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Explore New England

Spring mud season pleasures abound in New Hampshire

In spring, snow melts, tourists ebb, but pleasures remain

Pamela Wright for The Boston Globe

At Alpine Adventures, visitors zip over the trees.

LINCOLN - “To tell you the truth, I really don’t like it here in the summer,’’ said longtime resident Stacey LaPierre. “Tourists are everywhere. You can’t even get a beer at the Brewery.’’

Outback Kayak

Kayakers paddle along the Pemigewasset River.

It is probably not what the folks at the Lincoln-Woodstock Chamber of Commerce want to hear. But, if you listen to in-the-know locals, lively Lincoln and quaint Woodstock are best enjoyed during the spring shoulder season. The weather is mild; the bugs are at bay; winter tourists are gone; and summer crowds have yet to arrive. Lodging prices plunge, too.

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“Rates are generally 40 percent lower in spring than they are during our high season,’’ said Mark LaClair, executive director of the Lincoln-Woodstock Chamber of Commerce. “We make the best of the season, with special events and things that don’t always get attention other times of the year.’’

“It’s the best time to be here,’’ agreed Dan Duris, chef-owner of the fit-for-foodies Gypsy Café. “It’s definitely a quieter time and we get a chance to really appreciate the beauty of the area.’’

What about the mud?

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“We celebrate it,’’ said LaPierre. “Put on your boots and hit the trail. You’ll have it all to yourself. And, then belly up to CJ’s bar and try their mudslide.’’

We were more than ready for a quiet weekend, and given the recent mild weather, we thought we would head to Lincoln-Woodstock, before the big summer attractions open.

“It’s so beautiful here in the springtime,’’ Kelly Chase, owner of Out Back Kayak, told us, as we stood in sun-dappled woods, overlooking the White Mountains. Snow still covered the peaks of the Presidential Range, but it was disappearing fast in the valley.

Out Back Kayak owns 80 acres of forest, including about a mile and a half along the banks of the Pemigewasset River. Discreetly hidden in the woods are narrow trails used for their bumpy, up-and-down, stomach-lurching ATV rides. “We’re the only place in the area that offers ATV-ing,’’ Chase said. “People love it. And, the muddier the better.’’

Pamela Wright for The Boston Globe

Owner Chris Clermont displays a few of the more than 700 varieties of beer at Waynes Market in North Woodstock, N.H.

We rode the forest trails skirting the sparkling river, zoomed across open fields with ruts and water holes, and climbed up and down muddy, soggy hills.

“People are so stressed out and so planned, even on vacation,’’ Chase said on one of the few stops along the way. “They don’t know how to have fun anymore. We like to shake it up a bit for them.’’

We were literally shaken up, but despite the fact that neither of us is a motor sports fan, the ride was thrilling. Between moments of wind-in-your-face, watch-where-you’re-going, hold-on, dirty fun, we slowed down enough to take in the mountain and river scenery.

“Ready to do some paddling?’’ Chase said when we climbed off our machines. Out Back Kayak also offers guided kayaking trips down the Pemigewasset. Experienced paddlers and thrill seekers can opt for the two-hour trip on the upper river, especially roily in spring, when the river swells with snow melt and tumbles down in a series of Class 1, 2, and 3 rapids. The calmer, 7-mile trip down the lower section of the river was more our speed, but we declined. Despite Chase’s offer to provide dry suits, we would rather return a little later in the spring when the icy waters and air temperatures warm up.

Back in town, we snagged a parking space on the street (easy this time of year) and popped into the Half-Baked Fully Brewed sandwich shop on Main Street for a couple of replenishing Kick Start smoothies and made-to-order sandwiches. A few customers came into the shop to say hi to the ladies behind the counter and grab a quick bite.

“The slow time gets a little scary [for the business],’’ owner Diana Mortz said, “but we’re here for the locals.’’

Later, driving by Waynes Market in North Woodstock, we noticed a sign advertising “Free Beer Tasting.’’ We made a quick U-turn and went inside. This jumble of a market, parts gas station, meat market, grocery store, and sandwich shop, has more than 700 varieties of beer.

“I don’t really like beer,’’ said Chris Clermont, who owns the store with his father, Ronald. “But my friends got me going on it.’’

Clermont is in charge of the collection, which now takes up about a third of the store and includes several unusual and high-end varieties, like the $19 bottle of Sorachi Ale that comes out only once a year. We sampled a few spring ale releases, and then left to check into the Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery, a few blocks down the street.

There are often long waits to get into the Woodstock Station during peak season; not so this night. We walked in and joined a friendly crowd of locals, many there to meet friends and sample the Brewery’s new spring releases. We ordered the homemade corned beef hash Reuben sandwich and a plate of Mom’s meat loaf and mashed potatoes for dinner, shared with the microbrewery’s Pemi Pale Ale and the Kanc Country Maple Porter.

Pamela Wright for The Boston Globe

Woodstock, N.H., resident Stacey LaPierre soaks up sun rays in front of Half-Baked & Fully Brewed, a cafe and sandwich shop that is popular with both tourists and locals.

The next morning, we met at Alpine Adventures. The company offers off-road safari trips and arguably one of the most thrilling zipline adventures in the Northeast. After suiting up (harness, helmet, straps), we shuttled to their property and climbed aboard a battered, six-wheel Pinzgauer vehicle for the steep and bumpy climb to the start of the SkyRider zipline. The company offers three zipline adventures: the original Treetop course, with six lines; the SkyRider, with five ziplines and five suspension bridges; and the ultimate Super SkyRider, billed as its highest, longest, and fastest course for experienced zipliners only.

“We can see up to 500 people a day on our courses during our busy season,’’ said our guide Nick Synder. We joined four others who had signed up for the SkyRider course that day. We were glad our group was small, the pace slow and relaxed - or at least as relaxed as a zipline can be.

All of us - to varying degrees - were a little nervous as we climbed to the first platform and looked down at the 800-foot-long line that dropped to the valley floor.

“Just step off the platform,’’ Synder said. “Remember to curl into a tight ball; you’ll go faster and have more control. In any case, we’ll catch you at the end.’’

One at a time, we stepped off the canopy platform and zipped to the landing strip, meeting each other with high fives and hoots and hollers. The course got progressively higher and faster, including jumpy walks on suspension bridges, swinging some 200 feet above the ground. The last line was the fastest; we zipped at speeds up to 50 miles an hour.

“Did you take pictures on the way?’’ Synder said. “The views are amazing.’’

No, we did not; we were hanging on tight with both hands all the way down.

“Waterfalls. That’s what I like best about spring in Lincoln-Woodstock,’’ LaPierre said later as we shared a barbecue sampler platter at the Pig’s Ear restaurant. After lunch, LaPierre led us to one of her favorite spots: the Georgiana Falls on Harvard Brook in North Lincoln. We hiked the easy, 1.3-mile trail to the lower falls, and then scrambled up another half-mile to the upper falls.

“Rock music,’’ LaPierre shouted over the rumble of the water, “my favorite sound of spring.’’

We thought it fitting to end our trip with ultra-relaxing hot stone massages at the mountainside Viaggio Spa - and, later, with a toast to spring in Lincoln-Woodstock (with dirty martinis, of course).

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@earthlink.net.
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