Crawford Notch State Park
Guide

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Introduction

Crawford Notch takes its name from its location at a pass in New Hampshire's White Mountains. The 5775 acre park has a rich history - more on that later. But a large part of what draws visitors here, from across New Hampshire and beyond, is the natural scenery and geology of this magical place. Spectacular mountain views are guaranteed. And the dense forests and abundant waterfalls make this an absolutely gorgeous place to stay, whether you only visit for the day or stay longer in an RV. Even if you don't care about history at all, a visit to Crawford Notch is a great way to spend a vacation.

But if you are a history buff, well, here goes:

In 1771 a Lancaster hunter, Timothy Nash, discovered what is now called Crawford Notch, while tracking a moose over Cherry Mountain. He noticed a gap in the distant mountains to the south and realized it was probably the route through the mountains mentioned in Native American lore. Packed with provisions, he worked his way through the notch and on to Portsmouth to tell Governor John Wentworth of his discovery. Doubtful a road could be built through the mountains, the governor made him a deal. If Nash could get a horse through from Lancaster he would grant him a large parcel of land at the head of the notch, with the condition he build a road to it from the east. Nash and his friend Benjamin Sawyer managed to trek through the notch with a very mellow farm horse, that at times, they were required to lower over boulders with ropes. The deal with the governor was kept and the road, at first not much more than a trail, was opened in 1775.

Settlement: The Crawford family, the first permanent settlers in the area, exerted such a great influence on the development of the notch that the Great Notch came to be called Crawford Notch. In 1790 Abel Crawford, his wife Hannah (Rosebrook) and their growing family settled on the land granted to Sawyer and Nash, at what is now Fabyans in Bretton Woods. Two years later Eleazer Rosebrook, Hannah's father, and his family moved to Abel's homestead, who in turn, settled 12 miles away at the head of the notch in Hart's Location, for more "elbow room". Both families operated inns for the growing number of travelers through the notch. Abel's inn was the Mount Crawford House. The inn operated by the Rosebrooks was inherited by Abel's son Ethan Allen. In addition to being established innkeepers, the Crawfords were famous mountain guides that escorted visitors to the top of Mt. Washington. In 1819 Abel and Ethan Allen opened the Crawford Path, the footpath they had blazed to the summit. By 1840 horses could be on the trail. In 1821 Ethan Allen blazed a shorter route up Mt. Washington that is closely followed today by the cog railway.

Railroad: Increasing tourism to the White Mountains generated interest in the building of a railroad through Crawford Notch. The construction of the railroad was considered a difficult engineering feat that was thought to be impossible by many. The railroad, built by Anderson Brothers of Maine, was opened in 1857 and ran from Portland, through the notch, to Fabyans, the area where Ethan Allen had operated his inn. Great difficulties and expenses were encountered due to the gain of 1,623 feet in elevation in the 30 miles between North Conway and Fabyans. There is an average rise of 116 feet per mile for the 9 miles between Bemis Station at the south end of the notch and Crawford Depot. Impressive Frankenstein Trestle, originally built of iron, and later replaced by steel, is 80 feet high and 500 feet long, while the Willey Brook Bridge is 100 feet high and 400 feet long. Crawford Notch State Park: Most of the land in Crawford Notch was acquired by the state of New Hampshire in 1913. It was the result of a bill passed by the legislature in 1922 aimed at rescuing the northern region of Hart's Location from excessive timber harvest. The bill failed to include the northern, most scenic part of the notch, which the state purchased in 1912 for $62,000.

Almost 6,000 acres are included in the state park. The land extends on both sides of the highway to the summits of the mountains that border the Saco River Valley. In 1922 the Willey House clearing was leased to Donahue and Hamlin of Bartlett who built a cabin colony of peeled spruce logs for vacationers. More log buildings were added including rest rooms, restaurant and gift shop, but eventually the state took back the clearing for its own operations.

RV Rentals in Crawford Notch State Park

Transportation in Crawford Notch State Park

Driving

You'll want to take your time getting to Crawford Notch State Park. Not because the roads are especially treacherous; they're not. But you'll want to make a lot of stops to admire the mountain scenery you pass through. There are two roads that will bring you to the park; the 302, also known as Crawford Notch Road, and the Kancamagus Highway. Each have their fans. The 302 takes a fairly level route along the bottom of the valley, while the Kancamagus climbs over ridges and offers stunning views. Be wary in the winter, though, especially at higher elevations where snow is common and weather can change quickly.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Crawford Notch State Park

Campsites in Crawford Notch State Park

Reservations camping

Dry River Campground

The 36-site campground, located near Dry River, includes 30 primitive sites available by reservation, and 6 sites for first-come/first-served campers. Reservations for campsites may be made by calling the Reservation Office, Monday through Friday, from January through the end of the season. Camping: The campground is open for reservable stays from Memorial Day weekend through Columbus Day weekend.

Pets: Pets are welcomed in the camping area, but must be leashed and attended at all times.

While there are no hookups on site, there is a shower block and a place to wash pots. It's also nice to have a laundry room on site to wash clothes. The campsite is on the smaller side, but it's a good idea where possible to book a site away from the road. That way you'll be shielded from the occasional traffic noise.

First-come first-served

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Crawford Notch State Park

In-Season

Swimming

With nearly a mile of frontage along the Saco River, Crawford Notch provides a great place to cool off during the hot summer months. The water is bracingly chilly, but the shallows make perfect spots for kids to wade. Alternatively, you could try tubing and let the current carry you at a leisurely pace downstream.

Fishing

Where there's water, there's fish. As well as the Saco River, Crawford Notch is full of smaller streams and ponds where you can drop a line and try your luck. Saco Lake within the park is kept stocked, and the brook trout here are a popular species to catch. Make sure to get your fishing license before you begin, which can be purchased online prior to your trip.

Off-Season

Willey House

Looking for a little history and a little mystery in your park's vacation? Crawfod Notch is home to the Willey House, which draws visitors to the park to this day. Never heard of it? Let us enlighten you:

During the fall of 1825 Samuel Willey, Jr. of Bartlett moved into a small house in the heart of Crawford Notch with his wife, five children, and two hired men. The first year the three men enlarged and improved the house which the family operated as an inn to accommodate travelers through the mountains on the desolate notch road. The little cluster of buildings was situated in the shadow of what is now called Mount Willey. In June, following a heavy rain, the Willeys were terrified when they witnessed a great mass of soil and vegetation, torn loose from the mountainside across the river, slide in a path of destruction to the valley floor. As a result, Mr. Willey built a cave-like shelter a short distance above the house to which the family could flee if a slide threatened their side of the valley. During the night of August 28, 1826, after a long drought which had dried the mountain soil to an unusual depth, came one of the most violent and destructive rain storms ever known in the White Mountains. The Saco River rose twenty feet overnight. Livestock was carried off, farms set afloat, and great gorges were cut in the mountains. Two days after the storm, anxious friends and relatives penetrated the debris-strewn valley to learn the fate of the Willey family. They found the house unharmed, but the surrounding fields were covered with debris. Huge boulders, trees, and masses of soil had been swept from Mt. Willey's newly bared slopes. The house had escaped damage because it was apparently situated just below a ledge that divided the major slide into two streams. The split caused the slide to pass by the house on both sides leaving it untouched. Inside, beds appeared to have been left hurriedly, a Bible lay on the table, and the dog howled mournfully. Mr. and Mrs. Willey, two children, and both hired men were found nearby, crushed in the wreckage of the slide. The bodies were buried near the house and later moved to Conway. Three children were never found. The true story of the tragedy will never be known. Poets and writers have conjectured many possibilities. Perhaps the family, awakened by a threatening rumble, fled from the house to their cave, and were caught in one stream of the slide. It seems more likely the Willeys started to climb the slope of the mountain to escape the rising floods and were caught in the landslide. Whatever the circumstances of the tragedy, it has endowed this part of the White Mountains with a legend enhanced by the awesome crags which rise guardians over the site of the former Willey home. Following the tragedy, an addition was built onto the house which was operated as an inn until it burned in 1898.

Hiking

Briefly described below are a few of the more popular family hikes in Crawford Notch State Park. For more specific information, or for descriptions and maps of lengthier hikes into the White Mountain National Forest and on the Appalachian Trail, consult the Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide. It is important to wear sturdy walking shoes and remember that in the mountains weather changes suddenly and darkness falls quickly. Keep close tabs on children, as unforeseen hazards may exist or develop suddenly on mountain trails. Two short, easy walks begin across the road and bridge from the Willey House site.

The POND LOOP TRAIL, 1/2 mile round trip, bears to the left just beyond the bridge, leads through the woods to a view point of the pond, and loops back to the bridge. The SAM WILLEY TRAIL, one mile round trip, bears to the right thirty yards beyond the bridge, follows the Saco River through the woods past several beaver dams, and loops back to the bridge.

RIPPLEY FALLS is a 100-foot high cascade where Avalanche Brook flows over moss-covered sloping granite creating a cool, peaceful spot to relax after the 1/2 mile walk in. The falls are easy to find by following the Ripley Falls Trail which diverges left from the Ethan Pond Trail shortly after it begins at the end of the access road, which leaves Route 302 one mile southeast of the Willey House Site.

ARETHUSA FALLS, over 200 feet high, are the highest falls in the state and certainly worth a visit. The access road to the start of the 1.3 mile, fairly rocky and moderately steep trail, leads off Route 302 1/2 mile south of Dry River Campground. Return via the same route or complete the 3 mile loop past Frankenstein Cliff to the start point. The open ledges at the 2,804-foot summit of Mt. Willard afford spectacular views of Crawford Notch, the southern Presidentials and Mt. Washington. The 1.4 mile (one way) trail climbs gradually to the summit from the Crawford Depot (AMC) near the north entrance of the notch.

Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing

When the snow falls, Crawford Notch's abundant hiking trails make great places to cross country ski or snowshoe. The winter weather tends to keep the crowds away, and with luck, you'll find yourself all alone on a trail if you want to be. With everything covered in snow, the park shows a different aspect to the green of summer, and the silence of nature is unforgettable.

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