3-5 Day Travel Itinerary: NH's Great Woods in the Winter
New Hampshire’s rugged Great Woods are beautiful in all four seasons. This 3-5 day Working Joe Travel Itinerary includes our suggestion for exploring this striking wilderness area in the winter.
In the Great Woods, careful trip planning is a must. Just a short distance from any main road the terrain turns wild. It's worth braving the cold, though. The winter months, when snow blankets the ground and ice sparkles on spindly branches, is the most majestic time of year.
The town of Pittsburg is located in Great Woods. Close to the Canadian border, the town's countryside is dotted with alpine peaks, one-room camps, and pristine lakes (the area is sometimes referred to as the 'Connecticut Lakes Region'). Ice fishermen, hunters, and hikers flock to the region. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. The vacation destination is well known for its extensive network of state and club-supported snowmobile and ATV trails.
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When in the North Country we often chose to stay at the Tall Timber Lodge. Tall Timber is a sporting lodge with rooms, cottages, and onsite dining at the Rainbow Grill and Tavern. The cabin featured in this article is perched on the shores of beautiful Back Lake. It has a full kitchen, whirlpool tub, and a gas fireplace. We find it clean, cozy, and appointed with everything needed for a comfortable stay.
There are several reason Tall Timber is a good choice for lodgings. In the winter, it is convenient to have a restaurant and tavern onsite to compliment an in-cabin kitchen. After a long day of outdoor play, it is nice to have the option of eating in (or out) without having to drive anywhere. Tall Timber also rents snowmobiles onsite and allows patrons to use the lodge’s snowshoes for free. Lastly, its proximity to the lake allows patrons to snowshoe or cross-country ski off their cabin's front porch as well as access a vast network of snowmobile trails directly from the resort.
Enjoy a scenic drive through New Hampshire's forests to Pittsburg, NH (a private vehicle is a must in Great Woods). Check in to your lodgings and pick up a snowmobile map ($5), and brochures on XC Skiing and snowshoeing trails in Pittsburg.
Unpack, strap on your snowshoes and go for a hike around Back Lake. (If you are not staying at Tall Timber Lodge park at the Philbrook Town Park and Beach on Beach Road.) The lake is small. Plan on around 3 hours to do the perimeter. Or, cut across the lake whenever you are tired and head back to your cabin.
Have dinner in. Spend the evening mapping out snowmobile and snowshoe trails for the rest of the week.
Rise early, have a hearty breakfast, and trek over to the barn to pick up your snowmobile rental. A map and helmet are included in the price of the sled. Don’t forget some antiseptic wipes for the inside of the helmet. Unless you are a seasoned snowmobiler, opt for 4-hour ride over an 8-hour. Whatever route you chose, we suggest including the Diamond Ridge Scenic Vista (it’s breathtaking). See the TRAVEL TIPS section below for more suggestions for a day out snowmobiling.
Have lunch in your cabin in front of the fire. Then, settle in for an afternoon of movies and board games. Late afternoon, wander over to the Tavern for drinks and dinner. The pub has several televisions, a gas fireplace and twinkling white lights. The combination keeps the atmosphere lively, but relaxing.
Sleep in and enjoy breakfast in front of the fire as the lake comes alive out your window. Sip coffee while watching the snowmobilers whiz by.
Mid-morning pack some water, snacks, and snowshoes and head out for a trek through the woods. Try either a portion of The Falls in the River Trail or The Moose Alley Trail. Both of these trails are easy to moderate, and have parking. They are well marked, and snowmobiles are not allowed on the trails so traffic is not a worry.
Later that afternoon, take a whirlpool bath and ready for dinner at the Rainbow Tavern and Grill. The restaurant's menu is packed with fish and game items. The dress is winter-sporting-casual, and the dining room is warm and comfy.
Pack up and check out. Or, extend this itinerary with another day or two of winter hiking, xc skiing, snowshoeing, moose watching around the North Woods, a day trip to Canada, or more snowmobiling.
There are a number of taverns and diners located in the North Woods. Some are closed in winter, or open weather-permitting. Depending on where you stay, eating out can involve a bit of a ride (and the weather changes quickly). We suggest booking a place with at least an efficiency kitchen. Bring food from home, or stop for groceries on the ride up. Lancaster is about an hour south of Pittsburg, and the last town with a good-sized grocery store.
If you plan to eat out, research restaurants close to your lodging. A plus for us in booking at Tall Timber Lodge is having a full service restaurant onsite (serves dinner only in the winter months). Even it you don't book at the Tall Timber, consider dining at the Rainbow Grille. If you do, be sure to make reservations online prior to leaving home.
Reserve your date and time ahead. Arrive early, to get a sled with heated hand grips and a helmet screen.
Think about the time of day you want to be on the trails. A morning booking means the air will not have had time to warm. An afternoon booking means you will have to plan wisely so you won’t get caught on the trails in the dark. The trails are well marked, but directions can be confusing.
Consider a mid-week trip. The trails on the weekends can become very crowded, and at times chaotic.
Dress warmly. Bring a hand and foot warmers, good boots, and something to protect your neck area. Protect your knees from the wind with ski or snowmobile pants. Use a face protector and goggles if your helmet does not have a shield.
Pack for an emergency including at a minimum a first aid kit, an emergency snow blanket, extra map, extra cell phone battery pack, matches, extra socks/gloves/hat, water and snacks (at a minimum). Consider a flare. The trails can be very remote. Be cautious. Unless, you stay close to civilization, travel in packs of at least two sleds so there is always someone to go for help should the need arise.
Bring your camera, there is an interesting or awe-inspiring picture around every corner. But be prepared for cold weather. Bring extra batteries, a water-proof bag, and strategize about how you will protect your hands from the cold while setting up shots. While on the snowmobile, I attached a stick to my camera with a cable that allowed me to take video or still shots with a single button. For stationary shots, I wore a thin pair of fingertip-less gloves under my mittens to keep on when the mittens came off.
Water and Forest Safety:
Before venturing out onto a lake, river, or into the forest check the forecast and go online to check out the USDA White Mountain National Forest alerts and notices page for alerts about the safety of lakes and ponds, road closures, and other risks.
That's all for now, Laura and Randy
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