At the beginning of July this year we rented a house (sort of) on a lake in Franklin, New Hampshire. I’m going to talk about that sometime but I have really mixed feelings on the town which, four months later, I am still trying to work out. So in the mean time, I have to talk about one of the greatest silly simple fun places I have visited in recent memory (Hammond Castle is another): the Polar Caves in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
For four days, Nico had been slapping down the Polar Caves brochure in front of me at our New Hampshire rental and saying “can we go, mom? Can we go today?”and finally, on an overcast and somewhat spritzy Friday, it was time to check it out. The drive itself was pretty back roads (you can get there by highway, but why would you?) until the giant Polar Caves sign and parking lot greet you hokily (you can adverb “hokey”–did you know? Yes).
I will tell you that this is not cheap fun, in spite of appearances. Entrance fee was $18.50 adults and $14.25 kids. Also you have to walk through the humongous and mostly tacky gift shop in order to get out to the “nature attractions.” Polar Caves bills itself as a “landmark natural attraction”, but I would suggest revisiting the plastic doo-dads marketing plan a bit. How about some local crafts? And by local, I do not mean the Mexican blankets.
After successfully evading fuzzy bear claws and dusty rocks and minerals, we were ready to rumble. Being the radar-for-crowds mom that I am, I noted that a plentiful girl scout troop was ahead of us in the feed-the-deers area and told my team to hoof it on up to the caves. And this is the best advice I will give you: go early, beat the crowds, and mow down girl scouts to get in line for the cave walk. Not the latter: I’m kidding. I was a brownie once after all.
Once your ticket is checked, you are climbing up an extremely well-done and safe wooden walkway with the occasional steps. There are plenty of lookouts (not much to see on this misty day except for the HUGE granite rockface above and ahead of us) and benches for those who need a break. I did not allow anyone to take a break. No. Hoof it, people or the girl scouts will get us!
And then you wander in and out of caves. Do not attempt this if you are at all claustrophobic. Some of the spaces are narrow, most are dank, though all of them are well lit. They all have names – Lemon Squeeze for a particularly narrow passage, Orange Crush was one I was unwilling to try. For, it is true, I do have fear of enclosed spaces.
The kids had the best time scrambling about on the rocks and the wooden staircases. All of the caves, even inside, were managed by way of brilliantly engineered wooden steps. Seriously impressive. One cave stays really cold all year long–in July there was still ice on a rock pool. Brrrr….and hence the name Polar Caves. Oh yes, and the fact that all this was carved out in the last Ice Age.
Polar Caves has been in business since 1922, and is still family run. There are fun old postcards and photos to peruse (got to go through the plastic gift shop again) of 1950s dressed people lounging about on cold rocks, and climbing up the rock faces (you can still rock climb there–it is a separate fee however and not one we paid).
For me the greatest wonder was the natural beauty of the place. The rock wall above you, the giant specimen trees around. There was even a rock garden when you get to the bottom, with a path curving through the mosses and rocks. It is not a wilderness walk with so many people about, but really quite beautiful. You can buy your maple candy at the upper lodge (again I think they could do better on these shops–you may hire me anytime, Polar Caves).
At the bottom of the hill, where I had hurried my family along, is a place to feed the cute fallow deer. Yes, some quarters will buy you crunchies for them but my kids mostly just scavenged leftovers from the ground. Some birds in cages–poor golden pheasant — a gigantic Adirondack chair and the obligatory place to stick your face into a panorama of polar bears or whatever. Take a picture of me, mom! Look at me, mom! There is also panning for something–gemstones?– with sluices set up but it was not in use while we were there.
Bottom line on the Polar Caves is that if you’re tired of hiking the incredible White Mountains, or splashing about in your lovely mountain lake, this is a really fun way to spend a few hours with your family. Just be prepared for kitsch, climbing through caves (bring a sweater!) and those girl scouts.
Get more information on Polar Caves here.