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Mountains and forest brim with attractions

By Matt Taylor
Globe Correspondent / October 9, 2011

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The White Mountain National Forest traces its origins to a law that turned 100 this year. In 1911, President Taft signed the Weeks Act, which allowed the federal government to buy private forestlands to be managed and preserved. Drafted by Representative John Wingate Weeks of Massachusetts, it protects more than 20 million acres across the country. It also helped create White Mountain National Forest. Here are a few ways to enjoy these 800,000 acres of crystal clear lakes and streams, tree-lined trails, and snow-capped mountains.

TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE

The Kancamagus Highway is the best-known scenic route through the forest. This 35-mile road from Conway to Lincoln is part of the White Mountains Trail and explodes in reds, yellows, and oranges for leaf peepers in the fall. Five scenic overlooks allow stops to inhale the peaceful views. For $25 the Mount Washington Auto Road, which celebrates its 150th birthday this year, offers an adrenaline rush for adventurous drivers looking to scale New England’s highest peak.

WATCH FOR WILDLIFE

The forest is home to thousands of species of animals and plant life. Black bears, moose, white-tailed deer, and more than 200 species of birds live in the area. Spotting a moose is an exhilarating experience, and they normally do not attack humans without provocation, but they are best enjoyed at a distance. They appear at night or at dusk, so driving alertly and with caution is a must. Black bears are large and powerful yet generally timid animals that appear at numerous locations in the forest and should also be kept at a safe remove. Wildlife tours are available in Gorham and Lincoln.

VISIT A COVERED BRIDGE

These historic, handcrafted structures are a must see in the mountains. Hurricane Irene damaged some spans in New Hampshire, including the Blair Bridge in Campton, but many remain intact and with interesting histories to recount. The Honeymoon Bridge in Jackson was built by a Civil War volunteer and finish carpenter. The first structure at the site of the Blair Bridge was destroyed by a fire set by an arsonist who claimed, “God told [him] to do it.’’ It was rebuilt in the late 19th century. The Bath-Haverhill Bridge in Woodsville is the oldest covered bridge in New England and was in continuous use for 170 years until it was closed to vehicular traffic in 1999.

STEEP IN HISTORY

The mountains offer ample opportunities to travel back in time. The Frost Place in Franconia honors poet Robert Frost’s life with rare first edition displays of his work and the Poetry Nature Trail where visitors can view plaques of his poems among native wildflowers and plant life. A little farther north off Route 3 in Lancaster is Weeks State Park, with the summer home of Weeks (1860-1926). The Old Man of the Mountain may be gone, but its memory and legacy still live at the Old Man of the Mountain Museum at the bottom of the Cannon Mountain Tramway in Franconia Notch State Park.

HOP A SCENIC RAILROAD

One of the best ways to view the mountains’ fall foliage, lush landscapes, and rolling rivers is through the doublewide window of an antique railcar powered by a steam locomotive. The Conway Scenic Railroad, Hobo Railroad in Lincoln, Cog Railway on Mount Washington, and White Mountain Central Railroad at Clark’s Trading Post in Lincoln take visitors through steel truss bridges, wooded wilderness, and high elevations to view the area’s colors and unspoiled horizons.

HEAR A WATERFALL

Waterfalls offer both drama and peace. The soothing sound and stunning beauty of cold, clear water cascading over the rocks brings visitors from miles away to enjoy the various recreational and photographic opportunities each waterfall offers. Of the 100 falls in the White Mountains, Diana’s Baths in Bartlett, Waterville Cascades in Waterville Valley, and the Falls on the Flume Pool Loop in Franconia Notch State Park are among those to see.

WALK 1,200 MILES

Hikers in the Whites find themselves not only deep in clean mountain air, but also within reach of signature natural attractions such as waterfalls, summits, and scenic overlooks. The Boulder Loop Trail on Dugway Road off the Kancamagus Highway is an easy hike with spectacular views. For more adventurous hikers Artists Bluff in Franconia Notch State Park is a short, steep hike with a rewarding view of the Notch at the end.

SHOP A COUNTRY STORE

A New Hampshire country store can have local products, works by local artists, and offer an old-fashioned New England experience. The Brick Store in Bath is the country’s oldest general store. Fadden’s in North Woodstock not only features gourmet foods, local crafts, and other items, but also a working sugarhouse with homemade maple syrup. Zeb’s in North Conway has over 5,000 items, the largest inventory of locally-made products in the area.

HIT A FALL FESTIVAL

Nobody celebrates autumn better than New England, and the White Mountains offer many opportunities to enjoy the cuisine, crafts, artwork, and music unique to the region. Some of the most popular events include The Leaf Peepers Craft Show (Oct. 15-16) in North Conway, the Return of the Pumpkin People (through Oct. 20) in Jackson, and the Cranmore Mountain Ghoullog Haunted Chairlift Rides (weekends through Oct. 29).

Matt Taylor can be reached at matttaylor0403@msn.com.

If You Go

What to do
White Mountains Attractions Visitors Center Intersection of Route 112 and Interstate 93, exit 32
North Woodstock,
603-745-7720, 800-346-3687
White Mountains Hiking Trails
www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/white_ mountain/recreation/hiking
Pemi Valley Moose Tours
36 Main St., Lincoln
603-745-2744
www.moosetoursnh.com
The Brick Store
Route 302, Bath
800-964-2074
www.thebrickstore.com
Fadden’s General Store
109 North Main St., Woodstock
603-745-8371
Zeb’s General Store
2675 Main St., North Conway
603-356-9294
www.zebs.com
Cannon Mountain
Franconia Notch State Park
Franconia
603-823-8800
www.cannonmt.com
Hobo Railroad
64 Railroad St., off Route 112, Lincoln
603-745-2135
www.hoborr.com
Clark’s Trading Post
110 Daniel Webster Highway (Route 3), Lincoln
603-745-8913
www.clarkstradingpost.com
Mount Washington Cog Railway Base Road, 6 miles off Route 302
Bretton Woods
800-922-8825, 603-278-5404
www.thecog.com
Conway Scenic Railroad
39 Norcross Circle, North Conway
800-232-5251
603-356-5251
www.conwayscenic.com
The Frost Place
Ridge Road, Franconia
603-823-5510
www.frostplace.org
New Hampshire State Parks
www.nhstateparks.org
603-271-3556
Where to stay
Woodstock Inn Station and Brewery
135 Main St., North Woodstock
Reservations: 1-800-321-3985
www.woodstockinnnh.com
Rooms from $99-$229, in a relaxed, casual atmosphere.
Where to eat
The Country Cow Restaurant
57 Blair Road, Campton
603-536-1331
www.the-country-cow.com
Casual dining with a great view of the Blair Covered Bridge and Pemigewassett River. Appetizers and entrees $7-$23.