Update 1/18/18: Looks like several visitors have noted that they have confusing language on their site saying that they are charging for parking on the website, HOWEVER it has not been enforced. I’d still buy your admission tickets in advance but not for parking! If you did already, you can contact them for a refund
One of the benefits of living in New England (for someone who doesn’t partake in winter sports aside from four seasons) is visiting the Ice Castles in New Hampshire! What are they, you ask? Spectacular man-made icicle structures you can explore and play in! They have a giant ice slide ready for you to slide through. Ice Castles at each location on average weigh about 25 MILLION POUNDS! The staff there also grow over 10 THOUSAND ICICLES a day to maintain the architecture for our enjoyment. If NH isn’t near you, they have several other locations across the United States and Canada. Of course I’ll be talking in more detail specifically about Lincoln, NH since that’s the only one in New England! The new seasons opens on Friday, January 5, 2018 weather permitting!
They used to have a smaller one in Vermont, but only kept that open for a year or so.
My guide will give you a comprehensive overview of all of the attraction and pro tips for getting the most out of your money and time visiting. You can skip to the bottom if you want just a condensed list and to listen/watch a music video to get you in the mood to explore Ice Castles. By no means do I want to OVERHYPE this place, as I would NOT recommend going on a whim, driving 2 hrs each way from the Boston area to visit. The longest you’d probably want spend to in this area is probably 2 hours (since you are outside in the cold after all). It’s wise to also research other activities in the area to do such as food and perhaps coordinate other winter activities such as snow tubing at one of the other mountains in the area. Dana and I have a general rule of thumb where we try to ensure that whenever we visit a place far away that we spend at least the amount of time round trip in driving at the destination (unless it’s absolutely unbearable)!
The popularity of Ice Castles increases ten folds each year, hence the massive lines at certain hours. I highly recommend advanced planning and buying tickets even with the pesky online service fee! At this point there are even dozens of photos of couples getting engaged here too each weekend! I imagine Saturdays are their most popular days since they also have a fire show at night! My friends and I visited on a Sunday afternoon since I had to work on Saturdays during accounting busy season. It’s also a small trade-off for much more manageable crowds. They also have their staff dressed as characters from Frozen for kids/families to take photographs!
To purchase tickets in advance you can go to their website and reserve a 30 minute time slot to “arrive”. It’s for them to track how many people are entering at a time to manage crowds. Once you’re in you can stay as long as you like inside. Keep in mind, there are NO toilets or facilities in the castles and there’s no re-entry! Again there’s also the annoying online transaction fee which tacks on a couple extra dollars.
NEW this year, in 2018 it looks like they are now also charging for parking. Carpool if you can to save money! In the past they allowed all visitors to park in their gigantic lot for free. According to recent visitors who purchased the parking they didn’t even check. They have since also UPDATED their own website. So I’d still recommend buying your admissions ticket in advance BUT NOT PARKING. The standby time is brutal if you just show up and buy tickets! Plus sometimes they are all sold out. They have a long roped off area when they are over capacity. I witnessed a huge line snaking down the length of the ice castles and parking lot of brave patrons waiting at night to enter as we left for the night at around 6 PM! (I’d be grumpy waiting for 30+ mins in the cold to enter this place and only stay for 1 or 2 hours.)
WHEN TO GO
In my humble opinion, the best time window to choose is around 3:30 – 4 PM so you can witness the beauty during the natural daylight AND colorful illuminations at night. (Still really sad how early the sun sets.) You’ll just need to stick around for about an hour to see the sun set and the ice castles transform into a colorful brightly lit light show! The only problem here though is that the first fire show does not start until 7:15 PM, so standing or walking around for another hour in the freezing cold is not uncomfortable. It’s your call of what activities you want to prioritize and how much time you think you can stand outside in the elements. Also keep in mind the weather! It’s very unpredictable in the winter. I think we waited until the day before to actually confirm the forecast and purchase our tickets. Plus if you wait too long and miss them in their full glory during January/February they might be melty in March!
ENJOYING THE ICE CASTLES WINTER WONDERLAND
The description of the website and photos may deceive you to the size, as you can walk the perimeter of the whole structure in less than 10 minutes. They have different “rooms” and definitely plenty of photo ops, so make sure your camera is fully charged! My favorite part was the “Giant Ice Slide”, but I’d definitely recommend saving that for last OR wearing snow pants since you’ll have a wet bottom the rest of the time walking around haha as my husband suffered with his jeans. When we got in line there was a formidable line. It moved steadily and we zipped through after a weird unnecessary tunnel we crawled through within 20 minutes. (Yes I get that the tunnel is probably meant as fun for kids, but as an adult I just think of it as kind of unnecessary.) Maybe that’s to make sure you’re ready to get your clothes soaked.
Each year they rebuild the Ice Castles from the ground up, so there are always new features! Very likely that your photos will look slightly different from mine from 2016. Of course I’ll update if we revisit this season. We tried each of the rooms with the ~2 hours we visited including the mini-maze and various tiered lookout points. One of the best photo-op spots there is the ice “throne” or chair! You can fit multiple people on there if you wish! It looks so cool illuminated at night too with the changing colors. Just like any “giant chair” attraction anywhere there’s probably a line to get a photo. You will need a camera with powerful flash (phones don’t really cut it) to actually illuminate their face at night though. Otherwise they might turn out looking like an evil ice queen like me!
You’ll thank me after seeing the other miserable unprepared visitors.
- Buy your tickets online to reserve the time slot, you’ll get a QR code you can easily pull up on your phone for them to scan. Price above + $2.50 service fee/person
- Make sure you have all your camera/phone, get your bathroom break in before you enter since there’s no re-entry!
- Dress WARMLY with lots of layers! I cannot emphasize this enough. You are surrounded 360° with ice. No sneakers! Wear your (waterproof) snow boots, gloves, hats, balaclava, thick socks. If you go with children, make sure they have snow pants on too. This will be the deal breaker for many of whether they have a terrific or terrible time!
- Save that GIANT SLIDE as tempting as it seems (unless you have snow pants) for LAST. Bring a change of clothes if you’re worried! The last thing you want to do is walk around with freezing wet pants the rest of your time there if you just arrived.
- If you’re coming from 1-2 hours away I’d recommend planning other activities in the White Mountains area. There’s other places to go hiking, snow tubing, skiing etc… Save yourself the disappointment of not feeling like it was a full day kind of trip.
- Get as many Instagram, family photo, frame worthy photos as you want! Seriously there are no bad spots, everything looks picturesque!
Have you had a chance to visit the Ice Castles in any of the locations or an attraction similar to this? If so let me know what you think! If not yet, do you plan on visiting this season?
Rating: 4/5 ★★★★
P.S. My first unintentional exposure to this place was actually through one of Lindsey Stirling’s old music videos “Crystallize” filmed in the original Utah location. I can only imagine how cold she was while shooting.