This winter, New Hampshire will be the setting for some serious presidential primary campaigning and the nonstop news coverage that goes with it. However, for eco-tourists and green-minded travelers seeking a unique destination, the real headline-worthy events can be found in New Hampshire's natural spaces.
This is a state of superlatives. The Northeast's highest summit, Mount Washington, is in New Hampshire, as are a host of other peaks ideal for climbing, hiking and skiing. The northern section of the Appalachian Trail, one of the world's longest hiking paths, passes through the state on the way to its terminus in Maine. New England's longest river, the Connecticut River, starts in New Hampshire. Its river valley is home to some of the region's most scenic and accessible natural attractions.
The state's lake region, wild northern areas and 70-plus state parks should also help put it high on any eco-tourist's to-visit list. Attitudes about conservation are progressive, with trails and parks making up large parts of the state's land area. Local businesses, from ski resorts to small-town cafes, are taking part in the green movement.
So even if you are not interested in intra-party politics, it might be worthwhile to watch some of New Hampshire presidential primary news, if only for the chance to a glimpse of the state's awesome natural scenery in the background.
Earth-friendly lodgings are scattered throughout the state. Small inns and bed-and-breakfasts are surprisingly easy to find. Unlike most places, where large chain hotels rule the hospitality industry, these independently owned sleeping spots seem to have the upper hand in New Hampshire.
The Pinestead Farm Lodge is one of the best examples of small-scale, eco-friendly options in New Hampshire. This inn sits within eyeshot of the White Mountains. A family run establishment, Pinestead has an on-site organic vegetable garden, a wood-powered water heater and a recycling and composting program. The Sunset Hill House, meanwhile, is one of the most overtly green inns in the state. It has a recycling program and also relies on sustainably made, natural products to stock its rooms. This classic inn earned the state's Environmental Champion award in 2010 after an extensive audit of its property and practices. The Chesterfield Inn, in the Connecticut River Valley in southern New Hampshire, is another bed-and-breakfast classic. The property is surrounded by natural features such as ponds, gardens and a meadow where wildflowers grow during the summer.
The Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside is one of the best choices for those who insist on a large hotel. This hotel has Earth-friendly features such as a composting and recycling program and motion detectors that turn off unused appliances and lighting.
Roughing it is possible throughout the state. Nineteen state parks in New Hampshire have campgrounds and camping facilities. Most of these offer both tent and RV hookup sites, as well as showers and restrooms.
Like other mainly rural states, New Hampshire is best negotiated by car, and the best bet for green-minded tourists is to rent a low-emission vehicle. Otherwise, options for exploring the natural attractions of this New England state are severely limited. Scenic byways are an option for scenery-seeking drivers.
That said, public transportation connects the state's major cities and towns. Several bus services connect Boston and New York with towns in New Hampshire. The C&J service stops in Portsmouth and Dover, while the Concord Coach Line connects Manchester, Concord and Boston. COAST (Cooperative Alliance for Seacoast Transit) operates a fleet of buses and trolleys that are useful for people who are traveling in the seacoast portion of New Hampshire (in and around towns like Portsmouth and Dover).
Cycling is a warm-weather transit alternative for reasonably fit visitors. New Hampshire has a fair amount of cycle-friendly features, including bike trails and lanes.
Mount Washington State Park is the tallest peak in the entire northeast. It is a popular destination for serious hikers and peak baggers, who have to brave the elements to make it to the 6,288-foot summit. Unpredictable bouts of winds, fog and rain make this mountain a challenge. The routes to the top are closed during the winter as conditions are too poor for travel. Casual sightseers can still reach the summit during the warmer months via the Mount Washington Auto Road, an 8-mile-long road that leads to the summit.
White Mountain National Forest stretches through northeastern New Hampshire and spills over the border into Maine. The forest has 170 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail. For those who don't want to cover the whole length, the park has shorter loop trails of one to five miles in length. Visitors can also go biking, rock climbing, horseback riding and backcountry camping inside the forest.
In all, the Appalachian Trail passes through eight national forests in New Hampshire. One of the more accessible parts of the trail is a 40-plus-mile section that follows the Connecticut River from the Vermont border to the White Mountain National forest town of Glencliff.
New Hampshire has no less than 75 state parks, each with its own menu of recreational activities — an impressive number for a relatively small state. No matter what part of the state you find yourself in, something is bound to be nearby. The state's division of Parks and Recreation also operates a series of regional paths, called recreational rail trails. These trails, such as the 26-mile Rockingham Recreational Trail from Manchester to Newfields, often start in or near major towns, making them a convenient option for hikers and bikers.
The Seacoast Science Center, an education-oriented museum in Odiorne Point State Park, tells the story of the history and ecology of the state's small but important coastal region. The center runs nature and history walks and also has interactive attractions such as an indoor tide pool. Another environmentally centered education center is the Amoskeag Fishways on the Merrimack River in Manchester. Weekly programs for families and younger children offer activities including guided hikes and programs focused on the area's fish, insects and wildlife.
Skiing is a huge wintertime industry in New Hampshire. Ski resorts have moved toward greener operations on several levels. Resorts encourage skiers to be more Earth-friendly by making small upgrades to their facilities, such as placing more recycling bins around the resorts and posting no-idling signs in the parking lots. A handful of mountains have switched their grooming fleets from regular gasoline to biofuel. Wildcat Mountain, one of the more popular resorts in the state, has a forest restoration project and even uses organic waxes on its rental skis and snowboards.
Blue Moon Evolution is a unique eatery in Exeter. It champions local, organic foods by offering them in its health food store and an adjacent cafe. The cafe serves lunch and dinner with soups, salads and sandwiches making up the bulk of the menu. Vegan and gluten-free options are available. Another small-town, locally focused eatery is MT's Local Kitchen and Wine Bar in Nashua, which offers daily local specials made with fresh goods from area farmers and fishermen.
Portsmouth's The Juicery, which features organic fruit shakes and juices and organic bistro fare, and Rasa's Vegan Kitchen, a Concord-based restaurant that occasionally offers dishes created with ingredients from an onsite garden, are two more impressive green eateries in the state.
Farmers markets are a huge summertime attraction throughout the state. Most larger towns have a market that runs between May or June and October each year. Most run one or two days each week, with the majority taking place on weekend mornings. The state publishes a complete farmers market schedule (.pdf) each year.
New Hampshire has many traits that make it an ideal destination for eco-tourists, nature lovers and travelers in search of a quiet, scenic vacation destination. With a glut of state parks, tons of trails and a wide variety of landscapes, it is hard to go wrong here.
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