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Family Road Trip to New Hampshire

Adventure seeker and accomplished photographer, Jacob Moon (@moonmountainman) set out with his family on a cross country trip, bound for New Hampshire.  He discovered there’s so much to do, he’s going to have to plan a return visit. Check out his family’s New Hampshire road trip itinerary for tips planning your own route.

In June 2021, my family and I drove our self-converted camper van across the country to experience New England for the first time. Our time was limited, so we wanted to make the most of it without spending too much time driving. We decided we’d focus primarily on the state of New Hampshire on this trip because we felt it had the best mix of charming New England towns and mountain hikes.

To start our time off in New Hampshire, we got a site at Gilson Pond Campground at Monadnock State Park for three nights at the base of the mighty Mount Monadnock. This campground is perfect with large campsites, hot showers, clean bathrooms, beach access to the pond (which I’d call a lake here in Utah) and was ideally situated for everything we wanted to do in the southern region of New Hampshire. After setting in, we drove about 10 minutes to Mount Monadnock’s White Dot Trail. Although considered difficult for the area, it was straightforward, and my four-year-old daughter was able to hike the whole thing to the domed granite summit. With no other mountain in the area near its height, the 360-degree views across the New England countryside on this calm, perfect day were stunning, so we stayed until sunset and hiked back in the dark.

The following day, we went to see the Gilsum Stone Arch Bridge. Built in 1862, this bridge is stunning to photograph and has some gorgeous swimming holes just downriver from the bridge. I highly recommend parking at the bridge and finding the discreet trails that lead to the river to experience this place. Watching the morning light come in under the bridge and relaxing by the river pools below the bridge was a delightful way to start the day.

From the bridge, we drove south into the largest city in the area, Keene, had some lunch in the beautiful downtown center, then continued to Madame Sherri Forest. After parking at the trailhead, we took a pleasant stroll over a bridge, past a pond, and through the forest to Madame Sherri’s Castle, where this staircase is located. The hike only took 15 minutes at a leisurely pace. It was tranquil while we were there, and we had it all to ourselves to play with some fun photo compositions. I highly recommend visiting. Soon after, we saw a portion of the stairs collapse and is currently roped off, which would probably detract from the composition and beauty of the place, but there’s also a two-mile loop hike in the area that would be nice too. We didn’t do it.

The next day, we spent exploring more of the countryside and townships in the area. The first stop was the town of Hancock. This charming little town had an amazing cafe called Fiddleheads, where we got breakfast. The food was delicious. Next for us was the Hancock Market (pictured). After breakfast, we took a walk down to the church and back and felt like we had gone back in time a hundred years.

We spent the rest of the day just driving around on random roads and visiting different towns in the area. I definitely recommend doing this if it’s your first time in New Hampshire because there are so many beautiful hidden gems. We saw a lot of the area, but by far my favorite town was Harrisville (shown above and on the lead photo for this report). This town is everything you could ask for in New England. It has a lake surrounding it, and an incredibly charming town center that reflects on the lake and canal that runs through town to a bunch of old, large textile mills. I would have gotten food there, but it was late, and things had closed by the time we got to town. I didn’t see another tourist while there, but that could have been because it was late. I was just surprised that I found this place by pure chance instead of the first thing that came up while researching the area. Harrisville is a gem.

The next day, we drove a winding route north to the White Mountains and found a campsite near Franconia Notch State Park. We drove the Kancamagus Highway into the mountains, which I highly recommend, especially during the fall, as it cuts right through the mountains over a high pass and offers excellent views the whole way. The following day, we got up bright and early to get to the Flume Gorge right as they opened at 9 a.m. This gorge is stunning and easily one of the best hikes in the area, but it’s POPULAR and can get very crowded. Being someone who doesn’t like crowds, I wouldn’t go unless I were there and ready to hike when it opened, which is precisely what we did. This family-friendly loop hike crosses covered bridges leading into a very narrow gorge with a wooden boardwalk as it ascends stairs to the top.

To end our time in New Hampshire, we set our sights on Mount Washington — the tallest mountain in the state and the Northeast. It’s also home to some of the wildest weather and the fastest wind speed recorded on Earth. We planned to hike the mountain, but true to its reputation, the weather wasn’t ideal. With hiking out of the question due to weather, we had two options — drive the Auto Road; or take the Mount Washington Cog Railway. We took the Cog, and I’m so happy we did. It was such a fun and unique way to reach the summit, and my daughter LOVED it. Built in 1868, it was like taking a ride back through time as it climbs 3,500 feet to just below the summit at 6,288 feet. Although the weather at the mountain base was calm and sunny, the summit was foggy and WINDY. It would have been nice to see the expansive views from the tallest peak in the Northeast, but honestly, perhaps it was more memorable to experience this mountain while enveloped by the weather it’s most known for. Our trip to New Hampshire was perfect, and I look forward to visiting again.