Anyone who knows me is familiar with my passion for board games (see Games I played in the summer of 2014, Games I played in the fall of 2014, etc….) Whenever I go on a trip, I almost always bring a stash of games along with me… even in the White Mountains. My pack was very full and very heavy, but there’s always room for one game, right? I decided to bring Bang!: The Dice Game with me. It’s a small game, and pretty resilient, and can be played with 3 to 8 players. Perfect for a trip in the mountains!
Tim decided to bring a second game in his own pack: No Thanks! This is another good choice since it is small, easy to learn, and very fun.
Our first night on the trail, we stayed at Mizpah Spring Hut. Before dinner time, Tim, Mr. Tim, and Stephen were playing a round of Uno while I watched. The other two games were sitting on the table, waiting to be played at some later time.
Then a man sitting at the table beside ours turned around and asked, “Is that Bang!: The Dice Game, and is that No Thanks!?” He introduced himself as Jordan, but said I could call him by his trail name “Optimist”. He was a thru-hiker, hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine. We chatted for a bit, and his wife, “Purple Mist” (who was also hiking the AT with him) came over to say “Hi” as well.
Purple Mist told me a funny anecdote about them building a shelving unit to hold his games and some of her books. Apparently the games took over and left no room for books. Sounds very familiar:
Optimist played a couple of rounds of Bang with us that night, and we saw the two of them again the next day at Lakes of the Clouds Hut and then again on the summit of Mt. Washington. They didn’t stay at Lakes, though, opting to do the whole Presidential ridge in a single day, and stay at Madison Spring Hut that night. (A very good move, since they avoided the “fun” of hiking the ridge in 80 mph winds.)
So I didn’t have an opportunity to play any more games with Optimist. I very much enjoyed meeting another board gamer in the White Mountain wilderness, though. I’ve been praying for them occasionally over the past couple of months, and several times I have searched Google for any news of them. Well, this morning I was very happy to find this:
Congratulations! I am very happy you made it!
They have also created a fantastic video blog of their entire trip on YouTube. Here is the video that spans their Presidential Range hike:
When I was a teenager, my parents frequently hiked with me in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. My favorite range to hike is the Presidentials. I haven’t been up the Presidentials in about 20 years, but this year I had the opportunity to do a Presidential traverse with my eldest son, Tim. Here is a synopsis of our trip.
DISCLAIMER: This article incorporates far more images than my typical article. Sorry. I tried to reduce it, but I just love mountain pictures!
Cast of characters
Tim (another one) and Stephen Arrowsmith, who are friends from church, accompanied us on the trip. Tim (who we call “Mr. Tim”) has been a good friend of mine for years, and Stephen has been friends with my son, Tim, since they were babies.
Day 1: Up from valley to Mizpah Springs Hut
We started our hike in Crawford Notch and hiked up the Crawford Path to Mizpah Spring Hut. This was a relatively easy 2.4 mile hike through the woods.
We left the parking lot at right around 10AM on Saturday, August 27, and arrived at Mizpah Spring Hut (on the side of Mt. Pierce) just before 12PM. We dropped our packs there and decided to hike 3.4 miles out to the summit of Mt. Jackson and back.
Day 2: Across southern peaks to Lakes of the Clouds Hut
The next day we hiked 5 miles across the ridge (over Mt. Pierce, Mt. Eisenhower, and Mt. Monroe) to Lakes of the Clouds Hut, which is located between the peaks of Mt. Monroe and Mt. Washington. When we got to the slope of Monroe, we all decided to go around it so we could drop our packs at the hut and then scale to the summit without the extra weight.
After we went up and down Mt. Monroe, we started on the 3 mile hike up and down Mt. Washington. We met my sister, Laurel, and her boyfriend, Dan, on the summit of Washington.
After the Mt. Washington hike, Tim and Stephen decided to go for a swim in one of the lakes near the hut.
Laurel and Dan spent the night with us at Lakes of the Clouds Hut, and we celebrated Laurel’s birthday (August 28th) together at dinner.
Day 3: Across the northern peaks to Madison Spring Hut
The weather on the third day took a turn for the (much) worse. We were told to expect fog and winds of 50-70 mph, with occasional rain and wind gusts up to 85 mph. This day, we hiked a little over 7 miles across the ridge to Madison Spring Hut.
There weren’t any views, and the wind and rain (combined with temperatures in the 40s) were pretty miserable, so we bypassed most of the northern peaks on this trek.
Day 4: Down from Madison Spring Hut to the valley
The morning of the 4th day, I woke early and hiked from Madison Spring Hut about a quarter of a mile up the side of Mt. Adams to get pictures of the sun rising over Mt. Madison.
After breakfast, we hiked without packs 1 mile (round trip) from the hut to the peak of Mt. Madison and then back again. We then donned our gear and hiked about 4 miles down the Air Line Trail to the parking lot where Mr. Tim’s car was waiting for us. The weather was beautiful again, and the views were spectacular.
Marlene and I have been taking the whole family to Niagara Falls in Canada almost every spring for the last 10+ years. At this point we’ve got the NF trip almost down to a science. Here’s a brief summary of our 2016 vacation.
Our hotel of choice is the Skyline Inn. It’s a fantastic combination of family-friendly and economical. With our large, 8-person family, we need two rooms. We like to get two adjoining double-queen rooms. We then leave the connecting doors open for the whole stay, and treat the two rooms like a single suite. One room is the girls’ room, and the other is the boys’. This also provides two bathrooms, which is extremely helpful.
Skyline inn has three indoor courtyards, with a few dozen rooms opening onto each. The courtyards are a great place to let the kids “hang out” to get out of the room for a bit. There are often kids from other rooms playing there too, so they can make new friends.
We always request that our rooms open onto Courtyard 2 because it is the movie courtyard. Every evening at 8:00, the hotel staff drop a movie screen and wheel out a projector. Kids congregate in their PJs, with pillows and blankets in tow. The staff pass out free bags of popcorn, and they play a family-friendly movie. This year, the selections were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Garfield, and Rio.
Another great feature of Skyline is that it is directly connected to the Fallsview Indoor Waterpark. The hotel offers a waterpark package deal, which we purchase for one of the nights that we stay. Because of the way the package works, a single night allows us to go to the waterpark for two days.
We usually stay 3 nights, so we try to purchase the waterpark package on the 2nd night. That way we are not going to the waterpark on the day we arrive, or on the day that we leave.
Our family’s favorite waterpark activity is the wave pool. It works well for all of my kids, from my 2-year-old to my 12-year-old. We spend most of our time here. Tim and Nora both enjoy the water slides, though Nora is only brave enough to try 2 of the 8 available.
Jacob and Jasmin spent a lot of time before the trip bragging about how they would try a slide for the first time this year, but each backed out when they saw them. Ricky seemed quite determined to try the green slide one day, but he got scared when it was our turn to go. Now he is convinced that he will do it “next year.”
There are several wonderful options for meals in Niagara Falls, though most of them are quite expensive.
There is a Perkins restaurant attached to the hotel, and we breakfast there. My family tends to wake up very early, typically no later than 7:00, and it is very difficult to keep them quiet once they are awake. Out of courtesy to the other hotel guests, we try to get the kids ready and out to breakfast as quickly as possible, so it’s convenient to have a nice restaurant so close by.
We dress them, brush their teeth, and shove them out the door. We wait until after breakfast to do any other preparations for the day. The other guests are usually awake by then.
Thursday night, we went to our favorite dinner spot: The Rainforest Cafe. While it’s a bit of a hike from our hotel, most of the trek is indoors. All the kids love wandering around the restaurant to explore the jungle and the animatronic animals. Every 30 minutes there is an indoor rainstorm, complete with thunder and lightning. We always get a “volcano” dessert after dinner, which is a huge platter mounded with brownies and ice cream.
Friday night, we ate in Planet Hollywood. Even though it’s right next to the Skyline Inn, we’ve never been able to try it before. They seem to have somewhat strange hours this early in the season. We very much enjoyed our meal, and I think we are likely to go again. Unfortunately we were seated right near a large monster-skeleton prop from one of the Evil Dead movies, and I think some of the little kids were a bit unsettled by it.
Sunday night we went to Mama Mia’s for dinner. This is another popular destination for the Hentschels. They have delicious Italian food for a (relatively) good price. I had veal parmigiana, one of my all-time favorites.
Since breakfast and dinner are so very large and very expensive, we try to do a small, cheap lunch. Each day I walked down the street to Tim Horton’s to get a muffin for each person in the family, plus a 20-pack of Timbits. We would take this “meal” into the hotel courtyard, sit on a blanket, and eat a “picnic” lunch. Our lunch beverage: free water bottles, provided by the hotel.
There are many activities available for our family in Niagara Falls. Here are some that we did this year.
We took a family walk along the Niagara River to see both the US and the Horseshoe Falls. The kids complained about this because it’s a long hike. They quickly got tired and bored, but it’s my favorite part of the trip, so I insist that we do it every year.
We rode on the Skywheel, a large, enclosed Ferris wheel. It’s pricey, but it’s very popular with the whole family.
We went to Sugar Mountain, a small candy shop that specializes in 80s culture and candies. Marlene and I gave each child a bit of money to purchase candy, which was eaten during the evening movies.
Tim, Nora, and I spent an afternoon at Captain Jack’s Pirate Cove while the younger kids were napping in the hotel rooms. We did laser tag, mini golf, and a few other such activities while there.
I spent another afternoon with the two older kids in the Mystery Maze. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was an inexpensive, entertaining way to spend an afternoon.
Final day activity
On the last day of our NF trip, we always pack up the van and head out to one of two final destinations: either the Bird Kingdom or the Butterfly Conservatory. This year was a butterfly year. We hadn’t been for a few years, and so the younger kids didn’t remember it at all. It was a very nice end to the vacation.
In case you’re considering a Niagara Falls trip, here is a cost breakdown (in US dollars) for our 8-person family:
3 nights Skyline Inn + 1 night waterpark – $770
Perkins breakfast – $105 avg per meal
Rainforest Cafe dinner – $150
Planet Hollywood dinner – $95 Mama Mia’s dinner – $100 Tim Horton’s lunch – $12 avg per meal
Skywheel ride – $50 Captain Jack’s – $55 Mystery Maze – $15 Butterfly Conservatory – $55 Various snacks and treats – $90 Credit card currency conversion fees – $55