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Early planning for New Hampshire

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We are in the early stages of planning a few days in NH in late September.
We will be coming from Boston probably by bus/coach & will probably need to return to Boston to get our flight home.

We're looking for advice on which is a good town to base ourselves. Of course we'll want to pack as much in as possible but I think we'll especially want to see the fall colours, White Mountains & the lakes areas. I suspect we'll also want to do a spot of shopping at the outlets!! I'm leaning towards North Conway but will happily accept any advice .

That leads to my 2nd question. Where is a good place to rent a car. As you can probably see from my name we're Aussies & drive on the other side of the road. We know we'll need to hire a car but want to pick up a car where the traffic initially won't be too hairy. ( I think that rules out getting a car in Boston)
My thoughts again are to catch the coach from Boston to North Conway where we can get a car. When it's time to leave return it there & catch the coach back to Logan.

Am I on the right track or do we need to rethink it- appreciate any help

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    I think your instinct is sound, though I don't know a specific place to rent a car in North Conway.

    I have taken the bus (coach)to Pinkham Notch(north of North Conway) on a number of occasions, and though not frequent, it is easy.

    North Conway is a good base for touring the White Mountains and as far as the coast of Maine at Portland, a wonderful small city, should you become comfortable driving.

    The town itself has become a mess over the years, but it certainly has plenty of places to shop and a variety of lodging and eating places. Many Americans would rent condos there but then you wouldn't meet any Americans, and we are quite a lot of fun. There is a preserved railway for variety.

    You will want to explore the various notches (what would be called "Passes" elsewhere). Pinkham Notch is the closest. The village of Jackson is on the way: inns, motels, cafes, restaurants. At the Notch itself, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) maintains a center open to the public that is a good base for hiking and skiing on Mt Washington. If you are modestly fit, I would suggest asking directions for the trail to Lowe's Bald Spot, a scenic viewpoint in the forest from which you are surrounded by mountains. If you are very fit and have the right gear, you can climb Mount Washington. It is hiking rather than climbing, but the weather can be difficult and people without the right gear have died of exposure even in summer.

    Crawford Notch is deep and spectacular. The AMC has another smaller facility at the top of the Notch. There is a wonderful trail, really a woods road, to the top of Mt Willard where there is a fantastic view back down the Notch. This has the best effort-to-view equation of any trail I know in the White Mountains!

    Just beyond the Notch itself is the Mt Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, worth a visit for lunch. Near here is the Cog Railway to the top of Mt Washington. It is the oldest cog railway in the world, older than the ones in Switzerland, and it still operates with coal-fired steam locomotives. If it is clear weather, it is a great trip. There is an auto road (toll) from the Pinkham Notch side, but I don't recommend it for someone driving a strange car on the opposite side of the road. From the summit, you can see all the way to the Atlantic.

    Franconia Notch has lost some of its interest since a famous rock formation, the Old Man of the Mountains, collapsed. Now it is just a pile of rocks. The road through this Notch is also a motorway, but there are lots of stops off to the side, and you can link up with the famous Kankamagus Highway to return to North Conway.

    This highway will be crawling with leaf-peepers about two weeks after your visit, but alas your visit will be well before peak color, though there will be pops of color and you may well see snow at higher elevations.

    Hope this helps. I could go on forever.

    It will be a bit early.

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    I like the new outlet malls in Merrimack NH which aren't too far from Manchester NH. The stores are small and set up like a village with parallel sidewalks. Once you park, you can just walk up one and come back the other. I think the stores in N Conway are larger but you will have to visit several different parking lots along the road.

    If you have to choose another rental car location, the bus to Concord or Manchester NH might be a good option. Check to see if the rental place will pick you up at the bus station. In Concord, there might only be one agency - Enterprise car rental.

    If you bus to one of these cities on the I93 route, you can continue north on I93 to the Lakes region. There is also an outlet mall at exit 20, Tilton NH. I93 goes right thru the White Mountains/Franconia notch. It's a nice ride from Manchester north. As long as it's not a Friday, or commuting times (anytime after 4pm) traffic should be light. You can get off at exit 20 and continue north on Rt 3 or stay on I93 to exit 23 for the Lakes Region.

    I think it will be too early for color except the mountains. A cruise on Lake Winnipesaukee would give the driver a break. My favorite drive is in this area around Center Sandwich and the Squam Lake area. Certain times of the day you wouldn't see much traffic at all. You can head thru Tamworth and over to Rt 16, then head north to the Conway area if that's where you want to stay.

    You will need to be at Logan a couple of hours ahead because of security, maybe longer because it's an international flight. Check the bus schedule. Even a 6am bus from Concord NH (Logan Express on Concord Trailways) doesn't get to the airport in time for early flights.

    Usually there's a tree here and there with early color. Never sure quite why when everything else is still green. Most likely it will be a swamp maple which tends to be reddish rather than orange and yellow of sugar maples. Sometimes you see a whole lot of them edging a swamp in low lying areas. If you enjoy wine, cheese or ice cream, you can get a trail map from the State of NH to find all the wineries, etc which could keep you busy if there's not a lot of color to see.

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    Thanks so much for your detailed replies.
    Sadly we have to leave on 4th October so hopefully we'll get to see the leaves turn a little.
    Although we haven't booked our flights yet the planes I'm looking at will leave late in the day
    I'm getting excited just reading all your answers & am hoping that 4-5 days will be enough to squeeze a lot of things - it sounds like there are many fantastic things to do & see

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    The Covered Bridge Motel in Jackson is the first place we ever stayed in NH -- about 1980. It was very plain and very simple then, though nicely located along a brook. I am glad it is still there and being recommended!

    Another time we ate breakfast at a cafe or diner in the middle of Jackson village. It was filled with large local men in tartan flannel shirts having a good laugh because someone -- not anyone we would know, mind you -- had taken a chainsaw the previous night to a new McDonald's billboard that ruined the view as you came off the mountain. Cut right off at ground level!

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