Exploring New Hampshire: Road Trips through the Granite State
By Kimberly Graf. Published on April 29, 2021
Just because New Hampshire is one of the smallest states in America doesn't mean that there is any shortage of road trip opportunities. The trips may be shorter, but they are no less scenic or worthwhile. As a bonus, most can be undertaken with a single tank of gas!
We'll start with the Natural Wonders of New Hampshire, because there's plenty to see, and then move on to the Kancamagus Highway Road Trip, one of the most popular in the state. Let's get started!
Natural Wonders of New Hampshire
You start this trip from Conway, New Hampshire. Just 15 minutes to the north is Cathedral Ledge, a recreation area that encompasses several trails and climbing areas. If you take one of the well-traveled hiking trails, there's a lake you can view and explore.
It's just a four-minute drive up to Diana's Baths, a section of waterfalls and pools that varies in strength and intensity depending on the time of year you choose to go. It's worth the short detour to see these beautiful waterfalls.
Speaking of waterfalls, Jackson Falls is an entire waterfall recreation area with swimming and trails, just eleven miles away. The upper falls are even right off the road, so you can access them easily. It's a huge, wide waterfall that feeds down into the swimming pool – perfect for taking pictures or cooling off when the weather permits. If not, the fall foliage will still blow you away!
The true gem of the Natural Wonders trip is the Mount Washington Auto Road. Every aspect of this road is changing at every turn. You will pass through four different climate zones as you climb, and the top of the road is the highest peak in the northeast. That's pretty exciting! The road is narrow and sometimes challenging, but you do get a bumper sticker for completing it.
If you have a larger vehicle than what they permit or don't feel comfortable driving it, you can even park at the bottom and take a tour up the mountain for a slightly larger fee.
From the bottom of Mount Washington, it's another hour down to the Pondicherry Wildlife Refuge. Here you can hike through lowland wildlife protection areas and observe different animals in their natural habitats, all while enjoying a canopy of balsam firs. It's a beautiful place to stop for a while and take in the sights before you head to our last stop.
The Flume at Franconia Notch State Park is the last stop on our Natural Wonders trip. It's about 45 minutes to the south in Lincoln, New Hampshire. The Flume Gorge is an 800-foot formation at the base of a mountain and is one of the biggest draws to this state park. Here there is a rushing river that falls over a collection of huge river rocks, pretty as a picture.
There are many more natural wonders to observe in New Hampshire, but these are the best of the best. This road trip will probably take up your whole day, so be prepared to stay somewhere on the other end for a time.
Kancamagus Highway Road Trip
The Kancamagus Highway is one of our shortest road trips ever, but it's jammed packed with so many scenic views and entertaining mountain roads that it's definitely worth taking a day and going over it. This highway has been turned into a scenic byway, making it perfect for the photographer in your life!
It's also a perfect place to go during the Fall, as the Fall foliage is in spectacular display here. Instead of destinations, we'll take you through the scenic pull-offs and what you'll be seeing at each that makes this trip worthwhile!
You'll start in Conway, New Hampshire and head east on Highway 112. This is the Kancamagus Highway, and it will take you northwest through the heart of the White Mountain National Forest. It's only a 34-mile drive, but it's through mountain roads with lots of pull-offs for picture opportunities, scenic views, and to play in the river.
Some advice before you begin: there are no services, gas, restaurants, or any other opportunities to get food or fuel until you come out the other side, so take what you need with you. There's also a $3 per day parking fee for parking in any of the designated areas. This can be purchased at the Ranger Station or anywhere along the way.
You'll pass the Albany Covered Bridge, as well as the Swift River Lower Falls. This is a very popular spot for some water recreation, including swimming and wading. A little ahead is the Rocky Gorge and Falls Pond Trail, where you can watch a waterfall and take in other natural attractions.
Most of these pull-offs lead to trailheads and hiking opportunities, so make sure you take that in if you'd like. Just a little farther ahead, passed two more trailheads, are the Sabbaday Falls. It's less than half a mile, round trip, to go see the Falls. Another two miles up the road is the Sugar Hill Scenic Overlook, where you can take in gorgeous views of the Swift River Valley.
A little farther on still is another scenic overlook – this one is the highest point on the highway. You can see for miles from near the top of Mount Kancamagus. The rest of the ride takes you down in elevation into the town of Lincoln, New Hampshire, and it's a wonderful ride through the best that the New Hampshire landscape has to offer.