by Lissa Poirot
Note: The Balsams Grand Resort is currently closed for renovations.
High in the mountaintops of northern New Hampshire, just shy of the Canadian border, awaits a grand dame hotel that has been entertaining families for more than 135 years. The Dix House, which began to welcome travelers passing through the heavily wooded Dixville Notch in 1874, celebrated its grand opening as an official place of lodging on Independence Day, 1875. In the 1880s, the house was expanded and could house up to 100 guests.
In 1895, Henry Hale, the inventor of the Pullman seat for railroad cars, purchased the Dix House and turned it into the grand resort property it is today, renaming it The Balsams, after the plentiful fir trees climbing the flanking mountains. (The air smells like Christmas!) By 1898, Hale had created a man-made lake for guests to enjoy, and soon the 8,000-acre resort was nicknamed the “Switzerland of America.”
In 2002, the hotel and its 8,000-acre property were placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic District. Today, the resort honors its history by keeping close the traditions of the days of yore. Rooms with pine closets and floral wallpaper print are lacking televisions and mini-fridges. The desks are small, writing tables not meant to be used as work space. Air conditioning comes from opening a window to the chilled night air, or using the portable fan stashed in a closet. Bathtubs are clawed and sinks are pedestal. All are housed in majestic buildings with wraparound porches, towering turrets and expansive lawns.
Continuing the old-fashion resort feel (we likened it to the movie “Dirty Dancing!”) men are required to wear jackets to evening meals, and women are often dressed to the nines. The dining room provides assigned seating to families for the duration of their stay: same table, same service staff, and same neighbors at neighboring tables. An activities board is found in the lobby, listing the daily activities for families to enjoy: tennis, golf, hiking, moose spotting, dancing, movies, cooking demonstrations, arts and crafts.
The Balsams beckons for outdoor activity and families will find themselves doing just that. This is a place to spend time together and truly relax.
Our Editor Loves
- Kids programs galore
- Mountain setting with nothing but outdoor activities
- Old-fashioned vacation
- All Inclusive Rates
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Connecting Rooms
- Game Room
- Meal Plan
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
Quaint is the best way to describe the Balsams traditional New England rooms that include standard rooms and suites.
Select Rooms are small in size and features a king, one double, two double or two twin beds. Superior Rooms are nearly double the size and feature two double beds or one king with a sitting area.
Our Parlor Suite consisted of two rooms with their own doors joined by a small hallway with a shared bathroom. The master room featured a king-sized bed and sitting area, while the second room was outfitted with a pullout sofa, coffee table, and two chairs, as well as a TV. Doors to the hallway could close us off from the room for privacy, although that made me nervous with two tots in tow.
Specialty Suites combine multiple or adjoining rooms and include the Tillotson Suite, with its wooden canopied beds and modern decor, the regal Governor's Suite and the round 1896 Suite. The Veranda Suite is actually more of a private cottage, with a great porch for watching nature slowly pass by.
Seventeen rooms on the property are dedicated to families with pets. These are housed in a building adjacent to the main hotel to provide a more pet-friendly environment.
Moose Safari, Mountain Bike Center
Offered at various nights throughout the week, take a van at dusk to join a tour that visits moose hotspots and go on a moose "hunt" to catch them in a spotlight. They sellout very fast, so book as soon as you arrive...if not sooner!
Balsams Mountain Biking
Rent mountain bikes for all sizes for per day or per hour and then hit the numerous mountain biking trails in Dixville Notch. Riding instruction and group and guided tours are available.
Complimentary kayaking, canoeing and paddle boating is offered on Lake Gloriette, located on the Balsams' property near the pool, but instead, join the 45-minute guided tours on Mud Pond (additional fee). Mud Pond -- named because the lake is black like mud -- is located at the top of Keazer Mountain at 2,322 feet, for fantastic views.
A number of green (easy), blue (moderate) and black (difficult) hikes are available to families. The most popular hike is to the Table Rock, with gorgeous views of Dixville Notch and the Balsams. Don't listen to the staff that says the harder climb is just "hard;" it's nearly a vertical rock climb to the top (although fun and challenging for teens and adults to try, if able). Boxed picnic lunches are available to bring on hikes during the summer months.
The swimming pool, which was often empty during our summertime stay, is actually heated, so don't let the cool mountain temperatures scare you off.
Camp Wind Whistle
The complimentary (yes, I said free!) summer day camp program features an array of planned activities posted daily for kids of all ages, many of which get the kids outdoors. The older kids will love the Rope Course and the Dog sledding on grass. For the younger set, I wasn't impressed with the conference room filled with arts and crafts and toys. It seemed dark and dingy in an environment promoting outdoor adventures. Programs begin at 9 a.m. and run through 4 p.m. with breakfast, lunch and dinner (pre-registration required) offered.
This old-fashioned resort is right out of the film "Dirty Dancing" and games and activities are available at all hours of the day. Badminton, Bocce, billiards, board games and Bridge? They have 'em, as well as host of other games. Ask concierge where to find what you're looking for, or join in organized group events, posted daily on the Activities Board.
The Balsams has been offering golf in the mountains since 1897 and offers two courses, including the mountaintop Panorama course (worthy of a lunch at the grill just to take in the views). Children over 12 are welcome to play golf with a parent on the Panorama course; children six and older are allowed play on the Coashaukee course, if the course is not busy. Clinics and lessons are offered, and tournaments are scheduled weekly in the summer months for the guests.
Balsams Ice Skating
During the winter months, a lighted skating rink is available for day and evening skates. Skate rentals are available.
Balsams Game Room
Located on the mezzanine level of the Dixville House, kids can play pinball, ping-pong and video games.
Balsams Movie Theater
During the evenings, the free movie theater in the lower level welcomes families for movies like "The Polar Express," as well as PG movies later in the evening for teens and adults to watch. (Especially a nice touch when televisions are not often found in guest rooms and kids want to "veg.")
Balsams Wilderness Ski Area
Named one of the "world's poshest ski hotels," the Balsams Wilderness Ski Area promises 85 percent of snow cover on its intricate trail system covering between 1,400 to 2,600 feet. Complimentary shuttle service is available from the hotel to the lodge, where rentals are available and the lift operates 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. Unlimited alpine skiing and ski touring ski passes are available to guests on the American Plan. Snowboarding is welcome on the slopes, as well.
Wind Whistle Camps provides ski lessons for kids ages 3 through 13. Tiny Turns, for ages 3 and 4, are one-hour, one-on-one lessons throughout the day. Snow Farm, for ages 4 to 6, and Ski Camp, for ages 7 to 13, are available mornings, afternoons, or for a full day. There is an additional fee for the ski camp program.
Red clay courts can be crowded during the summer months with many clamoring for lessons and tournament play. Group lessons take place daily from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., including children's lessons at 11 and 11:45 a.m. daily.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the dining room, where families are assigned a table of their own for the duration of their stay. Breakfast is served 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., lunch from 12 to 2 p.m., and dinner from 6 to 8 p.m. during summer months. (I found this troublesome, as we're often late-night dinner eaters and our only option was the Tavern until 9.) During the fall, winter and spring, lunch is not served, but the Ski Area Grille in the Wilderness Ski Area serves lunch. (Free shuttles take you from the hotel to the lodge.) Buffet and a la carte items are available featuring standard dining room fare (something for everyone).
The Panorama Country Club
Featuring expansive mountaintop views, the country club grill is open 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. during summer months.
During the summer "social" season, the Tavern is available for dining from 4 to 9 p.m. The rest of the year, it serves from 12 to 8 p.m. and is the only lunch restaurant at the hotel. Small plates and flat breads are offered, and a children's menu of hot dogs, grilled cheese, chicken fingers, PB&J, burgers or spaghetti, as well as ice cream for dessert. The Tavern provides the in-room dining selections.
Planning & Tips
For Mom & Dad
Those fun, daily activities are also specifically geared toward families. Culinary demonstrations with the Balsams' Executive Chef and guest chefs give aspiring chefs and moms looking for dinner ideas tricks of the trade, such as cake decorating and flowers perfect for garnishes. Wine and cheese tastings are also available, if you'd prefer to sit back and sample the goods.
Dancing is available most every night during the summer months, and comedians and live musicians often frequent the Grand Ballroom and the Tavern during busy seasons.
A full-service salon and day spa provides hair styling, manicures and pedicures, therapeutic massage, waxing and facials, as well as signature services like its Cross Country sea salt body treatment.
All About the Extras
Babysitters are available to provide in-room sitting for all ages. Mom and dad could head downstairs for the nightly movie or drinks and live music in the Balsams Tavern and not be more than 100 yards from the kids.
The Ballot Room
Dixville Notch is the first place to cast its vote in the presidential primaries every four years at midnight (often the winner here goes on to win the actual election!). The tradition began in 1952 and Dixville Notch is proud to be "First in the Nation" to report the results of the presidential election. Every registered voter in Dixville Notch must sign in at the Balsams prior to midnight; all must be accounted for to be permitted the midnight vote. Once the clock strikes, they enter the ballot room and cast their vote. The room is filled with photos and memorabilia of past elections.
How to Get There
Dixville Notch is 11 miles from the Canadian border and, located 118 miles from Portland, Maine, 152 miles from Montreal and 210 miles from Boston. If flying directly to New Hampshire, Manchester, N.H., is three hours away by car.