combined with one or more of our exceptional recreational opportunities and featured attractions for an outstanding vacation experience.

Looking for lodging and dining opportunities while touring the countryside? The New Hampshire Grand website has a complete listing.

BRETTON WOODS

Artist Frank Shapleigh’s home and studio is now guest lodging at the AMC Highland Center. Continuing the tradition of using the arts to interpret the environment, the Highland Center hosts an impressive display of the mountain photography of explorer, mountaineer, and pioneering aerial photographer Brad Washburn. And the AMC’s series of Free Evening Programs introduce visitors to a variety of subjects, from musical evenings and visiting authors to tales of mountaineering in far away places and identifying the stars overhead.

If you’re traveling with the kids, let them loose on the AMC’s Big Mountain Playscape, with plenty of features like ladders, logs, rocks and a rope bridge to help them explore the outdoors.

Hiking the White Mountains is a wonderful summer or fall experiences, with many trails in close proximity to the Highland Center. Shuttle service is available from the AMC to nearby trailheads.

Don’t miss an opportunity to visit the magnificent Omni Mt. Washington Hotel, a National Historic Landmark. First opened in 1902, the hotel was built by 250 master craftsmen in the Spanish Renaissance style. Enjoy a glass of wine on the wide veranda with its sweeping views of the Mount Washington range, or cozy up in one of the elegant public rooms with a pot of tea and a selection of cakes and cookies.

Delegates from around the world converged at the hotel in 1944 for the Bretton Woods Monetary Conference, which established the World Bank, set the gold standard and selected the American dollar as the foundation of international exchange following World War II. The handsome room in which the final documents were signed is just off the lobby, and includes an informational display outlining the importance of the conference in stabilizing the post-war economy.

Make a stop at the WREN Local Works (Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network) gallery in the lobby of the hotel showcasing the work of dozens of regional artisans, everything from original art, jewelry and pottery to textiles, photography and unique and handmade gifts.

Just across the road at the Resort’s Adventure Center, fly through the treetops on an exciting Canopy Tour for amazing views of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, or try one of the other resort activities like river tubing, golf, and mountain biking.

The Mt. Washington Cog Railway is the world’s oldest mountain-climbing cog railway and has been ferrying passengers to the summit of Mt. Washington since 1869. Ride in an old-fashioned steam train or one of the newer bio-diesel models and spend time on the summit exploring the Weather Discovery Center, visiting the stone Tip Top House, and drinking in the amazing views. On especially clear days you can see the Atlantic Ocean!

Drummond’s Mountain Shop is locally famous for its ski and snowboarding sales and service, but during the summer months, bike rentals are available and make a great way to explore the region at a leisurely pace.

WHITEFIELD

Professional summer theatre in the North Country can trace its roots to 1934, when New York Times music critic Will Chase opened the Chase Barn Playhouse in Whitefield, the predecessor of today’s Weathervane Theatre. The summer playbill includes seven shows, both classic and contemporary, in alternating repertory. Families travelling with kids will enjoy the timeless tales and musical stories staged throughout the season by the Weathervane’s Patchwork Players.

No visit to Whitefield is complete without a stop at the Mountain View Grand Resort & Spa, which has catered to guests since the end of the Civil War. Sweeping mountain views and a variety of resort activities will appeal to every member of the family. Of special interest is the resort’s Mountain View Farm, where fiber collected from the farm’s flock of sheep is spun into Mountain View Farm Blend yarn. Take a needle felting class at the fiber studio, using fibers from the farm’s animals, which also includes goats, alpacas, llamas and Angora rabbits, and take home a wonderful souvenir of your visit.

The Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge  in Whitefield and Jefferson, a noted bird-watching destination, is easily accessed by a 1.5 mile, almost flat walking trail leading to a viewing platform at Cherry Pond with magnificent views of the Presidential Range. The Little Cherry Pond hiking trail along the western edge of the pond also has a viewing platform.

LANCASTER & JEFFERSON

Weeks State Park  is the legacy of Congressman John Wingate Weeks, a Lancaster native who, in 1911, sponsored historic legislation known as the Weeks Act, which led to the creation of the White Mountain National Forest. The Weeks State Park Association hosts free Thursday evening programs throughout the summer at Weeks’s handsome stucco Summit Lodge atop Mount Prospect, on topics as diverse as railroading, butterflies, wildflowers, and birds of prey, along with a musical evening or two to get your toes tapping. The drive to the top of the mountain along the rustic carriage road boasts outstanding scenery, and the stone fire tower next to the Lodge is worth a climb for its 360-degree views.

Drop by the William Rugh Gallery  in downtown Lancaster to view the paintings of artist/painter Ed Widmayer (1923-2010) and award-winning photographer Fletcher Manley. Manley’s photography has taken him around the world, including photographing four Winter Olympics Games. Widmayer is known for his abstract expressionist works. The gallery also carries a line of locally made fine furniture.

Lancaster is notable for its independent movie house, the Rialto Theatre, whose distinctive marquee advertises first-run movies, a free summer family film series, and a growing schedule of concerts and other community events. While improvements have been made over the years, the 1930s-era theatre still retains an old-timey feel, with a box office fronted by a brass rail, comfortable seats (with lots of leg room!) and dark red tapestries on the walls.

Santa’s Village is a premiere New England attraction with many kudos to its name, including being named as one of the nation’s outstanding amusement parks. Visit Santa at his summer home in Jefferson, feed his reindeer, enjoy unlimited rides on dozens of attractions, cool off at the Ho Ho H2O Water Park, watch live performances and much more at this top-rated park.

Can you say mush? At Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel, visitors can experience an exhilarating sled dog ride across the snow-covered landscape during the winter months and rolling sled dog rides in the summer. Muddy Paw also runs Raft NH, and many visitors opt for the Paws & Paddle package, a combo adventure that includes whitewater rafting and a rolling dog sled ride.

COLEBROOK, STEWARTSTOWN & PITTSBURG

Colebrook has embraced a lively arts scene centered on the Tillotson Center for the Arts, which includes a 175-seat performance and movie theatre, a community heritage museum and an art gallery. Formerly the Carriage Barn for The Balsams hotel stagecoach, and subsequently a Grange Hall with a theater and dance floor, the Center is now a magnet for cultural activities in the northernmost region of the state.

The Great North Woods Committee for the Arts promotes musical, cultural and performing arts in northern New Hampshire, with venues at the Colebrook Country Club and Monadnock Congregational Church.

Quality hand-crafted items, including jewelry, pottery, home and garden, and wood products, can be found at Fiddleheads. The Colebrook shop specializes in U. S.- and Canadian-made products, along with Fair Trade items. The on-site art gallery promotes the talents of the more than 50 artists of the Connecticut River Artisan Group, whose members hail from New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Canada.

Visitors are welcome May through October at Colebrook’s Cite Ecologique of NH Ecovillage, a community of individuals living on over 300 acres, where the emphasis is on education and sustainable development. Community members offer dynamic classes, workshops and practical trainings inspired by a love of and connection with nature.

The Poore Farm Historic Homestead and Museum is the last remaining, original 100-acre farm settlement of its kind in northern New Hampshire. The Stewartstown museum portrays one family’s life from the 1830s to the 1980s, including the house, barns and outbuildings, all in authentic condition. Displays include clothing, artifacts, newspapers, magazines, diaries and letters, hand tools, horse drawn wagons, farm implements, and a large collection of everyday items common to the period. The Museum and grounds host a variety of cultural events, demonstrations, field trips, concerts and social gatherings.

More than 1,000 miles of riding await ATVers in northern New Hampshire on the Ride the Wilds interconnected trail system that spans the northern region of the state. Bring your own machine or rent one from Bear Rock Adventures in Pittsburg, with its diverse fleet of 2-, 4- and 6-seat side-by-sides and ATVs. Take a self-guided tour or let an experienced tour guide lead the way.

Check into Tall Timber Lodge or the Cabins at Lopstick for a relaxing vacation or use the Pittsburg resorts as the base for your hunting or fishing adventures. Tall Timber Lodge has experienced fly fishing and bird hunting guides and hosts fly fishing schools each year. Lopstick is an ORVIS-endorsed outfitter and offers fly fishing guide service, casting lessons and upland hunting service.

BERLIN

The 500-seat St. Kieran Community Center for the Arts, is notable both for its architecture and its terrific performing arts series. Located in a former church, St. Kieran’s is on the New Hampshire State Register of Historic Places. Built in 1895 in the baroque architectural style, it includes a central portal with a rose window and two elaborate stained glass accents. The Hook and Hastings pipe organ, donated in 1898, remains in excellent condition. The performing arts series takes place throughout the year, featuring local, regional and national acts.

Overlooking the city is the oft-photographed Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church at 20 Petrograd Street, with its six cross-topped domes and distinctive blue and white exterior. The interior includes Byzantine-style Icons, early 20th century oil paintings, framed imported prints and faux marble wainscoting.

History buffs will want to spend some time at the Berlin and Coos County Historical Society’s  Moffett House & Genealogy Center. The Center contains the largest library of genealogical material north of Manchester, N.H.

Another bit of Berlin history can be found in the Berlin Murals, adorning a wall of the former Brown Company Research Building on Main Street, just south of the Service Credit Union Heritage Park. Twenty-four windows are covered with paintings created by students from the Plymouth State University art department. The images depict scenes from Berlin’s history including the city’s paper industry, logging, ski jumping and hockey.

ELC Outdoors in nearby Errol offers single or multi-day recreational packages to get your adrenaline pumping. Choose from whitewater rafting trips, high ropes aerial adventures, wildlife tours and a raft and float plane combo trip.

GORHAM

The beautifully restored Medallion Opera House (in the same building as the Town Hall) is the heart of the town’s cultural activities, with a year-round schedule of performing arts.

Grab a cup of coffee and check out the rotating art exhibits at the White Mountain Cafe & Bookstore . The bookstore carries a nice selection of books by local and regional authors, White Mountains maps and guides, and children’s books and toys.

Drive yourself or take a guided tour in a comfortable van up the Mt. Washington Auto Road to the top of Mt. Washington, the Northeast’s highest peak. Be prepared for jaw-dropping vistas, have your photograph taken on the craggy summit (6,288 feet), tour the historic stone Tip Top house, and visit the Mount Washington Observatory’s interactive Extreme Mt. Washington Museum.

Once you’ve conquered the summit, consider extending your stay and taking a guided tour of the paddling variety at Great Glen Trails, at the base of the Mt. Washington Auto Road. Enjoy a guided kayak trip along the scenic lakes and rivers of northern New Hampshire. Or rent a bike at Great Glen Trails and peddle along well-marked carriage trails through beautiful meadows and along scenic rivers, with dramatic mountain views at every turn.

It’s always exciting to spot a moose or two along the roadway. Let a knowledgeable guide take you on a tour to some favorite moose spots in the Androscoggin Valley by booking a seat on the Gorham Moose Tours. Along with moose, you might also spot deer, eagles, osprey, bears and raccoons.

The Gorham to Whitefield Presidential Rail Trail follows an abandoned Boston and Maine Rail Line and is chock full of beautiful mountain views and wildlife. The 18-mile, mostly flat trail, is open for biking and hiking (in winter, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and mushing).

Guided tours, group rides and ATV rentals are available at White Mt. ATV Rental, located at the southeast entrance to Jericho Mountain State Park, with access to over 1,000 miles of ATV trails in the Ride the Wilds trail system.