New Hampshire is such a wonderful place to vacation with a young family. North Conway has lots of great shopping and a charming little town; and Bartlett is home to Storyland (which is basically a small version of Disney World for kids).
When travelling with kids we always plan lots of stops. Believe it or not, we do these long haul drives rarely using technology. The only handheld device is a LeapPad which is only brought out occasionally for short periods of time. We have books, toys, car seat trays, sketch pads and crayons, surprise snacks, and strategically planned stops (here are our tips to surviving road trips with kids ) and the kids are used to it now as that’s all they’ve ever known.
HOW TO GET THERE
Head out from Halifax and drive straight through for the two and a half hours or so for your first pit stop in Moncton. This is always a good spot to stop for an early lunch and at a playground and a chance for kids to play and everyone to stretch their legs. Check out Pickle Planet Moncton for a great list of playgrounds to choose from for your lunch stop.
After lunch, get comfy and settle in for the two and a half hour drive to the border. We recommend St Stephen/Calais border for the most direct route and, you guessed it, there’s a playground in St Stephen.
It’s called the Chocolate Park and is in the centre of town on Milltown Boulevard. When we were last there in 2016 it had the basic playground elements (swing, slide, etc.) plus a little splash pad area too (which we steered clear of because wet kids and no easy-access to towels didn’t seem like a good idea). I did heard they were planning to upgrade the park with a candy factory theme though as this is GANONG country people! Not sure if it’s happened yet but if anyone has an update, let me know! There is also a chocolate museum in town too, so, you’re welcome.
One other cool thing about this pit stop is that the playground is on the river and right across it is the United States so it’s fun to point out another country within sight, and adds to the excitement about the trip.
After this mid-afternoon stop you’ll be heading across the border and settling in for the last part of this leg of the journey.
Hot Tip: Don’t forget your passports! Kids under sixteen don’t need a passport but they do need an original or copy of their birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a Naturalization Certificate, or a Canadian Citizenship Card. Make sure you double check the requirements before going though so you don’t have any hold-ups at the border!
There’s about a two hour drive to get to Bangor, Maine meaning you’ll likely get to the hotel in time to check in for the night, grab some dinner and maybe have time for a swim in the pool.
On Day Two it’s about a three and a half hour drive to Bartlett, New Hampshire. You could technically do this all on one day but we have found that last drive a bit of a grind to make with little kids. A bonus is that on Day Two you’re rested and refreshed and able to spend half the day exploring in Bartlett if you get on the road early enough.
If you want the more scenic route though, with a classic roadside attraction, head through Rumford and stop in to say hi to Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.
On the way home we do it in reverse, but make a pit stop in Bangor at a playground (check out the Playground Buddy app to find one near you) mid-day for lunch, and then stay in Fredericton for the night.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN NEW HAMPSHIRE FOR FAMILIES
The area around Bartlett is a mecca for families. It includes several theme parks, quaint towns to explore, and, of course, outlet shopping. Here are our top picks.
I went here when I was a kid so it’s been around a LONG time. It’s essentially Disneyland for little kids, but has lots of fun rides for bigger kids too. There’s a little Cinderella castle, a swan ride, a dinosaur area, and much more. It’s a little dated in spots but it was clean and well-maintained and lots of fun for kids! We definitely spent the majority of our time here.
Brush up on your classic children’s stories and nursery rhymes as there are stops featuring all the classics like Little Miss Muffett, the Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe and the Three Little Bears cottage.
Hot Tip: If you enter the park for the first time after 3:00, you get a pass for another day (doesn’t need to be the next day) for free so that’s how we do it so as not to exhaust the kids trying to fit it all in on one day.
Within half an hour of Bartlett there is also Santa’s Village amusement park and Six Gun City - a western style park that is essentially just for walking around in now but it’s free so might be worth a visit if you have a little cowpoke who’d enjoy it. My little brother still talks of the day he was awarded the Sherriff badge out of all the kids there (granted he was the one dressed head to toe in leather cowboy gear in the dead of summer, including the hat, vest, chaps and boots, so, yeah, they kind of had to give it to him). We didn’t go to either the last time we were there but they’re on our list for next time!
Yes, there’s lots of outlet shopping in this area, but there is also the cutest little town to explore filled with quaint shops and a playground, not to mention a working train station.
The station has a model train display, engines to explore with friendly engineers, and a couple trains that you can take scenic rides on.
When we were there our trip coordinated with the Day out with Thomas (and Percy!) event at the station which comes every year or two. Sadly it doesn’t look like it will be there in 2019 but worth checking again before you go in case the schedule changes.
This magnificent mountain is a must-see. We haven’t taken the kids up as they were too young to appreciate it when we were there last but I think they’d love it now. The last time I was there my husband and I hiked up nearly to the top (it was HARD), and before that he BIKED up the auto road. With the kids at the age they are now, we’d drive up and check out the observatory for sure; but in a few years I can’t wait to take them hiking up it!
WHERE TO STAY
There are loads of places to stay around North Conway and Bartlett BUT they fill up quickly. That being said, there are usually still a few Airbnb options as a lot of people keep vacation cottages on the mountains for skiing and then rent them out for the summer. The major hotel chains typically always have a few openings as well. I also know some families who travel with others and split the cost of a large vacation home which is a fun idea!
Have you been to this part of New Hampshire with your family? Did I miss any great attractions, accommodations or pit stops that you’d like to recommend? Please add them in the comments for other readers!