Building snow forts is a winter tradition in the Northeast, but most kids—and parents—head inside for hot chocolate after an hour or two and call it a day. Artist Brent Christensen began creating ice caves and fortresses for his daughter in their Utah front yard in 2000. And he essentially never stopped.
Now, one man’s obsession with perfecting the art of using frozen water as a building material has made North Woodstock, New Hampshire, the Northeast’s coolest place to be this winter for both romantic grown-ups and kids who know every Frozen song lyric by heart. Christensen’s company—Ice Castles—brings a frosty palace to life as temperatures drop in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and this ephemeral attraction enchants fairytale lovers and those who appreciate the beauty that can only be achieved when humans and nature collaborate.
Look inside New Hampshire’s massive and impressive ice castle… and plan your own journey to this winter marvel with these tips on timing your visit, taking the kids, capturing stunning images, and making the most of your experience. A visit to Ice Castles is one of the best reasons to visit New England in January.
What Lies Inside These Icy Walls?
After several years in Lincoln, Ice Castles, New Hampshire relocated to 24 Clark Farm Road in North Woodstock, NH, and that's where you'll find this unique attraction for the 2020 season. Chances are good you’ll have to park a bit of a distance from the entrance gate, and even as you approach the icy white walls of this one-of-a-kind attraction, you may be thinking: "This does not look like a Disney movie."
A Frozen Wonderland
Don’t worry. Once you’re inside this frozen kingdom, its size, detail and sheer beauty will melt away any doubts you had about ice artisans’ ability to create a world made completely of solid water. It’s fun to watch the expressions of visitors and listen to their reactions as they first step inside the ice castle. Even adults’ eyes light up with awe, as they spy massive towers dripping with molten-looking ice, caverns with spiky ceilings, tunnels, a fountain and an ice throne. The New Hampshire ice castle—one of six the company builds each year in the US and Canada and the only structure of its scale in the Northeast—is particularly known for its long, thrilling ice slide, which attracts quite a line. There’s a smaller slide for tiny tots, too.
How Do They Do It?
So, how does Ice Castles build these one-of-a-kind environments? The short answer is with icicles… and magic. The construction process is patented, but if you'e lucky, you might catch a glimpse behind the curtain.
Each castle has a team of ice artisans who are… in essence… icicle farmers. You might see them spraying racks or harvesting icicles. They grow hundreds of thousands of icicles—about 10,000 each day—and build every castle feature by hand. Throughout the season, icicles are strategically transplanted to spots where the designers want to encourage ice growth. A slushy mixture cements them in place. Then, once sprinklers are turned on, icy formations begin to take shape.
Brent Christensen, Ice Castles’ founder, gives each team of icicle architects creative freedom to build something that has never been seen before and will never be duplicated. He spends winters traveling between Ice Castles’ six North American locations.
It takes about 4,000 hours of labor to construct New Hampshire’s ice castle. When completed, it occupies nearly an acre and weighs more than 25 million pounds. Yet, its existence is always fragile… dependent on continued cold weather.
The Best Time to Visit New Hampshire’s Ice Castle
Because Mother Nature is both Ice Castles’ collaborator and its nemesis, it’s best to plan your trip to North Woodstock, New Hampshire, for deep winter: mid-January through early February. The attraction’s Facebook page is a good source for updates on planned opening and closing dates.
Once the ice castle opens for the season, you can visit any day of the week except Sunday and Monday. Tickets are less expensive and more available midweek.
Here’s how admission works: Tickets are sold online for half-hour entry windows. Purchase and print your tickets at home or text them to your phone, and be sure to arrive during your time slot. You may stay as long as you’d like, but once you exit the attraction, there is no re-entry. A limited number of tickets may be available on-site, but don’t count on the availability of standby tickets, particularly in the evening and on weekends. Check the Ice Castles online ticketing page before taking a chance. If tickets are sold out online, they will likely not be available for purchase on-site.
Nighttime tickets sell out first, and it’s easy to understand why. New Hampshire’s ice castle is at its most dramatic when it is illuminated from within at night. The optimal time for entry is right around sunset Eastern Standard Time. Families with small children may want to time their visit for daylight hours when the attraction is less crowded—and warmer. Even better: Visit on a Saturday for special photo ops with the snow princess (2020 schedule TBA).
New in 2019: You can opt to add a horse-drawn sleigh ride through the woods and along the river to your Ice Castles experience. 2020 information TBA.
Tips for Photographing Ice Castles
If you’re hoping to capture amazing shots of New Hampshire’s ice castle, here are a few tips:
- Before you go, take a look at images of Ice Castles, New Hampshire being shared on Instagram for real-time inspiration and photo angle ideas.
- If you’re planning to take people shots, dress your subjects in bright colors. Red, in particular, really pops.
- Selfies don’t work well here. It’s tough… at arm’s length… to capture enough of the castle’s details to make the background look like anything more than random ice. Bring a selfie stick along if you have one… or ask friends to take pictures of you.
- Don’t forget to look—and shoot—up!
- Wide-angle shots with people in them show off the ice castle’s mammoth size.
- Experiment with flash and non-flash photography. Dusk is a good time for shooting romantic, silhouetted portraits.
- LED lights frozen inside the ice take a while to reach full illumination. For the best nighttime photographs, time your visit for well after dark.
- Although the ice castle can get crowded, it’s large enough that you can find spots for portrait-taking. The ice throne is a favorite shooting location. Want the castle as a backdrop for a bridal or other private shoot? Professional shoots are allowed, but only on weekdays and during operational hours.
Taking Kids to Ice Castles, New Hampshire
Any child who’s seen Frozen will be enchanted by New Hampshire’s ice castle, and kids 3 and under are admitted free. But here are a few things parents should keep in mind:
- Plan to arrive early and stop into the McDonald’s four minutes away in Lincoln (112 Main Street) to use the restrooms before you enter the attraction. There are portable restrooms at Ice Castles, but there may be a line.
- Bundle up your babies: hats, scarves, gloves or mittens, snow pants, warm coats. It’s colder inside the ice castle than it is outdoors, and once your littles get chilled and want to leave, there is no re-entry.
- Dress your kids in sturdy winter boots. The ice castle floor is carpeted in chopped ice and snow.
- If you’re visiting with toddlers or even preschoolers, consider bringing along a pull sled. It’s an ideal way for them to stay safe, and it will speed your exploration of the acre-sized site.
- If your kids’ hearts are set on an ice slide ride, get in line first thing. The wait can be long.
More Tips for Visiting the Northeast’s Wicked Cool Ice Castle
Make the most of your Ice Castles, New Hampshire experience with these tips:
- Dress as though you’ll be spending an extended period inside a walk-in refrigerator: That’s pretty much what it feels like inside the ice castle even on sunny winter days.
- Leave your dressy, high-heeled boots at home. The castle floor is icy and potentially slippery.
- Bring hand warmers: HotHands warmers saved the day for us and allowed us to stay longer than we otherwise might have.
- You’re going to crave hot chocolate, but be forewarned: Tiny cups are sold for a princely sum inside the castle, and you must have cash. No outside food or drinks are allowed.
- While you’re in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, don’t miss these other fun winter things to do.
- Use TripAdvisor to compare rates and reviews for hotels in nearly Lincoln, NH.
- Don’t procrastinate! It’s estimated 120,000 people will visit the ice castle this season, and tickets do sell out, particularly for weekend dates. Plus, as temperatures warm, the fortress’s fate becomes uncertain. If you miss seeing Ice Castles, New Hampshire in 2020, the good news is: There’ll be an all-new ice castle to tour in 2021.