Mt. Washington travel advice
February 27, 2008 3:51 PM   Subscribe

Mt. Washington, NH, lodging: We are planning a family trip to the NE this fall, and one potential stop (at my request) is Mt. Washington, New Hampshire. A cursory search makes it appear that the upscale Bretton Woods resort is the only lodging in the immediate vicinity. While we are not averse to staying there, are there other, cheaper options in the area?

We are veteran travelers who are equally comfortable in budget dives and overpriced resorts, so we are less concerned with amenities than having a convenient place to stay while we take a day trip to Mt. Washington while enroute between Niagara falls and Nova Scotia. we are also happy to hear any suggestion for other neat, quirky, and not well-known things in that part of the country; for example, we have gone out of our way to see the Belted Galloways in Rockport and the Owls Head Transportation Museum. As always, thanks in advance for your help.
posted by TedW to Travel & Transportation around Mt. Washington, KY (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I never stayed in Gorham, NH, but I drive through there a couple of times a year, and there seems to be a lot of motels, etc. You might search there.
It's just a few miles from the bottom of Mt. Washington.
posted by MtDewd at 3:58 PM on February 27, 2008

Best answer: You don't have to stay at the Mount Washington Hotel (as awesome as it is) if you stay at Bretton Woods. A couple summers ago we stayed at The Lodge for $99/night. Not much better than a Comfort Inn, but it did have a great view of the mountain and the Hotel.

Also note that Bretton Woods is on the opposite side of the mountain from the entrance to the Mt. Washington Auto Road, if that's going to be your way up. It's a bit of a drive around. We let our trip planning software figure out the way, and it took us over a 9-mile-long gravel road. Which was pretty but did lead to some "where the hell are we going" tension.
posted by zsazsa at 4:00 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding Gorham. You'll find what you need there and it's definitely close enough for a day trip.
posted by bluefrog at 4:01 PM on February 27, 2008

Best answer: There certainly is plenty in Gorham, though I can't attest to quality or variety. I'd suggest you also consider the inns and ski hotels in Bethel, ME, which is less than a half-hour's drive away. North Conway -- get your outlet fix in at the same time! -- and Fryeburg, ME , south on Route 16, also have a bunch of lodging and are nice towns.

Also, thumbs up on going to the Owl's Head Transportation Museum, that place is amazing.
posted by mikeg at 4:17 PM on February 27, 2008

Best answer: There are a gazillion little motels in the area. I don't go to Bretton Woods except to ski, and I'm sure there are better ways to get to the entrance to the road up Mt. Washington (something I've never done). A much cheaper alternative for skiers at Bretton Woods is a place called Shakespeare's Inn in Twin Mountain, NH.

There is a funky, old museum in St. Johnsbury, VT called the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium.

As an alternative to driving up Mt. Washington (or walking), you might consider taking the Cog Railway.
posted by thomas144 at 5:36 PM on February 27, 2008

Best answer: Gorham is a good choice -- closest big town to the Auto Road. I've had good luck at the Town and Country Motor Inn (it's pretty much the nicest place in town.) If you want budget dives -- that describes most of the rest of the motels there (though I've stayed at the Mt. Madison Motel before with no complaints.)

You are sage for requesting Mt. Washington -- the summit's definitely worth it, if only to say you've been to the home of the "World's Worst Weather," although every time I've been up there it's been around 50-55 degrees with no wind to speak of. If you do want your bumper to read "This Car Climbed Mount Washington," be aware the Auto Road usually closes for the season in mid-October.

Quirky: Obvious choice is the Mt. Washington Cog Railway, though that's over by the Bretton Woods side. Also, see below for discussion of Clark's Trading Post.

You might also have decent luck in Twin Mountain, NH, which is maybe 5-10 miles from Bretton Woods -- I've been told there are several motels there that cater to snowmobilers and are pretty cheap and empty other times of the year, but I've never confirmed that myself.

Also North Conway -- not far out of the way and you can approach from the west on the beautiful Kancamagus Highway. Seriously consider this route, especially if you go in the Fall. I've stayed at the North Conway Grand Hotel before, and while it isn't the Ritz, it's okay for the price and right behind the town's biggest outlet mall. Tons of chain hotels and budget dives and inns there too.

If you do go to North Conway, you have to stop at the International Mountaineering Equipment store, just so you can say you know what boots used to climb the Himalayas look like.

Avoid staying in Berlin at all costs.

Littleton has plenty of options (including major chain hotels,) but out of your way unless -- and think about this, too -- you swing down from Littleton to Lincoln on I-93 through lovely Franconia Notch, past the former site of the Old Man of the Mountain. The interstate actually shrinks to two lanes through the notch,* if you're tallying uniqueness points. Pick up US-3 Southbound at Exit 34A and say "Hi" to the Old Man's surviving buddy -- the Indian Head (I think you can even, for a fee, climb an old-fashioned lookout tower at its namesake motel,) and swing past the seems-to-be-the-definition-of-quirky Clark's Trading Post** and through North Woodstock on your way to Lincoln and the Kanc, and then up through N. Conway to Mt. Washington. Yeah, you just went something like 75-100 miles out of your way to make a huge "U" but Franconia Notch and the Kanc are both pretty awesome. US-3 in Lincoln has a good share of budget (and maybe not-so-budget) dives as well.

*Okay roadgeeks, actually I-93 ceases to exist around the two-lane section, becoming the Franconia Notch Parkway for a few miles, but it's really just a technical distinction -- the road stops being signed as I-93 for a while and picks up again a few miles later as if nothing funny happened.

**Never been there myself -- something about Trained Bear Shows leaves me a little sad, even if "it is important to note that the bears are never forced to perform." Clark's shuts down for the year the first week in October, so it all might be moot for you anyway.

posted by Opposite George at 6:24 PM on February 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: On non-preview: thomas144:
"There is a funky, old museum in St. Johnsbury, VT called the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium."

Goddamn. I am posting this right now from my room for the night at the Fairbanks Inn in St. Johnsbury -- though don't let their site fool you -- it's a (nice) motel, not a B&B, and for that matter the only thing I've seen here resembling breakfast is free coffee/tea/cocoa in the lobby. Regardless, it's a very nice place for the price, especially since the rest of the places in this town.

Anyway, you are not allowed to stop in St. Johnsbury unless you visit the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum. The website speaks for itself, but just in case you don't want to bother, here's the pitch: the local library in a generic New England factory town just happens to be a 19th Century architectural marvel housing not only books but a notable art collection scattered throughout, including Albert Bierstadt's 10-by-15-foot masterpiece, Domes of Yosemite, which dominates the small but impressive gallery in the rear of the building. I have toyed with the idea of moving here, simply so I could raise children in a town blessed with such a treasure. Seriously. If you're in the neighborhood you have to check it out.
posted by Opposite George at 6:44 PM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: er, that is, the rest of the places in this town kinda scare me.
posted by Opposite George at 6:44 PM on February 27, 2008

Best answer: Seconding in Gorham -- that's where I stay when I'm there.
posted by devbrain at 8:26 PM on February 27, 2008

Best answer: I'm surprised that noobody has mentioned Jackson, which is a very attractive little town about halfway between North Conway and the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center where the most common hiking route up Washington (the Tuckerman Ravine Trail) begins. Tons of nice little BnB's and inns, plus a couple of pretty good restaurants too. Definitely your best bet if you want to stay somewhere nice but still be close to Washington. Great XC skiing there too, but barring some really weird weather, you'll miss that.

That said, last time I climbed Mt. Washington was late October 2005 in deep snow, so the climb required snowshoes in parts, and full mountaineering gear including crampons and ice axes for others. It could just as easily be 60 degrees at the summit at that time of year. It's not entirely clear from your question whether you want to hike or drive, but if you're planning to hike, you need to be prepared for the possibility of very bad -- or very good -- weather, especially above treeline. If you plan to drive, there's a chance that if you come late in the season, the road will be closed.

Mid-September is your best bet for both good weather, an open Auto Road to the summit, and some fall foliage.
posted by dseaton at 8:56 PM on February 27, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, all great answers; thanks everyone. We are looking at early September, so we should be able to do some of the things that close in October; we are definitely planning on driving or railway rather than hiking with a 3 year old.
posted by TedW at 5:54 AM on February 28, 2008

Best answer: Probably about 30 minutes from the auto road entrance, but I have to mention the Adventure Suites in North Conway if you're looking for unique. Each room has a different theme - the cave, the treehouse, there's even a movie theater room - and has a range of rates.
posted by FreezBoy at 6:24 AM on February 28, 2008

Best answer: I'm surprised that noobody has mentioned Jackson, which is a very attractive little town about halfway between North Conway and the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center

I'm surprised no one has specifically mentioned the Eagle Mountain House which is a wonderful, affordable, large Victorian-area hotel. It's got the best scenery of any place I've ever stayed at and I had a blast imagining the place full of people in 19th century dress who had spent a day on a train to get there.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:59 AM on February 28, 2008

Best answer: By the way, the bear show at Clark's Trading Post is really great. I've been going there, off-and-on, since 1964.
posted by thomas144 at 9:33 AM on February 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

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