Jaw-dropping viewpoints. Serene lakes. Picture perfect covered bridges. Stunning fall colors. These are just a few of the things that you can expect when you visit Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire.
If it’s your first time traveling to New England, you’re in for a treat! Tucked away in a remote part of the White Mountains, Franconia Notch State Park offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy 6440 acres of pristine wilderness and endless hiking trails.
In this guide, we cover all the best things to do in Franconia Notch State Park, plus other travel tips to make the best of your visit.
This itinerary includes viewpoints, lakes, day hikes, and unique attractions that you don’t want to miss.
When To Visit?
Our personal favorite time to visit Franconia Notch State Park is in September and October for fall colors. While this park is stunning all year round, fall colors just add that extra WOW factor to this already beautiful landscape.
Timing fall colors (especially in the mountains) can be a bit tricky. Some factors that can affect fall color timing include rainfall that year, fires, and heat.
If you’re planning to visit Franconia Notch State Park in the fall for peak colors, we suggest using a Fall Foliage Prediction Map like this one.
We’ve been using prediction maps like this to plan our New England fall road trips for several years now and they are quite accurate. Always leave a little wiggle room for a change of plans as peak color timing can vary year to year.
Summer is another popular time for traveling to Franconia Notch State Park if you’re interested in outdoor activities like camping, fishing, kayaking, and hiking.
How Many Days Do You Need?
To visit Franconia Notch State Park, I recommend setting aside 2-3 days to truly experience everything it has to offer, especially if you plan on tackling some of the longer day hikes.
If you’re heading on a New England road trip and can’t designate that many days to one area, you can visit some of the top Franconia Notch State Park attractions in one day including Flume Gorge, Artist’s Bluff Lookout, and Echo Lake.
Where To Stay?
If you plan to stay around Franconia Notch State Park, you have accommodation choices that range from camping and cabins to motels and hotels. The two most popular towns for hotels are Lincoln to the south and Franconia to the north.
Lafayette Place Campground
The Lafayette Place Campground is located at the center of Franconia Notch State Park offering easy access to the park attractions and trails. This campground is open in the warmer months and features 97 wooded sites with picnic-style tables, car parking, and fire pits. Check out Lafayette Place Campground here.
Cannon Mountain RV Park
Located next to Echo Lake, Cannon Mountain RV Park offers 7 large sites for RV camping that stay open all year long. From this campground, you can easily access Echo Lake Beach, the nearby Artist Bluff Lookout Trail, and Cannon Mountain Tramway. Check out Cannon Mountain RV Park here.
Hotels In Lincoln
Lincoln town is where you’ll want to stay if you plan to drive the Kancamagus Highway after visiting Franconia Notch State Park. Here are some of the most popular hotel choices in Lincoln:
- InnSeason Resorts Pollard Brook – Each suite of this resort is spacious and features contemporary décor and upgrades that will make your stay comfortable and enjoyable. Other noteworthy features include multiple pools on-site, a sauna room, a game room, and various sports courts to keep the whole family entertained.
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites – this is a modern hotel immersed in the beauty of the great outdoors. Standard rooms and larger suites for families are available at the hotel. After an exciting day exploring the mountains, come back to the hotel for a relaxing swim in the indoor pool.
- The Notch Hostel – this hostel is an excellent choice for travelers interested in enjoying the beauty of the White Mountains and the surrounding attractions without spending a fortune. The Notch Hostel offers shared and private rooms with shared kitchens and several spacious communal areas.
Hotels in Franconia
If you plan to travel north after Franconia Notch State Park, be sure to check out these hotels in Franconia:
- Sugar Hill Inn – Sugar Hill Inn is a boutique hotel that’s situated in a restored 18th-century farmhouse. This lovely hotel goes above and beyond to welcome guests with complimentary snacks, bathrobes, and breakfast.
- Franconia Inn – Franconia Inn is housed in a gorgeous, restored Colonial-style mansion with an eclectic charm. On the premises take advantage of horseback riding, an onsite bike shop, pool, and hot tub.
Best Things To Do At Franconia Notch State Park
Franconia Notch State Park is a mountain pass and park that is situated in between two towering mountain ranges. This State Park offers many unique attractions from glacier-carved gorges to waterfalls, stunning trails, and serene alpine lakes.
Here are some of the top things to see & do while visiting Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire!
1. Flume Gorge
Looking to kick off your trip with a little bit of adventure? Start your visit by exploring Flume Gorge, an 800 feet long natural chasm that consists of narrow walkways, stairs, waterfalls, and a river that cuts through it.
Flume Gorge is a unique geological attraction and one of the most popular things to see at Franconia Notch State Park. The trail that leads through this glacier-carved chasm is 2 miles long and passes covered bridges, giant boulders, and even a cave where visitors can crawl in and through to the other side.
Although the trail is only 2 miles long, be sure to set aside a couple of hours for this interesting stop. As a highly popular attraction, you can expect it to be crowded and might need to wait around a bit as the lines move, especially if you plan to stop for photography.
A few of the main attractions at Flume Gorge include the:
- Great Boulder – a 300-ton boulder.
- Flume Gorge Path – this boardwalk leads through the towering canyon walls that are overgrown with fern and moss.
- Avalanche Falls – a 45-foot-tall waterfall that starts at the top of Flume Gorge.
- Wolf Den Cave – a narrow cave where (if you’re brave enough) you can crawl through on your hands and knees.
- Several wooden covered bridges.
Tickets for Flume Gorge cost $18 and can be purchased on the New Hampshire State Parks website here or in person. Reserving the tickets online will secure the best time spots, especially in the busy tourist seasons like summer and fall.
After exploring the gorge be sure to stop by the visitor center that offers a gift shop, different exhibits, and a food court.
- Length: 2 miles
- Elevation: 450 feet
- Time Needed: 2 hours
- Location: Flume Gorge
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2. Artist’s Bluff Lookout
If you’re considering going on some wilderness hikes at Franconia Notch State Park, be sure to put Artist’s Bluff Lookout Trail on top of your list! This short, yet epic hike goes to a viewpoint that overlooks Echo Lake and the stunning scenery of Franconia Notch State Park from up top.
In the past few years, Artist’s Bluff Lookout has become a popular location for photography and enjoying sunsets. With the picture-perfect Echo Lake surrounded by mountain peaks and a windy road, outdoor settings don’t get better than this for photography enthusiasts!
Artist’s Bluff Trail is also one of the easiest and most convenient hikes to do within this State Park. The trail to the summit and back is just 1.5 miles long and there is a large parking lot for visitors.
The Artist’s Bluff Lookout Trail goes in a loop so you can take one way to the summit and a different route back for a change of scenery. The climb does gain 430 feet in elevation so give yourself plenty of time for the hike, especially if you’re coming to watch the sunset.
Be sure to wear sturdy hiking boots as we found sections of this hike very slippery, especially when trekking across bare rocks and tree roots.
- Length: 1.5 miles
- Elevation: 430 feet
- Time Needed: 2 hours
- Location: Artist’s Bluff Lookout
3. Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway
If you’re looking for a great way to spend a few hours, consider taking the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway to the summit of Cannon Mountain for spectacular panoramic views of Franconia Notch State Park and the White Mountains.
This is an especially great activity to do in September & October to enjoy the fall colors that turn into a sweeping sea of reds, oranges, and yellows across the surrounding landscapes.
Once at the summit you can hang out on the outdoor deck that overlooks the mountains or grab lunch & drinks at Cafe 4080 that’s located next to the air tram.
The peak of Cannon Mountain also provides access to interesting hiking trails. During our visit, we took a trail to an Observation Tower that you can climb to the top. You can also take the Rim Trail that goes along the edge of a cliff with stunner views all around!
To ride the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway online reservations are highly recommended. We showed up for walk-in tickets and had to wait around for over an hour until the next available space on the air tram.
At the base of Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, you can check out the New England Ski Museum which covers this region’s ski history and several exhibits about the Old Man of the Mountain stone formation that can be found nearby. You can also grab some snacks or souvenirs from the gift shop.
Location: Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway
4. Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza
If you have extra time before, or after the air tram, be sure to check out the Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza that’s located just a short walk from the air tram base.
This plaza has a direct view of Cannon Cliff and a rock ledge that resembles a face when standing at a specific spot. This rock formation has attracted visitors to Franconia Notch State Park since the 1800s for its unique characteristics that look like a human profile with a forehead, brow, nose, lips, and chin.
Unfortunately, part of the stone broke off in 2003 so the profile is now missing some of the essential features that made it look like a human face. Since then The Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza was built in the rock’s honor. A viewing area has been set up with metal rods that can recreate what the cliff face used to look like.
This is a quick and interesting stop to see especially if you like history and quirky attractions. From here you can also check out Profile Lake that’s a less-crowded lake known for excellent fly fishing and kayaking opportunities.
Location: Old Man of the Mountain
5. Echo Lake Beach
Echo Lake is one of the most scenic mountain lakes that you can visit at Franconia Notch State Park. This lake is popular in the summer for fun water activities like swimming, fishing, boating, and picnicking. On the lake shores, you also have the option to rent canoes and kayaks for $20/hour or pedal boats for $25/hour.
In the busy travel months, it’s advisable to book an Echo Lake day pass ahead of time if you plan to spend a few afternoon hours hanging out at the lake. In the fall, some of the amenities start closing in preparation for winter and we were able to visit Echo Lake without needing a reservation.
Echo Lake consists of 39 acres and is framed by the surrounding mountain peaks. In the fall this is a great spot to come for a leisure walk along the shore and enjoy colorful fall foliage that is often reflected in the lake’s calm waters.
Location: Echo Lake Beach
6. The Basin
Franconia Notch State Park is home to several interesting geological features and The Basin is one of them. The Basin is a deep glacier pothole created over 25,000 years ago that consists of a 30-foot-wide basin with a deep pool and a waterfall at the center of it.
The Basin looks like nature’s slip-and-slide where the water flows down whirlpooling along the granite rock walls before plummeting in the deep pool below it. If you have the time, this is a quick stop that you can visit within 30 minutes – so don’t skip it!
To see this unique attraction, you can park at The Basin Parking Lot on the east side of Highway 93. From there it’s a short walk to The Basin on a path through a tunnel and across a wooden bridge.
Location: The Basin Parking Lot
7. Longer Day Hikes
For an incredible outdoor adventure, consider venturing out into one of Franconia Notch State Park’s tougher day hikes that will leave you with a memorable off-the-grid experience.
Some of the best day hikes at Franconia Notch State Park include:
- Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail. This is one of the longest and hardest yet most visited trails at Franconia Notch State Park. The Mount Lafayette and Franconia Ridge Trail is 9 miles long and gains nearly 4000 feet in elevation so be prepared for an all-day-long trek. This trail is hard but you will be rewarded with 360 panoramic views from its ridgeline.
- Mt. Pemigewasset Trail. For a short (yet tough) day hike, consider the Mt. Pemigewasset Trail. This hike is only 3.7 miles round trip but is steep gaining 1200 feet in elevation. This hike leads to a viewpoint consisting of a rock slab that overlooks the surrounding White Mountain landscape.
- Lonesome Lake Trail. Lonesome Lake Trail is 3 miles long with a steady incline of 1000 feet elevation gain. This trail leads to a serene alpine lake with an option to stop by the Lonesome Lake Hut which also takes overnight stay reservations.
8. Covered Bridges
New Hampshire is home to many covered bridges and several of them are located around Franconia Notch State Park. Some of the most notable bridges in this area are the:
- Flume Covered Bridge. This is a historic covered bridge that was built in 1886 and is one of the oldest left in New Hampshire. The Flume Covered Bridge is located within Flume Gorge so you will need to pay the $18 entrance fee if you plan to visit it (which we highly recommend you do!).
- Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge. The Sentinel Pine Covered Bridge is also situated within the Flume Gorge and marks the location of a deep basin and where the State’s Largest Sentinel Pine used to stand.
- Clark’s Covered Bridge. Clark’s Covered Bridge is located closer to Lincoln town and covers railroad tracks that cross the Pemigewasset River. This bridge is the world’s last Howe Truss covered bridge that is still in use today.
9. Kancamagus Highway
Kancamagus Highway is a picturesque 35-mile-long byway that stretches across the White Mountain National Forest. With lots of stunning overlooks, ample opportunities to pull over, easy day hikes, and beautiful waterfalls, Kancamagus Highway is considered to be one of the best byways in New Hampshire.
We recommend setting aside a day to explore Kancamagus Highway and everything it has to offer. We drove Kancamagus Highway as part of our New England fall road trip while traveling from Franconia Notch State Park to Acadia National Park.
Kancamagus Highway has around 10 major stops, including several hiking trails and overlooks. The distance itself is not very long but most people take their time driving at a leisurely pace to enjoy the scenery.
Some of the main Kancamagus Highway attractions that we recommend checking out include:
- Hancock Overlook
- Sabbaday Falls
- Rocky Gorge Scenic Area & Falls Pond
- Lower Falls
- Albany Covered Bridge
10. Woodstock Inn Brewery
After all of the exciting outdoor adventures, be sure to stop by Woodstock Inn Brewery to treat yourself to a refreshing locally brewed beer and food!
Woodstock Inn Brewery is one of the top brewhouses and restaurants near Lincoln that also doubles up as a hotel.
This brewery & hotel combo is located in a renovated historic train station and has several restaurants and bars on site. You can enjoy a relaxing dinner on the outdoor patio or grab a few drinks at the cabin-like bar inside. Either way, you’re guaranteed a great time!
Other Visitor Tips To Keep In Mind
Franconia Notch State Park is surrounded by rugged mountains and remote forests. Here are a few things to keep in mind for your visit:
- While many attractions within Franconia Notch State Park are free, some stops require a $4 day-use pass. Flume Gorge and Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway also require their own separate tickets.
- There are no gas stations within this State Park. Be sure to fill up on gas in Lincoln or Franconia towns before you travel into this region.
- Reception is very limited once you head into the mountains so look up directions and what sights you want to see ahead of time. I recommend downloading Google offline maps and Maps.Me hiking app especially if you plan to go on any trails.
- Franconia Notch State Park does allow dogs at most campgrounds and hiking trails, although there are exceptions such as Flume Gorge, Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway, and Echo Lake Beach.
- Franconia Notch State Park is part of a protected wilderness area. Please stay on trails and follow Leave No Trace principles to leave minimal impact on these lands.
If you’re a big fan of chasing fall colors like me, you’ll want to set aside a couple of days to explore all the best that Franconia Notch State Park has to offer.
With dramatic mountain landscapes, plenty of hiking trails to choose from, and unique natural attractions, Franconia Notch State Park is a must-visit location for a New England road trip!
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