Friday, August 2, 2002
Northern White Mountains offer family attractions
The northern White Mountains are perfect for families with young children because there are several amusement parks and gorgeous scenery along the way for everyone to enjoy.
A ride up Route 3 takes you through Franconia Notch with the Flume waterfall and gorge, the Indian Head (Old Man of the Mountain), and the Cannon Mountain Tramway.
While North Conway is also a great place with Storyland, the Conway Scenic Railroad, and lots of restaurants and shopping, the northern White Mountains are less crowded and congested. You can enjoy the wildness of the area and there's still lots for children to do as well.
Clark's Trading Post
Clark's Trading Post in Lincoln, New Hampshire, is a good half-day activity for about three to four hours on the way up or back from the White Mountains. It's been around since the late 1940s and is famous for its trained bears. Clark's is a classic example of Yankee ingenuity. The Clark family created a lasting White Mountain attraction out of a few bears, an antique train and the beauty of the New Hampshire woods.
A schedule at the gate or on-line gives the daily show times. While it is undoubtedly better for all animals to be in the wild, the fact is that like it or not, some animals will always be in captivity. The animal handlers give an educational and fun talk about bears and their long hibernation without food. Sometimes the bears climb up a tree to a platform overlooking the crowds when they are not in the show ring.
The Grimmy circus from Russia performs several shows a day at Clark's. It's a small family circus with first-rate acrobats and jugglers who give a dramatic show. There is also a short train ride to a backwoods area where "Wolfman" tries to stop the train.
The bumper boats rides are good on a hot day. The boats have a button to squirt water at others. Be prepared to get wet or change clothes afterwards. Some people plan ahead by wearing a slicker or poncho on the ride. There's also Tuttle's Rustic House, a slanted building you walk through with a guide and Merlin's Mystical Mansion, a motion-simulation ride.
"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go," the loudspeaker played from high in the spruce trees at Santa's Village in Jefferson, New Hampshire. Santa's Village, like many places in northern New England, is like a step back into the past. Maybe it's the music. No Mariah Carey Christmas songs are played, just nostalgic ones like "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Here Comes Santa Claus" by Bing Crosby and others.
This amusement park with a Christmas theme has been open every summer since the early 1950s giving families a fun event and a beautiful destination in the northern White Mountains. It's in a pristine setting with bright flower gardens and the fragrance of balsam in the air, a little over an hour's drive from North Conway. The park has a lot of shade from the tall trees and the lines are short. Disneyworld or Universal it's not, but then it doesn't have the crowds, lines, noise, and runaway commercialism of the large parks.
For families with young children, particularly ten and under, it's a true gem. Parents can enjoy the holiday spirit again like a child without the to-do lists of December. As one parent said, "Thank God Christmas is six months away!"
Because it's an amusement park for younger children, the rides are gentler. Santa's Smackers, bumper cars for kids and parents, a merry-go-round with reindeer, antique car rides, and a yule log flume water ride are some of the big hits. There are also a low roller coaster and Himalaya ride for older kids.
Kids can play the "elf-abet" game by finding elves throughout the park with the different letters of the alphabet. They punch their card and later choose a small prize for collecting all the letters. A bakery in the park has gingerbread boys and girls to buy and decorate with squeeze bottles of colored frosting.
The food service is decent and reasonably priced. There are the usual fast food items in a cafeteria and a refrigerator case with green, potato, macaroni, and fruit salads. There are picnic tables outside, some in the shade of tall trees. Some families brought their own picnic lunches with them.
Six Gun City is another amusement park just a few minutes away from Santa's Village on Route 2 in Jefferson. There are many water-park-type rides, laser tag, western shows and a water-play area for young children. We plan to go on another visit.
One of the few trade-offs to the Jefferson area is that there aren't many places to stay or restaurants in the immediate area. The Santa's Village website lists some motels and inns in the area. Gorham, about 30 minutes east of Jefferson on Route 2, does have a fair number of restaurants, something unusual in the north country. Littleton also has some good restaurants.
In Gorham, New Hampshire the local chamber of commerce runs moose tours. The tour goes out nightly from 7-10 p.m. on a small bus that travels north of Berlin (accent on the first syllable) to some known moose areas along route 16. The tour is probably best for children four to five and up who can stand an occasional late night out.
Berlin is an old lumber and mill city that is trying to revitalize itself after its main employer, a paper mill, shut down several years ago. The mill is scheduled to reopen this year, but people in the area can use the tourist dollars from any enterprises, such as the moose tours. Our guide, Sarah, gave an excellent talk on the moose and other animals in the area as well as the history of the Great North Woods area we traveled through. The tours are popular and reservations are best if you want to go on a particular day.
Moose runs were clear along the side of the road as muddy areas with large hoof prints running through them. As dusk grew we looked for moose and spotted one that quickly ran into the woods. Later we saw a cow moose run across the road. It was nearly hit by a pick-up truck that barely slowed down. It's clear many locals consider the moose a menace in these parts, because most people know someone who has had a major collision with a moose. While moose are good for the local economy, people driving at night face a real danger from collisions.
We got off Route 16 and drove on a road through a swampy area where after a second try we spotlighted a moose with her young calf in the woods just off the road. Spotlights are permitted to look for moose during certain times of the year. While this may seem intrusive, the animals we saw did not seem to show any distress and the minibus did not linger once everyone had seen the moose.
Sarah gave instructions for getting back to the moose areas if anyone wanted to have another look on their own another day. The next day we went moosin' again late in the afternoon. A bull moose stood in the swamp along the roadside as a stream of cars arrived with people getting out to snap a picture of the huge animal, while the moose staring back, calmly went about his business.
Clark's Trading Post: Route 3, Lincoln, NH, 1-603-745-8913
Admission: $10, $3 ages 3-5, under 3 free
Santa's Village: Route 2, Jefferson, NH, 1-603-586-4445
Admission: $18 adults and juniors, $16 seniors, under 4 free
Open summer. Also some weekends in November and December.
Six Gun City: Route 2, Jefferson, NH, 1-603-586-4592
Admission: $15.95, ages 3 and under free, $11.95 seniors
Moose Tours: Information Booth at Routes 2 and 16, Gorham, NH, 1-800-992-7480 for reservations. $15 adults, $10 age 12 and under.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito