Visit this rural New Hampshire town and enjoy the mountain scenery and miles of trails.
Rural New England at its finest, North Conway, N.H. features quiet back roads with no shortage of natural beauty, a historic old-town feel and plenty of outdoor activity options to keep you stimulated and occupied. When you need a break from the great outdoors, however, there are excellent indoor amenities, such as premium shopping outlets and a variety of cozy, locally owned restaurants, to help fill the rest of your day.
Harsh winter weather may be enough to make many runners weary of the elements, but this year-round resort destination offers something for the endurance-minded visitor, regardless of the season. Trail running is tough to beat in the warmer months, with plenty of wide fire roads, miles of well-maintained singletrack and enough elevation change to put your legs—and lungs—to the test. During the winter, the same snow-covered trails provide some of the best snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the world, while the classic, quiet New England back roads and spectacular surrounding scenery can make road running appealing any time of year.
“The best part about running in North Conway is the variety,” says U.S. mountain running team member Kevin Tilton, who grew up in North Conway and continues to call it home. “We have scenic paved and gravel roads with beautiful views of Mount Washington and the surrounding mountains. We have great singletrack that is maintained by the local mountain bike club and great hiking trails that get you to the tops of some rugged mountains.”
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Where To Run
Get lost with a variety of fire roads and singletrack that feature plenty of ascending and descending routes. An easy starting point is Wal-Mart at 46 North-South Road in North Conway—behind the store there’s a dirt road leading out to power-line trails that continue for miles and make for a good out-and-back option. There are also a number of trail loops accessible from the power lines.
If you’re looking for some ascent, Mount Kearsage is a memorable 10K run that will keep you on your toes. From Route 16/302 in North Conway, take the Hurricane Mountain Road exit, and you’ll spot the trailhead on your left. The climb is a little over 3 miles to the top (and rather rocky at points) but the views of the White Mountains and the Mount Washington Valley are worth every careful step. An easier option, just a short jog from downtown, is the Whitaker Woods Recreation Area, which has miles of smooth, groomed trails that are popular with trail runners, hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers. “It’s a wonderful little place,” says Katie Gwyther Driscoll, a former NCAA Division I cross-country All-American at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., and native of nearby Madison, N.H.
Where To Race
As you might expect, uphill races are quite popular in the Mount Washington Valley. The Mount Washington Road Race (June 21; mountwashingtonroadrace.com), considered one of the most iconic ascents in the entire world, takes place 10 miles outside of town, in the Pinkham Notch mountain pass. If you conquer the 7.6-mile race with a 4,700-foot vertical climb to the summit, you’ll have bragging rights that will be respected wherever you go. (But getting into the race requires entering the lottery the previous winter.) The Cranmore Hill Climb (July 20; whitemountainmilers.com) takes place at the Cranmore Mountain Resort and doubles as the U.S. Mountain Running Championship. The distance—and the actual layout—changes yearly, and age-groupers are more than welcome to tackle this loop-style course aside some of the best uphill runners in the country. If you’re more of a roadie, the White Mountain Milers Half Marathon (Oct. 26; wmmhalf.com) is as fast and flat as it gets this far north. The scenic course starts and finishes at Schouler Park, offers plenty of mountain views and even crosses the historic 1890 Covered Bridge.
Where To Eat & Drink
Got a hankering for a home-cooked breakfast? Peaches (2506 White Mountain Highway; peachesnorthconway.com) has killer French toast, a variety of egg dishes and even a lunch menu if you’re not in the mood for morning food. For great food and drink later in the day, not to mention a little bit of history, check out Moat Mountain Smoke House and Brewing Co. (3378 White Mountain Highway; moatmountain.com), which is located on the historic Scottish Lion property. With a wide variety of entrees, from barbecued meat to pizza and quesadillas, there’s something for everyone, and the award-winning beers are handcrafted on site and really hit the spot after a summer run on the toasty trails. At dinner time, May Kelly’s (3002 White Mountain Highway; maykellys.com) is a good place to unwind after a long day and features a number of soups and salads, generous entrees and a variety of sandwiches—not to mention a full menu of Irish adult beverages.
Where To Shop
A specialty running store isn’t easy to come by in North Conway, but there are plenty of sporting goods stores to enjoy New Hampshire’s tax-free shopping, should you need to pick up a pair of running shoes, an extra piece of apparel or a water bottle for a long trail run. Eastern Mountain Sports (1498 White Mountain Highway; ems.com) offers a section for any type of athlete or outdoor enthusiast. The Settlers Green Outlet Village (2 Common Court; settlersgreen.com) houses dozens of stores that feature big brands, such as Adidas, Champion, Nike, Reebok and others that will cover your every outdoorsy need while visiting the area.
In New England, weather is often unpredictable. North Conway gets its fair share of snow from November through March, which make snowshoeing and skiing popular cross-training options—although many of the snowmobile trails are runnable even when they’re covered in the white stuff. The warmer months from May through September see average temperatures in the mid-60s to nearly 80, with the occasional 90-degree day in July. Despite the surrounding elevation, it’s hard to avoid humidity in the summertime. The fall months can feature a fair share of rain, but the peak foliage in early October will help you forget about any damp days.
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Did You Know?
North Conway is known as “the birthplace of American skiing.”
The 1993 movie “The Good Son,” starring Macauley Culkin and Elijah Wood, was filmed in North Conway.
North Conway is home to the International Mountain Climbing School, which attracts climbers from around the world.
This piece first appeared in the May 2014 issue of Competitor magazine.