BIKES AND BEARS – Franconia Notch Recreation Path, Clark’s Trading Post
by Amy Patenaude Outdoor/Ski Writer
Becca and I met mid-morning in the Flume Visitor Center. The Flume was a happening place and we were not able to park in the north lot nearest the beginning of the Franconia Notch Recreation Path but there was still plenty of room in the lower lots.
The clouds were still low and the ground was wet from the previous evening’s rain storm but the air was warm and comfortable. A few years have passed by since the last time either one of us had taken our bicycles for a spin on this path. We both joked that the nearly 10 mile long path was uphill in both directions but actually the elevation gain from the southern terminus at the Flume to the northern terminus at the Skookumchuck Trailhead climbs 800 feet in elevation.
The Franconia Notch Recreation Path isn’t what many expect to find in a bicycle path. There are steep uphills and downhills and though I am not sure the exact width of the pavement but when meeting approaching cyclists it sometimes feels quite narrow. Plus there are walkers and hikers using the path to reach attractions and trailheads too.
But what it lacks as a bicycle super highway it more than makes up with grand scenery that should be enjoyed at a slower pace. I do recommend parents lead their children and set a safe slower pace during descents.
We pedaled steadily for a couple miles up the path before stopping to view the Basin. Here there were lots of visitors walking from the parking area to the Basin. It was a lovely sight to see the high water swirling around the natural granite bowl.
For our next stop we took a slight detour off the path to the Lafayette Place Campground headquarters and camp store. The camp store is well stocked with all the provisions to keep campers happy—from foam sleeping pads to bug-dope.
From the campground the path continues to climb and passes near the scree field below the mighty mile long Cannon Cliff. The clouds were rising and we could see rock climbers making their way up the cliff’s steep bare face. We also enjoyed views of Eagle Cliff on the east wall of the Notch.
The path crosses under the Parkway when it reaches Profile Lake because the Parkway tightly hugs its shore. Now on the other side we pedaled past the small wayside that was once a popular viewing site to see the Old Man of the Mountain. In a short distance the path goes back under the Parkway and intersects with the path to the Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza.
The plaza has granite benches, engraved pavers sponsored by supporters of the Old Man Legacy Fund and steel “profilers” that recreate the visage of the Old Man high above Profile Lake on the north edge of the Cannon Cliff. It is a pretty place and it’s worth it to take the time to visit the historic site.
Becca and I wished we could put the old Man back up on Mountain. Fiberglass, plastic or even a big balloon might do the trick. Looking at where he used to be doesn’t bring him back.
We rode past the Cannon Mountain Tramway and the New England Ski Museum, not enough time to do everything in one day! The path continues past Echo Lake and people were out enjoying the paddleboats that they rent at the State Park breach.
The downhill after passing under Route 18 requires caution because it is long and steep. Right above there are good glimpses of Artist’s Bluff Cliff. Then there is a sharp turn and a big uphill that goes right under Interstate 93 and tops out at the Old Route 3 and the Governor Gallen Memorial and the Sunset Bridge.
From here it is less than two miles of near flat pedaling to the Skookumchuck Trail parking area. This would be a swell place to have a short easy out and back bicycle ride between the Galllen Memorial and the Skookumchuck Trailhead. Very good riding for people that want to avoid hills.
We turned around and rode straight back to the Flume, yes it was more downhill and a lot of fun. But the day was only half over. We threw our bicycles in the car and drove a few miles down the Notch and pulled into the Clark’s Trading Post.
We bought out tickets and the ticket taker stamped a black bear paw print on the back of our hands. It was nearly 2 o’clock and we rushed to the show ring to watch the acrobats. The agility and strength of these people were a sight to behold. You won’t think of hula hoops, handstands or how to squeeze into a tight place the same way ever again!
The Conductor called “ All aboard” for the train ride and reassured us we’d be back in time for the Bear Show at 3pm. We made our way to the train with the crowd and took our seats. Yes, both of us have made the journey into Wolfman’s claim and yelled “Scram you old goat”! We were delighted by the small children’s reactions to the Wolfman.
We did get back in time for standing room only on the upper part of the Show Ring for the main attraction, the bear show. Echo and Tula performed a wonderful show and the Clark’s continue the family tradition of peppering the show with sweet corny bear puns. The show starts with the raising of the Flag, a bit of recycling, getting the mail and a good game of Bearsketball.
Echo and Tula are stars and the Clark’s gentle loving care just glows as they encourage their bears during their performance. A good serving of education about New Hampshire’s black bear population is squeezed in between all the fun too.
After the bear show Becca and I decided to visit the Museums—old typewriters and a stuffed two headed calf caught our attention. Next inside Merlin’s Mystical Mansion and we enjoyed the benefits of not aging and some loud music.
We skipped the water boats and the Old Man Climbing Tower (maybe Clark’s could put the Old Man back?) but we did ride Wolfie’s White Mountain Wheelin’ Segways. This is your chance to ride the self-balancing Segway scooters and at no additional charge.
New for this season is the renovation of the Tuttle’s homestead into the Tuttle’s Shootin’ Gallery, this is a pay to play ($3 for 20 shots or all you can shoot in 1 minute). We decided to try the laser-guns and we blasted away more than 20 shots in a minute at the Tuttle’s possessions! It is a nice addition but of course I wish it was included in the admission price as is nearly everything else at Clark’s.
We saved taking the plunge on the Anaconda Escape Water Raft Ride for last. We climbed the stairs to the top and got into the raft and we were launched down the rapids inside the big snake. It was exciting and yes we got wet but we didn’t care since the day had turned sunny and hot.
The fun days of summer go by too fast. Round up your family and together.