More than 150 years after the Jackman brothers recorded the discovery of Lost River Gorge in Kinsman Notch, a different set of brothers followed in their footsteps last weekend to explore the new rules of the road for outdoor attractions operating under the state’s reopening guidelines.
The 157 acres that make up Lost River Reservation were purchased and protected by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests in 1912 — just six years before the last global pandemic. There are few records from visitors to the area during that time but we do know that, similar to today, doctors recommended fresh air and sunlight to help prevent the spread of diseases and support physical and mental health.
With those goals in mind, my family and I were excited to hear about the guidelines issued by the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force this month that would allow us to visit outdoor attractions, including Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves.
After all, we’ve been living, working and learning at home for the last 13 weeks. We haven’t traveled more than 20 miles from our home in Manchester. And although we’re privileged to have a backyard and green spaces nearby, we were all craving the mountains and forests that make New Hampshire special.
So, after reviewing the many safety precautions outlined in the guidance for “outdoor and nature-based experiential attractions” (see www.covidguidance.nh.gov), we were ready to leave our neighborhood and travel to a new place. Now leased and operated by White Mountains Attractions, Lost River opened for its 108th season on June 12.
We took our own precautions before driving north. We had face masks, hand sanitizer, water, extra clothes and snacks. We carefully planned our route to avoid making unnecessary stops along the way and made an advanced reservation that included questions related to our health and possible COVID-19 symptoms.
Our 4-year-old twin sons had apparently forgotten what it was like driving anywhere and shouted, “Race cars!” “Trees!” “Mountains!” along I-93 as if seeing everything for the first time.
It was reassuring to see prominent signs at the entrance in North Woodstock about Lost River Gorge’s new policies, following the state’s guidelines, as well as staff members in masks along the trail. Our check-in process was contactless and everyone wore masks inside the main building and gift shop.There were many different hand sanitizing stations and frequent reminders to keep six feet apart and keep traffic moving.
We also felt safe at an “attraction” that featured so much fresh air and sunshine. While some of the boulder caves were closed, there were enough open along the 1-mile boardwalk trail to tire out my children — including the Dungeon, Lemon Squeezer, and their favorite, the Bear Crawl — not to mention the more than 1,000 stairs that we climbed 300 feet down into the gorge and then back up again to the forest.
We tried to soak up the history of an area shaped 300 million years ago by the forces of nature and learn more about the wildlife that still call it home.
Luckily, each party has a two-hour window to tour Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves, which was plenty of time for us to see everything. The Forest Society reservation also features a free ecology trail that is accessible to the public from the Lost River parking lot.
Overall, it was the perfect day full of fun and fresh air to kick-off our Safer-At-Home summer, when we plan to occasionally escape the confines of our house to enjoy outdoor activities.
And, the cherry on top was the nap my kids took in the car on the way home — the first in what has felt like 300 million years. We felt grateful to experience a new wonder of the natural world so close to home.
Where to go
Here is a sampling of the state’s family-friendly natural outdoor attractions that have reopened. Most required advance reservations, many require every guest over 2 or 3 years old to wear masks, and you can expect to answer questions related to your health as outlined by the re-opening guidelines below.
Lost River Gorge & Boulder Caves, North Woodstock: lostrivergorge.com. Open Friday-Monday.
The Flume Gorge, managed by NH State Parks: nhstateparks.org. Open daily.
Polar Caves Park, Rumney: polarcaves.com. Open Friday-Sunday.
Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, Holderness: nhnature.org. Open daily.
Forest Society reserves: Hiking and nature trails are open at the Great Bay Discovery Center, The Fells, Prescott Farm and Great Glen Trails. The Forest Society also has a guide to local hiking trails: forestsociety.org/find-local-hike.
What to expect
Guests to outdoor attractions will be asked to answer the following health screening questions, per the state’s reopening guidelines:
Have you or anyone in your party been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days?
Are you or anyone in your party experiencing any respiratory symptoms, including a runny nose, sore throat, cough or shortness of breath?
Have you or anyone in your party had a fever or felt feverish in the last 72 hours?
Are you or anyone in your party experiencing any new muscle aches or chills?
Have you or anyone in your party had any new changes in your sense of taste or smell?