A non-skier’s guide to New Hampshire’s White Mountains

You don't need skis for winter fun in the White Mountains.

Alpine Adventures
Zip lining with Alpine Adventures in New Hampshire's White Mountains. –Alpine Adventures

It’s no secret that New Hampshire’s White Mountains offer plenty of snow-lined vertical trails for skiers. But the area, which saw 700,000 visitors last winter, is also chock-full of outdoor adventures for non-skiers, said Colleen Eliason, public relations and marketing assistant at the White Mountains Attractions Association.

“We definitely have a pretty steady stream of people coming in, wanting to know what else is there to do [besides skiing],” Eliason said.

She recommended the following activities for visitors looking to get the most out of the destination this winter season, no skis required.

Stroll through giant Ice Castles

Ice Castles in Lincoln, New Hampshire
The Ice Castles attraction in New Hampshire. —Ice Castles

Head to North Woodstock to explore the newly opened and enormous Ice Castles, complete with icy tunnels, thrones, fountains, and slides.

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“We’ve been getting requests for folks looking for it since November,” Eliason said.

This year, the towering formations that weigh more than 20 million pounds are in a new location, a few miles from their previous spot of the past five years in Lincoln. The castles, which take six months to plan and create, are equipped with LED lights that make them glow. Guests can watch fire performances amid the ice, take selfies with princess characters, and — new this year — hop on horse-drawn sleigh rides.

“It’s very unique because there’s only five locations in the United States that offer the Ice Castles,” Eliason said. “Each venue is completely different.”

Spot the mountains from a helicopter

If sky-high heights aren’t your issue with skiing, you can soar over the White Mountains in a helicopter, Eliason said. There are two local companies that offer various tours in the sky: Vertical Ventures and White Mountains Helicopter.

“You get this bird’s-eye, aerial view of the [Presidential Range], of Mount Washington, of all the White Mountains in the area,” she said. “That’s kind of a neat experience.”

Ride a snow coach up Mount Washington

Mt. Washington SnowCoach. —Mount Washington Auto Road SnowCoach.

Hop on board the Mt. Washington SnowCoach for a “guided knowledgeable tour,” Eliason suggested. The 12-passenger vehicle, which is on tracks rather than wheels, takes guests 4,200 feet up Mount Washington to the tree line. Due to extreme weather conditions at the top, the tour does not go to the summit, but stops about two-thirds of the way up, according to the company’s website. The 90-minute tours include a history of the area and the opportunity to get out and take photos and video of what the site calls the “sub-arctic world.”

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“If it’s a clear day, you do get views of the top of Mount Washington. You get views of the surrounding White Mountains,” Eliason said. “It’s quite stunning.”

Take to the trees on a zip line

You can soar up to 250 feet above the snowy forest floor on a zip line at Alpine Adventures, located in Lincoln. Really: Winter is prime time for zip lining, according to Eliason.

“They offer zip lining year round, and winter zip lining is one of their more popular activities,” she said. “They have three different courses: beginner, intermediate, and then advanced zip lining.”

The company shuttles guests to guided tours offered on its 300-acre property on Barron Mountain. The zip lines at that location are between 250 and 1,600 feet long and take you between 60 and 250 feet above the forest floor. You also can zip line and climb at the company’s headquarters on Main Street inside its Thrillsville Area Challenge Park, which offers plenty of climbing fun on its bridges, cargo nets, rope ladders, tree house, and climbing tower.

Hop on a dog sled ride

A guest riding a dog sled at Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel in the White Mountains. —Sarah Miller

Another option: Let the dogs guide you through the snow. Muddy Paw Sled Dog Kennel is located in Jefferson.

“This company, they rescue these sled dogs,” Eliason said. “So when you go to do your tour, you have a chance to feed them beforehand, pet them, groom them, and kind of get to know your team. Then you go on a guided sled dog tour.”

Muddy Paw is home to nearly 80 sled dogs and offers educational, hands-on dog sled tours, according to its website. All of the tours begin with a 30-minute “meet and greet” with the dogs and conclude with a chance to say thank you to the dogs by “giving out belly rubs.”

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“I like that you can feed them and kind of get to know your team before you go out,” Eliason said. “I think that’s pretty special.”

Glide down a snowy trail on a tube

The tubing in the area is pretty prolific. Eliason recommended checking out one of the following spots: Cranmore Mountain in North Conway, Loon Mountain in Lincoln, Bretton Woods in Bretton Woods, Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center in Gorham, and The Clubhouse Tubing & Warming Center in Waterville Valley. Some of them are even serviced by lifts.

Drive a snowmobile through the mountains

Northeast Snowmobile
Ride a snowmobile through the White Mountains with Northeast Snowmobile. —Northeast Snowmobile

If you yearn to cruise through the back country on a snowmobile, Eliason suggested SledVentures, Northeast Snowmobile, and Northern Extremes Snowmobiling as the companies to check out.

“The trails are very well groomed,” she said. “You get to travel on these trails and see terrain and see views you normally wouldn’t see.”

For example, when you travel on the Bear Notch Network, a 50-mile system of interconnected trails, you’ll have access to four scenic overlooks with fantastic views of Mount Washington and the Presidential Range, according to the Northern Extremes Snowmobiling website. The network’s trails are groomed nightly by the White Mountain Trail Club.

“I think it’s a fun activity for families,” Eliason said.

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