Your New Socially Distanced Weekend Getaway: New Hampshire’s Great North Woods

Camping, hiking, and tasty takeout options await in Pittsburg, New Hampshire.

A change of scenery can do wonders for the mind and—if you’re willing to get muddy and poke around the scenery—the body, too. But getting away during a viral pandemic is tricky. The usual New England travel destinations are teeming with visitors, and even if you plan on sticking with outdoor dining, hiking, and other recreational activities with a low risk of COVID-19 transmission, you’ll still be surrounded by fellow travelers striving for the same serene experience. And with Vermont and Maine enforcing strict visitor quarantine rules, a Masshole might ask: Where can I go, beyond the Cape or the White Mountains, for a couple days of stress-free bucolic isolation?

Enter the Great North Woods—New Hampshire’s rugged, under-explored northern terminus, just north of the White Mountains. These craggy and gusty highlands are foreign territory to most New England travelers, but they offer a naturally social-distanced experience. The deep blue lakes here are the domain of wizened old fishermen. The mountains boast primo views into Quebec. And you can sink your molars into a big, juicy, bacon-wrapped steak without encountering the usual hordes of seasonal tourists. Since many of the lodging options here are cabins and campsites, you can go for a whole week in the Great North Woods and barely encounter another soul.

During a viral pandemic, that’s pretty much a win-win for everyone.

Where You’ll Stay

Pittsburg is your best bet for beautiful socially-distanced lodging—because there’s not much of a “strip” in Pittsburg where legions of visitors would congregate. Perched on the vast Connecticut Lakes, the town is replete with cozy dwellings to hang your hat (or trekking poles.) Tall Timber Lodge earns high marks for its lakeside cabins with private kitchens and laundry, and you’ll find comparable digs at Lopstick and Ramblewood. But if you’re craving a more primitive outdoor lodging experience, you can book a campsite and pitch your tent. Private campgrounds such as Mountain View will put you right on the shores of the lakes, but for a truly old school waterfront tenting experience, the two state park campgrounds—Deer Mountain and Lake Francis—are the hottest tickets. The amenities might be barebones, but hey, during a pandemic, what more do you need than a place to unfurl your sleeping bag and a vista to soothe those nerves?

What You Can Do

The scenic smorgasbord of the Great North Woods begins before you’ve even parked your car. For a dramatic entrance, drive from Boston to the town of Errol, NH and then head northwest on Route 26 to pass through the stony abyss of Dixville Notch. You can gaze up at Table Rock, a towering pinnacle of stone that’s one of the scariest hikes in New England. (Save that particular trek for after the pandemic, though.) Continue onward to Colebrook and dart up Rt. 145 for a side trip to Beaver Brook Falls, a crashing, spattering 80 foot tall cascade that’s located right on the side of quiet road.

Once you’ve reached Pittsburg and gotten settled into your cabin or campsite, you can choose between land and water-based sports. Most of the lodging outfits here offer canoe and kayak rentals, but if you’ve got your own boat, schlep it north and enjoy hours of paddling and loon spotting on the waters of the abundant local lakes. The waterways are teeming with trout and even landlocked salmon. You’ll want to procure a fishing license before casting, but this could be a sound investment if you plan on taking your rod to other regions of New Hampshire this summer and fall. Back Lake and the Connecticut River are especially prized angling locales.

Then, there’s the woods. You can stroll alongside a chuckling brook to local cascades on the recently opened Falls in the River Trail, which is actually part of the Cohos Trail: a 170 mile pathway from the Whites to the Canadian border! Got a high clearance vehicle? Then try taking the extra rocky road to Magalloway Mountain and clamber up the Coot Trail for a panoramic view of the Great North Woods and the nearby Canadian wilderness. But if you’re looking for a really unique hike, drive north of Pittsburg on Rt. 3, park beside the Nature Conservancy sign at the US/Canada border station, and pick up the stony trail that zig-zags along the border before reaching the elusive Fourth Connecticut Lake. Not only is this secluded pool a regular bathing destination for moose, but it’s the source of the Connecticut River—New England’s longest river!

What You’ll Eat

If you’re coming from a current or former COVID-19 hotspot, it’s best to be conservative when it comes to patronizing local businesses. And frankly, bringing your own groceries and cooking in a gorgeous place can be quite a treat, too. But Pittsburg’s dining scene offers plenty of decadent takeout options, especially on the meatier front. The baby back ribs and the beef, pork, and veal meatloaf at Rainbow Grille are the epitome of carnivorous country cooking. The spice-rubbed steaks from Happy Corner Cafe are the ideal reward after a long day of outdoor recreation, or hell, even just the long drive from Boston. And when you’re passing through Colebrook, be sure to visit Mostly Muffins for some of the fluffiest and most inventive muffins in the granite state—think Chocolate Double S’Mores or Maple Blueberry Pancake. Call ahead for pickup.