If you have only one day to spend in Crawford Notch State Park, then it can be a pretty tricky feat figuring out what you will do with it. In the course of a five minute conversation with any of the locals, we were told at least seven things that we just could not miss. There are beautiful waterfalls and stunning views galore and, quite frankly, you don’t have to work very hard to enjoy many of them.
So here is our guide to the perfect day in Crawford Notch. Bring a couple of changes of clothes for everyone, because you are going to get wet.
The Silver Cascade and the Flume Cascade
These waterfalls are directly off of Route 302, the highway that runs a north/south trajectory through the length of the state park. Start your day off early—before the tour buses arrive—and you might have these falls all to yourself. This was the perfect way to get our boys into the spirit of adventure for the day. There was lots of splashing and rock throwing, but no one was around to mind. Cue first outfit change.
Hiking Option #1: Elephant Head Trail
If you are looking for a short, fun hike with rewarding views, this is your best bet. The trail was very rugged, with lots of logs laid over marshy ground. This made it all the more fun for our boys. Nothing like a bunch of balancing beams to garner interest among the youth. Once you emerge out onto the bluff, you will be amazed that this brief climb could have such an amazing payoff. We hung out on Elephant Head for quite awhile, enjoying our snacks and drinks and peering over the ledges.
Hiking Option #2: Arethusa Falls
This is the harder hike and will require more snacks and at least two hours. We took the Bemis Brook Trail that loops around and connects with the Arethusa Falls Trail.
This meant lots of wonderful opportunities for wading and getting wet. It also meant a rather steep climb to meet up with the main trail.
This short detour was very fun and well worth the effort, but be prepared to work a little.
Arethusa Falls is the highest waterfall in New Hampshire, and even though it was a tough hike with young children, we were so thrilled that we made the effort. Be prepared to take off your shoes and watch as your kids get soaking wet. Cue second outfit change.
Lunch and Play: Appalachian Mountain Highland Center
If any single moment of our travel has reinforced the importance of talking to locals, it was when I asked the young ladies at the AMC Trail Center where we should eat lunch. They enthusiastically pointed us to the cafeteria at the Highland Lodge, an amazing gem you would never find on Yelp. The girls were excited to emphasize two points: there was a playground and one could enjoy a beer. You had me at…well, both of those.
It is difficult to describe how remarkably beautiful and simultaneously entertaining the Highland Center is. After a delicious lunch of soups, salads, and sandwiches (and yes, a beer), the boys spent hours on what was simply the most creative and enjoyable playground we have ever seen.
The play space was built to be a sort of adventure training ground, encouraging the children to scramble up rocks and wobble over rope bridges and move lots of logs and rocks from one place to another.
We have never seen a playground so seamlessly connected to the landscape. And our boys could have played there all day. When we travel, we try to see and experience as many different places as possible. It is a testament to the design of this lodge that we returned on another day for lunch and play. And it was just as hard to leave the second time around.
After all of this adventure, it was time for us to head back to the campground, swim in the pool, and eat dinner. But if you have a bit more spunk left, the locals kept mentioning the free scenic lift rides at Bretton Woods just north of Crawford State Park. I would have loved to do this, but with a 15 month old, it was not in the cards on this trip.
There is always a next time…