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Imagine a place surrounded by woods, and from which you can spot snow-capped peaks and gently flowing streams winding through the trees. Four distinct seasons each introduce a unique beauty. Whether it's the warm spring sunshine that melts the snow, the cool summer evenings, the autumn leaves blazing outside your window or the snowfall that conjures up images of Currier and Ives, each season brings with it memorable sights to behold.

You're in Mount Washington Valley, located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, one of the nation's most beautiful places.

The term "White Mountains" simplifies what is actually a vast and varied range that includes the highest peaks in the Northeastern United States. The Presidential Range includes Mount Washington (at 6,288 feet, the highest summit), Mount Jefferson, Mount Adams, Mount Monroe and Mount Madison. A series of passes called "notches" add geographic variety. Kinsman, Crawford, Dixville, Pinkham and Franconia notches provide great spots for hiking and photography.

North Conway, a charming skier's and shopper's paradise, is located here in Mount Washington Valley near the 780,000-acre White Mountain National Forest. This quaint town of 3,500 residents contains approximately 125 outlet centers, all of them dangling tempting discounts and brand-name retail merchandise. Prices are already low as a standard but drop drastically low come winter and spring, when outlet stores clear their inventories to prepare for their next shipments. Americans from nearly every state make regular pilgrimages here, armed with empty suitcases in hand and ready to shop until they drop loads of money.

Lugging full suitcases is certainly hard work, but don't limit yourself to outdoor activities here in the White Mountains, because you'll miss a winter wonderland of recreation, from the obvious skiing to ice skating, snowmobiling and sledding. In the warmer months, hiking is the sport of choice among locals and tourists - particularly along the Appalachian Trail. Hiking trails range from beginner level to difficult (most of which are located at higher elevations). Fishing isn't far behind in terms of popularity, and camping also has a loyal following.

Approximately 22 campgrounds are located in the greater White Mountains region. Rock-climbing also has begun to gain more converts in recent years. Mount Washington Valley contains several ski resorts, but four of them are standouts. Mount Cranmore, located in North Conway, offers steep trails for veterans, but is known primarily for its gentle slopes that cater to novice skiers. Wildcat, a resort in the nearby town of Jackson; and Attitash-Bear Peak, located in nearby Bartlett, tend to attract more experienced skiers with their emphasis on more advanced terrain. Blue Mountain, located in Jackson, is more varied in its offerings, and accommodates moderately experienced skiers.

Neatly groomed cross-country skiing trails also wind throughout Mount Washington Valley and provide a refreshing change from comparatively daredevilish downhill skiing. The Great Glen trails, in particular, are considered among the valley's best. If you're planning a stay in the valley, a quiet country inn is the best way to experience this region. During the winter months, guests at inns with adjacent ski trails can literally strap on their Nordic (also known as cross-country) skis at the front door and be on their way.

Other local attractions you'll want to catch are the Conway Scenic Railroad, which takes visitors on a trip through Crawford Notch or Mount Washington Valley; and Majestic Theatre, an historic theatre located on Main Street in the heart of the village, and a treat for anyone accustomed to ultra-modern cinemas with stadium seats and high-tech gimmicks.

There's no question that North Conway's economy is bolstered by its tourism and retail segments; but these aren't the only contributors to the local economy. Furniture manufacturing and cabinetry, forest products, farming, construction, marketing, printing, engineering, health care and education are among the other sectors making an impact on the local valley economy.

Home prices in North Conway and Mount Washington Valley run the gamut from reasonable to pricey. Single-family homes run anywhere from $50,000-$400,000; waterfront properties demand prices on the higher end of the range. The average single-family home in North Conway is $145,000. Condos, generally range from $50,000 to $150,000.

North Conway's housing inventory includes everything from historic residences of 10 bedrooms or more (which make them good candidates for B&Bs) to simple Colonials to cottages to brand-new contemporaries. An interesting note: Before you begin your home search in Mount Washington Valley, you'll want to consider that, due to the historic nature of many of the homes in the area, you'll sometimes find three-bedroom/one-bath configurations, which subsequently brings down their asking prices. Then again, it's all part of the historic charm so unique to the valley.

Mount Washington Valley is called the "Top of New England" for more reasons than one. The rolling green mountains, clear streams and pristine snowfalls that define this peaceful place all contribute to its aura. Seemingly removed from the rest of the universe, this scenic playground is an idyllic spot that remains untouched and unfazed by the busy world below.

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