We’re staying at a timeshare exchange called “The Inns at Waterville Valley – The Birches,” a cottage relic from the 1970’s with the only signs of modernity being wifi and the Coke cans in the $.50 pop machine.
It met the important criteria for an ideal escape from Chicago:
- Near mountains and abundant nature.
- A quick flight + car ride from O’hare.
- Virtually devoid of humans.
- Not in the “South.”
#1 left a lot of options open. #2 eliminated the west coast and more far-flung areas of the Rockies. #3 eliminated Tahoe, Park City, Vail, Breckenridge and other popular resorts. #4 eliminated, for better or worse, most states that sell Moon Pies.
To the Inns of Waterville Valley:
The Inns are part of a remote ski resort 16 miles from the nearest gas station [map]. Slow season means an empty 1700’s Cape Cod style town square and quiet hikes with the occasional wedding in a nearby lodge. Across the street is the town elementary school – a red-sided building that houses 40 children in grades K-6.
The resort may be antiquated, but it comes fully stocked with kitchen/laundry needs and a friendly staff who are way too old to be hauling bags of linens around the grounds, but seem to be willing to die for good service or simply for something – anything – to do in this town.
To the Flume Gorge:
Day 2 was to be our first foray into the White Mountains, the largest in New England with the highest few reaching 4,000′. While most famous as a prime destination for fall foliage, for the other 46 weeks of the year, the main attraction is the ease of finding beautiful yet accessible hikes.
New Hampshire has no sales tax or income tax. Live free or die is their motto of course. They rely only on property taxes and user-fees for civic services. Thus, our trip to one of the most recommended waterfalls in New England, the Flume Gorge, was cut short at the ticket counter when we had to pay $16 per person to hike the 2-mile trail.
With throngs of tourists from Quebec and Boston lining up inside to fork over the cash to take a 90-minute walk (or shuttle) in the woods, we opted to drive down the road 15 miles (at the suggestion of the park employee) to one of the many other gorgeous hikes in the White Mountains.
The Basin Trail:
There are more trailhead signs than stop signs in the White Mountains. It’s a web of scenic beauty that crosses granite filled rivers, crests 4,000′ mountains and puts hikers directly in the blaze of fall colors.
Today’s short yet rooty hike up the Basin Trail followed one of the more famous mountain creeks, written about by Robert Frost, a frequent visitor to the area. The crystal-clear water poured over granite slabs that created a giant’s stepping stones for frolicking in the stream.
The Night Cap:
It didn’t take much to get worn out by lugging around a 20-pound chunk of squirminess, so our outdoor jaunt transitioned quickly to poblano and chicken taco night, two bottles of wine, a decisive Scrabble win by Margo on a well-played Q and some impromptu serenading by her husband and professional musician Walter Parks.