Best in Dirt: North Conway, NH
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Catherine Mitchell runs through the alpine gardens on top of Mount Washington. Photo by Anne Skidmore.
Go if You can’t resist running amid New England’s magnificent fall colors. Located 10 miles from the Maine border and near Mount Washington, the Northeast’s highest peak at 6288 feet, North Conway is a small town (population 2069) that swells with leaf peepers during peak foliage, outlet shoppers in the summer and outdoors enthusiasts year-round. North Conway provides quick access to the White Mountains’ Presidential Range, known for its rugged trails, steep climbs and alpine meadows.
Race … Endure the spring mud at the Mud Muck Moose 5-mile (whitemountainmilers.com/mudmuckmoose.pdf). “Most years it is knee deep in places,” says local Kevin Tilton, the course-record holder. “This year, over 50 percent of the course was snow-covered.” The Cranmore Hill Climb 10K (whitemountainmilers.com/cranmore) at the end of June, part of the LaSportiva USATF New England Mountain Circuit, features two laps of the 1800-foot mountain. Join the Inov-8 Summer Series (whitemountainmilers.com/inov8.html) for a free trail 5K every Tuesday evening, held in the Whitaker Woods, home to 28 miles of well-groomed trails.
Best Trails … The White Mountain National Forest features a maze of trails, ranging from logging and fire roads to super-steep, mountain singletrack. Gain 2500 feet in just three miles on Mount Kearsarge North Trail. At the top, scamper up the old fire tower and take in 360-degree views of Mount Washington, Franconia Ridge and beyond. Head 20 minutes from North Conway along the spectacular Kancamagus Highway, a National Scenic Byway that has sweeping overlooks of the National Forest and several perfect swimming holes along the way. Tilton’s favorite place to run is the Rob Brook Area, just off of the “Kanc” at Bear Notch Road, where your route will incorporate “singletrack, stream crossings, fire roads, long gradual hills, steep mountain trails, rolling hills and beaver dams.” Drive a little farther along the highway to get trail information at the Saco Ranger Station. On your way back to North Conway, take a little detour over the Albany Covered Bridge, built in 1858.
Go when … Skip the spring muddy season and instead come when fall temperatures average in the 60s, mornings are cool and afternoons less humid. Be prepared for rapid weather changes, especially if you head up Mount Washington, known as “home of the world’s worst weather,” and warranting a meteorological observatory at its summit to study its fog, wind, snow and temperatures.
Best eats … Quench your thirst after a hard day’s run with a pint at Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brew Pub (moatmountain.com), home to eight custom brews, the best ribs in the valley and a tasty vegetarian Thai peanut curry. Rev your engines the next morning with the java at the Metropolitan Coffee House (metropolitancoffeehouse.com), and check out the upstairs art gallery.
Pitstop … Outfit your adventures at Ragged Mountain Equipment, in neighboring Intervale. Indulge in a shopping spree at Adidas, Nike and Pearl Izumi’s factory outlets.
Sleep … The White Mountain National Forest has campsites and lean-to shelters for cheap sleeps. Make a reservation at one of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s huts (outdoors.org/lodging/huts/index.cfm), where dinner and breakfast is included in the nightly rate (starts at $30). Or treat yourself to a stay at the 145-year-old Cranmore Inn (cranmoreinn.com), with rooms from $65.
Resources … Plan your trip with the assistance of the North Conway Chamber of Commerce (mtwashingtonvalley.org). Visit whitemountainmilers.com to research your trail wish list and get connected with the local trail-running community.