North Conway, a tiny town of 2,000, is a popular year-round sports and mountaineering center. A gorgeous Victorian train station in the heart of town was our point-of-departure for a historic trip on the Conway Scenic Railroad. Aboard gleaming cars painted the reds and golds of autumn, we traveled the same route the first trains pioneered over 120 years ago, a route carved out of the mountains with hand tools.
The scenery was all the more breathtaking from the open-air observation car some of us chose for the journey, the better to breathe in the drama of sheer granite bluffs, steep ravines, and cascading streams as we ascended the steady mountain grade of the Crawford Notch Line.
The two-and-a-half hour trip was rich with history and folklore, groves of fiery red sumac and sugar maples and “a guarantee of at least three bears along the way,” and still the Saco River weaving in and out along our route. We climbed the steepest grade, 2.2 percent, passed New Hampshire’s highest waterfall, and were greeted by an entire family of pumpkins, displayed every year by one family along the route.
We learned there are twenty notches (meaning a gap or pass) through the White Mountains, and other important facts like: individuals living in Vermont can’t be buried in New Hampshire. Why is that, you ask? Because, our conductor assured us, they’re still living!
We were beginning to identify railroad humor, and decided there were a lot more laughs going by train than by car or plane!
As if the rugged natural beauty wasn’t enough, there was lunch at the imposing Mount Washington Resort, built in 1902 by 250 master craftsmen to offer unparalleled hospitality to celebrities and others enjoying leisure pursuits during the Gilded Age. In its early years, some 30 trains a day brought vacationers to this and four or five other grand mountain resorts in the region. Historic photos displayed in the lobby bring to life these early years, and show the 1944 United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, held here at Bretton Woods. While we lunched in the elegant Princess Room, a cabaret singer crooned nostalgic tunes. Then we relaxed on the 900 foot white-railed verandah, and wandered the manicured grounds.
After wrenching ourselves from all the splendor, the group boarded a motorcoach to wind along picturesque country roads, stopping in the tiny hamlet of Bath to visit the nation’s oldest general store and longest covered bridge. Crossing the Connecticut River, we left New Hampshire, whose motto “Live Free or Die” reflects its fiercely independent spirit.
To read more about my Fall Foliage trip, watch for Part 4.
Click here to read Part 1.
Click here for Part 2.
Click here for Part 4.
For current trips, expect some variation from the itinerary detailed here.
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