Driving New Hampshire's Scenic Byways
Two of America's most scenic byways are New Hampshire’s White Mountain Trail and Kancamagus Highway. The roads connect into a majestic 100-mile loop that can be driven in one day. Our post on driving New Hampshire's scenic byways will identify all the must-see sights.
The first leg of the ride is NH’s White Mountain Trail. The spectacular highway meanders through two mountain passes. Franconia Notch and Crawford Notch have afforded travelers a route through the 4000-foot Appalachian Mountains for the past 12,000 years.
The second leg of the journey is the Kancamagus Highway. The 34.5-mile road rises, falls, and twists past some of the highest elevations in the northeastern United States. The route takes in waterfalls, cliffs, rivers, and stunning mountain vistas.
In addition to the magnificent landscapes, New Hampshire’s National Scenic Byways take in quaint New England villages, covered bridges, charming country stores, and outlet mall meccas. Bring your camera, appetite, and pocketbook. It’s going to be a full day!
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The White Mountain Region of New Hampshire is located about 2-hours north of Boston, and 3-hours south of Montreal. The route is most efficiently accessed using NH’s Interstate 93. Throughout the NH North Country visitors will find well-maintained roads, parking lots, and visitor centers.
PARKING AND FACILITES
The White Mountain Trail and Kancamagus Highway snake through National parks, State parks, and public lands. Within the parks, payment of a recreational fee is required to park at many popular areas. Self-serve day pass stations or ticket booths are available where payment is necessary.
Visitor Centers with maps, bathrooms, snack bars, and stores are located at tourist centers throughout the parks. Some park attractions require an entrance fee. These include, but are not limited to, the Flume Gorge, Cannon Mountain Aerial Trailway, and Echo Lake Beach.
THE ROUTE: NEW HAMPSHIRE'S WHITE MOUNTAIN TRAIL
Begin you journey at the North Woodstock Visitor’s Center. Grab a map, some brochures, and hit Route 112W. When you reach a crossroad, look for signs to Route 3.
Stop in the village of Woodstock for a stroll. There are restaurants, specialty food stores, a brewery and general store on Main Street.
Back on Route 3, you will pass Clark’s Trading Post (Mile2.0). The iconic New Hampshire attraction is home to trained bears, a steam train, adventure rides, and trading post gift shop.
A bit further along the drive you will see Mt. Pemigewassett’s Indian Head Profile (Mile 4.7). There is a tower on the left side of the road you can climb for views of the Indian Head.
Continuing north of Route 3, you will enter Franconia Notch State Park. The first attraction encountered is the Flume Gorge (Mile 5.5). The Flume Gorge is an 800-foot chasm cutting through glacial rock. A ticket to the attraction includes viewing of the gorge via wooded trails through the forest. There is a café, ample parking, and Visitor Center onsite.
Back on Route 3 North, the road joins with Interstate 93 to become the Franconia Notch Parkway. Over the next few miles, you will pass through Franconia Notch. The road through the narrow passage has the Kinsman mountain range on the left, and the Franconia range on the right.
The next attraction along the route is the Basin (Mile 7). The Basin is a natural glacial pothole sitting at the base of a small waterfall. The area has a network of wide, gravel trails that follow a rushing stream around the main attraction.
Over the next stretch of highway, the road will pass by Boise Rock (Mile 9.5), Profile Lake, and a viewing area for the former Old Man in the Mountain (Mile 10.5).
There is much to do at the turn-off at Exit 34B (Mile 11). Here, visitors will find the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, Old Man in the Mountain Museum, New England Ski Museum, and Echo Lake Beach. The lovely Franconia Notch Recreation Path runs between the Cannon Mountain base lodge and Echo Lake Beach. A short hike is a great way to immerse in this part of the notch (1.5-miles one way).
At Exit 35 (Mile 12.5), bear right onto Route 3N. Continue on, through the village of Twin Mountain (Mile 22). Shortly after, turn right onto Route 302E.
Bretton Woods and Mount Washington
Upon entering the Bretton Woods area within the town of Carroll, look for the entrance to the Mount Washington Cog Railway (Mile 28). Visitors can ride “The Cog” to the top of the 6,288-foot Mount Washington. Opened in July of 1869, the railway was the world’s first mountain climbing cog locomotive.
Just up the road from the Cog entrance, there is a pull-off to view the Omni Mt. Washington Hotel. The historic red-roofed hotel sits at the base of Mount Washington. If you have time, drive to the hotel. Wander the lobby and have tea (or drinks!) on the porch overlooking the golf course.
On the next stretch of Route 302, you will be driving through Crawford Notch and Crawford Notch State Park. The 30-mile expanse is packed with picturesque scenery. Pass the rugged beauty of natural rock formations, cliffs, waterfalls, trailheads, and ponds.
There are many pull-offs for photo stops along the road as well as facilities for rest breaks.
From the Crawford Notch area, you will pass into the Mount Washington Valley. At the drive’s half-way point in the town of Bartlett, Route 302 passes Attitash Mountain Resort (Mile 49). The year-round recreational area features skiing in the winter and an alpine slide, mountain coaster, zip-lining, and chair lift rides in the summer.
Around this area, you will see signs directing travelers in the direction of three popular New Hampshire attractions: Storyland, Wildcat Mountain, and the Mt. Washington Auto Road.
A bit down the road from Attitash is the Bartlett Covered Bridge (Mile 50). Next, look for the junction of Route 16, and take it.
North Conway and Conway
Driving south on Route 16, you will encounter the Intervale Scenic Vista (Mile 56). There is a welcome center here, and wonderful views of Mt. Washington.
Soon, you will reach the towns of North Conway and Conway. The area offers well developed tourist attractions and natural wonders. The popular resort towns are home to the Conway Scenic Railway, many shopping outlets, restaurants, and two covered bridges.
In the outlet mall area visitors can enjoy name-brand stores and chain restaurants. In the villages of North Conway and Conway, there are smaller, locally-owned craft shops and cafes to choose from.
Just outside of town, the area offers fishing, kayaking, and tubing activities on the Saco River. The region is also well-liked by hikers and bikers who enjoy the beauty of the Cathedral and White Horse Ledges.
THE ROUTE: NEW HAMPSHIRE’S KANCAMAGUS HIGHWAY
Leaving Conway Village, drive south to the intersection of Routes 16 and 112 (Mile 64). At the lights, turn right at the entrance to the Kancamagus Highway. The “Kanc” runs 34.5-miles through the White Mountain National Forest from Conway to Lincoln.
Traversing the highway, visitors will find hiking trails, overlooks, swimming holes, and dramatic vistas of the White Mountains. Some of our favorite stops along the way include the Albany Covered Bridge (Mile 70), Lower Scenic Falls (Mile 71), Rocky Gorge (Mile 73), Sabbaday Falls (Mile 80), and the Sugar Hill Overlook (Mile 82).
When you reach the C.L. Graham Wangan Grounds Overlook (Mile 86), you have reached the highway’s highest elevation at 2,855’. From the overlook there are stunning views of the Oscela Range and Mt. Hancock.
From this point, the Highway descends past the Mt. Hancock picnic grounds (Mile 88), Otter Rocks (Mile 91), and the Lincoln Woods trailhead (Mile 95). Lincoln Woods is a great stop for a short, flat hike over a suspension bridge and walk along the Pemigewasset River.
At the end of the Kancamagus Highway, you will pass by the Loon Mountain Ski Area (Mile 97). The ski resort offers skiing in the winter as well as gondola rides and many outdoor activities in the summer.
Just past Loon Mountain is the resort town of Lincoln (Mile 98). Lincoln offers a variety of small upscale shopping centers and locally-owned business in which to shop and eat. There are a number of hotels and condo complexes for lodging. Some Lincoln attractions include Hobo Railroad, Moose Tours, and Alpine Adventures.
From Lincoln, it is a short 2-mile drive back to our starting point of Woodstock, or Interstate 93.
Hope you enjoyed New Hampshire’s notches and the “Kanc.” Laura and Randy
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