"Mountains, forest, peace; old friends, a welcoming inn with familiar ways."
A half century ago, Nathaniel Goodrich extolled the virtues of Waterville Valley, a historic New Hampshire town surrounded by 700,000 acres of national forest. "Superficially it changes, as all things must," Goodrich wrote. "But basically it remains the same."
Today, Waterville Valley Resort is a fully-featured resort area with world-class skiing, golf, nationally-ranked tennis courts, a skateboard park, year-round ice arena, hiking, biking, water sports, boating, and cultural activities that range from bluegrass festivals to Shakespeare under the stars. What it doesn't have are fast-food places, stoplights and big box stores. Waterville Valley is a unique combination of resort area, historic town, and nature-lover's paradise, with an emphasis on family and community that brings people back year after year.
In the 1800s, visitors came to the valley by stagecoach to escape the heat of the city and enjoy an abundance of natural beauty. These days, visitors arrive by car, wending their way along the picturesque Mad River, which surges over boulder-strewn rapids on its way to a pristine resort of 500 acres surrounded by the White Mountain National Forest. It’s a breath-taking experience--or perhaps "breath-releasing." Time and again, visitors describe turning off the highway and heading to the valley as a letting go of the outside world and a deep-seated sense of heading home.
Arriving Waterville Valley, many visitors park their cars and forget them; the Town Square is a pedestrian-only zone, and most activities are within walking distance or a short ride on the free open-air trolley that serves the valley. And activities there are, in abundance: year-round sports of every imaginable variety, for everyone from absolute beginners to experts; arts and education programs for children and adults; outdoor theater, gardening, and clubs. In Waterville Valley, the words "I'm bored" are rarely, if ever, heard.
"There is something about this place that has drawn people to return year after year, and their children also, their grandchildren, and now even their great-great-grandchildren," wrote Nathaniel Goodrich in 1952. "In a world of change and upheaval, in times when so many shift from place to place till they have no roots anywhere, Waterville has come to seem one place that is home to them, is changeless. It comes down to this: Waterville is continuance."
Take a Hike…or a Bike
Hikers have been exploring Waterville Valley since the 1800s, when a group of guests at Greeley's Hotel formed the Waterville Athletic and Improvement Association. The club's mission was to care for the valley's many trails, but they also put on shows, skits and other activities for the amusement of summer visitors.
The association is still in existence today and continues to oversee Waterville Valleys 100 miles of trails, which range from easy walking paths to sweat-drenching ascents. Want a short jaunt to work off the fettuccine alfredo you just had at one of the Waterville Valley's restaurants? Take a stroll around Corcoran’s Pond at the center of town and enjoy the view of the surrounding mountains. Feeling a bit more adventurous? Wander through the woods and wildflowers on the valley floor, or hike past the scenic waterfalls of Cascade Brook. Ready to work up a sweat? Head up the 4,315-ft. summit of Mount Osceola for stunning views of the entire valley. If you're really daring, you can take on the three peaks of Mount Tripyramid, the highest points in the valley. There are trails for the brave, the bold, and the beginners at Waterville Valley.
If you prefer wheels to hiking boots, bring your mountain bike to Waterville Valley, or rent one there. Once again, you can take it as easy or as hard as you like. Whether its a leisurely ride around town or a dirt-kicking expedition through the woods, you'll find plenty of trails to suit your mood--over 30 miles of them! You can even take a chair lift to the top of Snow's Mountain and ride your bike down through the National Forest. Everything from meandering dirt fire-roads to gnarly single-track is available. With over 30 miles of marked, well-maintained trails, Waterville Valley is a Mecca for mountain bike enthusiasts.
Didn’t bring your bike? No problem--the Adventure Center, located in the Town Square, provides well-maintained rental bikes for all levels of riders, and instructors to help you get started, make sure your bike is comfortable, and suggest trails to explore. If you've never biked before, it's a great, non-threatening way to begin.
When they weren't hiking, Waterville Valley's early guests were playing games, and golf was an early favorite. Summer visitors built the first, impromptu course in front of the Eliot's Hotel back in 1898. That evolved into the Waterville Valley Golf Club, where beginners, duffers, and scratch golfers have been playing for over a century. It's a family-friendly course surrounded by glorious 360-degree views of Mounts Tecumseh, Osceola and Sandwich.
The spirit of Waterville permeates the course, in contrast to more high-pressure clubs. "It's more relaxed, not intimidating," says Jim Wefers, manager of the Golden Eagle Lodge. On a summer day, you're likely to see as many families with children playing as adult foursomes. And on summer evenings, adult visitors are invited to join locals in the popular Twilight League.
"Anyone can play," says Bill Cantlin. "You just show up and we put names in a hat and pick foursomes." Afterwards, players head to the clubhouse for $1 beers. It's a welcome retreat for vacationers who want to escape from the family for a little while. "Those are some of the happiest guys I've seen," says Cantlin.
By the way, don't mistake "friendly" for "unchallenging." The club recently completed a half-million dollar renovation designed to maintain the charm of the original course while adding new holes to challenge more experience players. "We wanted to create a course that would provide a good golfing experience for all levels of players," says Cantlin.
The club recently added a new clubhouse, designed by award-winning architects Samyn-D’Elia from Ashland, New Hampshire. The clubhouse features a spacious screened porch offering spectacular views of Mount Osceola, Mount Tecumseh, and the 9th hole. In line with Waterville Valley’s love and respect for nature, the columns at the entrance of the pro shop are timbers harvested from nearby slopes, hand-peeled and finished, resting on rocks taken from an old stone wall. The shop's 24- by 24-foot screened porch provides magnificent views of Mounts Tecumseh and Osceola, as well as the new 9th hole, whose green is nestled inside the new pond.
These days, visitors to the Waterville Valley course play 16,000 rounds of golf a year. On a typical summer day, you'll find as many families with children playing the Waterville Valley course as adults. How do Waterville’s old-timers feel about the improvements? Ask Howard Grimes, 86, who has played the Waterville Valley course since 1950. "I think it’s just outstanding," says Grimes. "I think the course right now is better than it has ever been."
Waterville Valley in the summer is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, with activities for every age and interest. A favorite activity since the valley’s earliest days is tennis. Back in 1884, the valley had only one court. Today there are 18 courts, and they are among the best in the country. Tennis Magazine ranks the Waterville Valley Tennis Center as one of the top 50 tennis resorts in America, and Tennis Resorts Online rated it the #2 spot in America for its glorious setting amidst the White Mountains. Players as widely-known as two-time Grand Slam champion Rod Laver have enjoyed the red clay courts, along with beginners.
Nearby is the Adventure Center—headquarters for snowshoeing and Nordic skiing in the winter—and the summertime home of Waterville Valley Super Park, a skateboard and inline skate park featuring a 10-foot-high half-pipe, vert ramp, street court, pyramids, grind rails, and more. Young skaters can also attend the Waterville Valley Skate Camp, which provides day and overnight campers with a safe environment for improving their skateboard skills, having fun, and making new friends.
When it's too hot for outdoor skating, visitors head over to the Waterville Valley Ice Arena, a great place to cool off on a summer day. Open year-round, the newly-renovated arena provides open skating, rentals and lessons for all ages. Youngsters and adults who dream of Olympic glory can also sign up for figure skating and hockey lessons, along with youth hockey league tournaments. The arena is also home ice for the Plymouth State College hockey team, so locals and visitors can be found there throughout the season cheering for the PSC Panthers.
Across the street is the White Mountain Athletic Club, where visitors can take a swim in the indoor and outdoor pools, work out in the cardio room, lift some weights, or run a few laps on the indoor track. For after-workout relaxation there’s the hot tub, sauna, and steam room, or a meal at the Coyote Grill restaurant upstairs.