GORHAM, N.H. — Country inns and the White Mountains region go together like pancakes and maple syrup. And there are literally dozens of inns to choose from some 32 pages’ worth on the White Mountains Attractions Association website (www.visitwhitemountains.com).
But those homey, gingham-bedecked digs aren’t the only game in town — and they’re not for everyone. “(”I refuse to stay in a place where an awkward breakfast with strangers is required,” as a fellow road-tripper put it.) We did some mud-season sleuthing to check out some other options for a north country sleepover. Back home, with mud-covered boots and a sugar buzz from the retro sweets at Zeb’s General Store, here are our thoughts.
Rustic glamping: Hub North
Is “rustic glamping” an oxymoron? Maybe. This one deserves its own category — it’s camping minus the hassle of BYO tents and camp stoves; or glamping minus the lobster bakes and other frills. We’re talking five solar-powered yurts and bell tents with comfy beds and a communal kitchen, with a big upside for active types: Access to a nearly 30-mile network of mountain bike trails. And, this being Gorham, there is close proximity to all the hiking you can handle. Bonus: Views of the northern Presidential range.
Now launching its seventh season, Hub North occupies 22 pastoral acres, where the Sunset Valley Girl Scout Camp once stood. Proprietors Kara and Jason Hunter, both New Hampshire natives, are carpenters by trade who have worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club. Inspired by the ‘backpackers’ (a.k.a. hostels) in New Zealand, the pair (who are married to each other and live on-site) got wind of the opportunity to transform the scout camp, and went for it.
“My main goal is to make the scary parts of camping — like the showers — less scary,” says Kara. So, they built a modern, un-scary bathhouse and restroom. The entire place got a design refresh and the duo totally renovated the communal kitchen, set in a pavilion with lounging space and a fireplace.
“When it comes to glamping, there’s a wide range. We’re the most rustic version, but we have real beds, and tents you can stand up in,” Kara explains. “It all comes down to comfort.” An on-property lodge that sleeps 10 is also available for rentals.
The yurts and bell tents (round tents with a single pole, about 8 feet tall in the center) are spaced apart on a grassy glen. “All sites are basically bedrooms,” Kara says. Eating happens at picnic tables or in the pavilion, the better to keep bears out of tents. All of the tents have solar power, so guests can charge their devices, but unplugging and playing outdoors is what it’s all about. “People come with a goal — to bike or hike all day, take a shower, go to Big Day Brewing [the couple are co-owners] and come back and do it again.” Amenities include corn hole, plus disc golf and a fire pit.
Hub North is surrounded on three sides by Moose Brook State Park, home to a swimming pond, walking paths, and Coös Trails, a single-track mountain bike trail network that runs through the woods around the town of Gorham. Utilizing rail trails and constructed recreation trails, the system can be accessed without having to ride on Route 2 or through downtown. It’s a 10-minute drive to the Appalachia Trailhead at White Mountain National Forest, a major gateway into the northern Presidential mountains, and about 15 minutes to Pinkham Notch.
“My family was one of the first guests [at Hub North] and we’ve been going annually, sometimes twice a year,” says Caroline Budney of Medford. “The glamping setup is truly awesome.” Budney recently visited with two other families and nine (nine!) teenagers and everyone enjoyed the place, she said.
“Some people don’t understand how comfortable glamping can be,” Kara says, even when it’s rustic. “But guests should know what they’re getting into, because you do have to go outside to get to the bathroom!” 34 Jimtown Road, Gorham, N.H.; 603-915-9010; www.hubnorthnh.com; from $108 double occupancy (tents); from $121 double occupancy (yurts).
An oh-so-New England hotel: The Glen House
For some travelers, even a tent-side serenade by Adele and Usher wouldn’t get them camping. Just a few miles down the road from Hub North, we found an appealing option for those who prefer a touch of luxury with their outdoor experience.
The vibe is refined, not flashy, at the Glen House, a 68-room hotel that sits at the base of Mount Washington. “We are part of one of the most pristine locations in the area, and enjoy the best views of the Northern Presidential Range,” says Graciela Page, director of sales and marketing. No lie. Oversize windows reveal mountain vistas, with the Carter-Moriah range facing the front of the hotel and the Presidential mountains in the back. Hotels have occupied this ravishing site since 1852, including a massive grand hotel that slept 600.
A step inside the lobby elicits a “wow.” A great room with a cathedral ceiling extends from the lobby to an outdoor deck, with views of the peaks of the Presidential range from floor-to-ceiling windows. A patchwork-fabric moose mount adorns a stone fireplace flanked by armchairs and leather couches. Across the room is a bar that was named “The Most Beautiful Bar in New Hampshire” by Architectural Digest.
Tucked behind the great room, The Notch Grille serves regional comfort fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Posts and columns made of reclaimed wood add to the lodge-like vibe. A walk out to the deck reveals more seating and a stone fire pit. Artwork includes textiles and vintage photos featuring The Mt. Washington Auto Road. The Glen House is a local family-owned business (since the late 1800s) and is a sister company to the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center and The Mt. Washington Auto Road.
The hotel’s amenities include an indoor saltwater swimming pool and a fitness room, but the big draw is its backyard: 11,000 acres of glorious nature. Great Glen Trails offers 40 kilometers of walking and hiking trails and trail biking within the property, plus guided kayaking trips. Just down the road, trailheads off Route 16 are a portal to the wonders of the White Mountain National Forest.
There’s also a focus on sustainability. “We provide heating and cooling through our geothermal system without the use of fossil fuel,” Page says. The hotel uses LED lighting, and a portion of the property’s electricity is produced by a hydro generator. Outdoor lighting is “Dark Sky Compliant,” meaning all of the lighting is directed toward the ground, not into the sky. Add “stargazing” to your (very long) list of outdoor activities. 979 N.H. Route 16, Greens Grant, N.H., 603-466-3420; www.theglenhouse.com. The hotel’s Mud Season special is valid through June 15, with starting rates of $139 per night for a standard king room.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com