An Upper Valley Summer Starter Bucket List

A hit list for the Holy Trinity of Summer Pleasures: Hikes, Swimming Holes and Ice Cream

Now that it is suddenly spring, we can allow ourselves to contemplate summer. At first it stretches out before me with seemingly endless possibilities for outdoor adventure. But then I think of the bucket list of summer adventures I have yet to accomplish. These are the things that I’ve been planning to do “some day this summer” for a whole lot of summers.

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This includes big goal things like completing the 4,000 er list, something I imagined would be slayed by 2016. There are still seven names on that 48-peak list, including the dreaded Owl’s Head (described by one veteran hiker as “everything a mountain should not be”). Seeing my list reminds me of the friend who had one 4,000’er left on his list for more than 20 years. “Don’t be that guy!” I tell myself every May.

There are also things closer to home and barely strenuous on the to-do list; things like tubing on the White River and going to the Drive In more than once a summer. The more modest the goal, the more pathetic it seems not to have accomplished it.  

As graduation of one high schooler approaches, however, and I find myself looking wistfully through old pictures, I see that we really have done a lot of outdoor adventures, large and small, along the way. Much of it belongs on an Upper Valley Summer Bucket List.

In no particular order, here is a worthy starter hit list for the Holy Trinity of summer’s pleasures: hikes, swimming holes and ice cream.

They go up. Some of them go way up.

HIKES roughly in order shortest to longest:

  • Gile Hill Fire Tower: The starter adventure, where the fire tower appears before the first whine.
  • Holt’s Ledge: Quick, easy, well marked and a peaceful little nip of the AT. The parental anxiety factor went way down when the fence over the abyss was fixed.
  • Moose Mtn: Shady, not all that exciting but a mostly easy grade, with little chance of getting lost and at least some view at the end. Ideal for chatting.
  • Cardigan: A beautiful highway with a downright western proportion of above treeline terrain.
  • Cube: Steep and to the point with a great view and good proximity to Whippi Dip (see below)
  • Ascutney: Pretty long, mostly moderate, with a few potential wrong turn possibilities. The view from the firetower makes up for all that time in the trees.
  •  Smarts: A beating, mostly due to its ratio of length (long) to view (basically none). But it must be done.
  • Mousilauke: A rite of passage, the closest 4,000 er, and hey… new lodge!
  • Franconia Ridge and the Presidentials: Your only possible regret with any of these is some muscle soreness. Western hiking snobs will “get” eastern ruggedness. Add in an overnight at  one of the AMC Huts and you’ve caught the bug.


Warren Falls, going off on a summer day

SWIMMING HOLES: a mere smattering amongst the bounty described at

  • ·      The Chutes: Union Village Dam in Thetford. Steep access, but good wading, swimming, small jumping and sometimes slacklining. "No nude bathing" signage, which is comforting.
  • ·      Sculptured Rocks: Groton. Shady, cool, some jumping, scrambling potential that borders on spelunking.
  • ·      Copper Mines: You may or may not be arrested. I’m never sure, which adds to the allure.
  • ·      Upper Ammonoosuc Falls: The ultimate recovery/reward after a hike in the Presidentials.
  • ·      Warren Falls: The Holy Grail. This is what you brag about in your pictures. All levels of jumping, from modest plunking to high anxiety.


The not so small pleasures of Whippi Dip

ICE CREAM: Call it what you will— frosty, creemee, softserve. It’s delicious.

  • Whippi Dip: impressively towering cones. Delicious regular food, if you have LOTS of time.
  • Dan&Whit’s: Taking the “if we don’t have it you don’t need it” ethos into the ice cream world—Chocolate, Vanilla and Twist. Thazzit.
  • Lyme Store: See above, but add those labor intensive and expensive add in flavors that make the person in line just trying to buy a sixpack quietly seethe. The $1 baby cone is the best deal going.
  • Dairy Twirl: efficient, no nonsense, six soft serve flavors and their combos. No product confusion here, but napkins by request (whyyyyy???)
  • Golf 4 U: Cones as big as your head and a bazillion flavors, plus other emergency fast food basics for the truly hungry.
  • And...saving the very best for last. The Wright Scoop in Fairlee in the parking lot of Wings. Hands down, their maple coffee twist wins best of softserve show.

I can’t promise that a summer spent knocking off this list will make you a more accomplished person in any way, but I can promise that you’ll have some fun along the way. 


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