Designed and built by ice artists, the Ice Castles are composed of hundreds of thousands of icicles hand-placed to create a magical, frozen fairytale attraction. Once the structure and ice have been designed and built, a regular after-hours water spray helps the structures evolve into the otherworldly creation. The ever-changing design is developed depending on the temperature, wind, and water flow, making each castle unique to its environment.
Located in the village of North Woodstock, New Hampshire, the castles are close to many White Mountain ski resorts like Loon Mountain and Waterville Valley.
The idea of the Ice Castles started in Alpine, Utah, when Brent Christensen began building ice forts with his kids. Since 1997, when Christensen placed his first icicle on the backyard snow pile, these family fun ice fortresses have morphed into ice castles of epic proportions.
As you wander through the castles, you are transported back into childhood dreams as you wonder in awe at the whimsical walls and windows.
Some information in this piece was obtained during a sponsored press trip, but all recommendations are my own.
1. Dress For The Cold
The ice castles are open-air structures that envelop you in icey beauty, but remember, you are outside wandering around enormous piles of ice and snow. The New Hampshire night-time temperatures can drop significantly below freezing, and it can become extremely cold once the sun goes down.
The Ice Castles’ management team strongly suggests wearing snow boots and snow pants. A warm jacket, hat, and good gloves are a must. Wool socks with warm boots will make your visit much more pleasant. You are walking around on snow while wandering in and out of ice-carved tunnels; when your feet get cold, the party is over.
You will see visitors of all ages donning their cold-weather gear, bouncing around their parked vehicle, pulling on ski pants and boots, searching for wayward mittens, and scrolling their phone to find their e-ticket.
2. Go Before Sundown And Stay After Dark
The Ice Castles are beautiful before sunset. The brilliant winter sun dances off the crystalline surface, creating an ever-changing play of lights and shadows. Visitors peer through “windows” while their happy faces are lit by the sunlight glancing off the ice surrounding them.
After dark, the Ice Castles glow. The structures are lit internally with an LED lighting system that slowly changes colors making each ice wall unique. The lit sculptures seem to change before your eyes as the colored lights shift and create evocative shadows. Caves change from a soft yellow glow to beautiful blues and greens, then to a rich purple.
Each section radiates light from within, surrounding you with a deep, colorful rainbow of ice. The sense of being immersed in the changing hues evokes personal emotions of warmth, comfort, and surprise.
3. Wear The Right Gloves
In addition to being in the moment, you will want to take photos, lots and lots of photos. The when-the-sun-goes-down temperatures are necessary for the ice; however, it is not so finger-friendly. Ideally, you would have two sets of hand coverings.
A pair of gloves with touch screen tips allowing you complete access to your phone screen while keeping your fingers toasty warm is a must. Add a cute pair of fuzzy mittens to wear over your gloves, and you will enjoy the visit and never let your hands get cold.
4. Take A Hike
Strolling hand-in-hand, or glove-in-glove, down the well-traveled quarter-mile trail through the woods is romantically whistful. As you stroll along the path, you will discover snow-covered grounds lit with dancing orbs, a curtain of hanging decorations, and trees wrapped in twinkling lights.
The hard-packed trail is well sanded and has a slight up and down trajectory, and while well-groomed, it can be uneven in spots. Boots with good traction will help keep your footing.
A quick stop before you reach the hiking path is the icicle growing garden. Curiously dripping, side-by-side icicles hang from metal frames creating a garden perfectly suited for building ice art.
5. Find Your Inner Child
Awaken the child within you by crawling through the ice tubes or slipping down the ice slide.
Is spelunking on your bucket list? The ice tubes are a good place to test your claustrophobia tolerance levels. The tubes are fairly tight, essentially made for children. However, if you are interested in a cave-like experience, have good knees, and don’t mind tight spaces, a short crawl through the ice tunnels may be just the ticket.
A slightly less claustrophobia-inducing adventure is to queue up and grab a mat for a ride down the ice slide. The short ride under the ice sculpture will have your joy bubbling up in the form of giddy laughter. Watch the landing, gridded rubber flooring will put the breaks on quickly, and you may hear the onlookers chuckle as you tumble off your mat. All in good fun. This slide ride makes you feel like a kid again.
6. Don Your Prettiest Togs
Around every corner is a photo opportunity. Whether you are peering thoughtfully at the color-drenched caves or perched upon an ice throne, you will be the subject of many photos. Your most fashionable winter hat will share the spotlight with the frosty ice background, so dress to be seen.
7. Enjoy The Sleigh Ride
Snow and horse-drawn sleighs go hand in hand. The clip-clopping of hooves along the hard-packed snow through a white winter wonderland is an experience everyone should have at least once.
The Ice Castles in New Hampshire offer a short ride on a large sleigh pulled by a team of beautiful horses. The munchkins will love the magical experience of it all as you glide through the wooded scenery perched on the long sleigh.
8. Bring The Kids
Bring the kids, they will love it! Seeing the Ice Castles through children’s eyes is especially enjoyable. They marvel at every cave and ooh at every lighting change. Their natural curiosity and wonderment is a joy to behold.
Strollers are not a great option for kiddie transportation. Bring a sled and you can easily drag them along all the snow. They get tired running around in all the heavy winter gear, so offering them a sled drag makes everyone’s adventure more enjoyable.
9. Grab A Hot Cocoa
Ice tables that light up -- why not? The hot cocoa stand offers you a warming drink you can enjoy at one of the many ice sculpture tables or by a strategically placed fire pit. It doesn’t get much better than to enjoy a warming break while surrounded by glowing lights, happy squeals, and frozen beauty.
10. Dine At The Woodstock Inn
A local favorite and just down the road is the Woodstock Inn Brewery. This family-owned restaurant and inn is a fun spot for a post ice castle meal. The casual atmosphere lends itself perfectly to grabbing a draft and hearty sandwich with friends and family. Try a 4000 Footer IPA with their mile-high Station Club Sandwich or their Kanc Country Maple Porter with a perfectly grilled Pastrami Ruebenski.
If you need overnight accommodations, the New Hampshire rustic decor paired with modern amenities is perfect for a quick getaway stay. Each of the six on-property buildings offers its own style of rooms and suites. It’s like staying with family.
11. Other Locations
There are three additional Ice Castle venues in the U.S., allowing frozen wonder seekers an opportunity to experience the fascinating world of icicle construction in Dillon, Colorado; Lake Geneva, Wisconsin; and Midway, Utah, where it all began. Each location’s castle is a unique experience.
For the cost of a movie ticket, you can have an immersive ice-centric experience unlike any other. Plan on spending about an hour, more if you have little ones in tow, to enjoy this gorgeous winter wonderland adventure.
For a quick glimpse of the ice castle beauty, watch a short PBS video tour with Christensen and explore the ice castles from the eyes of the artist.
If you love winter and want to enjoy more of what New Hampshire has to offer during the colder months, these articles will offer you lots of great ideas and information: