With the days getting longer and the birds beginning to sing, spring is approaching, and along with it, the time to start planning summer vacations. If you’re one of the 70 million people that live within a day’s drive of the White Mountain National Forest, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Maine may be the perfect place to get outside when the weather heats up.
The history of the White Mountains follows a path of destruction and recovery, similar to most of Forests founded under the Weeks Act. The mountains were heavily logged in the late 1800’s to provide timber and create pasture land, but the area remained a popular vacation spot. The cleared lands, erosion and fire damage brought about by the extensive timber harvest led concerned visitors to begin the discussion that eventually led to the passing of the Weeks Act.
The White Mountain National Forest was established in 1914, with 7,000 acres bought for 13 dollars an acre. Today the area has expanded to over 800,000 acres in New Hampshire and western Maine and the lands that were once razed and blackened are now vibrant and healthy.
One of only two National Forests in New England, the White Mountain is truly a unique natural wonder. As you wander through the lower-elevation mixed hardwood forests, it’s easy to stumble upon a piece of history, be it an old foundation, logging camp or railroad bed. The area was fist colonized in the 1600’s, and before that it was home to numerous Native American tribes.
Moving higher in elevation, the forest notably shifts, with conifers like hemlock, pines and spruce dominating the landscape. The White Mountains are home to the most rugged and challenging terrain in the region. Boasting some the of the highest peaks in New England, the tops of these mountains are home to unique heath communities and stunted krummholz forests of firs and spruces.
The White Mountain National Forest is a vacation hotspot for a reason – it holds some of the best recreation opportunities in the North East. Hikers and Backpackers test their endurance on trips that bring them from granite peak to peak, with challenging elevation drops and gains in between. After conquering a day’s worth of summits, hikers can rest their weary feet and tired heads in a series of mountain huts that provide everything from dinner and breakfast to pillows and wool blankets (but bring your own sheets or sleeping bag). All this adds up to a winning combination of rugged days and comfortable nights that has given the system a reputation of the best hut-to-hut hiking outside of Europe.
With the Appalachian Trail passing through the Forest, the hut system is run by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Just one warning – reserve now; the eight huts are very popular! In addition to the scenic backcountry, there is also an abundance of great frontcountry trails, so day hikes and short jaunts are always an option as well. In the winter, the mountains host a great variety of recreation opportunities from snowshoeing to ice climbing.
So whether you’re looking for a scenic “leaf peeping” drive in the fall, a leisurely historical walk through the woods or a grueling trek with stunning scenery, the White Mountain National Forest is a great spot for your next getaway!