Top 3 big thrills for little ones visiting New Hampshire’s White Mountains
Picturesque alpine peaks and thick forests make up the breathtaking White Mountain National Forest. On a map, it begins about three-quarters of the way up the great state of New Hampshire. With Mt. Washington its highest peak, the North Country is known for its small towns, some offering big thrills for their youngest visitors.
528 Presidential Hwy./Rte. 2, Jefferson
Christmas carols in mid-July? Yep! Nestled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a Christmas-themed amusement park is open for business nearly year-round. Santa’s Village is immaculately decorated and enchantingly cute.
We were among the first people through the gates, greeted by carolers at the entrance. From open until close, holiday tunes play throughout the park. It may seem like overkill, but it’s quite fitting since you can’t escape the magic of the... er, season.
Purchase the snack of the day for $2, and your kids can feed the reindeer in a beautiful barn called Reindeer Rendezvous. Climb aboard the Skyway Sleigh Monorail and get a bird’s eye view of the park; just remember to say “up, up, and away” once you’re belted in. Tour the inside of an elf’s home, catch a short show featuring Santa’s helpers or go meet Ole Saint Nick, himself.
KidTripster Tip: Visit during Christmastime (weekends only) and catch an amazing display of lights throughout the park.
Older kids will really enjoy the log ride called the Yule Log Flume (you’ll get moderately wet), Pogee’s Penguin Spin Coaster, and Rapid Rudy’s Transit Coaster, a park favorite (it does two loops!).
KidTripster Tip: If your kids love driving old-fashioned cars, the Flying Reindeer Antique Cars are very popular here. Try to hit the ride early on, as the line gets long, and there’s little shade.
Amusement park food isn’t always my first choice, but I will actually recommend Nick’s Pizza Emporium, which serves up delicious, made-to-order pies or individual slices, plus it’s reasonably priced.
KidTripster Tip: Don’t leave the park without trying the delicious mini donuts. Mini Doe-Nut Factory, located next to the Reindeer Carousel, makes some of the best sugared donuts that I’ve ever had!
For my kid, anything that resembles a train is exciting, but Santa’s Village has a great “choo choo.” The Polar Espresso ride lasts about ten minutes and does a nice circle of the park, boarding and unloading in the same spot. And yes, there are Christmas tunes playing throughout your ride!
If you visit on a hot day – and there are plenty in the summer months – the water park is fantastic! At Ho Ho H2O, the water slides branch out from every direction for the bigger kids. A toddler-friendly area is separate for little ones’ fun and safety. Even infants can bounce in seats, dipping their toes in the water.
Pick up some fudge on the way out and say hi to Rudy, who will chat with you from his booth. We’ve heard that he passes along early Christmas wishes to Santa! Cost: Youth (3 and under) Free with paying adult; Other (4 and up) $31.
KidTripster Tip: If you arrive within 3 hours of closing, you'll be issued a Return Pass. This means you can visit the park for another whole day at no additional cost! So I'd recommend doing the water park in the later afternoon on day one and then returning for the rides on day two.
850 NH Route 16, Glen
Equally enchanting as Santa’s Village - but for different reasons - is Story Land. It’s near North Conway, a popular tourist town with many accommodations, located on the eastern edge of White Mountain National Forest.
Here you’ll take a stroll down memory lane while introducing your kid to the classics. Story Land is an amusement park built around any childhood tale that you were ever told. Visit the old woman in the shoe, check out the three bears’ house, and arrive at Cinderella’s castle via horse-drawn pumpkin.
KidTripster Tip: Make your visit extra special by booking character visits, character dinners or tea-time with Cinderella (extra fee).
There’s a nursery rhyme-themed play area called Mother Goose Manor that’s really popular with the little kids; my toddler would not leave! We really enjoyed riding Alice’s Tea Cups and the Slipshod Safari Tour which winds through a forest of moving alligators, snakes, elephants, and dinosaurs!
The big kids will especially enjoy the log ride called Bamboo Chutes, Polar Coaster (warning: it’s a little jerky), dinosaur-themed roller coaster Roar-O Saurus. On the park’s most popular ride, Dr. Geyser’s Remarkable Raft Ride, you may get soaked or you may leave with just a splash; it just depends on how it’s spinning and where you’re sitting.
KidTripster Tip: Dr. Geyser’s Remarkable Raft Ride will be your longest line all day, so hit it early.
You will get soaking wet on Splash Battle, where you fire water guns from a pirate ship with a direct stream, and you get fired upon from those on shore! My toddler really enjoyed the Crazy Barn, where he gave us a ride on a tractor. He was so happy and proud; what a great memory that we now have captured, since we bought the photo snapped inside the barn.
The park also has a great train, stopping at three different spots throughout the park for easy-on/easy-off access. If your kids need a break, there are a few play areas, including Buccaneer Pirate (this one makes for some cute photos) and Dig M Deeper play areas. On a hot day, kids can cool off at a couple of splash pads located throughout the park, as well. Cost: Youth (under 3) Free; Other (3 and up) $33.
KidTripster Tip: For diaper changes or nursing, there are wonderfully clean facilities located next to the main bathroom.
3/Clark's Trading Post
110 Daniel Webster Hwy., Lincoln
Paw-ssibly one of the most unique theme parks, Clark’s Trading Post is located in the quaint town of Lincoln, an almost unbearably fun place. Bear with me here; the puns may go overboard, but how else can you describe a black bear balancing on a large circus ball?
The park’s main attraction is the bear show featuring incredibly-trained black bears that perform throughout the day. You’ll watch them do all sorts of tricks with vanilla ice cream as their reward. They are adorable and fascinating to watch, and it’s evident that they’re well cared for. The bears perform in a fenced-in, circular area, giving people great access with that needed sense of security. Kids go bonkers for the bears!
Climb aboard the White Mountain Central Railroad for a 25-minute trek through the woods on an old steam locomotive. Your kids will love seeing Wolfman try to chase away the train as he works to protect his secret mining operation. His disheveled appearance is complete with ripped clothing and an unruly beard. The conductor will instruct the kids to scream at him, which of course, they do!
Good luck getting through Merlin’s Mystical Mansion, which is constantly moving (evidence of the wizard’s magical powers, of course). Our family favorite is the Tuttle’s Rustic House; it will really have you wondering if the law of universal gravitation applies here.
The Anaconda Escape, a water raft ride, takes you on a fast track of twists and turns in a dark tube. Not to worry, you’ll dry off fast on a hot day! You'll get soaking wet on the Water Blaster Boats, too; there’s just no getting around it, thanks to the spray guns with a powerful stream!
There also are a number of museums on site, including an old fire station and gas station, showcasing different pieces of Americana. And don’t miss some of the unique stores, including Maple Cabin. The main general store has great buys on wooden toys and figurines that you just don’t see anymore. Cost: Youth (Ages 1-3) Free; Other $22.
Jackie Labrecque is a mom and journalist, living Portland, Oregon. She and her family spend a lot of time traveling back and forth to New England, where her relatives live.