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White Mountains a pooch-friendly getaway

Aug. 28, 2014 | Chris Maza

Mount Moosilauke, the summit of which is within view in this photo, is a challenging, but dog-friendly hike.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza

Many things might go through a person’s mind when they decide to adopt a puppy. Who’s the best veterinarian? How long will this house-training thing take? What kind of food will best suit him? What are we going to have to do to dog-proof the house?

One of the things my wife Eileen and I forgot to think about when we adopted Comet, our now nine-month black lab mix, was how he would react if and when we were gone for an extended period of time. Luckily we both have family who jump at the opportunity to spend time with him, but there’s nothing quite like the bond between puppy and his mom and dad.

To our chagrin, we found that Comet does not much care for our absence. After recently attending a wedding in New Jersey, which required an overnight stay, we found upon our return Comet had a very distinct way of displaying his displeasure with us – by refusing to do his business outside, but rather waiting until he was sure we were watching and squatting right there in the house.

Luckily that silent – but stinky – protest only lasted a day, but it was then that we decided Comet would have to come with us on our next family excursion.

After some research, it was discovered that New Hampshire’s White Mountains are a prized getaway spot for the outdoorsy types and their pooches.

An expansive national forest with state parks and reserves sprinkled in, the White Mountains provide some terrific sights for those in Western Massachusetts without having to sojourn to the farthest reaches of the Granite State.

In a smaller vehicle, the trip to a town such as Littleton, N.H., located just north of the northwest portion of the forest, would utilize approximately a half tank of gas.

Littleton is a charming town that has managed to adapt to post-mill era existence by becoming a tourist hub, and a dog-friendly one at that.

Located on Ammonoosuc River, Littleton, like many New Hampshire villages, celebrates a vibrant Main Street atmosphere and a place with unique sleeping accomodations called the Thayers Inn is situated right in the heart of it.

Thayer’s Inn provides a comfortable stay in a vintage mid-1800s building. The hotel, which has been in operation since the 1840s, having hosted presidents such as Ulysses S. Grant, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, titans of industry and innovation including Henry Ford, and celebrities such as Bette Davis.

It has also made an impressive recovery since suffering considerable water damage in January when a pipe burst as well as a fire in 2012. While restoration work is ongoing, guests wouldn’t know it as the staff has managed to maintain a welcoming atmosphere and a new restaurant is in the midst of commencing operation, currently offering lunch with a dinner menu to soon follow.

The hotel allows dogs, preferably 35 pounds or smaller, but was extremely welcoming of Comet, who was between 40 and 45 pounds at the time of his visit.

The town certainly has character, from embracing its heritage as the birthplace of “Pollyanna” author Eleanor H. Porter by dubbing itself “The Glad Town,” erecting a statue of the book’s main character in front of its library and hosting a “Glad Days” annual festival to its Littleton Piano Project in which ornately decorated pianos have been placed throughout the town, allowing anyone to sit and make music right there on the street.

The road is lined with storefronts ranging from bookstores to furniture shops to clothing boutiques to Chutters, home of the world’s longest candy counter (it’s 112 feet long). Several of the shops had bowls of water set out for thirsty pups.

A small riverwalk and covered bridge also lead the way to several repurposed mill buildings, including the home of Schilling Brewing Company – leave it to me to inadvertently book a hotel within walking distance of a brewery – and Miller’s Café and Bakery.

While travelling with a dog means a lack of options for sit-down meals, Littleton also offers a variety of locations for take-out, including the finger-smacking good Screaming Boar Smokehouse, which boasts “high performance barbeque,” claiming to have the “best in the north,” with what might be a valid argument. The pork ribs fall off the bone and pulled chicken sandwiches are succulent and served with a tangy homemade barbeque sauce.

But as charming as the town is, the sights that exist just down the road to the south are the true payoff. Even if a trek to the top of Mount Washington isn’t on your to-do list, the area offers a plethora of other options that are sure to satisfy.

For inexperienced hikers or those who are looking for something a bit more leisurely, but not a tourist trap, Mount Willard might be the place for you.

Mount Willard might be smaller than some of the other peaks in the area, especially its presidential neighbors to the east, but it provides great bang for your buck, offering a tremendous view of the Crawford Notch State Park after a relatively easy 1.4 mile climb on a well-travelled trail.

Also not to be missed even before you reach the summit is the Centennial Pool, fed by a small waterfall that provides a nice bit of respite and a quality photo opportunity.

The head of the trail is located at the Crawford Notch Depot and Macomber Family Information Center on Route 302, approximately 30 minutes from Littleton.

For those who have a little bit more of an adventurous side, Mount Moosilauke provides a challenging hike with a very satisfying payoff. Moosilauke, the 10th-largest mountain in the range, is 4,802 feet at its peak and offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains, which seem to go on forever. At the summit you will meet a number of fellow hikers as at least three trails all converge there, including the Appalachian Trail.

Bring a long-sleeved shirt, because at that altitude, an 80-degree day at the start of the hike can turn out to be in the low 60s with a strong breeze at the top.

The Gorge Brook Trail and the other trails in the area are maintained by Dartmouth College, which also has the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge at the base of the trail. The lodge is located just off of New Hampshire Route 118, which is accessible via New Hampshire 112 off of I-93.

As of this writing, a portion of the Gorge Brook Trail, which normally extends 3.7 miles to the summit, was washed out, forcing hikers onto the Snapper Trail for a while before reconnecting with the Gorge Brook at a safer location. Along the way, the Gorge Brook Trail provides some impressive views, but watch your step. While the trails are well kept, the terrain is rocky and can be challenging to the novice hiker. However, it is little challenge for expert rock climbers like Comet and is open to canine friends.

An easier descent can be found by heading west on the Carriage Road Trail, which connects to the Snapper Trail on which travelers can return to the lodge.

A 7.5 mile round-trip, it can take anywhere from three to six hours, but is well worth the time.

For those who want to whet their appetite for waterfalls, some terrific ones can be found in this region. While some more tourist-oriented locations, namely the famous Flume Gorge, do not allow dogs, there are plenty of options.

A bit off the beaten path is Bridal Veil Falls, located in Franconia, N.H. The 2.5-mile trail, located just off New Hampshire 116, has a consistent gradual climb and closely follows the Coppermine Brook, providing constant scenic stopping points before reaching a pool fed by a plunging waterfall measuring about 80 feet. While not as popular as some other destinations, it’s another solid “bang for your buck” option.

A series of falls on the Basin-Cascades Trail in Lincoln, N.H., provide some diversity. The Basin is a family-friendly – and crowded – area that features a small, but extremely powerful waterfall that shoots water sideways against the smooth rocks into a whirlpool.

The Basin is located right off the Franconia Notch Parkway (I-93/Route 3) with plenty of parking and a bike path also runs by it. It’s a great spot for kids and dogs alike as there are several shallow areas to take off your shoes and enjoy the cold, but refreshing water.

Beyond the tourist location are some more challenging climbs with more impressive falls and pools along the way, highlighted by Kinsman Falls about a mile up, another plunging waterfall with a large pool at the base. The falls are visible from the trail, but while it’s a bit of a challenge getting down to the pool, being up close is worth it.

Working your way further up about a half a mile you’ll reach Rocky Glen Falls. There’s no sign indicating you have reached them, so be on the lookout for a 35-foot set of jagged steps with water spilling over them into a small gorge below. There’s no safe way down to these falls, but they are impressive even from a distance, looking down from above.

Most, if not all of these hikes require hauling some water with you, and don’t forget a bowl for your furry friend. Packing your own lunch is also recommended, as most of these spots are perfect for a picnic, or at least a scenic snack.

The White Mountains have so many accessible – and four-legged friend friendly – activities that you could go several times a year and never do the same thing twice. The next time you’re looking for a perfect spot for a long weekend getaway, consider looking north.

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