Kancamagus Highway during the Fall

The Kancamagus Highway is a 34-mile scenic highway that stretches from Lincoln to Conway. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Experience the Wonders of North Conway, New Hampshire in 3 Days

Nestled in the Mount Washington Valley, with more than 700,000 acres of protected White Mountain National Forest as a backdrop, North Conway, New Hampshire, is a jumping-off point for every kind of outdoor recreation. Not only is it one of the top rock climbing areas in the country, but it has also been named the number-one ski town in the United States.

There are tons of hiking trails — not to mention the tallest peak in the Northeast just a short drive away — and plenty to do even if you’re not looking for a rigorous outdoor adventure.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Take in the Views at the Cliffs

Start the day off with an espresso and bagel at Frontside Coffee Roasters, a chill downtown café founded in 1998 that roasts its own coffee. Bonus: When it’s warm out, you can sit on the patio and gaze at the Moat Mountains in the distance.

Cathedral Ledge and lake in New Hampshire
Take a hike along Cathedral Ledge. (Photo: Getty Images)

Once you’re sufficiently caffeinated, choose your outdoor adventure. Since you’re in one of the top rock climbing areas in the country, consider visiting Cathedral Ledge or Whitehorse Ledge. But don’t worry, you don’t have to don a harness and helmet to enjoy these impressive cliffs — though there are several guide companies in the area if you do.

Instead, you can hike one or both, killing two views with one trail if you so choose. First, start at Echo Lake (a scenic destination in its own right) and make your way up to the top of the 700-foot Cathedral Ledge, staying right at the fork.

From here, you can either head back down (it’s about 2 miles roundtrip) or retrace your steps a bit to that same fork, this time going the other direction for the Whitehorse Ledge Loop (about 2.4 miles).

If you prefer something that requires little to no physical exertion — we don’t blame you — you can always just drive to the top of Cathedral on the auto road. While you’re in the area, pop over to Diana’s Baths in Bartlett to see the cascading waterfalls (some are 75 feet high), swim in the pools (if weather permits) and check out the many rock ledges.

Reward yourself with some treats from the family-owned Old Village Bakery on Seavey Street, then explore all the unique shops scattered along the main street (White Mountain Highway).

The nostalgia-inspiring Zeb’s General Store is a particular favorite among visitors, with its old-fashioned candy counter and the largest collection of New England-made specialty foods in the world. During popular times of the year, there is often a line out the door, so plan accordingly.

Are you a barbecue and beer fan? You’ll want to get dinner at Moat Mountain Smoke House & Brewing Co., which is not only located in one of North Conway’s most historic buildings, but also boasts local beers and locally sourced food. Chase your entrée with some ice cream at Tricks & Treats (and find out what the “tricks” are) and take in the awesome views from the outdoor picnic tables.

Saturday: Take a Ride on the Wild Side

Shake off that ice cream hangover with a little farm-to-table fare at Table + Tonic. The owners get their produce from their own permaculture farm; only source 100% organic beans, grains, seeds and eggs; and bake their own bread. Need we say more? OK, we will: They also have a juice, smoothie and espresso bar.

When you’re done, pop over to the Local Grocer next door. Though technically a health food store (with locally sourced cheeses, meats and more) it also has an eco gift shop with fair-trade jewelry and bags, spiritual items, toys and household goods.

Stretch of the Conway Scenic Railroad during the Fall
Explore New Hampshire on the Conway Scenic Railroad. (Photo: Getty Images)

One of the best ways to take in the surrounding views is by train.

If you want to stay local, check out the Conway Scenic Railroad, which offers several excursions of varying lengths, such as the 55-minute rural Conway Valley Train (ideal if traveling with young children), the 21-mile round-trip Bartlett-Sawyer Excursion through the Saco River Valley and the 5- to 5.5-hour Mountaineer, consisting of 1950s-era passenger cars and a deluxe dining experience.

If you don’t mind taking a 45-minute drive out of town, the Mount Washington Cog Railway is a pain-free way to ascend to the summit of the highest peak in the Northeast in less than an hour. The Cog is the first mountain-climbing cog railway in the world — and the second steepest, with an average grade of 25%.

You’ll then have about an hour at the top to explore the Sherman Adams Visitor Center, an interactive weather exhibit, the cafeteria and two gift shops before chugging back down.

If trains aren’t your thing — hey, they’re not everyone’s steam come true — take a drive on the 34.5-mile Kancamagus Highway, which boasts some of the best fall foliage in the country and is a designated American Scenic Byway for its beauty and rich history.

Back in North Conway, spoil your taste buds with some delicious wood-fired pizzas at Flatbread Company, which, of course, also uses organic ingredients and free-range meats. Just a note that the restaurant doesn’t take reservations and, during busy seasons, can have an extremely long wait.

So before you’re totally starving, stop by to put your name down and then take a short, five-minute drive to Library Lounge at Stonehurst Manor, where you can enjoy a pre-dinner martini in a cozy armchair inside or on the patio by the firepits with sweeping mountain views.

Sunday: Hit the Slopes…or the Shops

Orange juice being poured in a glass
Start the day with a hearty breakfast. (Photo: Getty Images)

Start with breakfast at the popular, family-owned Peach’s Restaurant — we’ve heard good things about the apple-butterscotch pancakes and the stuffed French toast. Plus, they have gluten-free bread and waffles.

If it’s too crowded, walk a bit farther into town to Stairway Café, a homey place with a deck. Or walk a couple minutes more to the Met Coffee House for a breakfast sandwich or freshly baked croissant.

Now, for a little Sunday Funday — no matter the season — at Cranmore Mountain Resort. While best known for its wide range of skiing, snowboarding and tubing trails in the winter, there’s plenty to do off-slope as well.

From December through March, you can cruise through the woods on the Coaster (controlling your own speed, up to 25 mph), fly high in the sky on the Giant Swing or zip line down the mountainside on the Soaring Eagle. In the summer, take a scenic chairlift ride up the mountain for views of the Mount Washington Valley and a bite to eat at the historic Meister Hut.

Those with kids 12 and under might opt to visit Story Land, a fairy-tale-themed park open May through October.

Next, do a bit of tax-free shopping at Settlers Green, a 60-plus store outlet village that has been part of the mountain community for more than 30 years. Take a hydration break from all that shopping at Barley & Salt, which has 30 craft beers on tap.

For dinner, head back into the heart of North Conway and Chef’s Bistro, which uses local ingredients whenever possible, or — for something a little livelier — try May Kelly’s Cottage, an enchanting tavern with creative decor, a big outdoor patio and authentic Irish country cooking.