Ice Castles—a little magic in New Hampshire’s White Mountains
A little girl about five years old whirled her way through a fantasy tunnel of handcrafted ice. She wore a heavy winter parka and winter boots—and a fairy princess dress with layers of tulle, clearly picked for the occasion of visiting the Ice Castles in New Hampshire. Well done, child. I thought, I’m a bit jealous.
Ice Castles Table of Contents
Ice Castles may have opened late, but it was booming
Ice Castles, the wildly popular winter attraction in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, may have opened later than usual due to unseasonably warm temperatures in January, but it hasn’t missed a beat. On a Wednesday well before February school vacation weeks, the place was packed. My dad and I had online tickets ($20 per adult when purchased online, plus $20 per person for a sleigh ride) for the 4:00 p.m. entry right when Ice Castles opened, and the line to get in filled stretched to the parking lot.
Alas, you can’t lick the ice
We got to the ticket booth, where a staff member scanned our QR code. She handed us our Sleigh Ride tickets and had both of us sign a waver promising that we would not run, jump, attempt to break off part of the structures. Oh, and also not to eat or lick the structures. We signed our waivers, overhearing others making the same jokes about how they had their hearts set on licking the castles. Oh well. Waivers signed, we were among the first to enter for the day.
Oh wow, Friends. Ice Castles are cool.
What’s Ice Castles all about?
Ice Castles is an annual attraction that stated in Utah. Brent Christensen needed a way to entertain his kids during a particularly long winter, and he started making icy structures in his front yard. Before long, he was building bigger and bigger structures, and Ice Castles was born. In addition to New Hampshire, you can find Ice Castles in Utah, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New York. This is the tenth year that North Woodstock, New Hampshire, has hosted Ice Castles.
Built by hand, and feels like a dream
When you see the giant Ice Castles, it’s incredible to think that everything in the park was built by hand. The castles themselves look like something out of an arctic fairy dream. Most of them are drip-built, irregular, like trees and rocks covered in ice. The caves invite you to wander through; before dark windows look out onto the forest and White Mountains in the distance. Ambient music surrounds you. After dark, colored lights inside the castles glow and change, and it feels like wandering through a dream.
A very crowded dream, alas, especially as the evening went on, but a happy dream. Everyone was having so much fun.
Wanting to get the most out of the experience, I booked us sleigh ride tickets. We rode on a sleigh driven by Wade from Wyoming, with two gorgeous huge black horses named Tick and Tock pulling us through a short trail along a frozen stream. We took our ride as the sun was setting, wanting to see the horses and the woods, but at night the trail is lit by twinkly colored lights.
Be forewarned: it can get a bit smelly
I very much enjoyed the sleigh ride and think you would also love it, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s a bit of a smelly experience. The trail is well worn, and the horses made some meadow muffins as we trotted along. One woman was absolutely horrified—I don’t think she knew that it was a distinct possibility. The little kids in our group were impressed. It reminded me how grateful I am that human history does not have Smellovision. Those charming portraits of people in horse-drawn sleighs? Yeah, they would have smelled interesting.
Wade drove us with expertise, including warning us of the little jerk at the beginning of the ride as the heavy sleigh got into motion. He told us that these American Belgian Draft horses were descendants of the Great Horse, the horses that medieval knights rode into battle, only those horses were smaller than huge creatures trotting us through the forest.
On our way back, we passed the tubing hill (this is included in the ticket price), and those waiting in line waved at us as we passed, sleigh bells gently ringing. We waved back, momentarily transformed into a parade float.
Dusk wander and hot-chocolate break
The sun was going down after our sleigh ride, and it was getting a bit chilly. We wandered about a little more, checking out the ice slides (my dad was tempted), and then wandering over to the other side of the park. The Polar Lounge is a new addition this year, offering alcoholic drinks (they are expensive). We opted for hot chocolate at the food stand and admired the snow and ice sculptures as we warmed our hands by the fire.
The lights come on
At dusk the lights come on in the Ice Castles, and they glow different changing colors, the drip mounds becoming confections. Oooh, how cool! everyone says as they round corners in the caves. A wishing fountain (benefiting Charity: Water), hand built from ice glowed like a rainbow, pulsing different colors.
It’s a whole new experience.
Mystic Forest Light Walk
Don’t miss the Mystic Forest Light Walk, a quarter-mile trail through the woods, fairy lights guiding your way. Along the path, you’ll find giant lit-up birds nests (OK, here I did think Alien, and definitely did not want to see what would hatch from those things). It seems that not everyone finds the path, so it stayed fairly quiet as we passed through. With night falling, the temperatures dropped, and it did get a bit slick, but the effect was indeed a little bit magical.
A final spin through Ice Castles in the dark
Darkness had fallen, and the magic really began. We took another spin through the colored lights, both of us just repeating over and over how cool it was. Such whimsy! What a great way to spend an evening. Lights glowed from the dripped ice, the textures changing. Yes, a little hokey, but also absolutely wonderful.
The time came, however, when we were both pretty cold, having wandered through Ice Castles for a couple of hours, and so we departed through one final cave leading to the gift shop (I was tempted by a Yeti plushy and did not envy the parents who would drag their children through).
We got back in the car, delighted that we’d visited Ice Castles.
Plan your trip to Ice Castles, Woodstock NH!
Ice Castles is an annual event, with five locations (Utah, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, and New Hampshire). The season is somewhat weather dependent, but generally, Ice Castles is open from early-mid-January through the last weekend in February.
Ice Castles is located in North Woodstock, NH, a short distance off I-93, about 2 hours north of Boston.
Tickets to Ice Castles
- Buy your tickets to Ice Castles online! Not only will you make sure that you get in, but you will save approximately $15 per ticket.
- Tickets are booked to a person and are non-transferrable.
- There’s a price difference between weekday and weekend pricing. Note that holidays have weekend pricing, and holiday pricing applies for winter vacation (see website for details). This is a wildly popular event. I suggest going on a weekday to avoid overcrowding if you can.
- Watch the weather when you buy tickets and plan accordingly. You can change your ticket date with 24-hours in advance, but your tickets are nonrefundable.
- Tickets are timed. Make sure that you arrive in your window. You can stay for as long as you’d like. I suggest booking a time that allows you to experience the Ice Castles after dark, as the lights are really cool.
- You are required to sign a waiver that states that you will abide by the rules.
General tips for getting the most out of your visit to Ice Castles
- Dress for cold weather—it can be colder than you think, especially after dark. Winter boots are a must. If you want to do tubing or the slide, snow pants would definitely come in handy.
- You’re walking on snow, and it can get slippery. Watch your step!
- Take the sleigh ride. It’s fun (even if it can be a bit smelly)!
- Tubing and the ice slides are included in the ticket price. I didn’t try them, but it looked fun!
- Don’t miss the Mystic Light Forest Walk. It’s a lovely little stroll. You’ll find the entrance near the sleigh rides, and it opens after dusk. Watch your step in there, as the trail can get a bit slick.
- This is a family-friendly event, so expect children.
- Concessions are expensive, but good quality.
- The Polar Lounge has alcoholic drinks.
- If you’re looking for something a bit fancy, you can book the Ice Alcove for up to six people for a more private experience.
Solo Female Travel
You’ll have a fine time as a solo female traveler. I didn’t go to Ice Castles solo, but I imagine that I would have had a delightful time solo as well.
This event is not accessible. Wheel chairs and wheeled walkers are not allowed into the park, due to the uneven, snowy surface.
Check out North Woodstock
Having arrived in Woodstock a bit ahead of our ticket time, we stopped in the village and took a little spin through Fadden’s General Store. Fadden’s has been in business since the nineteenth century, and has lots of old-timey treats. Also giant taxidermy. Their other business is maple syrup, so be sure to check out their selection of delicious maple goodies.
If you’re a beer fan, Woodstock Brewery is worth checking out, and if you’re into pies, head into town a little bit earlier for a treat from Woodstock Pie & Coffee Company, one of the tiniest little cute pie shops you’ll ever see.
Dinner off I-93 at the original Common Man
Like most visitors to Ice Castles, we headed back on I-93. The original Common Man (opened 1971) in Ashland, has really nice American food. More causal fare available at the bar, but I’d sit in the original restaurant, as it’s really cute.
Have you been to Ice Castles?
Have you been to Ice Castles, either in New Hampshire or at one of the other locations? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!
simplyenchanting!!! thank you for sharing this awesome creation.
I’m so glad you liked it!