Camping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire is not only a lot of fun but an inexpensive way to spend some time away from everyday life. The quiet and cool of the mountain forests are enough to end the nerve jangle of any city-bound nature lover.
Private or public, what’s your style
The kind of campground you choose is a matter of preference. Private campgrounds, of which there are many in the White Mountains, often offer more amenities, with full bathroom and shower facilities, electricity available at campsites and more facilities for campers and trailers. These privately operated campgrounds often also have recreation facilities including sports fields and swimming pools. On the down side, most often campsites are open, or mostly open spaces and close together, with privacy at a premium.
Most of New Hampshire’s public campgrounds are operated by the National Forest Service or by the state. In New Hampshire the state campgrounds are located in state parks around the state and the federal campgrounds are in the White Mountain National Forest. Campsites in these government-operated campgrounds are generally well spaced, creating privacy between campsites. Some of them have water from faucets located throughout the camp area, while others may have hand operated water pumps. Some areas may have shower facilities and flush toilets, others may have no washroom facilities and enclosed pit toilets. These campsites are usually located in forests and are surrounded by trees and often near running streams or lakes and ponds.
What you need to bring
Camping can be as modest as you want it to be. While there is expense involved in getting started, once you have the gear you are set for years of camping enjoyment. The basics are a tent and sleeping bags, both available at sporting goods stores. National chains are good sources but don’t overlook locally owned stores where the owners are usually sportsmen themselves and know what you need and are able to give you first-hand advice. Pop-up tents are small, light and easy to put up. Choose a sleeping bag carefully. It needs to be light but warm. A couple camping together can get a pair that will zip together, making a double bag. Because weather can vary at any time of year, it pays to bring along an extra blanket or two. Although you can use thin pads as hikers do, air mattresses are more comfortable. A lantern is very handy; get a double-mantle one operated by propane. A hammer for pounding tent pegs is also handy, as is a length of clothesline rope.
If you plan to eat out you won’t need a stove, but half the fun of camping is cooking. You can do it on the campfire but a small propane stove is very handy for warming coffee water, making bacon and eggs for breakfast or even cooking up a batch of chili for dinner. You will also want to have a cooler big enough to hold a large block of ice to keep food fresh. Those are the basics, everything else you probably already have at home.
What to do after you are there
Again, what to do is a matter of style. Some people like to set up camp and then lie back in a folding lounge chair (which they also brought with them) and read a good book. The mountains are crisscrossed with hiking trails that offer options for all skill and energy levels. Another option, especially for families with young children, is to plan on visits to several of the White Mountains attractions. Places like Santa’s Village in Jefferson, Storyland in Glen and Clark’s Trading Post in North Woodstock all have enough rides and activities to keep families occupied all day. Whales Tale Waterpark in Lincoln is a good choice for hot days and there are several options for train rides. In Lincoln the Hobo Railroad runs down the valley. In Conway the Conway Scenic Railroad has a ride through the Mt Washington Valley to Conway Village, a ride up the Mt Washington Valley to Bartlett, or an exciting five-hour ride through Crawford Notch on track that clings to the steep sides of the mountains. And then, there are the natural attractions in Franconia Notch State Park.
Access to the eastern side of the White Mountains is best done via I-95 to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and then following Route 16 north to Conway. For the western side of the Whites take I-93 north through Concord, and into the White Mountains at Franconia Notch.