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My Road Trip To New Hampshire Was A Childhood Dream Come True

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Photo: NHDTTD/Ellen Edersheim

With its sparkling lakes, mountains, and charming small towns, New Hampshire is pure Americana. But mention New Hampshire to Canadians and most draw a blank. I know this to be the case, because when I asked friends for their NH travel tips, they had none. As if schooled by Jeopardy, they mentioned the lead-off state primary and that awesome state motto, Live Free or Die. Beyond that, it was crickets.

I had wanted to see the Granite State ever since, as a nerdy third grader, I memorized all of the state capitals, (it's Concord by the way). So I headed for the White Mountains, where Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in the East, towers over the Presidential Range. Having been wowed, it's time to start spreading the news.

The Granite State
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Like a giant foam finger pointing up at Quebec, New Hampshire sits between Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts. Its nickname, the two by four state, refers to the length of time it takes to drive across it - two hours from east to west, and four from north to south. That's part of its appeal: I saw quite a bit in just four days.

Conway Scenic Railroad, North Conway

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A true blast from the past, the steam locomotives of the Conway Scenic Railroad take train enthusiasts on a gentle trip along branches of the Maine Central Railway and the Boston and Maine. While you wait for the whistle, explore the vintage trains and check out the railway turntable, once used to turn locomotives around.

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Cannon Mountain is a historic ski hill, where the first aerial tramway in North America began operating in 1938. Take a scenic ride on one of the two enclosed cable cars to the 1250-metre summit and enjoy a panoramic view of Maine, Vermont and Quebec, and sapphire blue Echo Lake below. Learn more about the long history of alpine sports at the New England Ski Museum and see local boy and Olympian downhiller Bode Miller's many medals from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.

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At the base of the tram you can learn all about the Old Man of the Mountain - a face made of a series of five granite cliff ledges that for years was a well-known landmark, (and the state emblem since 1945), until the rock gave way and fell in 2003. It had just been featured on the NH state quarter in 2000, and had been immortalized on stamps and the state license plate. The writer Nathaniel Hawthorne used the Old Man as inspiration for his short story "The Great Stone Face", published in 1850. Saying it is missed is an understatement. You can read about the history of it, see what it looked like before and after, at a memorial in the tram station.

Omni Mount Washington Resort
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Photo: NHDTTD/Ellen Edersheim

Every afternoon people settle into wicker chairs along the broad veranda that runs the entire length of the historic Mount Washington Hotel, in anticipation of the remarkable daily extravaganza that officially ends the day here. Onlookers watch as the shadow creeps up the slopes of the mountain, pushing the sunbeams higher until the very last rays hit the peak of Mount Washington and disappear. One of the last surviving grand hotels in the White Mountains, this is also where the International Monetary Fund was first negotiated, in 1944. The room where the historic agreement was reached is preserved as a historic site, and can be visited. Outdoors, you can take a zipline ride for a panoramic view of the Presidential mountain range and the Bretton Woods ski resort.

Flume Gorge
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Photo: NHDTTD/Ellen Edersheim

A two-mile self-guided nature walk along the 30-metre tall granite walls of Flume Gorge passes pools, waterfalls, caves and covered bridges. A visitors centre explains the geology of the gorge, how it was accidentally discovered by a grandmother on her way to do some fishing, and has regular showings of a film showcasing Franconia Notch State Park. If pressed for time, just walk the 280-metre long gorge to see millions of years of geology laid bare.

Kancamagus Highway
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Photo: NHDTTD/Ellen Edersheim

Any decent list of fall foliage hotspots must include New Hampshire's Kancamagus Highway, a 90-kilometre country road featuring some of the region's most dramatic colours. But at any time of the year "The Kanc" is a beautiful drive, right up there in the pantheon of scenic American highways. Stop along the way at the Albany covered bridge, the Rocky Gorge and waterfalls on the Swift River.

Merrill Farm Inn (Conway)
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Next to the Saco River on seven acres of wooded land, the Merrill Farm Inn is a charmer of a New England resort. With amenities like canoes and firepits, and a variety of lofts, rooms and cabins to cater to visitors year round, it's a great choice in the Conway area. Next to the original Merrill farmhouse, The Barn restaurant offers a farm-to-table menu that highlights local sustainable farms and producers. A fall dinner might start with a beautiful cheese plate served under the trees on the outdoor deck. Inside The Barn, guests can mingle around family-sized tables and enjoy the ambiance of the cozy fireplace.

Cascade Cafe (Woodstock)
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You won't find chain stores or fast food in North Woodstock. Instead you'll find the Cascade Cafe, with sophisticated food you might expect to find in Boston or New York. While I was there, the menu featured seasonal fare like rabbit stew, gazpacho, cubano and falafel sandwiches and excellent, locally roasted coffee. With live music and special events, the Cascade is a local favourite and a great spot to pull off the road for breakfast or lunch.

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