When Sam and I announced a few months back that we were moving to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, most people said:

“Why?!”

And a choice few said, “You’re crazy!”

When we explained that we were drawn to the magnificent outdoors, including more National Forest with hiking and cross-country skiing trails than we’d ever seen in our lives (New Hampshire is the second most forested state in the country, after all!), a job promising work-life balance, the gazillion things to do (Ski? Hike? Mountain Bike? Kayak? Canoe? Shoe-show? Tubing? Oh yeah. So covered.), affordable (ish) housing, tax-free income ….

You get the idea.

But still, after stating our case more than once or twice, more often than not, we were still met with: “Why?” Or, for those that understood our reasoning, then next question would be, “But what about the winter?”

Winter Wonderland Walks, New HampshireThis was an excellent question. It was also the one thing that made us tremble in our flip-flops. After years of living near New Orleans and then overseas in mostly tropical climes, we were headed for basically the exact opposite. That was scary.

In preparation for moving to the great unknown, I’d done hours and hours of research on this matter. The trouble was, we couldn’t really get much information on winters here except the helpful admission that it gets “really, really cold.”

After researching historical weather trends and prowling more message boards than I ever knew existed, we came to the conclusion that the winter could be a fun experience if we just tried to make the most of it. And we both admitted that we weren’t so afraid of the cold as we were of the lack of sunlight. Turns out, the sunlight issue has been a pleasant surprise so far.

Walking along Shelburne trails after first snow, December 2016Now, when I sat down to write this post, I had originally thought I’d do a post about our first New Hampshire winter. But then, I realized it was a bit premature. It’s only the end of February, after all. I need to wait until at least the end of March or else I’ll just show my complete naivety as to what a winter consists of. So that post will have to come later.

What I thought I’d share in this post is what it has been like thus far to live in the White Mountains!

Firstly, I’d say that after being here for three months, I have yet to get over how beautiful it is. And this is during the winter time!

Shelburne Farmstead, New HampshireWe arrived at the end of November, days before the first snowfall.

And even though this was at the tail-end of Autumn, I look back over the zillion photos I’ve collected since that time and marvel at this new experience of living in a true four-season environment. The changes in the landscape over such a short amount of time are truly magical.

To give you an idea, here is a view from the summit of Mt Crag in Shelburne. This was my first hike when we arrived.

View from Mt. Crag, Shelburne NH

And here is a panorama from Mt Crag, taken a week or two later:

Winter panorama from summit of Mt Crag, NHFor the most part, though there have been some truly nippy days where the wind kept my adventure tamped down, for the most part, living here in the White Mountains has not disappointed. It is a true outdoors wonderland, and even if you’re not into outdoor activities, the scenery you take in during your daily commute is, to us, reason enough.

Shelburne, NH Pre-Snowfall, December 2016

Downside? Yes, there have been a few. An extremely frustrating house-hunting experience being the foremost, but mostly it is difficult to move anywhere in the middle of winter and live out of suitcases for months on end. Also, it’s not ideal to be so far away from friends and family. Finally, it is rather remote where we are, but that’s what comes with living in such a pristine environment. There are a few other negatives, as there would be for any place, but perhaps I’ll save that for another post: The Pros and Cons to Living in the White Mountains!

September 2021 Update: It has been nearly five years since moving to the White Mountains. Hard to believe. For a more updated response on Pros and Cons, rather than a new post, please see my reply within the comments below to Kurtis’ question.

7 thoughts on “On Moving to the White Mountains of New Hampshire”

  1. I live in Ohio and am 74. I strongly desire to live in the White Mountains. I would prefer a2-3 bedroom rental. My only concern is finding a primary physician. Otherwise nothing can stop my desire to live in the mountains. I was born in New London, Connecticut and my parents lived in New London and Groton until moving to the Midwest. I have always considered myself a New Englander.
    .

    1. Hi Ross!

      Apologies for the delayed reply. I agree that the White Mountains are a lovely place to live. So much to do (if you like the outdoors) and it is beautiful … pretty much everywhere. Since most of towns within the White Mountains are pretty rural, you’ll probably have better luck looking for house-apartment rentals rather than looking for what one normally thinks of apartment rentals (i.e., a complex). Check out the local papers; often rentals are listed in the classifieds.

      As for physicians, I know that can be a tricky thing, depending upon what your health needs are. I’ve been pretty happy with my healthcare choices thus far, although I did have to drive two hours once to see a specialist! But we have some good hospitals up here, and I may be biased, but I can think of one excellent FP in the area, too.

      Best of luck!

      Cheers,
      Jesse

  2. Jesse,

    I am really interested to hear how your adaptation to New Hampshire has been.

    My family and I are strongly considering moving to the area around Plymouth NH (Rumney, Campton Thornton). I am from California and have been a surfer my whole life. My wife (from NY) and I met on Maui and worked in Costa Rica for a while before moving back to California and getting married. After we had our first child we moved to TX (where my wife has some family) but found the heat and lack of outdoor activity stifling. We currently live on the southern outer banks of NC. I love the untouched wilderness that still exists here, uncrowded surf and weather but the hurricanes are becoming more and more of a dealbreaker. We have three children now and would like to live somewhere rural within driving distance to my wife’s family in NY. I love skiing and the White Mountains look beautiful but I am scared I wont be able to adapt to the gloom and cold. I love fishing, hiking, skiing, hunting, diving and above all, surfing but I think the sun may be setting on my surfing days. We want to find a good place to raise a family within driving distance of my wife’s family in NY and I think Id rather move to NH than TX again.

    What’s the long term report? How have you adapted to the New Hampshire weather and way of life?

    1. Hi JT!

      I’ll try to address your questions here.

      I am often surprised by this myself, but I honestly can say I have never enjoyed living anywhere in the US more than here. It is extremely outdoorsy. We are a 10 minutes’ drive (through gorgeous scenery) from a beautiful cross-country ski/cycling/trail running area, 12 minutes from a small alpine resort. I can literally ride my mountain bike out of my barn and be on some AMAZING trails in 5 minutes. We have so many hiking choices it is, quite frankly, overwhelming. Hiking, snow-shoeing, skiing (glade, alpine, Nordic), mountain biking, trail running, kayaking … so many options. Amazing swim-holes in the summer as we have rivers and lakes all over the place (more rivers and streams than lakes up here, but the lake district is under 2 hours south, and we’ve got a few lakes and ponds locally, too). Lots of hunting and fishing (fly-fishing is big here), too, but as I don’t do either of those, I can’t really speak to that.

      What we don’t have: surfing and diving. BUT, the NH and Maine coast have surfing (I am sure it doesn’t compare to CA, Costa Rica or Hawaii, though). The selling point? You can live in pristine mountains and then be on the coast in about 2 hours. Plus, Boston has some enticing flights to surf-worthy destinations.

      Because we live in such a pristine, rural area, there are things that come with that, like a lack of stores. I drive about 45 minutes if I need to go to a “big box” store, but as I try to avoid those anyway, it’s not a big deal to me. And Amazon Prime is super convenient. We have a Walmart, and we’re working on a grocery store for our town. We have a few restaurants (two are award-winners), an Opera House that hosts some fun music acts, a fabulous farmer’s market. But if you want that window-shopping, milling-about-the-city feel, you won’t get that here.

      We don’t have kids, but it piqued my interest when you mentioned your family, because–no kidding–one of the first things I lamented when we moved here was, “We are finally in a place that would be great to raise kids, and we don’t have any!” From what I have seen, it is so much nicer to have a family life here. Kids walk to school. I personally have never felt unsafe. Stuff does happen, but having lived in other places in the US, I’ve never felt so safe as I do here. I go hiking and cycling by myself all the time. Also, we purportedly have really good schools here, so there is that.

      Winters: They are long. Like, seven months. I grew up in Southeast Asia, if that gives you any perspective. It gets very windy up here in the winter–that came as a bit of a shock. And we get SO MUCH snow. For a few months, our days are short (it gets dark by 4 around December, I think, but starts to lengthen again after about a month). Presently, it gets dark a bit before 6. But our summers are bright until 9 at night. We do have our fair share of gloom, but since I work from home, I get to “chase the sun” more than most people, and I would say that the sun does make an appearance for an hour or two most days, and when the sun is out all day, it’s like the prettiest place you’ve ever seen. I have family that live in the Colorado Springs area, and I would choose living here hands down. The snow stays white all winter long. I guess the skiing is purportedly not as good due to the snow texture, but there are a gazillion skiers and so many ski resorts here, so it can’t be that undesirable. Also? Even when you look out the window and think, “bleh, too gloomy,” once you get out into the snow, it all changes. It’s like sunlight coming from the ground and everything is so pretty. So, all that to say, winters were our biggest concern, too, but it isn’t the gloom that we struggle with as that turned out to be not really a problem to us. When we complain, it is probably about the length of the season (but I don’t think CO is any better) and I hate the super-short days that set in for a little while.

      Whew! That was long. If you or your wife have more specific questions, feel free to reach me at jesse(at sign)tongatime(dot)com. Best of luck!

      Cheers,
      Jesse

  3. Hi Jesse,
    My name is kurtis and I found your post somewhere on the internet while doing a search for “moving to the white mountains”. I have lived in colorado since 1970. It has changed here, A LOT!. Although I feel very fortunate to have seen this place with nobody here, I also feel like its time to get the EFF outta here!
    I really enjoy the mountains and love the idea of being only hours from the coast. I have no desire to live on the coast because of all the hurricane activity going on there now. I dont mind elevation and LOVE small mountain towns. I spent a number of years in a small mining town just west of boulder. Dirt roads, heavy-duty winters, and a local store. Sounds like this area is right up my alley. Im not afraid to drive in deep snow either!
    Im a handyman/interior designer by trade and this area of expertise allows me to pick up work pretty much wherever I land (which is a HUGE factor in relocating). Ive always had happy clients and I love what I do.

    I guess the reason Im writing is to find out a bit more about the economy and living expenses there. Im currently in an apartment, but cant stand the apartment lifestyle. I love houses. Possibly renting a small home/cabin would be the ideal situation. Im not quite in a place where I can drop 20K to buy a place, but Im working on it. So I plan on pretty much just putting what gear I have into a small shipping container and have it delivered to a driveway somewhere. Then I can pack only what Ill need on the road into the ole volvo wagon, and hit the road. Somewhere around this time next year is when I think I might be ready to go. Just got a ferw things to wrap up over here in Colorado, and a year seems to be a realistic window of time to accomplish what I need to.

    Thanks again for your post that I found and hopefully, this reaches you.

    Cheers,

    kurtis

    1. Hi, Kurtis! Thank you for posting this question, as I am sure it may be helpful to others who are wondering about life in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

      As for Colorado, I can imagine it has changed significantly since the 70s! Last time I went there, it looked completely different than it did even ten years ago.

      I am not sure what feedback would prove most helpful, so I’ll send you a summary of Pros and Cons as I currently see them:

      The housing is definitely less expensive than CO, but of course you pay more in property taxes here. I suppose the best advice I could give regarding housing is that, if you do decide to buy, carefully consider the value and location of your home. The property tax amount changes dramatically from municipality to municipality, and often, if you purchase a home for more than it was assessed at property-tax wise, you could be in for a surprise when your assessment is increased the following year. Perhaps it is like that in CO as well, but in other places I have lived, tax assessments on home values were not so tied to the market.

      Quality of life-wise, I would much prefer living in the White Mountains over CO. Outdoor access here is amazing. Where we live, we have a choice of 4 ski resorts (albeit much smaller than the typical CO resort) 40 minutes or less from our home. As locals, we can get Sunday afternoon ski passes for $20 a person. We also have fantastic cross country skiing almost everywhere, it seems. Tons and tons of hiking paths (literally, hundreds) either right in town or a five-ten minute drive away. Kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking … all right here. I don’t even have to get in a car to hit mountain biking or hiking trails. Beautiful swim holes in the summer, fly-fishing, etc. It is incredibly outdoorsy.

      Also, if you live in a small town like I do, you drive so much less. When I need something, I can go to Walmart, shop, and if I hustle, be back home in 30-40 minutes, round trip. If I need more selection or big-box stores, I drive about 45 minutes to North Conway. But in town, I can ride my bike to almost anywhere I need to go. Going to the DMV has always been a less-than-one-hour experience.

      If you like to travel, living in this area is great because you are in the middle of the mountains, and yet two hours’ drive from gorgeous lakes and from NH and Maine coastlines. I love that! Destinations I really appreciate include Portland, Maine (about 2 hours), Boston, MA (about 3 hours), Burlington, VT (about 3 hours), Montreal, Canada (about 3 hours), Quebec City, Canada (about 5 hours) New York City (about 6 hours). I’ve never lived somewhere in the US where I felt so connected to so many diverse destinations.

      History: For the USA, you can’t beat the sense of place and history that New England offers. And the architecture from all those old buildings? Fantastic.

      Seasons: So far, spring has been my least favorite as it is still just kind of cold and damp. But the summer! Oh wow. So green. Water everywhere. (But there are often quite a lot of mosquitos and other bugs). Around late June to late July, the sunlight lingers to around 9 PM, so you have so much time to enjoy the outdoors without feeling rushed to fit your activities in. It gets surprisingly warm (up into the 90s is not unusual) but then nice and cool (into the 50s) at night. And the fall, though short-lived, is of course a world-class event. It feels as if we live within an oil painting for a few weeks each year. And then winter ….

      As for winter, we have been amazed at how efficiently the roads are kept clear. I mean, we get TONS of snow, but the roads are almost always clear as they are constantly plowing. And speaking of the snow, because we get so much of it, everything stays so much more pristine and winter-wonderland-like for nearly the entire season. I’ve never seen a prettier winter destination than here. Every year, I truly feel amazed by the beauty of it all. It definitely helps that we have a fair share of evergreens, so the green against the white is stunning, especially, of course, when the sun is out. And, from my experience, the sun does make an appearance nearly every day for a few hours at least, but that does lead me to the Cons:

      Cons: 1) The winter, though beautiful and packed with tons of things to do, can feel a bit too long. I would say that it typically lasts about 6, sometimes 7 months, as our falls are brief and winter sort of blends into the spring. As for sunlight, I think the biggest issue, at least from my experience, is the short days rather than lack of sunlight. What I mean is, so far, we’ve experienced plenty of sunny days during the winter, but it depends on if and when you get the chance to see them. If you have a nine-to-five office job, chances are you go to work when the sun is out, but by the time you leave, it will be pitch-dark for a few months. It starts to get dark around 4 PM sometime in November and the days continue their brief spells until around February. Of course, the short days are the flip side of the gloriously long summer days, but for those few months it can feel disorientating, and sometimes you feel rushed to get things done before the night sets in. Especially if you need to drive through the mountains.

      2) Eating out is more expensive here.

      3) Due to the small, rural communities in the White Mountains, depending upon your situation in life, it can be difficult to meet peers, make friends, etc. If you have kids in school or go to church, I suspect that would help ameliorate things significantly.

      4) Property taxes. Ugh. There is the persistent argument that, since there is no income tax in NH, then even with the property tax, it is still an affordable choice to live here. I think the strength and validity of such an argument very much depends upon where you are coming from. From Boston or NYC? Then yes. From other areas? Maybe, but for us, it is a definite no.

      5) While housing prices are, from past experience, typically lower than many other places in the US, that has been changing over the past year—I suspect mostly due to the pandemic and folks fleeing more populated areas. So the housing stock has definitely dwindled lately, and from what I have heard, finding affordable rental housing is a definite challenge. I’ve noticed that rental housing is often not advertised on sites like Zillow, so you have to actually call around or subscribe to some local papers and check their classifieds. I think the rental housing will most likely prove your greatest challenge in moving here, but I could be wrong.

      6) Roads here are typically windy and slow. Freeways are not nearly as ubiquitous and east-west travel is an exercise in patience. For example, Portland, Maine, is 90 miles away, but takes 2 hours (in perfect traffic conditions). Which leads to my last point:

      7) Airports. The closest one (and probably my favorite) is Portland, Maine. It is small and efficient, but of course is not the hub that Boston would be. The next closest would probably be Boston-Logon in Manchester, NH which is about 3 hours away. In the winter, driving there can be a pain.

      All in all, after five years in the White Mountains, I still think it is an underrated, oft-dismissed outdoor paradise, especially from folks who have pre-determined that everything is better out west. I am not sure how or why that presumption came to be, but I have noticed it. My husband and I have traveled all over the US, and lived in several states (including Washington state), and I would still pick this corner of the US over others so far. The blend of history, stunning seasons, outdoor splendor, access to world-class destinations and daily quality of life create something special that I’ve not experienced anywhere else in the US.

      Hope that helps!

    2. Kurt’s, I live just outside Boston. But for over 40 years, I spend most of the week working and enjoying the white mountains.
      My home in NH is in Campton. Just outside waterville valley ski area.
      I honestly believe this is a perfect location. Less than 2 hours from Boston, – 2 hrs to the coast.
      And if you are handy as you stated ? There is an incredible omunt of work.
      If you need a house or apt. In a farmhouse ? I have that. Send your container ! Lol. But honestly. I was born and grew up in italy , small village. And this is as close as I can get to it . Pinosb@aol.com

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